By Jeff Keeling
With beautiful snowflakes still drifting downward in the gray, late afternoon gloaming Saturday before last, I labored up the slope of New Street toward the foot of Tannery Knob.
Something about my runner’s endorphins, and the cloaking quiet that only a decent snowpack covering the ground can provide, set my thoughts whirling as I loped along the steady rise from Brush Creek.
Had any Overmountain Men passed under the shadows of this knob 230-plus years ago, with the trees all bare and the snows falling, I wondered fleetingly? If they had, little might be different on its steep slopes, save perhaps the girth of the hardwoods.
As quickly as those fancies had arrived, though, they were supplanted by musings about a possible future state of the urban prominence that rises 350 feet above the creek’s elevation, with a ridge running east and west about a half mile along its spine. I’ve been taking closer looks at Tannery Knob lately, because for the past few months the right kind of folks have been putting their heads together and contemplating a bicycle park there.
The land is in friendly hands already, so it’s no pipe dream to imagine a park with bike trails catering to everyone – from families and beginners to much more serious riders – could come to fruition. A local business whose core product could be found in a bike park is closely involved and reaching out to potential experts for help. Other people with experience in such things are at work as the details are vetted, and early i’s dotted and t’s crossed.
The process is far enough along to have reached preliminary conversations with city leaders, and so soon, the proverbial rubber will meet the road – or in this case, the dirt.
Full disclosure: I love the outdoors, and I love trails, trail running, trail biking and the like. But putting that all aside and simply reflecting on the overwhelming success of the Tweetsie Trail, it is clear that Johnson City, Tennessee is ready for more scenic, sustainable, fitness-oriented outdoor amenities.
If this probable opportunity becomes a certain one, our city leaders should jump at the chance to help lead a private-public partnership similar to the one that moved the Tweetsie Trail from vision to reality in impressively short order. I could list many reasons why this should be a no-brainer for city involvement and reasonable levels of public investment – barring clear and legitimate proofs that it simply isn’t a feasible project, in which case I don’t believe its current proponents would push for it anyway.
Here are a couple:
Success breeds success – Competition among high-quality attractions doesn’t dilute their success. It draws more people interested in those sorts of things. That applies to outdoor amenities that creatively and sustainability use an area’s natural resources as surely as it applies to restaurants in a downtown. A bicycle park, and a Tweetsie Trail, and a new environmental park (nearby Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek) all can succeed within a short distance of one another.
Location, location, location – City commissioners are perusing a study about sports and recreational facilities. It could lead to millions of dollars being spent to build or upgrade sites in hopes of attracting additional revenue-generating events to the area. That’s all well and good, but commissioners would also do well to earmark some of that spending for projects such as the potential bike park. More and more successful people can work from home and are choosing where to live based upon quality of life factors. We enjoy an embarrassment of riches in the natural beauty category around here. Continuing to lay over that gift an array of parks, trail networks and similar attractors should pay dividends for decades to come as people see additional reasons to move here (and thereby contribute to the tax base).
Once this idea’s proponents have it thoroughly vetted and realize it’s attainable, I’m confident they’ll persevere, just as Bill Francisco and his allies have done in the case of Jacob’s Nature Park. The city’s leaders have every reason to ask good questions, but beyond that, they should approach this opportunity as facilitators, not micro-managers.