Building “Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek”

Jacob in trees

Jacob loved hiking, exploring, and climbing trees; hence, Jacob’s Nature Park

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 volunteer non-profit organization, Boone Watershed Partnership, Inc. (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.


AmeriCorps Fall 2013

BWP worked with state & local government, community organizations, 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 trails 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 an educational sign that explains the probable causes of the bacterial contamination to Sinking Creek and how it is being restored, provides information about the sources of E. coli bacteria, and teaches how to reduce the risk of contamination and illness from this bacteria.  In 2016, this sign with Jacob’s kindergarten signature was placed at the main entrance beside 1214 King Springs Road.  It introduces visitors to how Jacob loved to live and explains the tragedy that he endured with the goal of educating, inspiring, and saving lives.  It also describes Sinking Creek and some historical developments of the acreage before it became a park.  The grant also paid for three interactive signs located during the summer of 2017 along hiking trails within the park.  The signs teach visitors about salamanders, turtles, and pollinators particular to Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek.  Essyx Design & Fabricators, Inc., located on the other side of Bell Ridge across from the park, designed and created the signs. 

The engineering firm of 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 provided numerous in-kind hours to help launch Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek.  Four-years of BWP fundraising events paid over $40,000 for the engineering and materials.  The City of Johnson City and the Tennessee Department of Corrections in-kind labor constructed the bridge and ramp with a nine-man crew and heavy equipment mid-August through mid-October, 2016.

During 2018, Jeff Keeling asked about a project that the Grandview Christian Church 456 Youth Crew could complete in Jacob’s Nature Park.  Jacob’s grandma had already mentioned how nice it would be if the park could have some tree and plant identifiers along the trails.  Jeff & Angie Keeling led the group with the help of Melanie Kelley, Connie Deegan, and Johnson City Arborist Pat Walding to create a one-of-a-kind arboretum that identifies and links the tree species with the pollinator that it hosts.  The tree markers contain the information and a Q-reader hyperlink to more information about the tree at  On October 29, 2018, Jacob’s Nature Park Arboretum was officially opened as a level I certified arboretum by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council.

BWP raised funds and in 2017 was awarded another grant for $25,000 from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to build a pavilion with a living roof as an outdoor classroom.  Wilson Architects, Inc. designed the 20′ x 30′ pavilion with a living roof that will serve as a model for environmental construction.  Prosim Engineering, Inc. provided its structural engineering services in-kind.  The Johnson City News & Neighbor published a nice article with an image of the design and a fundraising event with former Science Hill High School and current Detroit Tigers pitcher, Daniel Norris:, the engineering firm of Tysinger, Hampton & Partners committed many in-kind hours to develop environmentally and economically efficient construction site plans.  Hoilman Construction Company generously graced this project as general contractor.  The structure for the Outdoor Classroom with a Living Roof was constructed by the Tennessee Department of Corrections and the Johnson City Department of Parks & Recreation during the winter of 2019-20.  The roof was created and planted by Living Roofs, Inc. in the Spring of 2020, and this project was completed in the fall of 2020 with the placement of an interpretive sign about the construction and benefits of a living roof.

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 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.  Click on this hyperlink to listen to a WETS radio podcast about the park:

15 responses to this post.



  2. Posted by TERI LEE on May 31, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Curiosity finally got the best of me and I filled the signs from the Tweetsie Trail. I went to the end of Ocala but saw no signs. Just a dead end road. I didn’t want to trespass on private property so I just headed back to the trail. Should I have crossed the concrete barriers in order to enter the park?


    • Your curiosity shall be rewarded with an “affirmative” to your question. It is not private property at the end of Ocala St. You will enter Jacob’s Nature Park at the dead-end of Ocala St. The barriers you saw are boulders that were removed from bridge construction at the other end of the park, and were placed there to keep out wheel traffic. More signs are coming soon! Thank you for your inquiry and sense of adventure to explore this developing environmental education park.


  3. The park is beautiful, I’m sorry for the Loss of Jacob I send my condolences to mr and Mrs Francisco. When I read about how much Jacob loved playing and hiking in the Woodlands and around the creek, it reminded me of myself when I was a boy growing up in the Maupin Row Community in the 1960,s and 1970,s , the creek was behind our house and it was beside my grandpa and grandma’s house 50.FT away the house sit Higher than the creek I remember in the Early 1970,s it started raining on a Saturday morning and rained all day and night it had flooded everywhere in the community after that my grandfather had a cinder block wall built along the creek bank. GOD has looked over me I learned how to swim in Sinking creek and would wade the creek I’ve even caught fish out of the creek and ate them when I was a boy every boy in the maupin Row community probably learned how to swim in the creek. I’m very thankful that the wetlands and Woodlands are protected I played in the wetlands and the Woodlands used to hunt in those areas when I was a boy but I don’t hunt anymore, I would like to thank you all for all the time and work you all did for the area I always worried about the Woodlands and wetlands being destroyed by some greedy developer building apartments in the Woodlands I love that creek and the Woodlands and wetlands they were Apart of the very best times of my whole life.


    • Thank you for the kind remarks Mr. Hartsook. The source of Jacob’s contamination is unknown and Sinking Creek is not suspect. However, his love of nature, a local environmental concern, and his declaration that he would one day be famous compelled many individuals and organizations to develop an environmental education park there. Many volunteers and donors have helped develop and maintain Jacob’s Nature Park. Glad you like it.


  4. I grew up in the maupin row community in the 1960’s and 1970’s and used to swim and fish in sinking creek it was beside my grandma’s house maybe 40,ft away my grandma’s house was on a hill above the creek and back in feburary 1971 or 1972 it rained all day and night one Saturday and I woke up on a Sunday morning and the yard was flooded and the water was coming over the small bridge on Orlando drive and in the field where the wet lands are and on down the creek right past where catbird creek runs into sinking creek the field across the creek was flooded too. A few days later my grandpa had a friend of the family that was a great brick and block mason,he built a cinder block wall for my grandpa along the creek bank beside the house it’s still there I have been thinking about how many of my toys are probably in the cinder block wall because they never capped,the wall. I know those woods and the creek like the back of my hand I have always loved them especially in the summer time it’s a very beautiful place I am glad its being taken care of I don’t like what happened to the little boy its named after I was lucky when I was a kid that there was no E.coli in the creek Thank GOD.


    • So glad you appreciate Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek where you spent many great times as a child exploring the creek, the wetlands, and their forested ridges. The area has gone through many changes since the 60’s and 70’s. It is not believed that Jacob obtained his E.coli contamination from this stream, but the family believed the stream a local concern to raise awareness of where E.coli can be found. Indeed, the stream has been tested numerous times with negative results for the strain that infected Jacob. Still, I’m sure you’ve seen the numerous signs warning visitors about the risks while you enjoy your hikes through your old stomping ground.


  5. Posted by Susan Ramsey on March 29, 2021 at 9:23 am

    Is this park dog friendly?


  6. Posted by Susan Ramsey on April 6, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Is this park pet friendly?


  7. I hope to visit the area soon. Can children play in the stream now? Thank you


  8. Posted by Mrs. C on January 22, 2023 at 12:55 pm

    I am a volunteer teacher at a local homeschool Co-op. I teach 2 classes, one on Ecosystems and the other is our garden club.

    I was wondering if there was someone I could reach out to, that could maybe come to our Co-op as a guest speaker.

    The children are middle schoolers and I average 6-12 children a class. If you could help point me in the right direction, I think it would be wonderful to educate our children more about our own local ecosystems.


  9. Connie Deegan is the Nature Program Coordinator for Johnson City Parks & Recreation. She is a great presenter and can also refer you to other great presenters for your classes. You can also connect to others involved with environmental education at a few fb pages focused on Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek: Friends of Jacob’s Nature Park, Woodlands Restoration at Jacob’s Nature Park on Sinking Creek, and Jacob’s Nature Park & Awareness Projects.


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