Sinking Creek is a beautiful 10 mile stream that flows through the south side of Johnson City in Washington County and empties into the Watauga River in Carter County, which is renowned for trophy trout fishing. Children and their families should be able to explore and irrigate from the stream, but it is not safe for wading or irrigating in certain portions because of high levels of E. coli bacteria. The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation has placed warning signs at stream access locations beginning near the wetlands and downstream to advise the public not to swim or wade due to unacceptable levels of coliform bacteria. Non-point sources of the bacteria are failing septic systems and runoff.
In 2008, the Boone Watershed Partnership (BWP) received a $300,000 match grant from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for the restoration of Sinking Creek by reducing the E. coli bacteria in the stream. The City of Johnson City and East Tennessee State University have been vital partners for identifying antiquated septic tanks and sources of potential runoff along the stream. As a result, the Sinking Creek Restoration Project eliminated twenty-four septic tanks to sewer connections, repaired four septic systems outside of city limits, fenced the Catbird Creek tributary flowing through a cattle pasture, and expanded wetlands by 2.1 acres by the end of September, 2013.
Now, BWP is looking forward to working with the same partners, the Johnson City Morning & Evening Rotary Clubs, and local businesses to develop an environmental education park at Sinking Creek. The City of Johnson City has designated twenty-eight acres of undevelopable property near Mountain View Elementary School on King Springs Road for this purpose. BWP continues to apply for further grant funding and seek potential business-sector partners to build approximately 1,000 feet of boardwalk over the wetland and along the creek, some hiking bridges, and a shelter with a living roof as an outdoor classroom for this environmental education park. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has awarded a small grant for interactive educational signs to be placed that will explain the probable causes of the contamination to Sinking Creek and how it is being restored, and provide further information about the sources of E. coli bacteria and how to reduce the risk of contamination and illness. The interactive educational signs will also provide information about the plants, animals, and the geological features within the park. On April 16, 2015, the City Commission of Johnson City officially named this park development “Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek.”
There will not be any other infrastructure at this park in order to preserve the natural habitats that already thrive there. There is a rustic hiking trail through the hardwood forest on the ridges overlooking the wetlands. Local students from kindergarten through post-graduate will have access to different natural habitats and opportunities for a variety of studies within a short distance from their traditional classrooms. The young families at Preservation Pointe, the residents of the new senior housing development across the street, and the neighbors with intellectual disabilities will especially appreciate the opportunity to get into the middle of nature. This park will actually address specific public health concerns of the neighborhood: water quality, childhood obesity, active senior living, and accessible outdoor recreational activities for intellectually disabled adults.
Click on Sinking Creek Prelim Layout to see a proposed preliminary layout of boardwalk, bridges, outdoor classroom and hiking trail in the wetlands portion of the park. Jacob’s Nature Park is within a few blocks of the new Tweetsie Trail, which is a rail-to-trail, pedestrian/cycling path linking Johnson City and Elizabethton.
The restoration of Sinking Creek and the development of an environmental education park at Sinking Creek is a perfect legacy for how Jacob lived: exploring, learning, caring. Jacob’s Project is at the forefront helping the Boone Watershed Partnership and the City of Johnson City to develop this environmental education park. If you would like to financially support this development, please make your online tax-deductible contribution at http://boonewatershed.org/index.php/get-involved/donate1/; or make check payable to: BWP-Jacob’s Park, P.O. Box 774, Milligan College, TN 37682.