It was three days of intense presentations, reports, interaction, discussion and tours designed to benefit communities across our state that are either engaged, or interested in ramping up their greenways and trails efforts.
The forum is held every two years and sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. It is held in a different location each time, allowing repeat participants to tour projects in various parts of the state. What everyone comes away with is an infusion of vision and a sack full of ideas for their respective communities.
After checking into the beautiful Inn On The Park grounds on April 25, I boarded a bus for a three-hour whirlwind tour of the Harpeth River Blueway. Part of the Metro Nashville parks system, we inspected several of the “put-ins” at various locations on the Harpeth, most of which began as stream bank restoration projects seeking public access to the waterway. We heard stories of how the projects were implemented from tour guide Jane Polansky, scenic rivers administrator with the state parks system.
The next two days were filled with informative sessions presented by veteran developers, fundraisers and trail managers. The keynote on the second day was given by Chuck Flink, president of Alta/Greenways. His presentation was filled with his years of research on the economic benefits of greenways in communities, and how trails and greenways become economic drivers. He shared Florida’s $50 million investment in a greenway that will connect Orlando to Tampa. He talked about how greenways enhance local tax values and greenway construction creates jobs. He illustrated the power of greenways as tourist attractions, citing the success of San Antonio and greenway-oriented tourism through that city’s famous RiverWalk. He gave facts about how greenways attract tourists of all kinds, such as bird watchers, runs and bike races, and that tourism is the second highest economic driver in Tennessee.
One of my favorite facts from Chuck was this: homes located on or near greenways realize a 10-20 percent gain in value. This is from research conducted by the National Association of Realtors. It is information that should prove beneficial to neighborhoods like Northwood subdivision, which was connected to our Greenway last summer. He also gave a real-life and “close to home” example of the power of greenways to attract corporations, citing Ruby Tuesday’s decision to locate their corporate headquarters in Maryville, a decision based largely upon the fact there was a popular greenway in the community.
In my report back to the Greenway Board, I shared what I called “takeaways,” quotes that really stuck with me, particularly as it relates to our Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. Here are a few of them:
n “Don’t be a purist.” Many times through the years we have come to a standstill on a certain portion of the Greenway because of something that was previously decided. For example, it has been said for years that our Greenway would follow Mouse Creek for its entire distance. That “purist” thought has hindered progress. There is nothing that should keep us from expanding the Greenway where appropriate, regardless of whether it parallels Mouse Creek.
n “Green space = Greenbacks.” Over and over I heard presentations from veteran developers that communities want green space and greenways. Open, inviting areas of natural beauty and these areas, when developed, attract investors and retailers. The same goes for homeowners.
n “People want to leave a legacy.” The fact was reiterated that communities with well-managed and functional greenways attract the admiration and support of its residents. I was captivated by Carol Evans of the Legacy Parks Foundation in Knoxville who shared numerous anecdotes of occasions where large gifts were donated to complete a trail around the city’s perimeter.
n “If you hit a roadblock, move to the next thing.” Like the “purist” statement above, any worthwhile project is going to have its roadblocks and delays. That’s no reason to take a break! The great thing about our Greenway is we have multiple projects on the table, so as one is taking time to incubate, we are able to focus our efforts in other areas.
My notebook was filled with many more facts and figures, but there's only so much space the Cleveland Daily Banner allots me for this column! Suffice it to say, I was encouraged about the path our Greenway has been on and the future looks even brighter!
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