BULLS GAP — After visiting with students at Hawkins Elementary School on the morning of Sept. 3, 2019, U.S. Representative Phil Roe headed to Bulls Gap to celebrate with the community at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the first phase of the proposed city park.
Roe joined Bulls Gap Mayor Betsy Shipley, Town Administrator Mike Solomon, Hawkins Co. Mayor Jim Lee, Hawkins Co. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson as well as several alderman and members of the community at the ceremony.
The park will be located on a nine-acre piece of land just off of North VFW Road that the community knows as “The Farm.” The idea for the park has officially been in the works since 2015, with the first step towards developing the park being the use of the barn that was already located on the property.
Solomon explained that, after building a parking lot, the town opened the barn as a farmer’s market with the hopes of bringing people to The Farm.
The first official phase of the park construction took the form of a walking track that weaves throughout the property. Additionally, there is now a covered pavilion with picnic tables where people can sit and enjoy the view.
The town was able to complete this phase with the help of a state parks and recreation grant that the First Tennessee Development District and the Appalachian Regional Commission helped them achieve.
“We had noticed over the years that people would want to get out and exercise and walk, but they were having to walk in parking lots and on the sides of streets,” Solomon said. “It was really unsafe. So, when we first started talking about developing a park, the first thing that struck my mind was ‘let’s try to get these people off the streets and get them into an area that is safe, first of all, controlled, and not in a parking lot but out in the woods’.”
So far, the new developments seem to be popular with the community.
On Labor Day, the town hosted a festival at The Farm to help bring people to the area. Alderman Gaylon Williams also noted that he has seen many people walking along the new trails in the evenings.
The town is also planning the third annual Craft and Music Festival, which will be held at the park on Oct. 18 and 19.
“We’ve tried to get more and more of our citizens to come out and enjoy the park,” Solomon said.
Though official plans began in 2015, the idea for the park goes back much farther than this.
“We dug up a document that was done in 1969 about a 20-year plan … and in that plan was a city park,” Solomon said. “I’ve lived in Bulls Gap all my life, and people have been talking about a city park all that time, but we never seem to get over the hump to get it done.”
The Farm is also full of history, as Solomon explained that, during the archaeological survey of the property, they discovered that a portion of the property had been used as Civil War encampment.
“We’ve had the discussion that, at some point in time, we may do a memorial park,” he added.
He also noted that he would like to see a flagpole as part of the memorial, to which Roe responded that he would make sure the town receives a flag that has been flown above the capitol.
Solomon also noted that the town has many other ideas for future phases of the park, such as a senior center, a softball field and a soccer field. They have developed a master plan, which can be found on a wall inside the farmer’s market, that includes several options for the property.
“Whether we will do everything on the master plan or not, we don’t know,” Solomon said. “It’s just growing in phases.”