Last week, I had the good fortune to stay two nights in Alcoa, TN, at a hotel by the Alcoa Greenway, which connects to the Maryville Greenway as part of the Blount County Greenway system just south of Knoxville.
Though I had never been to the area before, I have read, written, and spoken about this particular trail system many times. The Rails to Trails Conservancy featured the Maryville project in a publication highlighting economic impacts of greenway trails.
Ruby Tuesday's Inc relocated a Restaurant Supply Center employing over 300 people to a site along the trail because of the attraction of the trail and associated parks to the company's management and employees.
The greenways were everything I could have hoped for -- and more. In fact, as my wife and I rode the section connecting Alcoa to Maryville one morning, I was struck by how much these trails are the perfect expression of the new vision statement
we recently developed for Newton Trails. Nearly every aspect of what we aspire to in a Newton County trail system was abundantly evident in the experience of biking the Alcoa/Maryville Greenway.
We envision a healthy, vibrant, prosperous community...
The greenway was alive. Even on a workday morning, we passed people walking, jogging, and biking. An elderly man carried dumbbells as he moved briskly through the park. Others sat alone or in pairs on benches in the woodland sections, enjoying a quiet moment of reflection on the banks of once-polluted Pistol Creek.
Prosperity was evident in the many businesses (including Ruby Tuesday's) ringing the Bicentennial Greenbelt in Maryville and other employers along the trail to Alcoa. The two cities have a history
of luring major employers from other locales, and the greenway system has played a prominent role.
...connected to one another, to nature, to our history, and to daily life...
In joining two cities -- Maryville and Alcoa -- this greenway is the essence of connectivity. Especially with so many large employers, shopping centers, and even city hall lining the corridor, the linkages are everywhere. The trails were a wonderful alternative to busy state roads nearby. And, yet, with factories, offices, and highways all around, the trail system puts the "green" in greenway -- featuring woodlands, meadows, streams, ponds, interpretive displays, and wildflower gardens.
History and heritage are also vital to the Maryville/Alcoa Greenway experience. Nowhere is this more visible than Bicentennial Greenbelt Park, featuring a massive granite timeline etched with prominent events in Maryville's then 200-year history -- as well as the the world, and mankind. It's the kind of place you could linger for hours just lost in time. And, a great example of why we believe greenway trails preserve not just greenspace and public health, but also the history of an area and its people.
Last Saturday, Newton Trails board members and a few invited guests gathered for a half-day planning retreat to refocus on the vision, mission, and critical goals and objectives of the organization. You may wonder how much a group can accomplish in four and a half hours, but with preparation and a good facilitator, we covered much more ground than you might imagine.
Among the valuable outcomes of that intense effort are a new vision and mission statement. Granted, these are only words, but personally, I found the shift in focus to be quite profound. Let me put it out there first, and then I'll tell you why.
We envision a healthy, vibrant, prosperous community connected to one another, to nature, to our history, and to daily life through a system of greenway trails.
To promote, develop, and sustain a connected system of trails that supports a vibrant, healthy, and prosperous community.
The first difference I hope you'll recognize is the focus on outcomes: health, vibrancy, prosperity, and connectedness. These are the things that matter. Even I have to confess staring at a 10 to 12-foot wide ribbon of inanimate concrete leaves me wondering "what's the big deal?" It's the lives being lived there that matter. We don't just pave dirt, we bring places to life and people together.
The second key difference is that we've taken ourselves out of the trap of carefully fencing off organizational roles and responsibilities. When pursuing outcomes, we do whatever we have to do and can do to realize them. If a local government is willing and able to maintain a particular trail, then we support them in that effort. If no one else will maintain it, then our mission says we need to find a way. We act, though, not out of a scripted set of responses, but from a passionate caring about the end results.
To promote a system of trails goes beyond advocacy; it means selling the community on the benefits before construction, but also putting emphasis on making sure people are aware of, using, and benefiting from trails once they are built.
To develop, of course means to plan, design, and construct. To sustain encompasses the maintenance required to keep a trail in great shape, but it also goes further to make sure the trails are visible, accessible, well-used, and appreciated.
We're working on the goals, objectives, and strategies to accelerate the rate at which we realize this vision for Newton County. Key among those strategies will be getting you -- our supporters -- more engaged and actively helping. So, it's very important this new vision statement speaks to you.
Let us know what you think.