Concluding Thoughts

Although we have ended our physical Pickin' Up TN tour, the “virtual” tour continues for years to come as we focus on using this website and various social media platforms to continue to spread the word about litter awareness and land stewardship in our state. Hopefully, we've left a legacy of rich content here that can inspire local communities to take charge of their roadside and waterway litter issues and to work together to preserve viewsheds and scenic corridors. There is no shortage of breathtaking beauty in this state, but we can't take it for granted. It is the obligation of every citizen to play a role in keeping Tennessee beautiful and litter-free for present and future generations.

Doe River, Roan Mountain State Park

Doe River, Roan Mountain State Park

WHAT YOU CAN DO

The place to start is home. On our own property, we have to ask ourselves, are we doing everything we can to keep it beautiful and respectful of nature? I personally inspect my front yard every morning when I get the newspaper from my driveway, just to make sure no windswept trash ended up on my yard. Invariably, a piece of tissue paper, a part of a fast food container or a candy wrapper will be found. Usually, these are things that are remnants from trash hauling day that don't make it into the trash truck and blow around the neighborhood. At other times, I'm sure the occasional passer-by will toss things out the window, right onto my lawn. I've seen it happen before, and I'm in a very quiet, out-of-the way Chattanooga suburb.

Beyond picking trash off our own property, are we also doing everything we can to make our homes nature-friendly and integrated with the surrounding environment? Are we landscaping with mostly native plants? The big advantage to doing that is that they are hardier and are lower maintenance because they are optimized for the environment. They are also more inviting to native critters. Exotic plants like Chinese Privet and Kudzu should be removed from your property. Sadly, those plants are taking over the state and crowding out native vegetation. It is a massive ecological disaster in the making and we saw evidence of these plants EVERYWHERE as we journeyed across the state during the tour. It is the responsibility of every homeowner to eradicate those and other exotic plants from their property. You can check out a complete list of invasive plants here that are known to be damaging to Tennessee's ecosystem.

In thinking about water quality in your area, are you avoiding excessive use of fertilizers on your lawn? Too much fertilizer will wash off your yard and go into storm drains which will go right into the nearest body of water. That in turn feeds the problem of aquatic weeds. Excessive nitrogen in Tennessee's lakes and rivers is not a good thing and most of it comes from lawn fertilizers. Have you thought about installing a rain barrel in your yard to use for your gardening and lawn irrigation? Using one of these lowers your water bill and saves freshwater resources.

Lastly, what are you doing to attract native wildlife such as birds and bats to your property? Bats you say? They are the most misunderstood and maligned creatures on the planet. They are actually great friends to humanity in two important ways – they gobble up tons of insects such as mosquitoes, and they are pollinators. I have been a member of Bat Conservation International for many years. They are the leading organization in bat conservation and education. You can buy or build a simple wooden bat house and hang it up in a tree in your backyard or even on the side of your home. Now with whitenose syndrome killing off bats by the millions, they are in dire need of new roosting places free of the infestation. To appreciate bats, it might help to see them in action. Near Chattanooga, there is an incredible cave that hosts thousands of gray bats. It is on TVA-managed property near Nickajack Lake. It is definitely worth a visit at dusk to see the mass flight of bats leaving the cave for dinner time.

There are some excellent resources on-line about creating nature-friendly “backyard habitats” that attract birds, butterflies and other critters. The National Wildlife Federation has a very well-respected backyard habitat program that walks you through all the things you can do to attract wildlife and make your property part of the solution to mitigating the never-ending encroachment of development on wildlife habitat.

Looking beyond our own homes, what are you doing in your neighborhood? Are you sick of seeing trash piling up on a road leading to your neighborhood? Take matters into your own hands and organize a clean-up with your neighbors. Just be sure to follow all safety guidelines such as wearing fluorescent-colored vests and wearing gloves. You might also want to contact the local police or sheriffs department to see if they can send out someone in a patrol car. If it is on a weekend, they might be able to send a volunteer reserve officer. Definitely worth making a phone call to find out. More than once on our tour, I felt very vulnerable picking up trash along busy roads. Often people did not bother to slow down one bit, even massive 18 wheelers. One more tip for organizing your own clean-up: definitely get a hold of some litter-picking tools otherwise you and your volunteers will quickly tire of stooping over.

MY TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS EXPERIENCE

Reflecting on the tour as a parent, I can't say enough how blessed I feel that I have had this special opportunity to share with my wife and children. Being on the road for a month and experiencing new sights and sounds every day works wonders for growing together as a family. Every day was an adventure, challenges and triumphs, and sharing it with loved ones made it so much more gratifying. This trip was obviously much more than a family vacation. I hope that Linda and I have been able to instill a strong work and environmental ethic in Jane and Harlan. They saw firsthand how careless and thoughtless people can easily trash a beautiful place and what hard work it takes to restore its beauty. They also got to meet people from all walks of life from every corner of the state. Venturing outside of our geographic comfort zone is a huge step in growing and maturing and I'm glad that my daughters had this opportunity at such a young age. I've always felt that you never truly grow up until you leave home.


Youth ambassadors Jane and Harlan get some impromptu bluegrass music lessons in Savannah, TN

Youth ambassadors Jane and Harlan get some impromptu bluegrass music lessons in Savannah, TN

We were fortunate to cross paths with many wonderful people on this tour. I was very inspired by the volunteers and leaders in the various communities who recognized the big picture in the environmental challenges in our state and are fighting the good fight every day. They are the foot soldiers in an ongoing war, fighting the little battles in their communities and making a big difference. Usually underfunded and understaffed, they still march on and get it done and usually with very little recognition. Although they weren't necessarily organizing litter pickups, the musicians were equally inspiring to me. They are not driven by money, but rather by passion. They recognize the gifts they have been given and have devoted their lives to pursuing it. They have taken the time to master their instruments and share their talents with others. Most of them will never get rich or famous, but they are true to their spirits and I admire that.

RV''s AND CAMPING OUT

On a practical note, this adventure taught me a lot about R/V's. I've always loved the concept of Rving and have done it a few times over the years, but this was really the first time in my life that I lived out of an R/V for more than a few days and I absolutely LOVED it and so did Linda and the kids. There are many reasons for this. First, there's something about a confining space that forces people to get along and work out their differences. Its a great form of family therapy. Secondly, having your hotel room with you everywhere you go means you never have to stress about finding a bathroom or a clean place to change clothes when you're traveling. If you're tired you can just pull over and rest. Ditto if you're hungry. There is also an incredible sense of FREEDOM when you're in an R/V. Although our itinerary was tightly scheduled throughout this tour, we did on occasion have to make last minute adjustments and being in an R/V made it very easy and stress-free to adapt to changing priorities. No worries about having to find or cancel a hotel room either. I've learned that a Class C motor home is ideal for a family of four. Prior to commencing the tour, we debated the various options and it really came down to a Class A or a Class C. Class B's are converted vans and really only work for couples. Class A's basically are buses and can be quite large and elaborate and difficult to maneuver in a campground. We decided that a Class A was overkill for us. A Class C is generally smaller and can be easily distinguished because of the sleeping compartment extending over the driver's cab. Our model had a sleeping compartment in the back and a “slide-out” bunk bed compartment that the girls loved. You can learn everything you want to know about R/V's at the Go Rving website. It is an excellent resource if you're contemplating purchasing or renting an R/V. We rented the R/V for the tour, but I'm hoping very much one day that we can afford to buy one and to use it regularly.

Harlan keeps the beat in front of our class C RV.

Harlan keeps the beat in front of our class C RV.

We parked our RV virtually ever night at one of our outstanding Tennessee state parks. The parks are a treasure to say the least. By visiting so many of the parks on this tour and staying at their campgrounds, I have been reminded of what an incredible legacy the state park system is for Tennessee residents and visitors. It is very affordable to stay at a state park and the campgrounds are impeccably maintained. You can't beat the quiet and the camaraderie of your fellow campers. Never once did we feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any state park. Being close to nature is also very nourishing for the soul and a very pleasant alternative to staying at a chain hotel on a noisy interstate exit.

FAVORITE MOMENTS

It is very hard to sit back and reflect on 20 wonderful days and isolate my favorite experiences on the tour, because every day was unique and enjoyable. But I can say when several factors aligned - it usually made for an above average experience. These factors included a unique situation, favorable weather conditions, peaceful and quiet setting, all family members well-rested, well-fed and in a great mood, and finally natural surroundings that were above normally beautiful. This confluence of factors happened about multiple times on the tour and those will probably form the basis for my memories of this experience  for years to come. So what were some of those special moments?

First that comes to mind is floating on Reelfoot Lake at sunset, in the shadow of ancient cypress trees. Visiting the Farm in Summertown was a step back in time to the counterculture movement of the 60's, highlighted by the hike deep into the woods of the Big Swan Headwaters Preserve. In Fall Creek Falls State Park, we listened to the heart-felt and soulful ballads of Roger Neely and Junior Dodson as they sang tributes to their fathers.  Earlier that day, we witnessed the heartbreak of abject poverty when helping to remove trash from the front yard of a family that time and society have forgotten. During our journey, we climbed the world's largest tree house and visited one covered bridge, two mills and at least four waterfalls. While not beautiful, it was hard to forget our visit to the Marshall County Recycling Center as we witnessed inmates hard at work to reverse their fortunes and even sat down and had lunch with them. In the mountainous northeastern corner of the state, we spent an afternoon with TV Barnett and the Roan Mountain Moonshiners at the Miller Homestead, tucked away in a beautiful little valley in Roan Mountain State Park and how can I ever forget hanging out in Leonard Anderson's front yard in Jamestown and listening to him sing about "Hard Times." Throw in some stunning scenic drives through Blount, Meigs, Fentress, Morgan, Washington and Greene counties and you have the highlights of our unforgettable month on the road.

Sunset over Reelfoot Lake

Sunset over Reelfoot Lake

I hope the Pickin' Up Tennessee Tour and this blog have entertained and inspired you. Please be a catalyst for change in your own community. It starts with a simple awareness and attitude adjustment. We don't have to accept the status quo. We all have the power to make a difference, even if its just writing a check once a year to charities that support land conservation and environmental education. Take that first step:  Love the Land. Lose the Litter.

 

Day 20 - McMinn and Polk Counties – June 26, 2013

It has been a whirlwind of activity over the past month, and the final day is already here. I can't believe how fast the time has zipped by. We started our day in McMinn County in the city of Athens where we met up with community leaders and volunteers for our last litter pick up of the tour. We met some really nice folks who had recently graduated from the local business leadership program and were happy to give of their time to keep their community clean and beautiful. I was also impressed with the local government representatives we met with and in the city and county's commitment to clean and sustainable practices.

Pickin' up on a busy road in McMinn County

Pickin' up on a busy road in McMinn County

The city of Athens is only an hour from my home, but this is actually the first time I've visited. Like so many small towns we have visited on this tour, Athens has a very charming downtown, but also one with its economic challenges. As is too often the case, chain restaurants and big box stores by the interstate have adversely impacted the downtown core of these communities. When we planned the tour, Marge, Linda and I made a conscientious effort to go out of our way, if necessary, to support locally-owned businesses in every town we visited. In most cases, these businesses are located away from the interstates and in the more historic, interesting, and less traffic-clogged parts of town anyway. So, to me it just makes more sense to have a meal or grab coffee at a locally-owned establishment away from the strip malls and box stores. You may pay a few dimes more and go a little out of your way if you're traveling on the interstate, but you are sending a strong message to these communities that you care about locally-owned business and want to support their downtown business district. This is a practice I urge anyone reading this to employ on a daily basis in your travels. Your life will be richer for it in so many ways, although it will sometimes take a little work to find the places that the locals like to frequent. If in doubt, just roll the window down and ask someone where they recommend getting a bite to eat.

As one more thing to ponder, the vast majority of roadside litter that we encountered throughout this tour came from these primary sources – chain convenience stores/ gas stations (beer bottles/ cans, soft drink bottles/ cans, potato chip bags) and fast food restaurants (paper waste). Needless to say, these establishments cater to the fast crowd that often can't be bothered to properly dispose of their waste. These same people are also too much in a hurry getting from point A to point B and do not have the time/ desire to investigate anything about the local communities they are driving through, hence they have little incentive to invest anything, even taking a five minute trip out of the way to visit a locally-owned mom and pop restaurant closer to the heart of town. We're all guilty of being on this fast track all too often. I certainly am, but if anything, this tour has reminded me to slow it down and enjoy the journey, not focus so much on getting to the destination as fast as possible. In the process, I will be in a better position to support these local communities. Today, we were able to do just that – purposefully driving back into town after the clean-up to have lunch at a recommended spot – Java on the Square. Our food and the service was excellent and I was happy to have an alternative to the usual fast food fare. Sadly, as I write this blog entry many weeks later, I have found out that the restaurant has recently closed. I'm not sure about the particulars of its closure, but it would not be surprising if it had something to do with the difficulty of staying afloat with foot traffic that cannot match that of establishments closer to the interstate.

Evidence of our fast food and convenience store culture

Evidence of our fast food and convenience store culture

Our next destination, Polk County, is an example of a community who's entire economy depends upon people patronizing locally-owned businesses. The economic engine of the county is focused on eco-tourism, namely river rafting and related support services, such as hotels and restaurants. In Reliance, we met up with Harold Webb of the Webb Brothers Float Service. They were the first rafting company in the region, setting up shop in the 1960's. In relating how he keeps his waterfront property litter-free, Harold offered a bit of universal wisdom – keep it clean and people will respect it. There has certainly been ample evidence throughout our tour of this fact. The areas with the worst ongoing litter problems are places that are not regularly cleaned up. As many people told us throughout the tour, if someone doesn't pick up the trash immediately, it will start to accumulate very quickly. People who would not normally throw trash out the car window are more tempted to do so when they already see litter on the road. This is the core psychology of the litter problem.

Today, there are now at least a dozen or more rafting companies that service the Hiwassee and Ocoee Rivers and it has grown into the lifeblood industry of the county. Here is the perfect example of a very low-impact, sustainable industry that creates many direct and ancillary jobs and most, if not all of the rafting companies are locally, family-owned.

Old abandoned Higdon Hotel near the Hiwassee River in Reliance

Old abandoned Higdon Hotel near the Hiwassee River in Reliance

The Hiwassee River is a state designated scenic river. This is an honor only bestowed upon 12 other rivers in the state. According to its website, the state Scenic Rivers Program “seeks to preserve valuable selected rivers, or sections thereof, in their free-flowing natural or scenic conditions and to protect their water quality and adjacent lands. The program seeks to preserve within the scenic rivers system itself, several different types and examples of river areas, including mountain streams and deep gorges of east Tennessee, the pastoral rivers of middle Tennessee, and the swamp rivers of west Tennessee.“ Together, portions of the Hiwassee and Ocoee Rivers are administered as the Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park.

Later on, in Copperhill, we were treated to a musical performance by Playing on the Planet and Matt Tooni. Playing on the Planet self-describes their music as “Cosmic Rockin' BoogieGrass” and I would say that is an apt description. I certainly wouldn't know how else to describe it. It was fun and engaging and it wouldn't be complete without the hula hoop artist's accompaniment. The setting for the music was in the middle of the Cherokee National Forest at the Ocoee Whitewater Center. This an elaborate whitewater course constructed for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The flow of water on this portion of the Ocoee is highly controlled to enable world-class whitewater canoe and kayak events, but it does so without marring the natural landscape. The layout of the man-made rock formations that create the whitewater is almost seamless with the natural surroundings.

Playing on the Planet at the Ocoee Whitewater Center near Copperhill

Playing on the Planet at the Ocoee Whitewater Center near Copperhill

The other artist performing for us today was Matt Tooni, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and he is a master of the Native American flute. To our astonishment, he improvised everything he played and it was truly enchanting, if not haunting music. With the river and forested mountain slopes behind him, it was the perfect setting to reflect on the proud heritage of the Cherokee people in this region and on their traditional, sustainable way of living with the land and its offerings. And at the same time, I couldn't help by think about the wrongs perpetrated on the Cherokee so many generations ago.

With the roar of the whitewater still filling our ears, we packed up our gear, said our goodbyes to Marge and drove the R/V an hour south to our home in Chattanooga. After four weeks on the road, our tour had come to an end, but the lifetime of memories had just begun.

Day 19 - Sevier and Blount Counties – June 25, 2013

Today was mostly about the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What can you say about this place? It is the number one most visited national park for a reason, with over nine million visitors annually. It is a time capsule to the way the region looked before wide scale settlement, when only Native Americans lived here, harmoniously with the land for thousands of years.

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The city of Gatlinburg, the gateway community to the park, sees most of the significant visitor impact on a daily basis. In response to the ever-increasing stress of the environment by so much humanity, the local Chamber of Commerce has developed the Gatlinburg Goes Green initiative to encourage local businesses to use the most sustainable business practices possible. An early adopter of this outstanding program is the Hilton Garden Inn., the first green hotel built in Tennessee and a Silver LEED certified building. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental) certification is the gold-standard for sustainable building methods that promote minimal impact on the environment. Among other things the facility was built partially with recycled materials, diverted over 75% of its waste during construction from landfills, used regionally-sourced building materials, has 30% less water usage than a similar-sized hotel, uses 20% less energy and has a facility-wide recycling program. Also on the green theme, the Sevier County Composting facility, one of only seven like it in the country, offers the community free mulch. The mulch is derived from 53,000 tons of trash per year and diverts 70% of solid waste from the landfill. This program along with local recycling efforts, creates a waste reduction of nearly 2.5 times the national average.

For today's litter pick up, we ventured inside the park with national park service rangers and volunteers from Keep Sevier Beautiful. The challenge here was not such much removing the visible trash (there was none because of regular pick-ups) but the unseen trash which was mostly cigarette butts that don't typically get removed with the regular clean-ups. This is because they are buried under a thick layer of turf and require getting on hands and knees and parting the blades of grass to see them. This is the perfect job for kids and our team today did an impressive job of finding thousands of the dreaded butts in one overlook area. We were there for an hour and I'm sure we could have easily found thousands more had we been there for another hour. Luckily, the butts don't have to go to the landfill. They can actually be recycled. TerraCycle is a company that will accept the butts and recycle them into other products.

The litter team assembles at  Maloney Point  overlook at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The litter team assembles at  Maloney Point  overlook at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After the clean-up, we rewarded the girl's with that undeniable Gatlinburg tradition - a feast at one of the many local pancake restaurants. In this case, it was the original one - the Pancake Pantry. Who doesn't love pancakes?

Good eats at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg

Good eats at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg

After lunch our team was able to visit the the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. It has been a fixture in Gatlinburg for over 100 years. What started as an effort to introduce formal education to the area for the first time, has grown to become a world-renown school for hands-on arts and crafts instruction, offering over 130 classes a year. The school's focus on crafts was a natural outgrowth of the industrious nature of the people who have lived here since the first settlers arrived. They made their own household items, built their own homes, grew their own food and otherwise were100% self-sufficient. As the world changed for these folks and a need for formal education became more important, Arrowmont embraced the idea of preserving the traditional handicrafts and skills of the region, lest they be lost to the changing times.

We ended our day with a drive to the rural Blount County property of Scenic Tennessee supporters Mark Durand and Beverly Green. They have a gorgeous piece of property directly adjacent to the Smokies and treated us to a wonderful backyard picnic. As the sun was setting, Mark and friend Ron Elrod entertained us with some Irish folk tunes on fiddle and banjo with the mountains as a backdrop.

Mark Durand and Ron Elrod

Mark Durand and Ron Elrod

We bedded down for the night in our R/V on Mark and Beverly's property, and with the cool breeze wafting in from the mountains, I had one of the best nights of sleep I've had on the whole tour.

Day 18 - Cocke County - June 24, 2013

In a tour full of scenic drives, we were again treated with a very memorable one today. As we made our way down Roan Mountain and southwest on TN 173 to Unicoi through the Cherokee National Forest, we enjoyed incredible views. And it only got better. From the town of Erwin, we picked up TN 107 and followed it along the Nolichucky River to Tusculum. Only one word can describe it – gorgeous. And the scenic beauty continued all the way down US 321 into Newport, our first destination. Our trip today was mostly along the Great Smoky Mountains Byway, a state-designated scenic byway. Scenic byways are designated as such by the state or federal government and it is not an easy honor to achieve. Tennessee only has five such state designations. The other state byways are the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the Sequatchie Scenic Byway and The Tennessee River Trail. Walton Road is a new byway currently under development.

Nationally, the National Scenic Byway Program lists over 150 designations. five of those are in Tennessee and they include the Cherohala Skyway, the East Tennessee Crossing, the Great River Road, the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Woodlands Trace. The national byway program is run by the Federal Highway Administration. On the surface, it seems silly to spend money on signage and websites to promote these beautiful scenic corridors, but upon closer inspection, I think it is a wise investment that benefits the communities attached to these roads, as the increased vehicular traffic brings in more tourist dollars and jobs, not to mention the pride of being designated a scenic byway probably goes a long way in keeping the roadsides clean.

In Newport, we met up with local historian Duay O'Neil, who shared stories with us about Cocke County. Some may remember the CBS television series Christy from the 90's. It was based on a novel of the same name which was, in turn, based on historical events, people and localities of Cocke County.

After our interview with Duay, we were serenaded by another a cappella group, the Spirit of Smoky. All four ladies in the group are employees of Smoky Mountain Health. The setting was the Serenity Garden at Brookdale Senior Living facility. Such therapy gardens are a wonderful way to keep people with physical or mental ailments engaged in a healthy occupation. We met a resident of the facility who was very proud of the work she had done in the garden, despite her dependency on a walker, and that we were using the garden as a backdrop for the filming of the singers. I'm happy that my daughters got a chance to mingle with the resident for a bit. They are not usually around such frail elderly people. The kids benefited by seeing some of the struggles that we all face in life's last stage, and the resident benefited from being around the energy, excitement and enthusiasm of children. She was so happy to be part of the Pickin' Up Tennessee experience, however brief.

Spirit of Smoky at Serenity Garden, Brookdale Senior Living, Newport

Spirit of Smoky at Serenity Garden, Brookdale Senior Living, Newport

After we left Brookdale, we made our way to a remote county dirt road. Yesterday, we encountered a few tires in the Watauga River but never anticipated what we would see today – dozens of tires that had accumulated along the steep shoulder of the road in a dense forest. Thankfully, there was a small army of volunteers and an inmate crew that greeted us and the whole group tackled the dump site impressively. Such tire dump sites are a sad reality all over the state, but especially in rural counties. Unscrupulous car repair shops and tire dealers will pocket the mandatory tire disposal surcharge on every new tire purchase and instead of properly disposing of the tires, they will take them to these out of the way places and dump them, polluting waterways and creating a breeding ground for mosquitos.

Day 17 - Carter County - June 23, 2013

Ok, today raised the bar for how much it is possible to stuff into one day's schedule. We began our day in Elizabethton at Sycamore Shoals Historic State Park, the centerpiece of which is an authentic reproduction of a frontier fortification of the Revolutionary War era. The local pioneer settlers built the fort to protect themselves from the hostile Cherokee Indians who were allied with the British. At the time, the area was still part of North Carolina. The local militia, in addition to defending against the Cherokee threat, participated in several battles of the southern campaign of the war. They were known as the Overmountain Men because they came from the wild western frontier, “over the mountains” from the 13 colonies. They were best known for their involvement in the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina. In that battle, the Patriots surprised the Torys encamped atop the mountain and in a fierce one hour battle, eliminated their fighting capability and made a definitive statement in their resolve to win at all costs. The battle was a turning point in the American Revolution and paved the way for the British surrender at Yorktown.

We were privileged today to be greeted by a couple of dozen authentic Revolutionary War period re-enactors, or living history interpreters as they are more formally called. Present were men interpreting long hunters, frontier craftsmen, milita men and even several women were present interpreting the roles of frontier women. Most impressive was the six member Watauga Valley Fife and Drums Corps, complete with a leader, a bass drummer, a snare drummer and three fife players. A fife is a type of high-pitched wooden flute that found its way to the American colonies via the British army and was adopted by the settlers for use in their local militias. In battle and troop camp life, the fife and drum corps played a critical role in communications. In the camp, the corps' songs told the troops when to wake up, when to go to bed, when to march, etc. In battle, the corps' role was even more critical as lives depended on them. The high pitch of the fifes and the the booming of the drums could be heard even through canon and musket fire in the heat of battle. The corps' songs would tell the troops when to advance, when to retreat and which direction to move. So critical was the corp's role in battle that the American forces' fife and drum corps actually wore redcoats so that the British would not fire at them.

Watauga Valley Fife and Drum Corps at Sycamore Shoals State Park

Watauga Valley Fife and Drum Corps at Sycamore Shoals State Park

The Watauga Corps was founded by John Large about eight years ago and they find themselves in demand throughout the region to perform at various events – ranging from Daughters of the American Revolution ceremonies to major re-enactments like the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. John had the dream of forming the Corps since a long-ago high school field trip where he saw the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drums Corps, which has existed since 1960. It was formed in the spirit of the original fife and drum corps founded at the time of the revolution. Today, they are the official escort to the President at state ceremonies.

Later, it was a pleasure meeting Earl Slagle and his wife Linda and their children Sarah and Jacob. They interpret an 18th century frontier family. Earl's roots go deep in the region. He traced them as far as the early 1800's. He believes he is playing a very important role in educating visitors to the park, especially children. I agree with him completely and I greatly appreciate what Earl and his family do with their free time. Until you spend some quality time with a living history interpreter, you can't appreciate how much they take pride in the accuracy of their portrayal and the depth of their knowledge about the daily life of that time period. Their enthusiasm for their historical subject easily transfers to kids.

Slagle Family - living history interpreters at Sycamore Shoals State Park

Slagle Family - living history interpreters at Sycamore Shoals State Park

Most historic state and national park have living history programs during the summer. My family and I have attended several such programs over the years and my kids really love them. For kids especially, when history comes alive, when it is tangible, when you can see it, even smell it, it definitely resonates with them a lot more than the way reading-based history is traditionally taught in schools. Here is a list of living history programs throughout the US. Next time you visit a state or national park, definitely set aside some quality time to take part in whatever living history program is offered. It's a great, free educational and entertaining resource that everyone should take advantage of.

Next up, we drove a short distance down the road to the charming downtown Elizabethon where we met up with Sheriff Chris Mathes and his All-Star Jailbird Band. With the historic covered bridge over the Doe River as a backdrop, Sheriff Chris and the band entertained us with rendition of two classic tunes that I would characterize as gospel-based bluegrass in style. I loved the music.

Sheriff Chris Mathes and the his All-Star Jailbird Band

Sheriff Chris Mathes and the his All-Star Jailbird Band

Right near the bridge is the recently re-built Doe River Weir Dam. It incorporates the latest design features to minimize negative environmental impacts. Features such as  vortex weirs and fish ladder enhance fish habitat and improve water quality.

Doe River Weir Dam, Elizabethton

Doe River Weir Dam, Elizabethton

Later on, we met up with some local volunteers to participate in a cleanup along the beautiful Watuaga River. As fly fisherman cast their lines just a few feet from us, we patrolled the shore picking up debris washed up during high water periods. It is bad enough to see our roadways trashed – it is truly tragic to see our waterways treated this way, especially one so beautiful as this. Tires are a common site in Tennessee's waterways and today was no exception. Ron Harrington is a local volunteer with the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited and he has done an exemplary job over the years leading efforts to keep this and other waterways in the region clean.

Clean up on the Watauga River near Elizabethton

Clean up on the Watauga River near Elizabethton

We ended our day with our second helping of old time music on the tour – but this time in the East Tennessee Mountain Style. Fittingly, our concert venue was the front porch of an historic 1908 farm house tucked away in a small “holler” on Roan Mountain State Park. It is called the Miller Homestead and its a beautiful, quiet spot to have an afternoon picnic.

Miller Homestead at Roan Mountain State Park

Miller Homestead at Roan Mountain State Park

Earlier in the tour, in Rutherford in West Tennessee, we listened to the Front Porch pickers do one of the very same songs we would hear today. It's incredible how different both renditions of Cindy were. Within one state, there can be such a huge different in interpretation of the same “old time” music style. This time, the performers were T.V. Barnett and his Roan Mountain Moonshiners. The instruments were different. Gone were the harmonicas and guitars and in were the washtub string bass and the banjo. The namesake of the band, T.V., could have come from Central Casting. A true native of these parts and quite the fiddle player, he could easily have had an alternate career in Hollywood westerns. His peculiar style of playing the violin involves holding it low on his lap. I'm told that is not uncommon in these parts, but definitely the first time I've seen that. Along with his hat, his fiddle playing style is all part of his act, and it works.

T.V. Barnett and his Roan Mountain Moonshiners at the Miller Homestead, Roan Mountain State Park

T.V. Barnett and his Roan Mountain Moonshiners at the Miller Homestead, Roan Mountain State Park

After the performance, T.V. entertained us with stories about growing up in the area, running a still at one time and even being fed by the family that lived in the Miller homestead as a boy. Fellow band member Rhody Jane Meadows explained how hard they have worked to keep this style of music alive in the face of ever-evolving musical styles. I love the music and really appreciate their efforts. There' something special about hearing music from the East Tennessee hills being played the same way it was played 100 years ago.

As the sun was setting and our day finally coming to an end, we settled into our campsite at Roan Mountain State Park. As much as I love all the state parks in Tennessee, this has to be on my short list of favorites. What a gorgeous spot tucked away in a little valley with a creek just a few steps from our campsites. The creek was irresistible for the girls who couldn't wait to break out their Barbie dolls and camping accessories. Fitting the occasion, they found a Barbie raft and launched her on an impromptu Class V whitewater rafting adventure.

Barbie begins her whitewater rafting adventure on the Doe River at the Roan Mountain State Park Campground

Barbie begins her whitewater rafting adventure on the Doe River at the Roan Mountain State Park Campground



Day 16 - Jefferson and Knox Counties - June 22, 2013

Today began our fourth and final week of our tour. It has been an amazing journey so far and I have thoroughly enjoyed our travels through West and Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Now, we will finish the tour closer to our home turf in East Tennessee. I believe in the idea that you are born to be either a mountain person or a beach person. I grew up in Miami and the beach was always just a short car ride away, but in my 22 years living there, I probably went to the beach less than a dozen times. Baking in the sun and getting sand in my toes was never my thing. When I spent a few summers in the North Carolina mountains as a boy, I realized that the mountains were my true spiritual home, so its no surprise that I now find myself permanently settled in Chattanooga. This week is all about the mountains and I'm very excited about that.

Our first destination was Knoxville for a performance of the Smokyland Sound Barbershop Chorus at the Ijams Nature Center. They sung two classic American songs for us – America the Beautiful and This is My Country. The group is dedicated to keeping the Barbershop style of music alive. What is the Barbershop style? Well, like jazz, it is a distinctly American form of music, specifically a form of a cappella singing. I've always been a bit intrigued by the Barbershop music style every since strolling down Main St. in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World as a little boy. One of the fixtures on Main St. is a roving quartet of colorful barbershop singers.  Because of that association, I always thought Barbershop music was in the form of a quartet. Today's group had 12 singers and is considered a chorus. Upon further inquiry, I learned that Barbershop choruses are quite common. Here's how Wikipedia describes Barbershop music:

Barbershop vocal harmony, is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. Each of the four parts has its own role: generally, the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead.

In the last half of the 19th century, U.S. barbershops often served as community centers – a place where most men would gather. Barbershop quartets originated with African American men socializing in barbershops; they would harmonize while waiting their turn, vocalizing in spirituals, folk songs and popular songs. This generated a new style, consisting of unaccompanied, four-part, close-harmony singing. Later, white minstrel singers adopted the style.

I really want to hear more of this music and I'm grateful for groups like Smokyland Sound for keeping the tradition of this music alive.

Smokyland Sound Barbership Chorus at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville

Smokyland Sound Barbership Chorus at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville

Later on, we found ourselves assembling at the Cherokee Dam where we met up with a Jefferson County inmate road crew to pick up a ½ mile stretch of Highway 92. In no time, the crew and a half dozen community volunteers filled up a trailer full of trash. We were fortunate to have an excellent escort during the pickup of two Jefferson county sheriff vehicles. They basically were able to lock up traffic for big chunks of time and allow us to work the clean-up without fear of cars zooming past us.

Jefferson County countryside near Cherokee Dam

Jefferson County countryside near Cherokee Dam

During the clean-up, I was very impressed with Eric Mcanly, our student outreach coordinator on the project. He has a rare passion for litter removal and environmental education, matched perhaps only by Marge. We interviewed him while he picked trash in the tall grass and he really made some profound statements. Bravo Eric for your energy, enthusiasm and leadership!

Eric Mcanly, Student Outreach Coordinator for Pickin' Up Tennessee, picking up trash on Highway 92 in Jefferson County.

Eric Mcanly, Student Outreach Coordinator for Pickin' Up Tennessee, picking up trash on Highway 92 in Jefferson County.

Earlier in the day, while we exited the Ijams Nature Center, I stopped the R/V right in the middle of the road and jumped out long enough to hand $20 cash to a man having a yard sale. I traded the cash for a used telescope. I wanted to be ready for tonight's “supermoon,” a once a year opportunity to see the full moon at its closest position to Earth. My girls are at a great age to get them interested in astronomy and as we hunkered down that night in our campground at Panther Creek State Park, I wanted to give them another opportunity to get excited about the larger world around them. A few years ago, we attended a star party at Fall Creek Falls State Park. That park as well as others in the Tennessee State Parks system host such parties several times a year. A great resource for star party information can be found at this website and this one. There is something truly gratifying about the expression on an eight year old's face when they see Saturn or a distant galaxy through a telescope for the first time. As a parent, you instantly relive the sense of awe from childhood when we see something so incredible for the first time. As a grown-up, those moments are so fleeting, except when we re-live them through our children.

Day 15 - Meigs and Hamilton Counties - June 19, 2013

Continuing on the theme of scenic corridors, today was quite another treat as we ventured south from Norris Dam through Oak Ridge and down Highway 58 into Meigs County and the rural, northern part of Hamilton County on our way to our home base of Chattanooga. Meigs County is gorgeous and I hope it stays that way. Although we didn't visit it, we passed by River Ridge Farms and it is a success story of farm landowners cooperating with government in creating a permanent scenic easement. You can read about how the Land Trust for Tennessee worked with the landowners to create a win-win agreement here.

Our first stop driving down Highway 58 in Meigs County, was at River Road Farms near Decatur, an excellent example of low impact, sustainable agriculture. Here, we got an education in the art of espalier (pronounced ES-PA-LEE-A). I have to be honest and say I had never heard the word before in my life, but evidently, those in the landscape or horticultural profession probably have heard the term. It refers to a European tradition of growing a fruit tree via “training” methods to control its shape and its fruit production. The technique was first developed by the ancient Romans and perfected over the centuries by Europeans, specifically for their walled-in or castle gardens, as the trees are often trained to grow against walls. We learned that it takes many years to train a tree to a point that it is ready for sale and that one of the benefits of having such a tree besides its ornamental beauty is that it also bears larger fruit than normal. It is fascinating to see the many different shapes that they can train the trees to grow into: candelabras, fans, arches, fences and even hearts. Upon leaving River Road Farms, I vowed to return one day to purchase one of their creations for my yard.

Candelabras at River Road Farms

Candelabras at River Road Farms

Our litter pick-up for the day was just a little further down the road, just after crossing the Hiwassee River. On Blythe Ferry Road, we met up with a Meigs County inmate crew. The supervisor warned us that they had recently encountered many snakes in the area, so we were on high alert. Thankfully, no such encounter happened today.

Watching out for snakes along Blythe Ferry Road in Meigs County.

Watching out for snakes along Blythe Ferry Road in Meigs County.

Later in the day, in downtown Chattanooga, we visited the Tennessee Aquarium. Long before the Aquarium of the Smokies and the Georgia Aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium re-defined what an Aquarium could be and where it could be located. When it was being built in the early 90's, detractors called it “Jack's Folly,” in reference to the millions Coca Cola heir Jack Lupton poured into the project and the profound skepticism from observers that it would be financially successful. Who would want to come to Chattanooga to see an aquarium? Who would want to go to an aquarium that focused on freshwater species? Well, over twenty years later, his vision has more than proven everyone wrong. The Aquarium has been a pioneer in so many ways. At the time it was built in 1992 it was the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. It was almost an instant success and is widely credited with being the spearhead in the complete revival and turnaround of downtown Chattanooga. Looking back today, everyone points to the Aquarium as the turning point for the entire city, a city that was struggling to pull itself out of the moniker of the “Most Polluted City in America.” Who knew an Aquarium could turnaround and unite an entire community? Jack did!  It's an amazing legacy the man left for Chattanooga and a lesson for what smart investment and one man's vision can accomplish.

Pride of Chattanooga - the Tennessee Aquarium

Pride of Chattanooga - the Tennessee Aquarium

At the Aquarium, Dr. Bernie Kuhajda, aquatic conservation biologist, spent time with Jane and Harlan at the sturgeon touch tank, educating them about the ancient species and its vulnerability to trash in our waterways. Dr. Kuhajda is an Aquarium educator and also a scientist with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, an affiliate of the Aquarium whose mission is to further research and conservation of freshwater species. He shared with us the importance of understanding how what we do with our litter directly impacts our waterways and our water quality. In essence, what gets dumped into a watershed ultimately ends up in the the waterway.

The notion of a watershed, or drainage basin, is not necessarily common knowledge, but it is easier to understand in a mountainous region. If you're on top of a mountain and drop a cup of water down one side, it will ultimately drain into whatever river system is at the bottom of the valley on that side of the mountain. If you drop the cup of water on the other side of the mountain, it will drain into a different watershed. I never really knew what a watershed was until a few years ago when I began seeing signs on the interstate stating “Entering Tennessee River Watershed.” These “watershed-awareness” signs were constructed by the state to educate citizens about their local watershed and to take ownership in protecting it. 187 such signs were constructed along our interstates. Next time you're driving, pay attention to the signs and begin to take note of the surrounding geography. You'll sometimes be amazed at how far away you are from the watershed proclaimed on the sign. According to the Tennessee Stormwater Association, there are 55 watersheds within the state and Tennessee shares parts of 35 watersheds with neighboring states. Every watershed in the state except for the Conasauga, drains directly or indirectly into the Mississippi River and then into the Gulf of Mexico. A Guide To Traveling Tennessee Watersheds is an excellent on-line resource that you can download to learn more about Tennessee watersheds and to find out which one you live in.

After our time inside the Aquarium, we ended our day outside being entertained by the jazz quintet of the Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble. Linda and I were privileged to produce a film several years ago about the Chattanooga Sit-ins in 1960 during the early days of the Civil Rights struggle. We met and interviewed Booker for that film as he was one of the many heroes of that story. As a high school student, he took great personal risk in leading and participating in downtown Chattanooga lunch counter sit-ins. You can check out the film here. That film, like this current Pickin' Up Tennessee project, are examples of what drove Linda and me to seek out a profession as filmmakers. We wanted and still want to tell stories that need to be told and to educate and entertain people in the process.

Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble at the Tennessee Aquarium

Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble at the Tennessee Aquarium

Day 14 - Scott, Morgan and Campbell Counties - June 18, 2013

Today started with another scenic drive and it got me really thinking about the value of such a concept in our busy, hectic modern lives. The drive from Pickett State Park down to Wartburg in Morgan County was surprisingly beautiful. Although we didn't drive through the heart of it, the Big South Fork National Recreation Area was immediately north of us for most of the drive and the views coming around every bend were spectacular. So far, for scenic value alone, this was our most impressive drive of the tour. I previously lived in the beautiful rolling hills of Northern Virginia for several years and this was the first time I've seen a part of Tennessee that had that same look. In that part of Virginia, most of the “view-sheds” are permanently preserved by farm owners voluntarily tying up their lands in scenic easements. This prevents the land from being sub-divided, and that is the key to preserving the sweeping vistas. Some would argue that this practice holds back economic “progress” by making land for development and industry more scarce. I argue that you can have a healthy local economy and preserve open spaces at the same time, it just requires leadership, cooperation and vision. Instead a of massive chicken farm operation located right along a scenic corridor, well-thought rural planning would place such an operation far off the main arteries and out of sight behind a hill. The industry and jobs are still there, but they are not marring the experience of the indigenous natural beauty for everyone else. Hopefully, this area of Fentress and Morgan counties will one day be permanently protected with conservation and scenic easements.

All of the benefits of a long-term conservation easement strategy come into play in the Northern Virginia county of Fauquier where I used to live, and it is a truly beautiful place with breathtaking views in all directions. In Virginia, landowners are assisted in preserving open spaces primarily by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation . Virginia has had great success in land conservation in recent decades and has set a very high standard for the other southern states to follow. I've crisscrossed Virginia many times and just about every region has preserved its natural beauty with the one exception of the area of Northern Virginia immediately adjacent to Washington, DC. The Virginia Department of Recreation and Conservation has a wonderful on-line map that clearly shows the lands protected in the state. It's a dramatic way to see how effective statewide conservation efforts can be. Look at it here and be sure to check the “Managed Conservation Lands” box.

In this map of Tennessee conservation easements, you can tell we have a lot of catching up to do, and leading the charge is The Land Trust for Tennessee. It is non-profit land trust who's mission is to preserve farms, woodlands, view-sheds, scenic corridors and open spaces in Tennessee, working cooperatively with landowners. Not everyone owns beautiful farmland that can be protected by making a voluntary conservation easement, but everyone can scrape together a few dollars to support the work of this organization.

When we arrived at our clean-up destination in Wartburg, Liberty Baptist Church, there was a torrential downpour. Tt appeared for certain that we were going to have to cancel the clean-up. But, just as we assembled the volunteers to make a decision, the clouds parted and the rains suddenly stopped. It was easy to call it divine providence. So without hesitation, we commenced the clean-up and afterward were treated to a tasty barbecue lunch by the local litter pick-up organizers.

Pick up in Wartburg

Pick up in Wartburg

After lunch, we drove north to Huntsville in Scott County to meet up with Gary Sexton at the Scott County Museum of History, located on the grounds of Scott High School. Gary is a fascinating man. He actually grew up in the mid west, but spent many summers as a boy living with his grandparents in Scott County. He fell in love with the beauty and culture of the area and decided to move here permanently to start his teaching career. Since then, he has put down roots in the community and has been on a mission to preserve local history, traditions and culture. His vehicle for doing this is the local high school where he teaches, and his students have created a one-of-a-kind, student-run history museum. It may be the only such museum in the world – designed, built and curated by students. Gary's passion is fueled by the idea of giving young people in this economically-depressed area a strong sense of place and pride in their community and its traditions. He wants them to be stakeholders in the future of the area and I believe he is succeeding admirably.

Scott County Museum of History

Scott County Museum of History

The museum complex on three acres includes a children's learning center, a World War II museum, exhibits about the area's natural history, a blacksmith's shop, a garden, and 12 historic buildings that have been saved from demolition and re-built on-site by summer school students. The museum also has livestock and produces sorghum, tanned hides and other traditional products for sale in the general store. And if that is not enough, there is the Highlander Bluegrass Band that keeps the area's traditional music alive. We filmed two of their performances which you can check out here.

The outstanding Highlander Bluegrass Band

The outstanding Highlander Bluegrass Band

Our experience at the Museum of Scott County was almost overwhelming, so much to see and experience in such a small area, and definitely on par quality to any museum I have been to. If you are in the area, it is imperative that you visit and be sure to devote at least half a day there. If you see Gary, be sure to shake his hand and thank him for the wonderful work he is doing. Gary's exceptional efforts deserve to be nationally recognized. What he has done for the students and the local community is above and beyond what one expects from a busy high school teacher. This is the kind of innovation and leadership in public education that America needs.

Our last destination on this busy day was the Norris Dam State Park in Campbell County. As befitting the name, the park is immediately adjacent to TVA's Norris Dam, the first dam constructed by TVA in the 1930s. The TVA was an FDR New Deal program during the Great Depression to control flooding and to bring electricity and economic development to the Tennessee Valley. It is hard to not feel its tremendous impact in this region to this day. It controls 29 hydroelectric dams, 11 coal-fired plants and 5 nuclear reactors. At over 12,000 employees, most of them in Tennessee, it is also one of the largest employers in the state. There is an excellent little museum at the dam that has an exhibit about TVA and the dam's construction.

Prior to the TVA era, some pioneers in the area, including James Rice, operated gristmills. Rice opened his mill in 1798 and it was in nearby Union County. When the dam was built, the mill was dismantled by the Civilian Conservation Corps and moved to the present site on Clear Creek. Its previous location is now permanently flooded. This is the second mill we have seen on our tour and I can't help but be hypnotically drawn to the steady rhythm of water pouring and creaking wood rotating. It is such a symbolic throwback to a simpler time and way of life. I'm very happy efforts were made to preserve the mill and situate it in a setting that generations of people have been able to enjoy. I've decided I'm going to seek out mills in my future travels. Like lighthouses and battlefields, they hold a certain allure for me. This website is the closest thing I could find to a “national mill directory” and I'm going to consult it next time I hit the road.

Historic grist mill at Norris Dam State Park

Historic grist mill at Norris Dam State Park

The construction of Norris Dam and the creation of TVA itself was not without controversy. The project displaced thousands of people and permanently inundated whole communities. Needless to say, traditional ways of life in the region would be forever altered. Although we did not have time to stop for a visit, the Museum of Appalachia is right near the dam in the nearby town of Norris. It was founded by a man with deep roots in the region and has a collection of over 250,000 artifacts and over 30 historic log structures showcasing the traditional, pre-TVA Appalachian way of life. From what I have read and heard about it, the museum is well worth visiting. I'll have to be sure to catch it on my next trip to the area.

Day 13 - Jackson and Fentress Counties - June 17, 2013

Our day began with a litter pick-up adjacent to the new Cummins Falls State Park near Cookeville. The park was opened to the public in 2011 after having been acquired by a coalition of conservation groups and handed over to the state for management. Prior to that process, the area had been under the ownership of the same family since 1830. The falls are a stunning sight and yet another reminder of how many natural treasures we have in Tennessee and why our state park system is one of the best in the nation.

Cummins Falls State Park

Cummins Falls State Park

At the litter pick-up we were joined by an inmate crew from Jackson County and a youth group from the Community Prevention Coalition of Jackson County, working on 400 hours of community service towards earning college scholarships. Once again, I was impressed by the dedication of the inmate crew, but also by the young people of the coalition who could easily be doing something more “fun” on a gorgeous summer day. It was a beautiful spot to pick up litter and in no time, the roads entering the park were spotless.

Litter pickup outside Cummins Falls State Park

Litter pickup outside Cummins Falls State Park

The highlight of the day for me personally was filming Leonard Anderson in his modest front yard in Jamestown in Fentress County. It took quite a bit of driving on twisty, two lane roads to get to Jamestown, but the scenery along the way was stunning – lots of wide-open vistas with rolling hills and horse pastures. At times, it seemed that I was driving through Colorado. This is a Tennessee look that I never knew existed.

Leonard is an unassuming man who apparently has a lot of local fans because there was a pretty decent crowd of about 20 people (including the mayor) to watch him and his sister Debbie perform an original tune, “I'm pickin' up cans” and later Leonard did a tune with percussion accompaniment from Stacey Choate using a peculiar instrument I had not seen before – a cajon (pronounced “KA-HONE”). It looks like a speaker from a stereo system and Stacey sat astride it and pounded out a sharp rhythm to accompany Leonard's lyrics, harmonica and guitar for “Hard Times.” The tune, Leonard says, was written from life experience. The honesty of Leonard's story-driven lyrics caused me and others to laugh, but the kind of knowing laugh that grows out of deep universal truths.

Leonard Anderson and friends in Jamestown

Leonard Anderson and friends in Jamestown

We ended our day at the serene setting of the campground at Pickett State Park, right near the border with Kentucky. It was a very remote locale, but very comforting at the same time because we were in a safe and clean state park campground. It was so quiet and isolated, the world could have ended and we would not have known about it. The campground was nearly deserted, but apparently the secret is out to some people about this special place as I spotted a car from New York state.

Day 12 - Cumberland County - June 16, 2013

Today was a whirlwind tour of Crossville and the surrounding Cumberland County. Tonya Hinch is a local booster and was our gracious hostess for most of the day. She moved back to her hometown several years ago after a twenty year career in marketing with Proctor and Gamble in New York City. While she still maintains an apartment in Manhattan, her main residence is a two-story condo she created out of an old liquor store just off Main St. in downtown Crossville. She explained a bit of the history of the area and again, being a Civil War buff, I was intrigued to learn that the town was pretty evenly divided during the Civil War between native sons who served in blue and those who served in gray. The war memorial on Main Street bears stark witness to this brother against brother reality of 150 years ago. The names of the veterans are written together on a long vertical column for all the wars, except the Civil War. Those veterans are honored on a separate memorial with two groups of names.


Flash forward 120 years from that conflict and Crossville leaders strategizing about the economic future of the area, focused on two key areas – attracting retirees and promoting tourism – while other communities in TN fixated on recruiting heavy industry and auto plants. 30 years later, Cumberland County is one of the most popular retirement destinations in the country and one of the most affordable. It is not hard to see the appeal. This area of the Cumberland Plateau is gorgeous with gently rolling green hills and a general absence of urban congestion.


Perhaps the greatest local attraction is the Cumberland County Playhouse, which has been staging professional productions for almost 50 years and is considered one of the top 5 regional theaters in the nation. According to the theater website, it is now the only major non-profit professional performing arts resource in rural Tennessee, it is one of the 10 largest professional theaters in rural America and it serves more than 145,000 visitors annually. Two very active volunteers for the Playhouse are Ken and Junie Hobbs, who happen to be very dear family friends. My mother and Junie were sorority sisters in college and when I was growing up in Miami, the Hobbs family was often part of our family gatherings. I don't ever remember a Christmas Eve gathering at our home when they weren't part of the celebration. They had retired to Crossville in the late 90's, having been lured by early retiree recruiting efforts in the region. They immediately fell in love with the area and had been urging me for several years to come up for a visit from Chattanooga. I was glad to finally have an opportunity to visit and promised them I will come back for a weekend in the near future when me and the family can take in two shows at the Playhouse.

Ken and Junie Hobbs at Cumberland County Playhouse

Ken and Junie Hobbs at Cumberland County Playhouse

Our next visit was to the Stonehaus Winery which is a model for sustainable eco-tourism. The winery is owned and operated by the Ramsey family, which has deep roots in the area. They produce over 15 varieties of wine including the classic chardonnay, merlot and pinot gris but also specialty and regional wines such as a Blackberry Summer and a Cumberland Gold. They source their grapes from over 100 different vineyards in East and Middle Tennessee and select vineyards that employ sustainable farming practices. Presently, they are unveiling a semi-dry white table wine commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Tennessee state park system. It is made with a blend of Seyval blanc grapes. In a group tasting we did in the RV later in our campground, Linda, Marge and myself compared tasting notes. We all liked the wine and can say it has a distinct Southern flavor with notes of green apple and a slight sweetness. The wine is available from the winery and also from eight state parks restaurants, including the nearby Cumberland Mountain State Park. One dollar is donated by the winery to the Friends of Tennessee State Parks for every bottle sold. This is not only a great way to support the parks, but you're also supporting TN business and agriculture, helping to create and local sustain jobs.

Rob Ramsey of Stonehaus Winery shows off a bottle of the commemorative 75th Anniversary Tennessee State Parks wine.

Rob Ramsey of Stonehaus Winery shows off a bottle of the commemorative 75th Anniversary Tennessee State Parks wine.

We should all do our part to choose Tennessee-made products because of the obvious benefits to local communities. Such products may be slightly more expensive than a comparable product at Wal-Mart, but the long-term, sustainable benefits far outweigh the modest price difference. If everyone just shifted 5% of their grocery shopping budget towards locally produced products, it would cause a monumental shift in the food production system in the US and it would force stores such as Wal-Mart to carry more locally-produced products in their stores. I am daily reminded of the challenges local farmers face when I walk into just about any grocery store in Chattanooga and the produce is being shipped in from North Carolina, Florida, California and even South America! I have to really hunt for food grown within 100 miles of the city – and its usually only available at a farmer's market – not in a grocery store. This is a sad situation that can easily be reversed if people made a little extra effort to buy local. The state department of agriculture has a Pick Tennessee program that spotlights homegrown agricultural products. You can learn about wines, cheeses, baked goods, barbecue sauces and other foods produced near you on the Pick Tennessee website. To find a farmer's market in your community, you can go to this webpage on the site.

Our litter pickup for the day was along a beautiful stretch of Peavine Road which locals are working hard to get designated as a scenic parkway by the state. Friends of Peavine volunteers are behind that effort and they turned out today to help keep the road clean. If they are successful in their quest to get the state designation for the road, it can mean wonderful things for the community such as preserving the view shed, increasing tourism and enhancing property values. It's nice to see citizen volunteers coming together to do something that is a win for everyone in the community.

Litter pickup along Peavine Road near Crossville

Litter pickup along Peavine Road near Crossville

The Tree House, a famous example of a folk art shrine, was our next stop. It has been a 15 year passion project of a local minister, Horace Burgess. A few years ago, Linda and I produced a film for the Tennessee State Museum about southern folk art, a subject of which I  previously knew little about. But, as is often the case in documentary filmmaking, one becomes an “expert” when making a film about a particular subject. For that film, which you can see at this link, we were exposed to the work of a wide variety of “self-taught” artists in the South, working in every medium from finger painting to log carving. The work these folks produce is extraordinary, especially when you consider that what they all have in common is that they never had any formal training. They also tend to be located in mostly rural communities, are often driven by religious convictions and tend to rely on ingenuity, scrapyards and donations for creating their works because they almost never have the means to pay for supplies. Anyway, if you're wondering if a tree house counts as “art,” I would say that is undeniably the case with this unique structure. I have never seen anything like it in my life.


The Tree House

The Tree House

Although it is no longer accessible to the public due to order of the local fire marshal, our guide Tonya was able to secure a private invitation to explore this landmark. After ascending a spiral staircase that wraps around an ancient oak, one is rewarded with a spectacular view, 90 feet above the treetops in all directions. Upon glancing down, the word “Jesus” is revealed in carefully mowed grass in a pasture below. A smile broke upon my face when I noticed this as I suddenly realized the motivation behind the creator of this amazing structure. Kids are drawn by natural curiosity to explore the many rooms and passages of the tree house and they all eventually will find themselves at the top. Knowing this, Mr. Burgess probably wanted them to get his religious message in a creative and original way – that they are bound to never forget.

Our long day ended with an impressive performance from the young entertainers from the Main Stage who dazzled us with a clogging square dance routine with musical accompaniment from a band featuring two mandolins, three guitars and two fiddles. The topper for the performance was a solo clogging finale by a little boy who could not have been older than three. The setting in the patio area of the restaurant at Cumberland Mountain State Park was picture perfect, with beautiful Byrd Lake visible through the trees in the background as the sun began to set.

The Main Stage performing at Cumberland Mountain State Park

The Main Stage performing at Cumberland Mountain State Park



DAY 11 - Van Buren County - June 15, 2013

Today started with a different kind of litter pick up. Up to this point on the tour, all of our pick ups have been along roadsides. This one was about 30-40 feet away from the roadside – just off the public road right-of-way. For that reason, county litter crews cannot legally remove the litter. That is where our team came in. With the permission of the property owner, an elderly woman living in poverty with her adult children, we were able to gather up and bag a couple of large piles of litter that had accumulated over a period of years – old, rotting furniture, child's plastic toys, stuffed animals, shoes, beer bottles, plastic bottles, etc. We then moved the gear twenty or so feet to the right-of-way along the edge of the road where it can be picked up legally by the county. This simple action of a few hours toned down a long-standing eyesore in this rural community. We weren't able to make the front yard spotless, but we made a big dent. The home is still a wreck of a dwelling, but at least its a start. My sincere hope is that the unfortunate souls who live here will find a way to pull themselves up and take a bit more pride in their surroundings. Maybe this will be the spark they need to move in that direction. Their situation of a rotting dwelling with mounds of accumulating trash in the front yard is a rather common sight in the more poverty-stricken areas of Appalachia. At times today I thought I had stepped into a black and white image from the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. I felt that kind of depth of poverty coming from the place and its inhabitants. Its a stark reminder of how fortunate most of us our in our country and how we can't and shouldn't turn our backs on those less fortunate. Abject poverty is still alive and well in 21st century America.

The clean-up took place within a few miles of the stunning beauty of Fall Creek Falls State Park , where we met up with Junior Dodson and Roger Neeley with his two teenage daughters, Laura and Grace, who provided a chorus to complement the heart-felt original country tunes from the two best friends and guitar players. Being a day before Father's Day, both songs were fittingly about fathers. Junior's song, , was a touching tribute to his dad's life as a coal miner, bringing home a dollar for each cart full of coal he loaded. Junior's dad was a gentle and loving may who did his best to provide for his family on meager earnings. Roger sang a beautiful tune, about his dad's sacrifices as an American soldier in World War II and the lifelong physical and emotional impairment that the Battle of the Bulge caused him. His father was “strong as a buck and mean as a snake” and struggled most of his life with alcoholism. Two very different fathers, but both loved and revered by their sons long after their passing. Junior and Rogers music had such sincerity, such passion, and it was a refreshing alternative to the mass-produced commercial pop flowing from the radio dial.

Junior Dodson, and Neeley Family at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Junior Dodson, and Neeley Family at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Later, at the campground, I reflected on my own turn at fatherhood as I spent time with my daughters hitting a volleyball back and forth and playing with their Barbie camping set. They are both passionate about music and I can't help but wonder if some day they will write and sing a song about me, long after my passing.

Playing with vintage Barbie camping sets at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Playing with vintage Barbie camping sets at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Day 10 - Henderson County - June 12, 2013

Today was one of my favorite days of the tour – albeit for slightly selfish reasons. I am a Civil War buff and we were able to spend some quality time at the Parker's Crossroads Battlefield in Henderson County. Usually, when traveling with my family, it is a tough sell to stop at a Civil War historic site. The best I can  hope for is a slow drive-by. But today, I was actually allowed to get out of the RV and walk around, read signs and listen to an excellent audio CD tour available from the Parker's Crossroads Visitor Center. I was also delighted to learn that my girls have taken an interest in the subject they never showed previously and they actually got out and walked around with me as I explored the battlefield.

Parker's Crossroads Battlefield

Parker's Crossroads Battlefield

Some people may be surprised to learn that after Virginia, Tennessee was the site of more Civil War battles than any other state. The Battle of Parker's Crossroads occurred on December 31, 1862 and it pitted legendary Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest against a Union force led by Gen. Jeremiah Sullivan.  The five hour engagement ended in a flight from the battlefield by Forrest, just when it looked like he had the Union forces surrounded. Forrest, who never had formal military training, rose from the rank of private at the start of the war to lieutenant general – an accomplishment not duplicated by anyone else on either side of the conflict. He was known for his unconventional tactics and decisive battlefield decision-making. He was notorious for making his forces appear larger than they were by various ruses and for taking advantage of every possible aspect of the terrain. But today, he was not prepared for the complete surprise of a Union brigade that appeared at his rear just as he was about to force the surrender of Gen. Sullivan, whom he had surrounded.  So, when victory was almost at hand, Forrest found himself suddenly beating a hasty retreat and in a matter of minutes, 300 of his dismounted men were surrounded and taken prisoner.

We started our visit with an interview with Rep. Steve McDaniel who was instrumental in the decades-long effort to save 350 acres of core battlefield land. He is also an acknowledged expert on the battle. In the interview he mentioned the value of preserving the "view shed" of the battlefield and how frustrating it is to see people toss litter onto it. Luckily, the park administrators are very pro-active about the litter and have been able to keep it to a minimum. 

Volunteers outside of the Parker's Crossroads Visitor's Center

Volunteers outside of the Parker's Crossroads Visitor's Center

The preservation of the battlefield involved many partners including: The Parker's Crossroads Battlefield Association, the Civil War Trust, and the Tennessee National Civil War Heritage Area. Its inspiring to see people come together for the common cause of preserving history and green space and ultimately, honor the people who lost their lives 150 years ago. In their sacrifice, we have the legacy of a tremendous cultural resource in this battlefield that will educate generations to come about the Civil War and its importance in our history and also help fuel the local economy with heritage tourism. I firmly believe heritage tourism is one of the most forward-looking ways to preserve green space, to fight sprawl and to create lasting jobs. I would love to see more of this kind of economic development in TN. I applaud what the fine folks in Henderson County have done to preserve the battlefield and to interpret it and they deserve our support. I was very impressed with the visitor center, the orientation film, the audio tour and the quality of the wayside signage. For any Civil War enthusiast, Parker's Crossroads is a must-see.  Plan on stopping for a few hours on your next trip to Memphis or Nashville on I-40. The interstate literally bi-sects the battlefield, so it is not out of your way to get there.

We are now in the midst of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War (150th anniversary). The Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has set up an excellent website resource if you are interested in traveling to any of the state's many Civil War sites.  The Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association is an excellent non-profit group working hard to preserve lands across the state. I am proud to be a member for the last several years and I encourage others with an interest in history (or simply an interest in preserving green space) to join. If you're a Civil War junkie like me, there is also a statewide Civil War Trail driving tour. It is a fairly comprehensive catalog of historic sites pertaining to the conflict that goes beyond battlefields to include historic homes, cemeteries, vantage points, sites of 19th century industry and other points of Civil War interest.  You could easily spent a year driving that trail and experiencing everything on it.

Because the battlefield itself was relatively free of litter, our litter pick-up for the day was less than a mile away from the battlefield and I was very happy to see a group of fine young men from Boy Scout Troop  119  from Lexington, TN. They braved the almost unbearable heat to help us pick the roadside and a bridge clean. We were also joined in the clean-up by a few ladies from the Parker's Crossroads Visitor's Center, including Kim Parker, a direct descendant of the Parker family, among the first settlers in the area in the early 1800's. The battle took place partly on land occupied by the Parker family.

Scouts from Troop 119 pick up litter

Scouts from Troop 119 pick up litter

Our musical act today was canceled due to the musician's untimely bout with kidney stones. We took advantage of the situation to start the long four hour drive back to our home base in Chattanooga to re-charge our batteries for a few days. As we passed through Nashville, we decided spontaneously to stop and have dinner at one of the best kept secrets in Tennessee – the Omni Hut restaurant in Smyrna. The Omni Hut is a classic Polynesian-style restaurant and has been owned and operated by the Walls family for 53 years and is now managed nightly by Polly Walls, the founder's daughter. At one time, Polynesian or “tiki” restuarants were all the rage in post-War America. From the 30's until the early 70's, there was hardly a city in America that did not have such a restaurant. Most of those places are long gone, but the Omni Hut endures. It was started in 1960 by Polly's father, James, an Air Force pilot who traveled the world and collected recipes and stories. The restaurant has endured changing food tastes, the evolution of chain restaurants and even a fire to stand alone in the state of Tennessee as the torch bearer for all things Tiki. Polly tells me that she has regular customers who have returned with third and fourth generations of children. About ten years ago, I had the privilege of profiling this institution in a piece for the Turner South travel television series “Blue Ribbon.” Ever since then, I have made an effort to stop by for dinner any time I'm in the area.

Omni Hut Restaurant in Smyrna

Omni Hut Restaurant in Smyrna


When you walk in the door, you are instantly transported to a remote Pacific isle and Polly, clad in muumuu, warmly greets you. You are then seated in a room that might as well be in Waikiki, Papeete or Bora Bora. Fishing nets and bamboo light fixtures float from the ceiling, day glow orchards hang from the walls and tropical fish cavort in a giant tank. The strains of exotic music filter through the air and a server brings Hawaiian tea to your table. The menu includes my personal favorite, the Pu Pu Platter – consisting of many classic tiki appetizers including Rumaki, Crab Rangoon and Tahitian Tid Bits. No meal is complete at the Omni Hut without a flaming volcano for dessert – a mound of vanilla ice cream topped with a lava flow of chocolate syrup and a sugar cube that has been soaked in vanilla extract and lit afire. The evening is not complete unless you leave the Omni Hut with a bottle of their house-made Teriyaki sauce.


The famous Volcano dessert at the Omni Hut in Smyrna

The famous Volcano dessert at the Omni Hut in Smyrna


We've reached the halfway point in our tour and I cannot believe how fast it has come. When we are out on the road, the time just seems to fly by – much more than a typical day at home.

Day 9 - Weakley and Henry Counties - June 11, 2013

We started out on this very hot day on the outskirts of Martin where we met up with local Girl Scouts for one of our larger pickups of the tour. We walked a remote stretch of country road for about a mile and picked it clean. My hats off to the work ethic and team work of the girl scouts, who never complained once about how hot it was. They just rolled up their sleeves and got it done. Bravo!

Clean up on a country road near Martin

Clean up on a country road near Martin

After the clean-up, we made our way to the town of Paris and met up with banjo player extraordinaire Dan Knowles at the Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts. Dan has devoted his life to this instrument and it shows. He played a few tunes from early in the 20th century and did a great job of demonstrating what a versatile instrument the banjo is. Previously, I've only heard the banjo played as part of an ensemble, usually just in rhythmic accompaniment. But here, Dan puts the banjo front and center, carrying the whole melody, and explained to us that “back in the day,” the instrument was commonly used in this way. In fact, the pieces he played for us were composed for the banjo specifically. You can listen to him play here and here.

Dan Knowles gave us a private performance in front of the Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts

Dan Knowles gave us a private performance in front of the Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts


Later on in Paris, we fittingly found ourselves sitting in the shadow of a scale model replica of the Eiffel Tower as we filmed the melodious sounds of the dulcimers plucked by Larry and Elaine Conger. It was a beautiful setting to the beautiful music, and the strains of September on the Mississippi somehow fit the pace of life in this small rural community.

Elaine Conger gives Jane and Harlan a quick lesson in playing the dulcimer

Elaine Conger gives Jane and Harlan a quick lesson in playing the dulcimer

 

We ended our day at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park, a very remote setting, and for the first time on the tour, we are without cell phone reception. Because we have been relying so heavily on internet access to stay in touch with the outside world while on tour, it was a wake-up call tonight as we sat in the RV at camp without internet access. The wifi hotspot that we have been traveling with uses cell reception to connect to the internet. It is a great convenience when traveling to do that, but it is pricey. The lack of technology this evening allowed me to reflect on how dependent we are on being “hyper-connected” in our modern age. I am of that generation wedged between the baby boomers and the Millenials – a GenXer. We are the generation that everyone forgets to talk about. There's always a lot of buzz out there about the Boomers and the Millenials, but we are the generation that just missed out of growing up in the cultural revolution of the 60's and on the other side, the technological revolution of the 90's. I have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that. Let's face it, growing up in the 70's was boring, although the cultural contributions of the decade are unmistakable, especially in music and film. I did not own a personal computer until I was mid-way through college and by the time the internet was widely available, I was already practically out of graduate school. So I did not have the benefit of growing up with the personal technology that is so pervasive today and have always felt somewhat behind the curve on technological sophistication and hipness. In many ways, this project has forced me to catch up a bit, especially with regards to social media.

 

Anyway, as I sat in the motor home contemplating the sudden loss of connectivity, it did give me a moment to be grateful for the setting. Throughout our tour, we have been graced with ending our days surrounded by the abundant natural beauty of Tennessee's State Parks. It is truly an exceptional parks system. In fact, in 2007 it was honored as the best state park system in the country by the National Recreation and Park Association. This is no small achievement and is a testament to the tireless dedication of state parks leadership, employees and volunteers. I think our parks our one of the greatest legacies we can leave our children and I'm very proud to live in a state that recognizes that. So far on this tour, I've cherished the time we have spent in the state parks every evening. It has been the perfect way to unwind after long and busy days.

To ensure the parks are always there for us, its our obligation as citizens to continue to support them. Beyond visiting them regularly, the best way to support the state parks is to join a “Friends” group of your local park. Just about every state park has such a group and they are composed of citizen-volunteers who take on tasks such as trail-building, volunteer seasonal interpretation and fundraising. Quite frankly, many of the things we love to see and do in our state parks (and take for granted), would not be possible without the support and involvement of the friends groups. I urge anyone reading this to take a moment to look into the nearest state park friends group and to join them. Here is a good on-line resource to find out what friends groups are in your region. You can support them by monetary donations and by volunteering.

 

Day 8 - Lauderdale, Gibson and Lake Counties - June 10, 2013

Another day packed with the unexpected and one of my favorite days so far on the tour. We started out by journeying north to Henning, TN, the boyhood home of Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Published in 1976, the book became an instant bestseller and is credited with spurning America's nascent fascination with genealogy. Based largely on decades of oral histories collected from Haley's own family, the novel traces his family's roots to the 1700's and his African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who was forcibly brought to America as a slave. For many Americans, the book was their first exposure to the horrors of the slave trade and the day-to-day lives of slaves in the Antebellum American South. The book was the 20th century answer to Harriet Beecher Stowe's, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the bestselling novel of the 19th century and a book widely credited with stirring up anti-slavery sentiment prior to the Civil War.


Although I have never read Roots, I remember as a kid growing up in the 70's being riveted to the television set when the Roots mini-series based on the book was originally telecast. It was truly a groundbreaking television event, one in fact that defined what a TV mini-series is. It was “event” television at its height, long before the widespread adoption of cable TV and the birth of the internet. In those days, the big three TV networks (Fox was not around back then) were where all the evening entertainment was focused in the household – no mobile devices with video games, no personal computers with access to the world wide web and no cable box with hundreds of channel options. Things were indeed simpler back then and the TV networks commanded huge audiences, having far less competition than they do today. Roots broke all kinds of TV viewership records over its 8 episodes aired over 8 consecutive evenings in January 1977. At its peak, the series generated an audience of over 36 million homes, an astounding 51% of all TV's in America and 71% of all TV's turned on that evening. According to Wikipedia, the series' final evening of broadcast achieved the third highest audience of any American TV broadcast in history. By today's standards, only the Super Bowl or the Oscars can come anywhere close to that kind of audience size. Certainly no mini-series today commands that kind of audience. In summary, over 130 million Americans watched at least some of the Roots telecast.


Our tour of the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, was hosted by Beverly Johnson, a distant cousin of Mr. Haley. She enlightened us with many fascinating stories about Haley's upbringing and his process of researching his family history. As we gathered around and pondered Mr. Haley's burial plot, I was struck by the symbolism in his decision to be buried in the front yard of his boyhood home. It is a very unique burial situation, but it clearly spelled out to me the circle of life – beginnings and endings – we are born, we live our lives and we die. Here was a man who led a remarkable life's journey and chose to end it where it all began – his own humble roots. To see Alex Haley's beginnings in this small village nestled among the farmlands of West Tennessee and how much impact he and his work had during his lifetime proves once again that America is the land of opportunity, and anyone with enough talent and determination can achieve remarkable things.

Beverly Johnson, cousin of Roots author Alex Haley

Beverly Johnson, cousin of Roots author Alex Haley


As we concluded the tour of the Haley homestead, all those memories of the mini-series of long ago came rushing back to me, so I could not resist purchasing a DVD set of the original TV series in the gift shop at the conclusion of the tour, and later that night, tucked away in the over-cab sleeping compartment of our Class C motorhome, I watched the first episode of the series, just to see if it would still have the same impact on me 35+ years later. To my surprise, the series held up and I was just as transfixed in watching the story as I was so many years earlier. An excellent piece of filmmaking, actually any creative work, will stand the test of time and appeal to generation after generation. Roots is just such a monumental creative achievement. I highly recommend that every American family should invest the time and watch the mini-series together. It my understanding that the History cable network will be remaking the series in the coming year.


After touring the Haley homestead, we drove a few miles down the road and met up with local volunteers, Minnie Fleming and Anne Tate, who hosted a wonderful front yard picnic for us and the assembled volunteers, a testament to classic southern hospitality. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful setting in the countryside. It was also a reminder of how committed citizens can take ownership of a problem and do something about it. Both ladies have had a strong leadership role for several years in gaining the edge on the local litter problem.

Picnic in Minnie Fleming's front yard in Henning, TN

Picnic in Minnie Fleming's front yard in Henning, TN

 

After lunch, we caravanned to our nearby clean-up destination, the Bethlehem Cemetery, where Chicken George, one of the main characters in the Roots saga happens to be buried. Immediately adjacent to this quaint country cemetery, someone had dumped a truckload of household goods unceremoniously in the parking area. We uncovered all manner of items from coat hangars to toys to bras. It appeared to be an assortment of things you might find at a local thrift shop. It occurred to me that someone might have been hired to take the items to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army, as they appeared to be in relatively good condition and certainly re-usable. Instead, in an all-too-common scenario across the state, the person pocketed the money and did the more expedient thing – he drove to the nearest convenient spot where he could make a clandestine dump, leaving it to others to clean-up. Shame, shame, shame.

Illegal dump site adjacent to historic Bethlehem Cemetery in Henning

Illegal dump site adjacent to historic Bethlehem Cemetery in Henning


Our next destination was a beautiful spot, Porter's Gap Overlook. High atop a bluff overlooking the “bottomlands.” We learned about the history of the area from Lauderdale County Mayor Rod Schuh. The bottomlands were created several generations ago when the Mississippi was diked to prevent seasonal flooding. That created a very fertile soil for farmers and the area has been a prosperous agriculutral area ever since. But more and more in recent years, the consensus among scientists has been that the natural cycle of seasonal flooding needs to be returned for the long-term benefit of keeping the river clean and healthy and allowing for more wetlands for migratory waterfowl. As land has become available from private owners, the government has been buying it up and returning it to is natural state. The mayor and others in Lauderdale County are understandably not excited about that trend because their entire economy depends on agriculture. While I have always been a staunch environmentalist, I have sympathy for both sides in this debate and it proves how complex environmental issues are in the 21st century and at the heart of matters, everything really is a local problem. If the farmlands are going to be taken away, it is only fair that the local economy not be devastated. Surely there is a solution where both sides can benefit, but I'm afraid that will take a strong political will and a spirit of cooperation at all levels of government, something that seems in very short supply these days.

Porter's Gap overlooking the bottomlands in Lauderdale County.

Porter's Gap overlooking the bottomlands in Lauderdale County.


As we left Lauderdale County, I reflected on how much I enjoyed meeting the people there, many of whom choose to live a simpler life far removed from the stresses of the big city and I was encouraged by the local leadership. Hopefully, the citizens will successfully navigate the tricky waters of the near future. One notion I have is that heritage tourism, spearheaded by the nearby Haley Museum, could be part of the solution for a sustainable future for the local economy.


Arriving at the at Davy Crockett Cabin and Museum in Rutherford in Gibson County, we experienced our second brush with the legendary Tennessean. This home was restored using timbers from his last home in Tennessee. He moved progressively further west during his life in the state and after losing his seat in Congress because of his opposition to the Indian Removal Act, he became disillusioned and cast his sights further West to the fledgling Republic of Texas. He would die two years later in the valiant defense of the Alamo, ensuring his folk hero immortality.



Performing for us on the front porch of the cabin were the fittingly named group the Cabin Porch Gang. They are dedicated to keeping “old-time” music alive and charmed us with their harmonica-driven renditions of “Lorena” and “Cindy.” Continuing my musicology education, it was fascinating to listen to music the way it was originally played, with the instruments it was originally composed for, long before the days of amplification and electronic instruments.

Cabin Porch Gang performing at the Davey Crockett Cabin in Rutherford

Cabin Porch Gang performing at the Davey Crockett Cabin in Rutherford


Journeying north from Rutherford, we reached the extreme northwest corner of the state, Reelfoot Lake. You have to make a special trip to get there because it really isn't on the way to another destination. As we arrived, it quickly became apparent that we could not have cooked up a better ending to our day. After having already seen and done so much today, I did not honestly think Reelfoot Lake State Park would offer much stimulation, but boy was I wrong. We pulled up to the park just before sunset and were summarily escorted to a waiting pontoon boat by ranger Warren Douglas. He grew up on the lake and new it like the back of his hand. As the sun was setting over the lake, we glided across the still waters and among the ancient cypress trees listening to Warren explain the natural history of the lake and its many feathered inhabitants. What a stunningly beautiful place. Let the pictures speak louder than words:


Reelfoot Lake, Lake County

Reelfoot Lake, Lake County

The boat trip on Reelfoot Lake was truly a magical experience, one my family and I will not forget for the rest of our lives. It is one of those experiences best shared with loved ones and is an instant reminder of all the great things about living. If every day ended like this, I don't think I would ever have a worry in the world.

Day 7 - Shelby County - June 9, 2013

What an action-packed day we had today. After a wonderful night of camping in the serene setting of Chickasaw State Park, we headed out early to Memphis and arrived at New Olivet Baptist Church. Not just an average Sunday sermon, this was more like attending a concert. We were warmly welcomed by pastor Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr and the outstanding and rousing sanctuary choir under the direction of Dr. Allen F. Todd, II. The energy and enthusiasm in the room was almost overwhelming. We had a captive and receptive audience for our message of “Love the Land, Lose the Litter.” I'm proud of Jane and Harlan who got baptized in the art of public speaking when they were given a chance to share that message with the congregation of hundreds. They were greeted with enthusiastic applause, followed up by more singing and dancing.

New Olivet Baptist Church

New Olivet Baptist Church


After our memorable visit at New Olivet, we ventured to the northern edge of the city and commenced our biggest litter clean-up yet, with over 100 volunteers. We concentrated on a half mile stretch of winding two-lane road near the General Dewitt Spain airport, where there was a lot of accumulated trash. Jane and Harlan found part of a car axle and vowed to make some kind of art project out of it. While I rolled my eyes wondering where we would store the item in the R/V, Marge quickly pointed out that “Re-use is always better than recycling.” Along with the usual complement of fast food and beverage containers, there were also a lot of tires pulled out of the tall weeds along the road. One wonders how the tires got there. They certainly didn't fall off of vehicles.

Army of volunteers for litter pick up near General DeWitt Spain Airport in Memphis.

Army of volunteers for litter pick up near General DeWitt Spain Airport in Memphis.


Later on, we met up with three locals taking a leading role in litter awareness and environmental education in the city, Janet Boscarino of CleanMemphis.org, Diana Threadgill of Mississippi River Corridor – TN and Joe Royer of Outdoors, Inc. They each eloquently shared their passion for keeping the Memphis area clean and beautiful. It is so inspiring to see such grassroots activism at work and making an impact in such a huge urban area as Memphis. I'm particularly impressed with the efforts these individuals and groups have made to reach out to school kids.


One of Jane's school friends grew up in Memphis and told her about Gibson's Donuts and especially their bacon donut, so of course, we had to set aside some time to check it out. I have to say the bacon donut and all their other offerings lived up to the hype. I definitely think they have the edge on donut creativity and taste compared to Krispy Kreme. Linda agreed and she couldn't resist walking out of their store without one of their $15 coffee mugs!


We concluded our very busy day with a camp out at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. For being so close to a major urban area, I was really surprised at how remote and isolated the park is. Instead of ten miles from the hustle and bustle of Memphis, we might as well have been 1000 miles.

Day 6 - Hardin, McNairy, and Chester Counties - June 8th, 2013

 We started our second week on the road making the drive from Chattanooga through long stretches of US Highway 64 through the southern part of the state. About ten years earlier, Linda and I had driven this very road from Memphis all the way to Sewanee. Back then, it would have been faster for sure to take I-40  into Nashville and then I-24 to Chattanooga, but we deliberately wanted to get off the interstate and see parts of the state we had not seen before. The drive unfortunately turned out to be very unpleasant due to incredibly bad weather and very poor road visibility virtually the entire way. This time, luckily, we had wonderful weather and enjoyed the scenery very much.

After four hours of driving, we arrived in beautiful Savannah, TN, right on the Tennessee River in Hardin county. It was very interesting to see the same river that flows through Chattanooga all the way on the other end of the state and flowing north instead of south. In Savannah we met up with the Holt Family at the Cherry Mansion.

The Holt Family. 

The Holt Family. 

They are a farming family and are some of the nicest, most genuine people we have met on the tour. They are also superb musicians. Daniel Holt, is a wiz on the banjo and co-wrote the featured original piece, Hallelujah, We Shall Arise. To cap off the performance, Daniel showed off a bit more by picking his banjo behind his head. Most memorable though, was the family's beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday to honor my daughter Harlan who turned eight today.

Harlan, with her birthday cake. 

Harlan, with her birthday cake. 

Although we didn't get to see the inside of Cherry Mansion, we learned a lot about its significance in Civil War history. It was here that Union General and future US President, Ulysses S. Grant heard the rumble of distant cannon fire and found himself scrambling his forces to action in the Battle of Shiloh which was getting underway a few miles to the south. We didn't get to see the battlefield but it was easy to envision Union gunboats on the prowl in the river below the Mansion.

As we headed west out of Savannah, we came across signs designating that we were on the “Walking Tall” Trail. Suddenly I recalled from my childhood the movie by that name that was inspired by the true story of Buford Pusser of McNairy County. He was an uncommon lawman who practically single-handedly took on the crime establishment in his county and made them pay. He is rightly a legend in these parts and his home in Adamsville is now a museum. The Walking Tall Trail is one of 16 relatively new driving trails developed by the Tennessee Department of Tourism to highlight cultural, historical and natural heritage attractions that are outside the major major metropolitan areas of Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga. It is creative way to "share the wealth" of the tourism bounty with smaller communities that are a bit off the beaten path. Following only backroads and avoid interstates, each of the 16 driving trails originates in a metropolitan area, winds through the adjacent countryside and loops back to the point of origination. The idea is to allow people a "genuine" cultural experience away from the big city, all in one day's drive. There are 3 such trails emanating from Memphis, 7 from Nashville, 4 from Knoxville and 2 from Chattanooga. The trails are listed in detail at this website. There are also very informative, full-color, turn-by-turn brochures available for each trail at any one of the state welcome centers listed here.

Later in the day, we found ourselves in the very remote, but very pretty Chickasaw State Park in Chester County. Here we commenced one of our smallest litter pick-ups on the tour. It was just my family of four, Marge Davis and two park rangers.

Chickasaw Park Ranger Ron Elder. 

Chickasaw Park Ranger Ron Elder. 

 Just outside the park entrance was a county road awash in the typical roadside litter – lots of beverage containers and fast food packaging. Curiously in short supply were aluminum cans which statistically should be present in roughly equal quantities to the plastic beverage containers.  When that is not the case, it is evidence that someone is picking up the aluminum. Sadly, that same person is choosing to leave the other litter behind. Just think if the other litter had the same market value as the aluminum? That could potentially solve the litter problem very quickly. In less than an hour, our small group was able to pick about a quarter mile stretch of road pretty clean.

Pickin' up the country road. 

Pickin' up the country road. 

 Later on in the parking lot near the park entrance, I observed and filmed Marge as she went about her oft-repeated ritual of sorting through the day's debris collection. She does this religiously after each clean-up to make an accurate accounting of the precise ratios and total volume of the various recyclables.  Aside from the unusually lower amount of aluminum, it was a pretty standard haul and it was very educational to listen to Marge as she described in detail what each item was and its relative value on the recyclables market. I came away with a renewed respect and admiration for this remarkable woman's dedication to the litter problem in Tennessee and to her tireless promotion of the benefits of recycling. She is a dynamo that never stops and she is an inspiration to many.

Until this impromptu interview with Marge, I had not really realized  how utterly, insanely, dedicated she is to litter awareness and recycling education. As I handheld the camera for a half an hour, she proceeded to give me (and the audience) a pretty thorough lesson in what is recyclable and what is not. The Pickin' Up Tennessee project is Marge's brainchild and I'm proud to be associated with it mainly because of her enthusiasm and boundless energy. If there were ten Marges working in unison, I'm pretty sure most of the world' problems could be solved in one generation!

Day 5 - Lawrence and Marshall Counties - June 5th, 2013

We arose on this morning having camped at David Crockett State Park.  It is just one of many places throughout the state (and three on our tour ) that pay homage to the famous Tennessean. During his life, he moved around quite a bit and left his mark in many places. Anyone with that kind of presence on the state map must have been important, but I was curious as to how he achieved such legendary status.

A statue of Davy Crockett. 

A statue of Davy Crockett. 

 About a month prior to our trip, I had come across an old Walt Disney movie from the fifties,  Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, starring Fess Parker. It was actually a compilation of a five-part made-for-TV series from 1955 that is credited with taking Davy Crockett from an historical figure to cult status. The TV programs were responsible for over $30 million in sales of ancillary merchandise (i.e. coonskin caps) and are credited with proving the economic viability of the relatively new television medium. There was probably not one boy in America growing up in the 50's who did not have one of those caps.

I had coincidentally seen the film as part of my research into the history of filmmaking in Southeast Tennessee. A large portion of the film was shot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but also  some was shot very close to home, in the Tennessee River Gorge, just a few miles from downtown Chattanooga. Anyway, the movie was wonderful and along with everything I've read about the man's life, makes him out to be a true American hero.

David Crockett State Park is in Lawrenceburg, the county seat of Lawrence County. We spent most of our time there visiting the Old Jail Museum.

The Old Jail Museum. 

The Old Jail Museum. 

Yes, there are old jail cells there but more interesting to me was the massive collection of artifacts pertaining to the area's history. Included are bicycles and lawn mowers formerly manufactured at area factories and a whole room dedicated to local veterans and war heroes. The collection was assembled over the years by Curtis Peters of the Lawrence County Historical Society. The man is a walking encyclopedia of local history and we easily could have spent all day listening to his fascinating stories. What he has assembled at the Old Jail Museum is nothing short of an incredible resource that every community in America would envy. In fact, I believe every town should have such a museum – a place where local memories can be preserved for future generations, so younger folks can have a greater appreciation for where they come from. Curtis has put a ton of passion into the museum. Such persons are rare and are to be cherished where they exist. Sadly, for every community like Lawrenceburg where remnants of the past are carefully curated and exhibited, there are probably dozens of communities where such treasures are stored away out of sight in a backroom of a library or courthouse or even worse, are encased in the local landfill.

A portion of the Old Jail Museum collection. 

A portion of the Old Jail Museum collection. 

History is beneath our feet and learning about it can open up a world of wonders. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small town (albeit a suburb of a very large metro area), Coral Gables, FL, that always has valued and cherished its heritage. From a very early age, I was curious about my town and why and how it came to be. If it were not for the local library which had an excellent historical collection, and a local landmark/ museum, the Coral Gables House, I probably never would have learned and appreciated the rich history of my town. My interest in local history only grew as I got older and when I was a teenager, I was one of the first people in a generation to re-discover and and help clean-up a long-forgotten and neglected pioneer cemetery. I would not have even known about the place (my parents had no idea of its existence) if I had not randomly come across an old faded newspaper clipping in the local library – long buried in a file cabinet dedicated to local history. I vividly remember working alongside an ancient man with an interest in local genealogy, in the sweltering Florida heat,  machete in hand, chopping away at the vines and overgrowth covering up the tombstones. Thirty years later, I'm happy to say that the cemetery is now a respectable city park and is well-maintained.

Even more impressive than the facility we saw yesterday in Hickman County is the Marshall County Recycling Facility in Lewisburg.

The Marshall County Recycling Facility. 

The Marshall County Recycling Facility. 

The place is a remarkable display of great planning and efficiency and I left with the strong feeling that Marshall County has made recycling a major priority – to a level I have seen in very few communities anywhere. It was inspiring to see their operation and how they are giving local inmates an excellent opportunity to give back to the community, earn a reduction on their sentences and gain valuable job experience that will help them rebuild their lives when they are released and re-enter society. The dozen or so inmates working there all play valuable roles in the single stream assembly-line sorting facility. It is quite a sight to watch them quickly picking and sorting through the truckloads of material brought in daily and turning into a valuable commodity.

We spent some quality time with one of the inmates, Ignacio “Nacho” Cerpa. He was a very nice guy and  is entrusted with a great deal of responsibility at the facility. He is the team member who bales the recyclable commodities for sale and shipment out. He showed us the impressive room where all the recyclables are stored in giant blocks until they have enough blocks to fill up a semi trailer. When that is the case, they put out an invitation for bidders on the open market for the product. The buyer then sends a truck to the facility to pick it up. Of course, the most valuable of these commodities is aluminum – bringing in almost $600 for one bale! There were also giant bales of  plastic soda and water bottles, plastic laundry detergent bottles, steel cans, mixed paper, cardboard, etc. Basically everything is recyclable. Here is what the facility accepts. If only every community in Tennessee was willing to accept every type of recyclable!

Ignacio "Nacho" Cerpa and the bales of recyclables. 

Ignacio "Nacho" Cerpa and the bales of recyclables. 

Probably one of the most unforgettable experiences of the trip so far has been having lunch today with the inmate crew working at the recycling facility. An inmate prepared the hearty hot lunch and my family and I sat down, side-by-side with convicts eating lunch. I honestly never envisioned my daughters dining with convicts! Anyway, we had some pleasant conversation with a few of the men over lunch and I was impressed with how decent the food was. I have a feeling it must be better than the chow they serve in the county lockup. Everyone, including my daughters, left a clean plate.

We ended our day at Henry Horton State Park where the multi-talented Denton family - Marcia, Maddie and Greg -  played two traditional tunes for us at our campsite.  It was yet another wonderful ending to a great day.

The Denton Family. 

The Denton Family. 

Day 4 - Hickman and Lewis Counties - June 4th, 2013

This morning we worked with a Hickman County inmate crew on a breathtaking stretch of country road called Missionary Ridge Road near the small town of Bon Aqua. I could not think of a nicer place to be picking up litter. Again, the inmate crew was excellent and later on we got to meet a local county commissioner, Wayne Thomasson, who has spent a great deal of time working with the inmates over the years. He shared some inspiring stories about the inmates and a beautiful piece of etched glass artwork that one of the inmates gave to him as a gift. It was clear that he had a high regard for them and the service they provide to the community.

An inmate working the beautiful Missionary Ridge Road.

An inmate working the beautiful Missionary Ridge Road.

Later on, we were treated to a tour of the Hickman County Solid Waste Facility. Its manager, Marty Turbeville, is a constant force in motion who has championed recycling for years in Hickman County. He designed the facility from the ground up and it is a model in efficiency and sustainability. The sorted and bailed recyclables he produces with inmate labor assistance are sold as commodities to manufacturers and cover the costs of maintaining the facility. It would be nice if every county in the state had such a facility but it would also help if they have someone like Marty leading the charge. He is genuinely enthusiastic about what he does and justifiably proud of what he has accomplished. Hats off to Marty!

A pile of sorted recyclables. 

A pile of sorted recyclables. 

In the second half of our day, we ventured south to Summertown in adjacent Lewis County to the Farm, a famous outpost of the 1960's San Francisco counter-culture hippie movement. Known more properly these days as an “intentional community,” the Farm was founded in 1971 by a caravan of hippies who crisscrossed the country looking for just the right place to start a utopian farming community based on principles of non-violence and respect for the Earth. By the 1980's, it had become the largest commune in America and had over 1500 members. Today the Farm is a much smaller community of less than 200 residents and curiously, there is no longer any large scale farming. The fields grow hay and that is about it. The farming activities almost bankrupted the community in the 80's and during a major transition period called the “Changeover,” the community shifted from a pure collective where everything was communally owned to more of a co-op, where there is still joint ownership of land and buildings but each family is responsible for their own upkeep. The change forced a departure of many families and subsequent dramatic population decline, but those who remained stay true to the original utopian vision of communal non-violent living that respects the land. Newcomers to the community must prove their commitment to the lifestyle by living there during a probationary period which can last several years.

The Farm. 

The Farm. 

Under the canopy of the Farm Stage, it was such a delight to meet and spend time with Chuck McCarthy, Todd Elgin, Shawn Byrne and Rick Diamond, as they played the official Pickin' Up TN theme song, Love the Land, Lose the Litter, which is used at the start of all of our videos. By this time, we had heard the recording of the song many times and loved its catchy melody and lyrics. Before we started filming, I asked the guys what the name of their group was. They all looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Finally, one of them broke the awkward silence and said, “how about the Litter Pickers?” We all busted out laughing and the name was an instant hit. To seal the deal, they spontaneously decided to don bright florescent orange vests that Marge had stuffed in the back of her car for litter pick-ups. When we started filming, I have to admit it was pretty funny when the guys started playing but messed up repeatedly on the lyrics. Somehow, the irreverent personality of the group was a fitting match for the light-hearted lyrics and mood of the song.

The "Litter Pickers". 

The "Litter Pickers". 

After recording the performance, we were treated to a hike on the adjacent Big Swan Headwaters Preserve led by Cynthia Rohrbach. Cynthia moved to the farm with her husband in 1975 and raised four children on the property. In recent years, she helped create the Swan Conservation Trust which successfully purchased sensitive land that the Bowater timber company had decided to liquidate. The Farm had been trying for years to buy the property and now manages the 1425 acre area that includes Tall Falls – the destination of our hike. I am very impressed with the initiative to preserve this land. Land trusts are such a powerful, non-political way to preserve land for future generations. It just takes cash to make it happen though, and I am sure the folks at the Swan Conservation Trust would be grateful for any contributions you can make to their organization. After we filmed the interview with Cynthia, Jane and Harlan enjoyed a spontaneous shower in the falls, not thinking twice about spending the next 30 minutes hiking back to the trailhead soaking wet!

Tall Falls. 

Tall Falls. 

As our afternoon at the Farm drew to a close, I thought about how many good intentions went into the founding of the community and how they were forced to re-define themselves over the decades. The Farm is different than in its heyday to be sure, but it is still here, still enduring and still a hopeful beacon for people in a world with the potential to be a better place than it actually is. During our time on the Farm, we were welcomed with open arms by everyone we met and there was definitely a palpable spirit in the air of positive energy and tranquility. I can definitely appreciate the appeal of living and raising children here. With a warm fuzzy feeling, I said my goodbyes to the Farm and its residents and, fittingly, as we were driving towards the gate, an older resident (in a golf cart) saw our R/V and flashed us a peace sign.

Day 3 - Dickson and Cheatham Counties - June 3rd, 2013

Our litter pick-up today focused on a very busy two lane road leading into the town of Charlotte in Dickson County. It was a bit nerve-wracking having my daughters working on a roadside with such heavy traffic, but the local law enforcement did an excellent job of strategically placing their squad cars with flashing lights to slow the drivers down. Its a shame that it takes that much effort to get cars to slow down when people are working alongside the road.

Volunteers working in Dickson County.  

Volunteers working in Dickson County.  

Over the years, I have read sobering statistics in the newspaper about how many roadside fatalities there are among construction crews, emergency service providers and police officers. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security statistics, 537 pedestrians and 121 bicyclists were involved in vehicular accidents last year in the state. The most recent compilation of pedestrian fatalities in the state was from 2007-2008 when 123 people were killed. There is actually a Pedestrian Danger Index with Memphis being ranked as the most dangerous place in the state to walk to work. I'm sure most of these tragedies could have been averted if drivers would just SLOW DOWN.

After our litter pick-up, we ventured to the small town of Pegram in adjacent Cheatham County. There we were introduced to Gretchen Priest-May, her husband Tim May and their passion project – Fiddle and Pick, the Musical Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee.

Fiddle & Pick.  

Fiddle & Pick.  

According to their website, “it is a place where people old and young can come to discover the joy found in making traditional music - mainly, but not limited to, music played on fiddles, banjos, mandolins, guitars and similar instruments - and in particular, music played in the Middle Tennessee region throughout its history.” During our visit, Gretchen and a group of first-class musicians treated us to a wonderful rendition of an old Stephen Foster tune, Angelina Baker. The song included expert solos on banjo, fiddle, dobro, and mandolin.

The musicians featured at Fiddle & Pick. 

The musicians featured at Fiddle & Pick. 

We ended our day by venturing to beautiful Montgomery Bell State Park where we camped for the night. We got a chance to visit the restaurant in the lodge. It has a beautiful, sweeping view of Lake Acorn. I could not script a more perfect ending to the day - having dinner with a view of the sunset over the lake.

Day 2 - Wilson and Davidson Counties - June 2nd, 2013

Today we began with a short clean-up at Schutes Branch Recreation Area on Old Hickory Lake in Mt. Juliet, Scenic Tennessee's home base. The area is supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers which oversees a whopping 40 water recreations areas in the state. These areas are usually exquisitely maintained by the Corps, have excellent campgrounds and are generally a tremendous resource for travelers on a budget wanting to enjoy the great outdoors. Between our state parks system, our national parks, our state and national forests, TVA recreation areas and the Army Corps recreation areas, our state is truly blessed with a bountiful array of outdoor recreational opportunities.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers display.  

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers display.  

Inclement weather abbreviated the litter clean-up today, but an excellent local inmate crew from the Wilson County Sheriff's department still managed to collect a lot of trash. In this case, the litter was mostly along the shoreline of the lake and among the guilty parties were fishermen, as many of the items were plastic night crawlers containers, fishing line and pieces of styrofoam coolers. One would expect fishermen to be better stewards of the environment! Also dis-heartening was the large percentage of recyclable materials that were found, aluminum in particular, which is the most valuable recyclable commodity.

Later on in Nashville, we journeyed to Fond Object, a vintage record store in East Nashville. They have a great backyard space and there we filmed the all-girl garage rock band Churchyard. East Nashville reminds me of Atlanta's Little Five Points with its young, energetic, artsy scene. 

 

Churchyard at Fond Object.  

Churchyard at Fond Object.  

It is a stark contrast to the cowboy hat and boots country music scene that I have always envisioned dominates Nashville culture. That is probably a naïve view I have of the city, having only visited sporadically over the years. I will say, however, each time I visit Nashville I am more impressed with its diversity. Having lived in some major cities during my life including Miami, LA and Washington DC, Nashville certainly has all the hallmarks of a big city, but seemingly without as many of the big city issues plaguing other cities. If I ever decided to re-locate back to a major city, Nashville would be high on my list.