Alcoa’s Deputy City Manager Andy Sonner said a runner who does the Pistol Creek Ultra Run each year emails him every month nowadays.
“When is it gonna be done?” the man writes.
Sonner laughs. “We’re getting there,” he says.
“There” is an otherwise hidden path through a series of fields and forests right in Alcoans’ backyards. Just a few months ago, contractors moved into the area and began carefully moving clay, dirt, stone and foliage to make way for what may be the most scenic greenway in the Blount area yet.
It’s been called the “Pistol Creek Greenway, Phase IV” in planning procedures. But it could also be called the “missing link” in Alcoa’s already large network of pedestrian paths as it will link two existing sets of trails.
The 2.1 miles of “Phase IV” have been in the works since 2004, Sonner said in an interview with The Daily Times in which he also gave a tour of the site. Like many projects, it’s been in and out of funding approval.
But it’s now well on its way and though the project does not have a set completion date, it does play a significant part in several, much larger pictures.
Arconic to Alcoa
“The main thing is, this land here,” Sonner gestured to open soybean fields “Let’s say (Arconic) sell(s) it and use it for future development or do a new plant, you don’t want to be bisecting the middle of a property.”
A majority of the greenway has been carved out of what is now Arconic land, Sonner explained.
Back when negotiations for the road started, the land was owned by ALCOA Inc., Sonner said. It has not been used for much except farming for years which means that, besides soybeans, woods, deer and turkey, the area is relatively undisturbed.
Nothing necessarily prevents the company from building on the land, but the greenway primarily follows Pistol Creek, putting it in a flood plain where, Sonner said, no one can develop anything.
Though it may have been amenable to both parties to put the greenway in a place that couldn’t be built upon, Sonner said he was the one who proposed the idea.
It was only one step in a series of negotiations that allowed grading efforts to begin this year.
“If you can go to someone knowing that this use is not going to impact them in the future, it makes it much easier,” Sonner said.
Picture 2: North Wright to Clayton Homes
Even in its early stages, the greenway closely hugs Pistol Creek for a good portion of the first leg and Little River for the rest.
Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it does not get any steeper than a 5% grade — or slope — but it does have its share of curves, winding around the farmland and intersecting with two rivers.
Plans are in place to build iron bridges similar in design to those already in the city and Sonner said that, like the other stretches of greenway, this quiet, set-back portion of the path will also have lighting.
But two bridges, 591 feet of boardwalks and 5% slopes aside, the more than 2-mile greenway makes a significant connection.
Now, pedestrians and bikers will be able to start anywhere on the web of trails closer to Alcoa schools and travel until they make it all the way to Clayton Homes.
The trail is set to weave under Hunt Road, following Little River close to a few residential backyards until it emerges behind the Clayton Homes complex and connects to the existing greenway there.
It took the city years to designate that route, but today, literal, contractual and financial paths have all been cleared.
Crews from King General Contractors — the same team working on the Alcoa Duck Pond — will work on the greenway as long as weather permits this year, Sonner indicated.
Picture 3: Knoxville to Townsend
“It’s very near and dear to my heart,” Sonner said. He’s played a lead role in bringing this new winding, wooded greenway to the city.
But he’s quick to point out the help he’s had along the way.
“Early on in ‘04 it was Kenny Wiggens and I,” he said, adding City Manager Mark Johnson has also helped with negotiations. “It’s not just me. It takes the whole department.”
And not only the whole department.
The city is putting no small amount of money into the project as well, partnering with TDOT for a shared 80-20 funding deal.
Alcoa has the cheaper end of that deal which was low bid for $2,793,025.05 in May. Funds including TDOT’s portion of grant money were up to a total of $2,875,001 at that point.
But above the money and the 15 years of planning, Sonner said more greenway is about a better community.
“I think being able to get up and walk outside is important,” he said. Sonner was fresh from a hike out West with his son this summer and he’s glad the city is giving residents more ways to connect to the outdoors.
“I’m an outdoorsman,” he said. “I’m happier when I’m outside ... I think you have a better quality of life when you have amenities like this. Whether it’s for alternate transportation or for exercise or if you’ve had a stressful and you just want to get out and be alone ... Being able to get up and walk outside is important.”
And he’s not alone in these convictions.
The new greenway is also just a small section of a gigantic project that plans on bringing a stretch of asphalt trail all the way from Knoxville to Townsend.
That may be several years in the making.
But for now, Alcoans have the promise of their own backyard getaway in store as the city continues to make greenways an iconic part of the its future so, long runners will share it with everyone else.