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Here's to the Parks!
For my regular dose of nature in the rough from town I drove west on outstandingly scenic back or main roads to public parks like Davey Crockett to wind along its overgrown riverside footpath by the tumultuously intriguing Nolichuckey on the curling, mountainous way to our other "first town" of historic Greeneville, also in contention with the outpost of fascinating Rogersville for that distinction. Choosing an alternative southerly direction I might aim toward mountain-ringed Erwin, uncomfortably famous for having once hung publically to the death a rampaging and murderous adult circus elephant, on old route 81 as it meanders in two-lane glory through domesticated farmlands and landscaped surburban order to a wild side of the island-splattered Nolichuckey and on to the neatly-maintained forested public boat landing on the river and into the cliffside dirt road leading to the dead end of a private riverfront commercial campground edging Appalachian Trail grounds.
In addition to Jonesborough's Davy Crockett State Park, I also visited off and on the main area river at Erwin's Nolichucky Campground, Nolichuckey Campground complex -- an amazingly diverse construction between the rolling to roiling river, sand-bedded and cliff-defined, and wild-wooded delights of the storied and awesome Appalachian Trail -- whose very skilled woodworking owner is a friend of friends. Offering tent spaces, new cabins, and older miniature A-frames for rent by the water or national forest, it also affords easy access to the Appalachian Trail. Both sites have wooded and wild paths by riverbanks and opportunities to slide into chortling or serene sandy-bottomed waters for cool swimming, wading or relaxing on rocks in the heat, busy or unoccupied. Large rafts and colorful canoes pass through the relatively calm waters by the campground for lively encounters with rapids in sight just below. There's a good-sized pond with a fishing ramp, and visiting seasonal waterfowl, for sunning and talking beside and a large covered open-sided building where great area musicians play weekends under the moon and stars to comfortable and enthusiastic crowds
Close by Persimmon Ridge Park affords surprisingly sweet encounters for an in-town facility, with nature's wilder aspects on well-worn dirt trail paths and planked ones, including small bridges over its rock-strewn running brook and opportunities to explore unmarked and untamed outposts of densely high mixed woods, comfortably inviting nooks and cranies for solitary commune.
Once, we camped for two nights at the largely diverse and beautiful Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonsburg, Kentucky and went to a nearby horse track and betting establishment, where I watched an assortment of characters leafing through record pamphlets and testing their latest theories, since I seldom gamble at tracks or machines and then very sparingly. The beautiful Kentucky scenery was marred repeatedly by mountains with their tops blown off for accessing coal deposits easily. You'd think companies involved would level and reseed the ground so that the land would be pleasant and usable again, even if just hilly and flat, but they don't. Huge, ugly craters filled with rubble and dust stand out on the landscape ever-reminding residents and visitors of corporate disregard for people, animals, birds and beauty.
Dr. Bill and Ginger Stone invited me to go with them to Standing Stone State Park, a wilderness area with cabins and buildings for visitors, in helping to organize a statewide Green Party of Tennessee. Bill had already begun to structure an area chapter, which met at the popular local coffee house in Johnson City owned by a mutual Jonesborough friend -- Dr. Don Garcia whose PhD in Philosophy from a Hawaiian University led to businesses strewn with enticing journals and books and newspapers for clientele as well as conversations -- although that entrepreneur was originally from the North and Florida. Ginger had become an especially good friend with whom I traveled and played piano duets and took painting lessons informally. The drive was pleasant and uneventful and we settled comfortably into our cabin rooms without any problem. A large open building was a meeting and partying place, although on the last day, we met in one divided into a few conference rooms of various sizes.
Ginger invited me twice to accompany her to the family's childhood home in Parkersburg WV at the very northwestern tip of that state with a wonderful river convergence and old, empty and abandoned mansions lined back with their expansive lawns from an original main street. We stopped at New River Gorge once, an incredible site, on the extraordinarily scenic drive there, attended introduction of a new symphony to and for America by a regionally famous composer, and participated in the crowded and festive home marriage of one of her neices and reception following that.
Nearly a decade later and post-autumn 2010 stroke Junior, an entertainingly in-transition erstwhile neighbor in need of pickup work, cooked and delivered hearty meals for me post-release from rehab hospital. My favorites any time of day were succulently-prepared and invitingly-displayed eggs sunnyside up, fried sliced potatoes and onions, biscuits and gravy. He drove me on request to the local grocery and got me safely into and around in a motorized cart there for shopping on my own, fresh air, and town interactions along the way.We also enjoyed Main Street Music on the Square performances, restaurant specialties, and vendor fare.
With others one evening, we dined to Lightnin' Charlie's music and tales at now-relocated Cranberry Thistle's cabaret cafe' and one impromptu day rode the back way toward Erwin's rolling-to-craggy mountain range, choosing an unfamiliar two-lane headed toward a summit. With no turnoffs it turned out, as we checked the gas gauge, until the "Welcome to North Carolina" sign at the crest -- a few miles from the nearest occcupied and commerced town.
Other pleasant days we drove narrow park-forested and river-lined roads around his nearby backcountry childhood homeplace, stopping to chat briefly with several of his relatives and friends remaining there. Junior had traveled with one to post-Katrina Louisiana where they'd got "up close and personal" with flooded swamps and alligators, and "fast money" to throw around.
Junior's Jonesborough-native family of 15 brothers and sisters by one father and his first and second wives include a locally popular country musician who performs on guitar and sings the regional circuit, including a popularly nearby riverpark cabaret, with a long-time male companion.
Original material c. A Country Rag, Inc. and/or Jeannette Harris, Jonesborough Tennessee, April 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved.