In 2017, the team from Tracy City, Tennessee, attended the Ringgold, Georgia, workshop with a dream for their community: to build desperately-needed safe gathering places for citizens, especially families. The team represented a small, particularly disadvantaged town in an economically distressed county that generally lacked critical community assets, especially health resources. In the workshop, the Tracy City team found a place to meet, brainstorm, and concentrate their ideas into an achievable action plan for a community park. Thanks to the skills they acquired through the workshop, they felt confident in enacting this plan.
Following the action plan they laid out during the workshop, Tracy City began work on the park by contracting for a professional design and digital mockup with the help of a $7,000 Appalachian Regional Commission seed grant. With the mockup in hand, Tracy City was able to secure funds to begin initial construction on the park. Soon thereafter, supported by a $75,000 Tennessee Department of Tourism Enhancement grant, combined with a $75,000 private donation, the community built a pavilion, bathroom, water fountain, and electric hookups for the park, as well as a commercial-grade playground. These developments have helped Old Roundhouse Park to cement its place in the community as a safe and fun location for people to gather.
The park is conveniently located on Tracy City’s connection to the Mountain Goat Trail, which runs more than eight miles along historic railroad tracks throughout the local area. The three miles of the trail that run through Tracy City are frequented by local and tourist bikers and hikers alike. Since the workshop, part of the park’s development has included the building of two more miles of paved trail right outside of the community.
Arts are a cornerstone of the Old Roundhouse Park’s appeal, as well. The pavilion has attracted various local artists, such as a local bluegrass group, which has moved its practices outdoors in the park and welcomes players of all skill levels with an educational attitude. The Tennessee Arts Commission also issued the community a grant for multiple sculptures in the park, which were completed by a local artist and include a park bench fashioned out of reclaimed railroad tracks, and two statues: one of a coal miner, and one of a rail worker. Additionally, the town recently completed construction of a new stage for performing arts, which is styled after the historic roundhouse center from the park’s past life and is located in the park. It features a sculptural backdrop created by a local artist, which will also act as a Mountain Goat Trail donor wall.
Tracy City was also chosen to be a pilot for a rural Downtown Placemaking and Tourism Program through the Tennessee Department of Tourism, which has positioned the town as a burgeoning destination. The town’s status as a destination has had ups and downs. Although tourism has undoubtedly served as a valuable revenue stream, local leadership has been hasty to expand capacity without helping locals first. As noted by team lead Emily Partin, helping its own community first is important in a community like Grundy County, which struggles with observable health disparities.
Given how much Old Roundhouse Park has transformed the community by providing a safe space for people to gather, exercise, and engage in the arts, the Gateway Communities Initiative seed grant has matured considerably in Tracy City. In just the last week, Partin said, the park provided a place for three small-scale events involving food, music, and movies—all free for community members.