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The Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail, a rails-with-trail project, is envisioned to run 19 miles alongside refurbished railroad tracks from Cookeville to Monterey, Tennessee. As of Oct. 2016, a 4.23-mile segment has been opened between Cookeville and Algood, TN. This trail segment is entirely paved and connects the downtown Cookeville area with Tennessee Tech University, residential areas, and ball fields in Algood. On the eastern end and presently unconnected to the newest 4.23-mile portion, a short section, 0.9 miles, is open in Monterey. The remainder of the trail is expected to be built in phases toward the east and expansion is also anticipated toward the west to Baxter, Tennessee.
The corridor that the trail follows originally belonged to the Nashville and Knoxville Railroad, founded in 1884, which later became Tennessee Central Railroad. The trains primarily carried coal, as well as other natural resources and manufactured goods. It had a long run, lasting until 1968 before finally going out of business. But the tracks did not stay dormant permanently.
Nearly 20 years later, a few trains a week began to roll down the corridor once again under a new banner, the Nashville and Eastern Railroad, which now serves a large sand mining operation and other industries between Nashville and Monterey. A few times a year, vintage 1950s-era trains also whisk tourists from Nashville to Cookeville and other communities along the way to enjoy farmers markets, antique shops, handmade crafts, friendly restaurants, and all the warmth and charm of small Southern towns. The themed rides, organized by the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, include fall foliage sightseeing, journeys with Santa, and Thomas the Train trips.
As a nod to its railroad history, the rail-trail will be bookended with two historical depots and, midway, the city of Algood hopes to add a third once its section of trail is complete. As the trail is built toward Baxter, Tennessee, there will be yet a 4th train depot facility for trail users to enjoy. On the trail’s western end, the Cookeville Depot, built in 1909, is a beautiful red brick building with an unusual and elegant pagoda-style roof. It serves as a museum and is also an anchor in Cookeville’s reenergized downtown, surrounded by boutique shops and an eclectic mix of restaurants. The depot in Monterey, on the east end of the trail, is a replica thoughtfully recreated from an original diagram of the 1903 building.
Parking and trail access is currently available at the Monterey Depot Museum (One East Depot Street).
For the next phase of the trail (anticipated to open in September 2016), parking will be available at the Cookeville Depot Museum (116 W. Broad Street) and the Algood ballfields (125 4th Avenue).
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