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Friday, July 28, 2017

Thank God for the dreamers

I shared these remarks at today's Greenbelt ribbon-cutting.  I thought you might enjoy reading them.

My mom had family that lived just up Big Elm Road in Ross Campground.

When I was a kid, when we went to visit she wanted to leave our house near the Renaissance Center at noon and be back home before 4 pm because the riverfront was ‘unsafe’ and we needed to be home well before dark. 

I have no idea why she thought it was unsafe, she probably learned it from her mother, who learned it from hers.

My recollection is that much of the drive was covered with dense underbrush and there were very few spots you could actually see the river.  The buildings along Netherland Inn Road looked, well more dilapidated than historic.  Come to think of it, it was kind of scary to a small kid – especially when your mom said so.

When plans were announced for a Bicentennial Park in 1976, she immediately scoffed at the idea and said who in the world will use a park on that riverfront?

When plans for a greenbelt park were discussed in the early 80’s, again there was questioning.  I don’t think any of us had ever heard of a greenbelt park, so it must be bad, right?  

When I came home from college during the summer, I helped mom & dad at their service station.  Somewhere along the way, they decided to quit smoking and the doctor told them to get some exercise – and walking was the simplest way.

So we walked. 

Every evening before we went home, we walked. 

By that time, much of the greenbelt was open, so we had several options.  The naysayers had fallen by the wayside and it was arguably the most popular project in recent memory.  

I don’t know that I can express the priceless value of those walks.  As I transitioned from teenager to young adult, those walks gave me the opportunity to talk with my dad man-to-man.  I got the benefit of his wisdom and experiences.  I learned about his opinions on politics, finance, business, and much more.  There was no TV or smartphone to distract us.  He was just talking with me.  I’m not sure we would’ve had those conversations had it not been for the Greenbelt.

Now, as I look back 40 years later – I am having those same walks with my wife, daughter, son and daughter-in-law.   On the same Greenbelt.   And we, too, have transitioned into grown-up conversations – just like me and my dad.  And I’m hopeful that one day my grandchildren will experience this treasure as well.

You see, we build physical structures like the Greenbelt, but the way it impacts people and lives – is what truly matters.  I don’t think my story is unique.  I know that many people, from all walks of life could fill a book with memories and stories of the way this Greenbelt park has impacted them.   
As we celebrate today, I can’t help but compare the present to my past memories.  It’s becoming all that the dreamers dreamed it would be.  But it takes a generation.  When I see the boat ramp full of boat trailers, or a father and son walking to their favorite fishing spot, or a kayaker walking out of RiverBrews with a coffee, I see with clarity that the vision has become a reality.

But how does a project like this come to be?

It takes years of sustained effort from volunteers and staff.  People like Kitty Frazier and Bill Albright, just to name a few.  As city managers and boards of mayor and aldermen have come and gone, these have been the constants.       

It takes many years of sustained funding and partnerships – from the State of Tennessee and the Federal Highway Administration.

It takes a great consulting team like Spoden and Wilson Consulting Engineers (project design), Duco Construction, LLC, and Mattern & Craig.

It takes project managers, like Hank Clabaugh and the Engineering Department, to keep it on time and within budget.

And when it’s finished it takes people like Lewis Bausell and parks maintenance to keep it clean and green.

And when it comes time to repave, Ronnie Hammonds and Streets & Sanitation step in to do their part.

So, on behalf of generations of Kingsporters – those who came before us and those yet to come – let me say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart.


Kingsport is located on the Tennessee-Virginia border at the crossroads of I-81 and I-26 near the geographic center of the Eastern U.S. This city of 50,000 in a metro of 308,000, was planned by renowned American planner John Nolen in his office at Harvard Square. Located in the lush green foothills of the Tennessee Valley, it is surrounded by the Southern Highlands and mountain lakes. Kingsport is home to Marriott’s www.MeadowViewResort.com and thousands of acres of unique, natural amenities at Bays Mountain and Warriors Path Parks. The natural geography provides a temperate, well-balanced climate with four seasons and a natural shelter from extreme weather. Population growth has also been well-balanced, ensuring you will not outgrow your decision to relocate. With no personal property taxes, special assessments, or state income taxes on salaries/wages, you’ll find that Kingsport has a very low cost of living coupled with an exceptionally high quality of life (see for yourself at www.BestPlaces.net). The regional airport (TRI) has direct flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and St. Pete/Clearwater with easy access, parking, and virtually no security lines. The public education system was planned by Columbia University and Newsweek has repeatedly recognized the local high school as one of the best in America. Year in and year out our graduates go on to the top colleges and universities (and without costly private school tuition fees). Harvard also recognized Kingsport in 2009 with the Innovations in American Government Award for its higher education initiative. What are you waiting for? It’s time to leave the high costs, traffic jams, and stress behind and discover this hidden gem.