​Historic Vote on Mountain Goat Trail Crossing: Monteagle to Apply for $1M Grant

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At a special called meeting Sept. 4, the Monteagle City Council voted to authorize the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance (MGTA) to write a grant on the town’s behalf, requesting up to $1 million to get the trail across the interstate. Following the route the railroad once used to transport coal from the Plateau, the walking and biking trail will extend from Cowan to Palmer when complete.
“For 10 years we’ve been trying to figure out how to bridge the interstate,” said MGTA President Nate Wilson.
If Monteagle receives the funds requested in the Southeast Development District (SDD) Multimodal Grant, the town will be required to pay 5 percent of the construction costs, up to $25,000 per year over a two year period. On the first vote, Vice Mayor Jessica Blalock and Mayor David Sampley voted against the resolution authorizing the grant application, with alderman Kenneth Gipson and Ron Terrill voting yes.
“As a candidate for mayor, I promised not to spend money putting the town in debt,” Sampley said.
“We don’t have the money to do this,” stressed County Recorder Debbie Taylor. “Our budget is pretty tight.”
“What if we cover the $50,000?” Wilson asked. “The MGTA can commit to do that, as well as to paying any loan costs associated with the project.”
The council recessed to discuss Wilson’s offer.
Upon returning, the council voted unanimously in favor of the proposal. Alderperson Suzie Zeman was absent.
“The second largest industry in the state is tourism,” Wilson said, commenting on the potential benefits of the trail. An economic impact study conducted by the Babson Center projected the trail would generate $1.2 million annual revenue for Grundy County. The largest portion of that would go to Monteagle since it has motels and levies an occupancy tax. Wilson noted—“Research indicates if there is 25 miles or more of trail, bike users spend the night.”
“The trail will pay for itself with revenue,” Wilson insisted.
The council discussed borrowing the $50,000 from the $486,000 capital outlay budget earmarked for a new fire hall, but expressed concern about the money being replaced. Monteagle does not levy an income tax. The town’s revenue is limited to proceeds from the occupancy tax, gasoline tax, and sales tax revenue from retail businesses and restaurants.
The grant funding, if received, will complete the trail from Dollar General to Tower Community Bank. Conversation is underway with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) about using the old railroad bridge to span the interstate, Wilson said. In support of the project, TDOT will conduct a free structural assessment of the bridge.
Also in the project’s favor is money earmarked for sidewalks in the area of the interstate exits, Wilson pointed out. Portions of the sidewalks could be used for the trail.
Wilson expects the grant application to score high because of the connectivity the trail affords and because it fits in well with the state’s infrastructure plan. Grundy County Mayor Michael Brady had intended to apply for funding for a similar project. Brady’s project had lower connectivity impact, and Brady has agreed to put his energy behind the MGT interstate crossing proposal.
Wilson said the multi-modal grant was a historic opportunity since in the past SDD money for rural projects typically went to roads.
The SDD Rural Project Organization will score the grant applicants on Sept. 19. City and county mayors in the district are voting members.