Day 1 - Franklin County - June 1st, 2013

I'm particularly drawn to the potential impact this project can have on children. They are the future of a cleaner, litter-free Tennessee. They are the ones who can break bad habits of tossing bottles and fast food containers out car windows. Today I saw evidence of that in beautiful Franklin County, our first stop on the tour. Here, the Chamber of Commerce has been running the EarthWise program for over 15 years, where 2nd graders participate in litter-clean-ups and are empowered as their family's litter guardians. We heard many stories today of these kids admonishing their parents, grandparents and other relatives for littering. They are breaking a cycle of bad habits and instilling new values that will last for a lifetime and beyond. With all the bad out there in the world, stories like this remind me there is so many good people doing great things out there, and most often they are unrecognized.

At the Cowan Railroad Museum, kids from the litter awareness program met up with our RV and helped enthusiastically pick a few blocks of the city clean of even the slightest hint of roadside litter.

Cowan Railroad Museum

Cowan Railroad Museum

Later, we did a clean-up a few miles away on a beautiful country road. I was surprised to encounter a county inmate crew already diligently at work when we arrived. Immediately, I had visions of the classic Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke where Newman's rebellious character finds himself in the deep south working on a roadside chain gang. This is the film where the chain gang boss utters the famous words, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” To be honest, I thought “chain gangs” had gone out of style a long time ago, but in many rural counties, they provide a very important service to the community as they are the primary labor force keeping roadsides clean and the term “chain gang” has been phased out in favor of “inmate crews.” They are working off time from their sentences in their labor and there are no chains – these guys may be convicted felons, but they are not violent offenders. I'm told most of them are in jail for offenses that include unpaid child support, petty theft, DUI, etc.

After the clean-up, we made our way to lunch in downtown Winchester in a really nice cafe called San Miguel Coffee Co. . I had never been to Winchester before but I knew the town has at least one famous son, investor Sir John Templeton and one famous daughter, singer Dinah Shore.

What struck me most about the downtown was how alive it is. There was a lot of activity and unlike so many cities, the urban core here is still very much the economic and cultural hub of the community. This does not seem to be the case in cities touched by interstates. In those communities, the immediate area around the interstate exits with the strip malls, box stores and fast food restaurants  seem to be busier than the downtowns. The need for driving (and traffic) are the result. Where the interstate is not present, it it like stepping back in time, where the emphasis on a concentrated business district forces people to park their cars and WALK to take care of their errands. For all the conveniences of the modern world, I wish we had done a better job of holding onto this notion as we have “developed” our cities.

At Falls Mill  in Belvidere,  we found a real treasure. Using the greenest of technologies, the Mill has been in operation since the 1870's providing a natural power source for a variety of uses. Today it is used to grind cornmeal and to cater to the tourism trade. It is in a truly beautiful setting and is a stellar example of eco-tourism. By restoring and preserving the mill, owners Jane and John Lovett have made a lasting contribution and investment in the community by attracting tourists to the region who will in turn help support many local jobs.

 

Falls Mill

Falls Mill

I believe eco-tourism and heritage tourism represent the best and brightest ideas for long-term, sustainable economic development. I wish there were more entrepreneurs with the vision and dedication of the Lovett family,  as I am sure there are many opportunities throughout the state of TN to take advantage of the cultural and ecological assets in our own backyards and turn them into profitable, community-building enterprises.

We ended our day  in Tims Ford State Park. There, a group of  “pickers” convened at our campsite for a bluegrass jam session.

Pickers at Tims Ford State Park

Pickers at Tims Ford State Park

They played some beautiful original tunes and afterwards, I was surprised to learn that they had never played together as a group before! But, I was told this is very common with bluegrass musicians. Part of the allure is constantly playing with different people and improvising. I was very impressed with the result. A wonderful way to end a very long day.

I applaud the wonderful people of Franklin County that we spent time with today and I encourage anyone who has not been to this quiet but beautiful corner of Tennessee to make some time for a visit.