Graham: Bike and hiking trails progressing

The Cocke County Partnership Board heard from President Lucas Graham, who said the planned project to build 50 to 75 miles of bike and hiking trails in Hartford is progressing.

The Appalachian Regional Commission has donated $6 million to be used for planning and developing the project.

Public input meetings from the general public and bicycling groups are planned for April through July.

Developers are still considering the local community for at least four new projects. On a down note, Graham said steel prices have nearly doubled in the past six months, creating sticker shock for firms looking to construct buildings.

He did report Ole Smoky Distillery has closed on the purchase of the former Lisega building on Cope Boulevard. The firm also is looking to obtain additional adjacent property for an expansion of its operations.

Officials of Eternal Beverage visited the community this week for discussions with contractors regarding that project in the Innovation Park on Highway 25E. Work on grading and the road and pad construction has been slowed by the recent wet weather. Graham said he expects construction on the spring water bottling facility to begin by May.

Graham added COVID-19 vaccinations are expected to pick up in the community when a mass vaccination site is located and is operational.

Partnership Chair Truitt Ottinger congratulated Tourism Director Linda Lewanski, who recently received a Governor’s Volunteer Star Award for her contributions to Keep Cocke County Beautiful, as well as a number of animal advocacy groups.

“We’re lucky to have her on our team,” he told the board.

Lewanski reported she will again work to get Highway 321 designated as a National Scenic Byways highway.

“The scenic byways program is back up and several roads have recently been designated. In 2009 we had gone through our corridor management plan for Highway 321, but two days after we applied, funding was ended. So I’m going to reach out to them to see if we need to reapply for that designation.”

She said work is continuing to obtain a historic marker for the Tanner Building, which once was a Rosenwald School.

Lewanski said a writer with National Geographic magazine will visit Cocke County in April to write a story on outdoor adventure activities in the community.

Lynn Ramsey of the Chamber of Commerce reported activities are moving to more in-person events, and away from purely virtual meetings. That development is the result of increased vaccinations leading to reduced risk of COVID transmission.

She reported 25 businesses participated in the recent Valentine’s Chocolate Crawl, in which visitors to the businesses were treated to chocolate.

The chamber also is preparing another promotion, “Get Lucky by Shopping Local,” to promote local businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic.