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Tri-Cities region braces for winter storm

KINGSPORT — Tennessee and Virginia transportation agencies are gearing up for the third snowstorm of 2022 and forecasters predict anywhere from 2 to 12 inches across Northeast Tennessee and far Southwest Virginia by Monday morning.

The National Weather Service office in Morristown called for a winter storm warning across the region starting at 4 a.m. Sunday, with projected snowfall in the Tri-Cities ranging from 3-4 inches in Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City.

Snowfall in most of Scott and Lee counties was also forecast to reach 3-4 inches.

However, snow levels in far western Lee County, the northern edge of Scott County and most of Wise County and Norton could reach 6 inches by Monday morning with higher elevations facing as much as 12 inches.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, in one of his last acts before leaving office Saturday, declared a state of emergency due to the impending storm.

“We expect this storm to have a significant impact in many parts of Virginia,” Northam said Friday. “Declaring a state of emergency now allows our emergency responders to prepare and to move supplies and equipment where they expect to need them the most. This also gives Governor-elect (Glenn) Youngkin the ability to respond to any storm needs swiftly.”

The text of the declaration was removed from state websites Saturday after Youngkin’s inauguration. The declaration also was not on Youngkin’s press release webpage.

Appalachian Power spokesperson Teresa A. Hall said the utility is bringing in 250 workers from Indiana and Michigan to deal with potential outages.

Power customers can find preparedness and safety tips at www.appalachianpower.com/safety.

Hall said customers can get specific information about the outages affecting their accounts via text message and/or email by subscribing to Appalachian Power outage alerts at www.appalachianpower.com/alerts. Snapshot views of current outages can also be viewed at https://d2oclp3li76tyy.cloudfront.net/external/default.html

VDOT Bristol District spokesperson Michelle Earl said Saturday that district crews and contractors had begun pre-treating primary highways — including Interstates 81 and 77, U.S. Route 23 and U.S. Route 58 — with brine in preparation for Sunday’s storm.

Traffic information is also available regionally on Twitter at @VDOTBristol or statewide at @511statewideVA. For general VDOT information, follow @VaDOT.

Earl advised drivers to stay off roads all day to allow crews to clear roads during the storm. If driving, she advised:

• Be weather aware. Follow local forecasts and visit 511Virginia.org for the latest road conditions.

• If traveling during adverse weather, review forecasts along your entire route and allow extra travel time.

• Ensure there is adequate fuel in your vehicle, carry a blanket and winter clothes, and pack snacks and water.

• Allow crews time and space to plow and treat roads.

VDOT officials also advised students returning to colleges and universities for the start of the spring semester to either arrive early at campuses or delay their trips until after the storm passes and roads are clear.

Virginia and Tennessee drivers have access to phone, online and app resources to monitor road conditions.

“Motorists can check the 511virginia.org website for road conditions and view live traffic cameras in some areas,” said Earl. A 511 free mobile app can be downloaded for smartphone use at: https://www.virginiadot.org/511MobileApp/.

Drivers in Virginia can report hazardous road conditions or talk to a customer service representative via VDOT’s Customer Service Center at (800) FOR-ROAD at (800) 367-7623 or by visiting online at my.vdot.virginia.gov.

Motorists on Tennessee roads can access travel conditions online at www.tn511.com or by dialing 511 or (877) 244-0065 outside Tennessee.

TNSmartWay on TDOT’s website — www.tn.gov/tdot/drivers-traffic.html — gives real-time traffic information on highway incidents, construction activities, and weather-related road conditions, including streaming traffic cameras, messages displayed on overhead Dynamic Message Signs, and speed data.

Earl said drivers in Virginia also can get travel information through the Waze live traffic and road map app. Earl said VDOT has partnered with Waze on a feature allowing drivers to report in real time when a road has not been plowed, giving other app users warnings about those areas.

Online:

National Weather Service, Morristown: https://www.weather.gov/mrx/

Tennessee Department of Transportation: https://www.tn.gov/tdot.html

Virginia Department of Transportation: https://www.virginiadot.org/


Tractor Supply opened its second Kingsport location last month. The new store is at 3100 E. Stone Drive.


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Tractor Supply CEO enjoyed Kingsport's 'out here' lifestyle while growing up

KINGSPORT — Hal Lawton is many things. He’s the CEO of Tractor Supply. He was named one of the 10 youngest CEOs in the Fortune 500. He’s a former eBay, Home Depot and Macy’s executive. But he’s also a Kingsport native with fond memories of growing up in the Model City.

“I got the chance to drive by the house I grew up in pretty much my entire childhood,” Lawton told the Times News, referring to his most recent trip to Kingsport. “I lived there for about 15 years of my 18 years there. It’s great to see everything and see how much it’s changed and grown but it’s still the same.”

Lawton, 47, attended Sullivan South High School before heading off to North Carolina State to study chemical engineering and later business at the University of Virginia, where he earned his master’s degree. His father worked at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport. Lawton enjoyed playing basketball at the Boys and Girls Club, delivering papers for the Kingsport Times News and attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with his family, among other memories.

While Lawton’s family didn’t own or operate a farm while in Kingsport, he said he was immersed in the rural atmosphere of Northeast Tennessee and what the Tractor Supply leader considers the “out here” lifestyle.

“I did enjoy the lifestyle,” Lawton said. “Colonial Heights is reasonably rural. I did not grow up on a farm, but I had lots of friends that did. We would go fishing on the lake and the river, we spent a lot of time at Warrior’s Path, hiking up in the Smoky Mountains and all those sorts of things.”

Lawton’s most recent trip to the Model City wasn’t just a walk down memory lane and the road on which he grew up. The CEO stopped to visit one of Kingsport’s two Tractor Supply locations. The first is located on Minnich Trail in West Kingsport and the second, which opened last month, is located on East Stone Drive.

“It’s really growing and thriving,” Lawton said of the Minnich Trail store. “We invested in that store by adding the garden center and upgrading the inside. Because of the performance of that store, we decided to add a second location. We were excited to have it open now, and even more so, serve the community of Kingsport.”

Lawton became the Tractor Supply CEO in January 2020, shortly before the start of the pandemic in the U.S. After enjoying a couple of months of normalcy in his new role, Lawton said leaders of the Tractor Supply company looked to the aspects that have made it successful for the last 83 years: its flexibility and focus on its customers.

“It’s built to serve its customers,” Lawton said. “It’s a business that is needed by its customers. We talk about how we want to be the reliable supplier for our customers. I think we’ve really demonstrated over the past couple years just how essential we are to our customers and how committed we are to upholding that and being a place they can rely on.”

Lawton has seen a great deal of success with Tractor Supply, which is the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, with more than 45,000 employees. But Lawton’s road to success started in Kingsport with his brother and parents, a fact which certainly isn’t lost on the CEO.

“I was fortunate to have had lots of opportunities and multiple mentors, supporters and developers along the way. That starts with my parents,” Lawton said. “They were big supporters and made many sacrifices for my brother and I.”

One of those opportunities included a Kingsport Times News paper route through Lawton’s middle school years and into his time in high school along with a couple of scholarships from the newspaper.

“When I started delivering the paper, it was an afternoon paper,” Lawton recalled. “I used to come home from middle school and hop on my bike and ride around and deliver 80 to 100 papers. Then I remember it shifted to a morning paper right around the time I got my driver’s license.

“They used to do these newspaper carrier scholarships. They were for like $500 or $1,000. I won at least two if not three of them. It was really helpful in terms of helping me go to college. Where I was going out of state, it was expensive. Not only did the paper route help me with an income while I was living in Kingsport, but it also contributed to me going to school.”

Over the years, Lawton has lived in Atlanta, California and New York working for various companies such as Home Depot, eBay and Macy’s. Now he and his wife and kids reside in Nashville, where he’s connected with fellow Sullivan South and Dobyns-Bennett graduates in his home state.

Like his hometown, Lawton looks to grow Tractor Supply, while keeping the heart of the company the same. He aims to keep Tractor Supply a reliable source to farmers, pet owners, gardeners and more. But the road ahead, he said, is just as bright as it’s always been.

“It’s a business that I really have a passion for,” Lawton said. “It’s supporting what we call that ‘out here’ lifestyle, serving our customers and serving rural America and doing it in a unique way that is demand-driven and needs-based. We’re very much a purpose-driven organization. I was thrilled to be able to join an organization like Tractor Supply that has such a strong culture and strong organization. Tractor Supply is on a really bright path. But also it’s got an equally bright future ahead of it.”

For more information on Tractor Supply go to https://www.tractorsupply.com/.


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Carter and regional leaders express support for Tweetsie Trail expansion

By John Thompson

Could Johnson City become a regional center for bicycling, attracting tourists and economic investment in outdoor recreation to the city?

The Tweetsie Trail has proven to be a popular cycling, walking and running trail linking Johnson City and Elizabethton. The trail uses the old right-of-way of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad to provide an attractive path that winds through the eastern edge of Johnson City, crosses an expressway on a high bridge, then travels through scenic countryside through Milligan, Happy Valley and into Elizabethton.

But as the name of the old railroad suggests, there was much more to the old railway than the current 9.7 miles of the Tweetsie Trail, and some government leaders, recreational promoters and cycling enthusiasts are working to extend the trail through some spectacular scenery.

Their dream is to continue the Tweetsie Trail along the old ET&WNC right-of-way from Elizabethton to Hampton. That would enable trail users to traverse the area where the Doe River cuts through steep mountains, with an early 20th century highway bridge on one side of the trail and the modern bridge providing the route for U.S. Highways 19E and 321 to Hampton and on to Roan Mountain and North Carolina on the other.

However, merely extending the Tweetsie Trail to Hampton is not the final goal. There are also plans to bring the trail to the new Hampton Watershed Mountain Bike Park. If the plans are completed, the park would have 11 miles of trails on Cedar Mountain and 1,200 feet of elevation change, equaling that of the famed ski center of Sugar Mountain. Beyond that would be a course established for experienced road cyclists only that would provide a route all the way to Roan Mountain.

Physicians have praised the health benefits of the Tweetsie Trail, but now government leaders, economic development professionals and tourism officials are also discussing the economic benefits of a larger trail.

One of those promoters is Ken Gough, chairman of the Carter County Parks and Recreation Board.

“The trail is now 9.7 miles long, traveling from Johnson City to Elizabethton. That is long enough to make it of local interest,” Gough said. “The extension to Hampton would make it 14 miles, or 28 miles for a round trip. That would attract tourists from throughout the region.”

He said the extension would become even more attractive by tying in new mountain bike parks on each end of the trail: the Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park in Johnson City and the Hampton Watershed Mountain Bike Park in Hampton. Gough said Johnson City could also be promoted as the hub of a mountain biking region that includes nearly two dozen bike trails that are all within a 90-minute drive. For the racing enthusiast, it would also provide a chance to ride on a portion of the Roan Groan, one of the most challenging bicycle race courses in the nation.

But the next step for all of that is the extension of the Tweetsie Trail from Elizabethton to Hampton. That project is possible thanks to the recent donation to the county of 28 acres between Valley Forge and Hampton. The property is the old ET&WNC right-of-way. It extends from Mill Pond in Valley Forge to Railroad Street in the Rittertown Road area. Despite the rugged terrain it traverses, the trail is surprisingly level and cuts through the mountain by means of a railroad tunnel built in the 19th century. The tunnel also provides the passage for pipes that provide 60% of Elizabethton’s water.

Several regional leaders have expressed support for the expansion project. Alicia Phelps, executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association wrote a letter to Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby and the parks and recreation board.

“This expansion and access to 4.5 additional miles along the Tweetsie Trail in Carter County would give both residents and visitors access to what makes Northeast Tennessee such a popular destination — the raw and natural beauty of the mountains and forests that encompass the area, including Carter County’s Doe River. Adding to the increase in popularity, Blue Ridge Outdoors recently mentioned the Elizabethton area as an integral part of Tennessee’s Bike Boom in their October 2021 issue.”

Woodby became very active in promoting the extension of the trail and enlisted the aid of Sen. Rusty Crowe, whose district includes all of the Tweetsie Trail, to assist the county in getting state support for the project. Crowe said he and the county’s two representatives in the House — John Holsclaw Jr. and Scotty Campbell — “are very excited about the new Tweetsie Trail plans we’ve all been working on recently.

“Mayor Woodby and Chairman Ken Gouge asked me to set up a meeting with the proper officials in Nashville, so I arranged for meetings with representatives of the governor’s finance department because we need the state to partner with us financially and also with the department of tourism … as this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our Carter County’s beauty, rich history, recreational and economic development possibilities. …The bike and hiking trails will compare with some of the best in our entire nation.”

“We are requesting $5.25 million in funding from the state of Tennessee to support this expansion and to help make Carter County, along with the rest of Northeast Tennessee, a premier destination for outdoor cycling,” said Woodby.

Gouge said one of the biggest expenses in extending the trail will be a new bridge across the Doe River. The old railroad bridge is gone. The parallel highway bridge still stands, but there are large holes in the roadway that make it unsafe.


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