Jacob’s Nature Park adds state certified arboretum designation

Jeff Keeling unveils a sign indicating Jacob’s Nature Park as state certified Level 1 Arboretum. PHOTO BY GARY GRAY

Jeff Keeling unveils a sign indicating Jacob’s Nature Park as state certified Level 1 Arboretum. PHOTO BY GARY GRAY

By Gary Gray

Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek has added a state certified Level 1 arboretum to its growing list of environmental and educational offerings, and its digital twist allows visitors to employ the latest technology to enhance visual, informational and social connections to the park’s habitat.

The Tennessee Urban Forestry Council certified the arboretum, which has more than 30 identified species of trees. The certification makes Johnson City’s Jacob’s Nature Park Arboretum the third in Washington County.

About 30 community members, volunteers, city officials and naturalists listened and learned on Oct. 29 as volunteer Jeff Keeling and Johnson City Parks and Recreation Nature Program Coordinator Connie Deegan led them on a tour following an official opening. The trek included visual identification of tree species and a demonstration of how the technology can help further that experience.

“I first got interested in the park in 2013 when a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation sign was the only thing here,” Keeling said. “I’ve been a friend of the park every step of the way.”

In December, Keeling called Bill Francisco — the father of Jacob Francisco, for whom the park is named.

“I asked him if he wanted to have an arboretum,” Keeling said. “Connie had been reaching out to an Eagle Scout group, but they had not started anything. I said, ‘Good, I want to do it.’ It turned out to be a complementary feature. I walked the park and came up with well over 20 species of trees, and I knew we could get to 30 for the Level 1 designation. The idea of providing the information digitally seemed like a great idea.”

Keeling decided to start a page on the Plantsmap.com website on which very specific information about tree species in Jacob’s Nature Park can be provided. He gathered volunteers from Grandview Christian Church and installed environmentally sensitive plates containing the names of the species and QR codes. The codes are configured within a pattern, and a smartphone is used to scan the code.

The code is then converted to a website URL, which eliminates the need for a search on a typical web browser. A picture of the species pops up on the Jacob’s Nature Park arboretum page, as does additional information. From this page, visitors will find links to the park’s website and Facebook page.

“This is a community park, and if it wasn’t for members of the community, this wouldn’t be here,” Deegan said about the new arboretum and technology, as well as the park amenities in general.

Plantsmap.com is a website community that hosts botanical collections with customized tools that solve the challenges of documenting, organizing, mapping, tagging and sharing information about plants. It allows the mapping of plants that can be identified from an overhead view of the park.

“This arboretum really adds diversity and value to our park system,” said Vice Mayor Jenny Brock, who was along for the grand opening and tour. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls, and I never knew this was that popular. It’s a great educational tool. To have volunteers come in a do this is really indicative of our community.”

Bill Francisco also announced at the ceremony that a 20-foot by 30-foot pavilion will be built soon just inside the park entrance and will be used mainly for educational purposes.

To learn more about Jacob’s Nature Park, visit jacobfrancisco.com or call (423) 283-5821.


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