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. 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 advising 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 were vital partners 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.
BWP continues working with the same partners, along with the Johnson City Morning Rotary Club, local businesses, and hundreds of volunteers to develop an environmental education park at Sinking Creek. In September, 2013, the City of Johnson City designated twenty-eight acres of its property located 1/2 mile from Mountain View Elementary School on King Springs Road for this purpose. Hundreds of volunteers have built nearly two miles of hiking trail through the woodlands and along the creek and wetlands. Due to the progress inspired by Jacob, the City Commission of Johnson City officially named this park development “Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek” on April 16, 2015.
In 2014, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Nonpoint Source Program awarded a $20,000 grant for educational signs that explain the probable causes of the contamination to Sinking Creek and how it is being restored, provide further information about the sources of E. coli bacteria, and how to reduce the risk of contamination and illness. The grant will expire in 2017 with signs that will provide information about some plants, animals, and geological features within the park.
Tysinger, Hampton & Partners, Inc. drew plans for construction of an 8′ x 35′ bridge over Sinking Creek linking the woodlands trails to the wetlands with 100′ of handicap-accessible ramp/boardwalk. Gary Tysinger has provided numerous in-kind hours to help launch Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek. Four-years of BWP fundraising events has paid over $40,000 for the engineering materials. The City of Johnson City and the Tennessee Department of Corrections in-kind constructed the bridge and ramp with a nine-man crew and heavy equipment mid-August through mid-October, 2016.
BWP continues to apply for grant funding and seek potential partners to build a pavilion with a living roof as an outdoor classroom for this environmental education park. Wilson Architects, Inc. has designed a 20′ x 30′ pavilion with a living roof that will function as an outdoor classroom in the park. Prosim Engineering, Inc. is providing its structural engineering services in-kind. The estimated cost for construction of the outdoor classroom and improved access is nearly $50,000 and fundraising efforts continue. The Johnson City News & Neighbor published a nice article with an image of the design and an event with Detroit Tigers pitcher, Daniel Norris, to raise funds that can be read at: http://jcnewsandneighbor.com/norris-appearance-to-boost-environmental-park-fundraiser-jan-9/.
Jacob’s Nature Park is within a few blocks of the Tweetsie Trail, which is a rail-to-trail, pedestrian/cycling path linking Johnson City and Elizabethton. A story was told about Jacob’s signs he painted to advertise the painted rocks he planned to sell at a yard sale that never happened. The story developed into the placement of painted rocks to guide hikers from the Tweetsie Trail to Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek. A map of the park is found with a click on the hyperlink: jacobsnatureparkmap022417.
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 Nature Park at Sinking Creek addresses public health concerns of water quality, childhood obesity, and recreation for seniors and adults with intellectual disabilities within the neighborhood.
Jacob’s Project is at the forefront helping the Boone Watershed Partnership and the City of Johnson City 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.