Carson-Newman AD turns overgrown, donated land into scenic park
by Cliff Hightower, courtesy of The Citizen Tribune
(Feb. 4, 2018) – The creek meanders peacefully through the heart of Jefferson City. Along the banks of Mossy Creek has risen a new greenway with a paved walking trail, strong oak trees and green grass.
But, just a few years ago, this jewel on the edge of Carson-Newman University was lost in plain sight.
Three years ago, it was overgrown woods no one ever used except the biology students who came down to run tests on a “dead creek.”
Just ask Carson-Newman graduates.
“They knew about it,” said Allen Morgan, vice president of athletics for Carson-Newman University. “They could tell you about it. But, they couldn’t see it.”
How Mossy Creek came alive has several different parts to the story. It had been owned for years by developer David Hayes, and his wife, Sharon. They decided to donate 18 acres of the property to the university around 2010.
It sat there for a few years, but then Morgan decided to take the lead.
“One day I decided it’s time to stop sharpening the axe and do some chopping,” he said.
Morgan decided it was time to start clearing off all the underbrush from the overgrown creek bed. He used a backhoe, forestry cutters and chain saws. He enlisted a helper to get the big stuff.
For two and a half years, Morgan and his helper cleared the land.
“We just started and took it one day at a time,” he said.
The crew pulled out four washing machines, hundreds of tires and thousands of beer bottles. But, the big surprise was one that he never knew was there. An already completely paved walking trail.
Hayes acquired the land in 1990. It was part of the old Glass farm, he said, and he went about developing it.
He put up some condominiums and houses. But the back side of the property where the creek ran, he always saved.
Hayes said he believed the city leased a portion of the property in the 1980’s and put in the walking trail.
“I don’t know why, but it never was successful,” he said.
By the time he bought the property, it was overgrown and the lease had ran out. Hayes said there’s no doubt the university did a lot of work to clear the property.
“It was real bad,” he said. “It was like a jungle.”
Dr. Robert Trentham, biology professor at Carson-Newman, said he now envisions a next step for the creek. Trentham began taking his students to the creek in 1989 for testing of the waters. Before him, Dr. Mary Virginia Ball took her students, he said.
There were times over the years the creek was “dead” with no animal activity, he said.
But, that could be changing. It’s too early to tell if the creek is springing back to life, but last fall he took students to the creek and found a salamander and a few fish.
He said he would like to see more natural vegetation along the edge of the creek and also establish some wetlands.
“It would make it a healthier creek,” he said.
Trentham said he hopes the university may be able to find some grants for such an undertaking in the future.
“To reclaim it and make it more conducive, it’s going to take some money,” he said.
Sharon is a Carson-Newman graduate. She said it made her extremely happy when they first donated the property to the university.
But, she never dreamed what it would become now. A pristine 18-acre park that all can enjoy.
“What they did with it is amazing,” she said. “What they did with it is more than we could have ever hoped for.”