By Jeff Keeling
The text message from my friend Bill Francisco could not have been more heartwarming. A bridge over Sinking Creek would finally be built at Jacob’s Nature Park. Materials were being dropped off, city crews were laying the groundwork, and inmates from the Carter County Work Camp would arrive in mid-August to complete the span.
I made my way to the park early that mid-July evening. Could it be that after several years of false starts and frustrations on Bill’s part, the wonders and tranquility of the park’s forested ridge would become much more accessible?
I pulled up next to the year-old sign telling the story of Jacob Francisco, the little boy who loved the outdoors and spent hours playing along Sinking Creek, where the Franciscos live upstream of the park. Jacob died at the age of six from complications related to an E coli infection. For 12 years now, his father has poured his heart into honoring Jacob’s memory in ways that help raise awareness of E coli danger in food and water.
For nearly half that time, Bill Francisco has been the primary driver – with help from many volunteers and from the City of Johnson City – behind development of an environmental education park at 28 acres of wetlands and woodland bisected by the creek. Trails have been built, native species have been planted, money has been raised.
But for nearly as long as Jacob lived, the number of people who could confidently enjoy the entire park has been limited by the precarious methods of crossing the creek. Two years ago, bridge construction appeared imminent, but the project fell through.
So it was a sight for sore eyes to see the heavy equipment parked near a vernal pool where dragonflies zipped in and out of the cattails and frogs plopped into the water as I passed.
Jacob Francisco left this world in the blink of an eye, his natural span of years stolen by an infection, one of the many thieves that lie in wait to remind us of life’s utter fragility. The work to honor his life has been a testament to perseverance and dedication, but it’s about to be rewarded – and I believe more good things will follow at the park.
I have a 6-year-old grandson who loves Jacob’s Park. He, his 3-year-old sister and hundreds more children will be able to run, climb, catch frogs and feast their eyes on wildflowers at one of Johnson City’s loveliest locations. That makes me happy. It makes Bill Francisco happy. And I believe it has Jacob Francisco smiling down from heaven.