Veterans deserve year-long tribute

Veterans were honored in appropriate and moving ceremonies across the nation on Monday, Nov. 11. Originally called Armistice Day, Monday’s observance became an official holiday in 1938 and commemorated the day the Allied forces and Germany put into effect an armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, signaling an end to the fighting of World War I. Today, all veterans who have served the nation are honored.

Locally, a number of restaurants and businesses offered free or discounted meals to veterans. Many retail stores also ran Veterans Day specials. Public events such as college and professional football and basketball contests honored those who have served in the military.

The Herald & Tribune informed its readers about plans to honor servicemen and women in the Oct. 30 edition with a notice and photograph about the 2019 Veterans Musical Concert on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center. The program’s notice was repeated on the front page of the Nov. 6 edition along with a story and picture on “A Jonesborough soldier at sea” and another article on future members of the military in a report headlined “Students seeking excellence” about the Daniel Boone High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC drill team.

Another front page article reported that the East Tennessee History Center would offer free admission to veterans, active duty military and their families following the Knoxville Veterans Day Parade. On the Herald & Tribune’s GENEALOGY & HISTORY page, nearly the entire page was devoted to the Andrew Johnson Cemetery in Greeneville where nearly 2,200 veterans have been buried including soldiers from the Civil, Spanish-American, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan Conflicts. The same page announced that “A Walk In Their Boots”  would be a special tribute to veterans at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City from Friday, Nov. 8 through Sunday, Nov. 10. The presentation was an “All-Era-Military Timeline” event paying tribute to the American soldier.

A number of government employees had a day off work on Monday. One person observed that without activity at both the Justice Center and Main Street Courthouse, the Town of Jonesborough seemed nearly deserted.

Area civic and political leaders, veterans organizations, and government agencies like the local Veterans Administration at Mountain Home deserve praise for their programs honoring veterans.  After saying “thanks” to the nation’s soldiers, sailors, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel most of us will now turn our attention to the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.

What is missing in all the ceremonies and programs just listed is the continuation of a year-long celebration. While other activities and obligations will demand our attention in the coming weeks, veterans should not be forgotten.   

Unfortunately, a number of veterans are homeless or without family support.  They should be remembered and assisted this holiday season. No attempt is being made in this editorial to list all the public agencies, charitable groups and churches that are willing to assist these individuals who have given so much in keeping America free from tyranny.

However, there are five ways to assist servicemen, servicewomen and veterans throughout the year suggested by  They areto treat them to a treat (a dinner or other social event), recognize them, share their story, serve the family and serve the community (by volunteering to assist a veterans service organization).

Groups providing assistance are invited to send notices of their willingness to aid veterans to the Herald & Tribune. Letters to the Editor honoring individuals who have served or are at the present time serving their country are also solicited.  Finally, readers suggestions as to why and how we can keep veterans’ needs and accomplishments in our hearts and minds throughout the year are welcomed.

Veterans did not forget our nation when called upon to serve. We should not forget them either on Veterans Day or throughout the year.

Keeping positive even in the face of crisis

Watching a disaster unfold is stressful. For all the beauty and pleasure nature gives us, the current state of our environment can cause sadness, grief and anger as well. Environmental news can seem overwhelming at times. In fact, the American Psychological Association created a guide for mental health care providers in 2017 to help those experiencing climate anxiety.

A person doesn’t have to be directly involved in an environmental disaster — for instance, contamination from a coal ash spill, respiratory distress from air pollution or surviving a mega storm caused by climate change — to be affected. Being faced with potential environmental catastrophes can be enough and can be worsened by a feeling of powerlessness and the apparent inaction of those who have the power to act.

The APA guide offers tips to build resilience to counteract the often paralyzing effects of environmental issues. They include building belief in one’s own resilience, fostering optimism, cultivating coping strategies, boosting personal preparedness, cultivating and maintaining supportive social networks, promoting community cooperation and providing opportunities for meaningful action.

Under boosting optimism, I suggest taking time to observe the evidence that others are taking action. We don’t have to look far to find a few examples. In 2019, 16,681 volunteers for the Tennessee Tree Project planted more than 97,100 trees that, in addition to the beauty and shade they provide, have the potential to sequester more than 73,000 tons of CO2 over the next 50 years. They can produce more than 13 million pounds of oxygen a year and can help manage up to 85 million gallons of storm water runoff per year.

To date, the project has planted 637,100 trees in Tennessee, creating 2,300 acres of new tree canopy that provides designated habitats for pollinators and other wildlife, has captured 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, filtered 26 billion gallons of rainwater and produced enough oxygen for more than 2 million Tennessee residents each year, according to the project web page. The next Tree Day is set for March 21, 2020.

A different type of tree project, Ardinna Woods Arboretum, at 101 Britt Drive in Jonesborough, is home to more than 70 species of trees native to the Southern Appalachian region, plus many other native plants. The project, founded by local conservationist and environmental activist Frances Lamberts, provides a unique green space and educational opportunity within the town while preserving a variety of native trees and plants. The Jonesborough Parks and Recreation Department now oversees the project but volunteers are needed to help maintain the arboretum.

Another ray of sunshine in the often bleak environmental scene powered up in May. The Brightridge Solar Farm in Telford began generating power with zero carbon emissions and zero water consumption. According to the Brightridge website, the 40-acre farm can replace the equivalent of 3,075 tons of coal burning power production and offset the emission of CO2 for the equivalent of 6,628 acres of forest per year. It’s a step toward cleaner energy options in the Tri-Cities area.

The Jonesborough Locally Grown Farmers Market and Boone Street Market reduce the carbon footprint for produce, eggs and meat, as well as locally made, value-added products, while supporting local producers to build a stronger, more resilient local economy.

I’m not suggesting these things are enough to solve all our environmental problems or put the brakes on climate change. But each one shines like a ray of light in the darkness. It’s worth the time to do an internet search or connect with organizations working for the environment.

Looking for more ideas to implement the APA suggestions? When taking meaningful personal action, the R’s always apply. Reduce — everything, whether it’s energy consumption, water use, single-use plastics or whatever else contributes to overburdening our resources or waste disposal systems. Reuse — many single use products can be used again. Repurpose  — the same goes here. Be creative and have fun with it! Rethink — just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only or best way.

Foster community and connections by finding a group aligned with your values and what you’d like to accomplish. Not a people person? Write letters to lawmakers, create art to share your message, donate to an environmental cause or start a project of your own. The possibilities are endless. The point is to keep a positive, Earthwise focus and not let the magnitude of the problem crush the spirit and paralyze us into inaction. What we do, big or small, matters. When we look around and see what others are doing locally and across the nation and the world, we can find reason for optimism and hope.

The oddity of government, global warming, and power

It’s tragic.

Having lived in Southern California for 50 years of my life, 20 years in the high desert, high wind was not uncommon and at times a daily occurrence. Driving into the area, you could feel your car pulling to the one direction or another as you transitioned from a hillside area protecting you from the winds to an open area just from the intensity of high winds. These winds are commonly in excess of 25 mph but, during storms, 50 to 70 mph is not unusual.

Then there is the Santa Ana wind condition. During this condition, strong winds move from the desert to the coastal region and actually blow LA’s smog over the water. These winds can equal, as they are now doing, the intensity those who live in the desert experience on a regular basis.

In 1994 President Clinton, under pressure from environmentalists, implemented a plan to limit logging to protect the endangered Spotted Owl (which made the news when it was found nesting in a Kmart sign). California doubled down on this, leaving forests to deteriorate (rot) naturally. This created a “fuel storage” area in forests ready to explode in fire — and that is how fast these can and do move with the winds.

Then we have fires occurring often in California. Why? Former Governor Jerry Brown rushed the press to blame the fires on, yes, global warming. He noted that “Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change” and “those that deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies we are now witnessing”…

Additionally, there have been an astronomical (approx. 1000%) increase in housing, much built in the formerly beautiful outskirts where they built in amongst the trees and nature’s beauty. Each fire season, we see homes destroyed and we often see one home “saved” because the homeowner broke the law and cleared the area around their home of underbrush and trees.

So why manage forests? In 2005, the Western Governors Association warned that, “Over time the fire-prone forests that were NOT thinned, burn in uncharacteristically destructive wildfires, and the resulting loss of forest carbon is much greater than if the forest had been thinned before the fire moved through.” Add to that less destruction of personal property and loss of life.

While I am officially considered a “global warming denier,” I believe we need to protect our natural environment and the property and lives of Americans. Additionally, the cost of fighting these fires costs us a lot of money that could be used for education and other priorities.

Some of the fires, we see now, were initiated by Pacific Gas and Electric lines. PG&E is a private utility company totally under the thumb of state and county regulators. Their wires, obviously in a condition that for the first time in many decades could no longer withstand the winds, needed upgrading. The sparks combined with wind level higher than typical in this area, dry timber, uncleared dry underbrush, and yes, warm summer temperatures, resulted in this tragedy.

While PG&E became the scapegoat along with global warming, and global warming deniers, the one missing element in the blame game is the political forces that restrict the entire system. A few years ago, PG&E requested permission (from the government regulators) for a $6 billion loan to upgrade its system. They were told the loan would be approved if they would declare bankruptcy. Basically, PG&E was often just a pawn of the politicians, most of whom knew nothing about delivering power safely. Amazing.

So, former Governor Brown has the end-all solution … “we need to shift the weather to where it historically was … 10,000 years ago” I really didn’t know how old he was.

Environmentalists tell us this is what global warming looks like. No. This is what political micro-management looks like. While billions were not afforded to PG&E to fix known infrastructure issues, politicians found billions to spend on subsidizing wind mills and solar panels, and private solar panels on homes and businesses, and to subsidize the purchase of expensive electric vehicles and a failed and useless high-speed rail.

The oddity is government is encouraging people to own electric cars. At the same time, a power company is turning off the very power needed to recharge their cars so they would be able to use them, if needed, to evacuate.

Local leaders have done the work for Jonesborough

It has felt a bit like a waiting game. Throughout the past three years, when you’d see the Jonesborough School discussion in its many forms pop up (once again) on a Washington County Board of Education meeting agenda or that of the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee, you’d start to wonder just what the upcoming sure-to-be-lengthy discussion would bring.

Will there be more questions than answers? Will it be a less-than-positive outlook on the possibility of Jonesborough ever getting a new school? Is the money there? Will the project be dissolved altogether?

Those have all been very real possibilities — that is, until the last few months.

When the Town of Jonesborough presented its proposal to build a new Jonesborough K-8 school and work with the Washington County Commission and the Washington County Board of Education, the discussion was flipped.

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said at the time he hoped the town could offer a “new voice” in the long, drawn-out discussion of the project.

That’s precisely what happened.

For this, the town should be applauded. But maybe even more so, the town, the school board and county commission should be applauded for continuing the work which led to the project’s approval from all three parties.

The community had seen its share of discussions and what-if scenarios, but just a few months ago, it finally started seeing a new sort of work being done. It seemed a cloud had moved out of the way and life had once again been breathed into the project.

More than simply the proposal of a new school at a new site, the Jonesborough School project has offered hope. And that has been enough to inspire all three parties to come together.

We know the work’s far from finished. And if we’ve learned one thing throughout this process, it’s been that it’s not over until it’s over. We know it will take continued collaboration and understanding from all three parties to get the job done. It will take support from the community and a continued hope that first grew from the town’s unprecedented proposal.

But we also know that’s enough to fuel any project to completion.

Keeping Halloween green can be spooktacular fun

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of Halloween. I had fun dressing up and walking through neighborhoods, filling up a pillowcase or two with candy as a kid. But after all these years, the thrill is gone — long gone. I don’t enjoy spooky and have no small children to plan festivities for. I’d much rather just fast forward to Thanksgiving. But Halloween is a beloved, billion dollar holiday with various estimates for consumer spending this year ranging from about $7 billion to nearly $9 billion.

So in the spirit of spooktacular fun, I dug through the boneyard of halloween tips to help keep the environment green while trick-or-treating or doing the Monster Mash with the guys and ghouls at your favorite howl-oween haunt.

I sort of feel like I should apologize for that frightfully cliched sentence.

Anyway, one way to minimize the holiday’s negative impact on the environment is to ditch the boxed and bagged costumes and go homemade. Besides eliminating the packaging, which ultimately ends up in the landfill, commercially produced costumes often contain harmful chemicals like phthalates, lead and cadmium. Even though the millions of costumes purchased for the holiday may only be worn for several hours, they will most likely end up in the landfill, leaching chemicals that harm the environment and us through our contact with it.

Going homemade also allows for more creativity. Why look like a million other costumed trick or treaters and party-goers if you can create your own unique look? Raiding closets and craft supplies are a good start. Hold a pre-halloween costume swap with friends, recycle items around the home or look in thrift shops for things to reuse. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s much more fun than buying a ready-made costume from the store.

Make-up poses similar problems to costumes as far as the potential for exposure to toxic chemicals through the skin. This is especially true for young children who may touch makeup and put their fingers in their mouths. Search online to find out what items or chemicals to avoid and find recipes for making fake skin and blood, as well as just about any other make-up item one might want. Surprisingly, to me anyway, some glitter products can also be harmful but, again, the safer alternatives can be found through the internet.

To further minimize trash going to the landfill, forego the plastic bags for candy collecting. Plastic jack-o-lanterns or bags made of synthetic fibers are a better option if they will be re-used for several years but the best options are natural fiber cloth bags or pillowcases. One of the reasons I liked the pillowcases as a kid was the size. I could fit much more candy in my pillow case than a little plastic jack-o-lantern and it was easy to carry an extra one. That came in handy since after we trick-or-treated in our own neighborhood we would also visit the neighborhoods of cousins and friends across town.

The not so sweet side of Halloween — aside from the dental and health issues — is that the wrappers create a mountain of trash for the landfill too. I’m not suggesting leaving the candy out altogether. That would be radically un-halloween-ish. I do suggest thinking about incorporating some alternatives like crayons, small toys or fruit when handing out the treats and making homemade treats for gatherings of family or friends.

Decorations are another source of trash on our overburdened waste disposal systems. Use natural, biodegradable items whenever possible. But even then, being mindful of disposing of them is important. Pumpkin painting and carving is a favorite Halloween pastime but one that sends millions of pounds of wasted pumpkins to — you guessed it — the landfill. To reduce the amount of waste, use the pumpkin and roasted seeds in recipes and compost what’s left. Even if you don’t have your own compost pile, many communities offer disposal options for compostable waste.

If adult beverages will be part of your Halloween festivities, be sure to recycle or reuse the bottles. Again, an online search will yield many ideas for what you can creat from them. One of my favorites is to simply wash them and use them as automatic waterers for house plants. They can be painted to look more like the fancy ones sold in stores.

However you choose to celebrate — or not — be mindful of your impact on the environment and have a boo-tiful and Earthwise Halloween!

The battle for the musket has begun

Excitement has been building as the 49th Annual Musket Bowl nears. Each year, whether you are a Trailblazer or a Pioneer, this seems to be the game that matters.

True, it’s great to close the year with a winning season or carry a district or state title home to decorate a high school’s hallowed halls, but to end up with a musket — oh my!

Like all great battles, this one has been filled with its highs and lows. Some years, our county has shown exactly what teamwork and sportsmanship look like.

In others, we are the best example of what happens when our passions to win trump everything else.

But like family, these ups and down simply seem to unite us.

For the players, for example, the 49th Annual Musket Bowl will carry with it memories that will not easily be forgotten.

That make-or-break play, the cheering crowds, those wonderful moments of camraderie— all will become part of the fabric of the graduating class of David Crockett or Daniel Boone High.

For parents, friends, neighbors and even plain old high school football fans, Friday’s game will carry every element of a truly American tradition, from the lights to the sounds to the wonderful smells of concession food.

For all of Washington County, Tennessee, however, the best part about the Musket Bowl is that it is all ours — and just ours.

On this night each year, Daniel Boone and David Crockett, two historical figures that in someways each represent some of the best of our region, match up to see who really stands out. Players will spill out onto the field ready to show what  they and their school are made of. And if it’s a win, the celebration is immense. If it is a loss, then determination sets in for next year.

Good luck to both Boone and Crockett in this year’s Musket Bowl. And, whether its a win or a loss,  always hold onto the memories.

School success requires patience, working together

On Monday, Jonesborough and our advisors met with Mayor Grandy and his team to develop a winning lease agreement for our joint community and school project. I left more encouraged an agreement was imminent but concerned how Johnson City’s disruptive late entrance into the equation could impact the project.

Unfortunately the divisive comments made by the Johnson City School Board chair Monday night risks alienating the commissioners whose support they need.

Last week, I had communicated to Johnson City leaders the following message in hopes it could guide them to a positive relationship and outcomes with the Washington County Commission:

“Good afternoon, Dr. Barnett and Mayor Brock. With all the recent turmoil created by the talk of lawsuits, I want it to be clear that I support every capital task you are planning for the Johnson City school system. As I stated recently, I love the city of Johnson City and admire what you have done with the schools.

I do think much of the dissension between city versus county is not helpful nor warranted, but it’s what we face due to the way schools are funded. Our singular goal for our town is to improve educational outcomes and facilities while providing enhanced community activities.

The inclusion of discussions about the county matching — or as those in education call it, ‘sharing’ — funds for construction of a replacement school in Johnson City has certainly ignited passions within the community. We all represent wonderful areas and it bothers me to see our community at odds. I even find myself struggling to not get swept up in it.

My desire, as I’ve stated, is to resolve the unsafe conditions in the current Jonesborough schools and improve the economic strength of Jonesborough. Considering the stable and safe school you have at Town Acres, but certainly with valid reasons to replace, I respectfully ask you guide the school board to practice patience and trust that the county commission can resolve the Town Acres project separately. Linking Johnson City’s needs to the Jonesborough project endangers these kids to those schools longer than good people should allow — and creates animosity within our community. I’ll certainly be supportive of your efforts after Jonesborough is resolved.”

Our community should be proud of the new county commissioners and their professionalism. Johnson City leaders can develop a fruitful relationship with them, but they must reverse the divisive tone expressed by the Johnson City School Board chair and approach with respect. If so, they too can participate in bonding productive relationships within our community.  It’s the right thing to do. 

Jonesborough deserves its new school right now

Jonesborough is a 21st century community with citizens who go to work every day and have families with school-age children while maintaining the heritage and history of a truly unique place. It is Tennessee’s oldest town.

The town is governed by a board of mayor and aldermen who oversee a long list of  functions required to provide the amenities for modern living with one exception – the municipality’s school system is operated by Washington County.

The arrangement is not unique – county government also assists in the operation of a school on the campus of East Tennessee State University.

In an analysis that would take too long for this editorial, the State of Tennessee has a funding formula when separate school systems are present within a county  – the formula being subject to the vagaries of the political system. In several metropolitan areas of the state, it has been recognized that the caprice of politics can result in unfairness to students. The solution has been to combine city and county schools into a unified school district.

Resistance to a unified solution to funding for students in Washington County is of long standing despite the realization that county teachers are paid less and that certain areas of the county have parents and thus their children who are impoverished.

Notwithstanding the disparity in economic conditions when contrasting city and county residents’ paychecks, the Washington County School Board has continually worked to provide modern educational benefits to county students, the most recent example of which is the Boones Creek School.   

In all fairness to Johnson City residents, the new K-8 school is part of the present problem. In the financing mix, there was supposed to be funding for a new Jonesborough school – with millions of dollars available. Somehow, that funding seems to have disappeared.

The Jonesborough schools along a busy highway more suited for commercial activity than learning have leaky roofs, an outdated round school teaching concept, and grounds not well suited for outdoor recreational and athletic activities. The existence of one well-constructed, new Boones Creek School in one area of the county in contrast to an outdated complex in another has created, in our opinion, an “educational emergency.”

The oldest town in the state has not been hit by a tornado or a flood. If one had occurred, we do not doubt that major financial assistance and relief would be forthcoming from Johnson City residents. Yet a walk through the present Jonesborough facilities with close inspection reveals real challenges with maintaining an up-to-date learning experience for the county’s next generation of tax-paying citizens and civic leaders.

The “emergency” is solvable thanks to some creative application of Tennessee’s laws that permit the Town of Jonesborough to build an educational complex and lease the facilities back to Washington County. While Johnson City is attempting to cry “foul,” it makes us wonder why public officials and civic leaders in Johnson City, including the Chamber of Commerce, through the years have been willing to grant tax forgiveness (sometimes referred to as tax incentive financing) to any foreign company that dangles the prospect of adding a few jobs to the area’s workforce yet feel “cheated” by the prospect of not sharing in the funds necessary to support Jonesborough’s need for a new school.

Does Johnson City not realize that people who live in Jonesborough also work and visit retail and other business establishments in their city adding thousands of dollars to the city in sales tax revenue? Are Johnson City residents willing to watch Jonesborough struggle to educate its youth in an outdated school setting?

Mentioned earlier was the fact that Jonesborough is a “unique place.” Think of all the activities that take place in the  town, for example, Storytelling, Jonesborough Days, plays at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, activities specially designed for senior citizens at a new and spacious facility, a water park, and museums at the Chester Inn, Chuckey Depot and Visitors Center. 

When visitors come to town, if you live in Washington County or the Johnson City, often Jonesborough is the place to go. The host of activities available in the town are made possible only because Jonesborough is a place where its hard-working and friendly citizens volunteer without pay to show others some of what is best about Tennessee.

How about Johnson City volunteering for once to help out Jonesborough in getting a new school? Admittedly, this should be a one-time event. School financing in the future should continue as it has in the past. But an emergency needs to be met. Johnson City should say “yes” and cheer that Jonesborough’s young people can be housed in a new school in the near future.

Protests and provocations planned for Climate Summit

The week of Sept. 20-27 promises many climate change related events around the United Nations Climate Summit 2019 to be held at the UN headquarters in New York on the 23rd. Teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York and will be a key speaker at the event and in a global climate strike on the 20th. The summit and Thunberg’s presence have served as catalysts for more than 500 scheduled strikes and marches across the United States and the world. At least three are planned for Tennessee, in Nashville and Memphis.

I am 100 percent in favor of the Summit and any and all legal and conscionable strikes and protests to draw attention to the most serious crisis facing our planet at this time. I’m not in favor of unlawful provocations of law enforcement that tie up critical emergency services while disrupting and putting the lives of innocent non-participants in danger. Unfortunately, one group appears to be planning just that. A press release for the event dubbed #shutdowndc describes what sounds like a militarized agenda to “blockade Washington D.C.” by “seizing key intersections” and “causing large-scale disruption” in an effort to force the government to implement their agenda. In another release, they refer to themselves as “climate rebels” and say they will “celebrate the rising tide of rebellion against climate catastrophe.”

The government they want to shut down is my government. I’m not OK with that plan. I often think they should be doing more work than they do, not closing up shop yet again. Any action that could effectively shut down the government would have to be of a scale that would require a costly response from law enforcement. I’m not on board with that either. I don’t want my tax money spent unnecessarily so that one fringe group can get free publicity. And I don’t want my government to negotiate policy with radical groups that want to disrupt or terrorize, domestic or otherwise.

But what bothers me most is that they know their actions could hurt others. It could prevent people from having access to help from first responder agencies in emergencies, prevent or make it difficult for them to go about their daily lives and create unsafe situations, as well as tying up law enforcement resources and potentially putting officers’ safety at risk.

“We know that this shutdown will cause massive disruption to people who bear little responsibility for the climate catastrophe we are facing,” their website says. But they believe they can “cause massive disruption for politicians, huge corporations and the lobbyists who control our government” and are willing to take that kind of an “ends-justify-the-means” attitude that compromises the rights and wellbeing of others to try to get what they want.

When I contacted a spokesperson for the group, her responses to my questions left me wondering if they hope for confrontation with the police and my concern, though she did not overtly state it, is that they will intentionally provoke violence for publicity. “No we have not applied for permits,” she wrote in an email. “We aren’t collaborating with the police. We definitely expect police presence.”

Am I “collaborating” with the police if I want them to keep our streets safe from radical groups that want to “disrupt,” “seize” and “shut down” our cities? To clarify, the ACLU website specifies that “If marchers stay on the sidewalks and obey traffic and pedestrian signals, their activity is constitutionally protected even without a permit.”

There are many legitimate and lawful strikes and other events planned by law abiding citizens on Sept. 20 and this group seems to be piggy-backing off of those to try to gain credibility and support. It saddens me because any images of this group flashing across screens in a clash with police would likely give an impression of environmentalists that could destroy the credibility of all of us.

I urge you to do something during the week of the Climate Summit to make your voice heard. Participate in a lawful strike or protest if you’re so inclined. Contact your representatives. Attend a lecture or rally. Join the Citizens Climate Lobby to work for bipartisan solutions to the climate crisis. Use the legislative process we have in place to make legitimate and lasting change. But we will never succeed in creating a better and more secure world by acting like we we’re a war-torn, third world country with no constitutional recourse and where the tactics of terror and destruction play out in the streets every day. We must rise above those principles, roll up our sleeves and work together for real solutions.

Looking back at Montanti’s legacy

Here are my thoughts on Deborah Montanti, who will retire from her position as Heritage Alliance executive director this week.  I write this memo as the writer of a weekly genealogical or history article for the Herald & Tribune plus my experience as a former board member of the Heritage Alliance. — John Kiener

In my opinion, Deborah Montanti really is the founder of the concepts that currently put the Heritage Alliance as the keeper of the heritage, history and preservation movement in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Her strength has been the ability to get both paid and volunteer assistance to carry out a variety of activities that promote the three areas – heritage, history and preservation  – that the Alliance assumes as its leadership responsibilities. Even today, I have never been able to understand how this is accomplished given the limited financial resources on which she operates.   

A key component of Deborah’s success has been educational programming centered around Oak Hill School.  Her ability to continue the school  program while  recruiting volunteers is a unique feature of Alliance offerings. She has also enlisted year after year a number of East Tennessee State University students as program aids.  Her ability to obtain education and other grants has been phenomenal.

She has been selective and successful in recruiting paid staff who are talented.  Anne Mason is an example of this kind of staff person. Joe Spiker and Jacob Simpson, who recently left the Alliance, were first-rate in their museum work.

Deborah has been blessed with one exceptional strength – her ability to coordinate and cooperate with other Jonesborough town, state, county and private organizations. A couple of examples: the combined brochure detailing the services offered by the Washington County-Jonesborough Library; the Washington County Archives and the Heritage Alliance published jointly by the three groups and the management of the Chester Inn, now home to a museum; and a tour of a period in Jonesborough’s history while at the same time working with the International Storytelling Center sharing some space for administrative offices.

Likewise, the Heritage Alliance has storytellers use the Chester Inn space during the Storytelling Festival, moving its activities to other venues.

While the Herald & Tribune has not emphasized the activities involving Heritage preservation projects in recent months, the Alliance continues to maintain a warehouse that provides people remodeling historic houses with building materials. Annual preservation awards for projects throughout the area were awarded for a number of years.  The Christopher Taylor House next to the Chester Inn would not exists today in my opinion without the efforts to preserve the structure led by the work of Gordon Edwards, now the President of the Heritage Alliance.

If you visit Jonesborough, you can take a tour of the historic town, thanks to the Heritage Alliance. There are other tours involving the town’s cemetery and ghosts.

I begin my Christmas Season celebrations each year, as so many others, by attending the Progressive dinner – this year again scheduled for early December.

The writing and production of plays and the maintenance of an Archive has produced valuable genealogical and historical material for the public’s enjoyment throughout the years – thanks to Deborah’s work with the Alliance. With the experience of nearly 30 years in writing articles for the newspaper, I can candidly say that I have depended upon Deborah time and time again for assistance in two areas – photographs and research materials to support the article I was writing and,  most importantly, for ideas on subject matter for the weekly column.

I will miss those cold winter mornings or hot summer afternoons when I would stop by her office and ask and then discuss the answer to the questions, “What is going on in Jonesborough?” followed by “What kind of a story ideas can you give me for next week’s article?” Also involved would be a little “gossip” that never was published in the papers’s columns.

I will miss Deborah’s insight and explanation on what is going on in Tennessee’s oldest town and the part that the Alliance is playing in keeping the state’s oldest town on the map and in the news.  Deborah well deserves retirement – but hopefully she will not disappear from the scene. Jonesborough has needed her observations and wisdom in the past and will need them again in the future.

Town celebrates months of wins

The past month has been an exciting and purposeful time for our town of Jonesborough. Our town’s presentation and proposal to enter into an agreement with the Washington County Commission and Washington County School Board to build a new K-8 school and community park for shared use was greeted with open minds and enthusiastic support. I couldn’t be more proud of our town’s Alderman, our county commissioners and school board members. The unity and leadership all three boards have displayed bodes well for the future of not just Jonesborough, but our entire county and Johnson City. I am personally grateful for the new relationships and friendships developed during this community and school project.  We have a few more “wins” to accomplish but with the leadership in our county and town, I’m confident about the outcome. 

Our board and staff continues to do the business of our town. Completing our 2019/2020 budget for the coming year was a daunting task since we had to wait for the State of Tennessee to set our new equalized property tax rate. I’ve learned that equalization is a fluid and ever-changing event for cities and town’s because taxpayers can rightly appeal an appraisal they deem too high. As some taxpayers see their appeal granted and tax burden lowered, our town must adjust revenue collections to offset those reductions. I expect our new property tax rate to be set at $1.20 in the coming years after state equalization lowered it from $1.30. This year we will operate on a lean budget and focus on our basic responsibilities to our residents.

Lastly congratulations to William “Beebo” Russell for earning Employee of the Month. He is a great representative for our town staff but also for our community. In October we have our 2019 Storytelling Festival and other great events. Make sure to come attend and enjoy the wonderful quality of life we have in Jonesborough and eastern Tennessee!

— Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest

Endangered Species Act may be in danger

The Tennessee Coneflower is among the success stories in preservation of our natural heritage, through the Endangered Species Act. Thought to have moved to middle Tennessee, over thousands of years before the last ice age glaciers’ advance, it stayed there when the glaciers retreated, no longer found anywhere else.

The ESA law, passed unanimously by the Congress in 1973, states that “the United States has pledged itself … to safeguard, for the benefit of all citizens, the Nation’s heritage in fish, wildlife and plants.”

It has done this remarkably well. More than 99 percent of all species listed for protection under it have been saved from extinction. Among them, gravely endangered earlier but now de-listed as recovered, are bald eagles and the Tennessee Coneflower, both now at home in the Tri-Cities.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is changing the law’s regulations in ways that will significantly reduce these protections and limit public participation in the decision process.

Two principles of the ESA are being overturned. Congress meant the listing of both endangered and threatened species to be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data.” Now, sidelining science, economic considerations or cost to someone or some entity is to be a significant factor for listing. Threatened species – likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future – will no longer receive the same protection.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, reviewing the August 12 rule concludes that “The Trump Administration dismantles endangered species protections as sixth mass extinction looms.”

The mass extinction references a recent report from the United Nations according to which a million species are at risk of forever loss, in this century. Climate change is identified as the leading driver of the losses.

Were the Tennessee Coneflower to journey off again to preserve itself in the face of climatic forces, it would travel in direction opposite to its move here thousands of years ago. In the warming world under climate change, it would move northward or to higher ground, as some trees and other plants, and animals, are documented to have been doing.

Unfortunately, the UCS states, the new rule will prevent the responsible federal agencies from considering future effects of climate change on species. As though demanding the plant or animal to stay put through their now occupied landscape no longer is hospitable to their needs, the rule “makes it almost impossible to designate habitat” which a species might inhabit in the warmer future but doesn’t now.

The Tennessee Natural Heritage Program’s 2016 Rare Plant List contains some 300 trees, flowering and other vascular plants with endangered or threatened status. The first are “critically imperiled in the state (and) the species is particularly vulnerable to extirpation from Tennessee.” Those in the latter category are “imperiled within the state (with) few remaining individuals and vulnerable to extirpation.”

By far most of these were not at risk in other parts of the country where they live. Federal listing, implying endangerment across all their native range, applied to 19, and by that year (2016) the Tennessee Coneflower and one of our sunflower species were shown as de-listed, no longer needing special ESA protection.

In 1979, Echinacea tennesseensis was the first plant from our state to be placed under ESA protection. The state’s Heritage Office was a lead agency, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in planning and executing its recovery program (achieved in 2011). Protection measures included its planting in the state’s Designated Natural Areas, and assiduously “removing competing vegetation” to allow the new populations to thrive.

Where public entities, towns or businesses, or private owners are in lucky possession of the rarities of our plant heritage, one would hope that plain weeding would be done to maintain them. And that the Administration would learn citizens’ desire to see our plant and animal heritage preserved for future generations, with the help of an ESA as the Congress intended, if need be.

— Frances Lamberts

Schools should be the focus

EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest’s first installment of his new monthly column in the Herald & Tribune.

It is my pleasure to share news and happenings in Jonesborough each month in the Herald & Tribune.  The month of August has many exciting things to be proud of; first and foremost is our town board proposing to partner with the Washington County Commission and Washington County School Board to develop a long-term improvement plan for our Jonesborough elementary and middle school facilities and our town’s recreational parks.

Schools play an important role developing pride in community and enhancing the quality of life. I’m a believer that a better educated child will develop into a good citizen making our community safer and stronger economically. 

Schools are also an economic driver and job creator that have a lasting impact on their communities. I’m hopeful this Thursday leads to stronger relationships and trusting partnerships between our three boards. It is time for good men and women to come together to better the future for the youth of Jonesborough and Washington County. 

Come join us Thursday at 6 p.m. at the McKinney Center! 

A few other things to be proud of in Jonesborough is our best ever score of 99 percent from Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation.  This multi-day evaluation examines all aspects of our water system the past two years and is a tribute to the effort and competency of a staff  that serves over 30,000 water users. 

Jonesborough is proud to produce safe and clean drinking water for our friends and neighbors throughout Washington County. This month we also open our new Fleet Maintenance Facility that will serve our town the next 30 years or more. I’m proud of the finished product our staff has produced and the frugality they used to build it. We’ve also seen continued progress in our historic Jackson Theater project!  

Lastly, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t say thanks to the volunteers and staff that produce such wonderful events in Jonesborough each month.  Whether it is Scoop Fest, a 5k Pioneer Glow Run,  the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre opening Gala, a new exhibit at Chuckey Depot Museum or an art-filled weekend at the McKinney Center, we are blessed by these tremendous quality of life events in Jonesborough.  Thanks to all involved.  Come join our board when we meet the second Monday of every month.  

Mayor Chuck Vest

Letter to the Editor: The climate urgency for the young


“Your election is our future” was the young people’s theme in Europe this May. They demonstrated by the thousands in cities and towns as elections for the European parliament approached. They demanded them to be a “climate election.” It should turn the tide on climate chaos and bring in politicians who understand its seriousness and act responsibly on climate change.

In a movement initiated by the young Swedish student Greta Thunberg, they skipped school on Fridays, held demonstrations, sought various means to bring their concerns – for a livable future for them – to the public and governments.

In the Rhine area in Germany where I was visiting, 12,000 marched in Cologne declaring “the clock is ticking for the planet.” In Neuss, upper-elementary and high school students met with the city council for a “Climate Talk.” In Bonn, their demand included a halt to subsidization of the fossil fuels which drive climate change, and a carbon tax on them.

In Grevenbroich, a 16-year old said: I should be attending classes in geography, art, German, math, and social studies today, but I am demonstrating for more climate protection. I can’t vote yet, but I am fighting for this goal. Our future depends on it.

Oh, the wisdom of the young! The very next month, they had to endure another scorching heat wave with 4 degrees C hotter than normal temperatures spreading up from the Sahara and stalling across western Europe, one, intensely scorching day as much as 10 ºC higher.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service reported the June temperatures being the highest ever recorded, worldwide.

With voter turnout the highest in 20 years, the Greens Party surged to its strongest performance, gaining one-fourth of all seats in the European parliament and promising the fight for climate protection the young people demand.

Frances Lamberts


Climate change impacts unfolding in Tennessee


The iconic wild ramp of Southern Appalachia may be one of the ecological and cultural casualties of climate change, according to the latest Federal Climate Change Report. That probably won’t ever be a national news headline but the potential demise of that humble plant, mentioned by name in the report, highlights the vulnerability of our region to the effects of climate change.

You may have missed it but less than a year ago, FOX 17 News in Nashville reported on the Federal Climate Change Report’s assessment of impacts to Tennessee. The report, developed by 13 federal agencies and a team of more than 300 scientists and experts from local, state and federal government and the private sector outlined impacts to the region.

The findings of the report included, not surprisingly, more and longer periods of excessive heat, an increase in extreme downpours and flooding, more and longer periods of drought and an increase in the number and severity of wildfires and vector-borne diseases in the region.

The report goes on to say changing winter temperature extremes, wildfire patterns, floods and droughts, among other factors, are expected to redistribute species and change our local ecosystems, affecting resources we depend on for “livelihoods, protection, and well-being.”

“For example, certain insect species, including mosquitoes and tree-damaging beetles, are expected to move northward in response to climate change, which could affect human health and timber supplies,” the report says. “And some bird species, including certain ducks, are not expected to migrate as far south in response to milder winters, which could affect birding and hunting recreational opportunities.”

Intra-annual droughts, like the one in 2016, are expected to become more frequent in the future and devastating wildfires along with it. Agriculture and drinking water supplies will be affected.

The executive summary of the report, found at noted that poorer areas, like many of our rural, Northeast Tennessee counties, may be impacted more significantly because of vulnerable infrastructure, the inability to “respond robustly” to disasters, inadequate health care and other resources, and the associated impacts to transportation and the economy. Most county and municipal governments in the area struggle with maintaining infrastructure and services as it is, without the compounding factors of advancing climate change effects. Rural southeast residents will see increasing demand on electrical grids and heating and cooling costs.

Emergency management and first responder agencies will face challenges. According to the report, the healthcare system in the Southeast is already overburdened and has seen more rural hospital closings than any other region. Tennessee is among the top five states for hospital closures.

West Nile virus has already made its way into the state. Dengue, Zika and others could follow. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the U.S. and nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered or introduced.

It would be foolhardy to sit and twiddle our thumbs while we watch catastrophe continue to unfold, but what can we do in the face of such large and varied problems? The idea of preparing for the worst while working for the best seems like a good strategy to me. For some, that may mean installing solar panels, improving home insulation or upgrading to a more efficient vehicle to reduce their carbon footprint.

Trying to prepare to be less dependent on goods and services from vulnerable infrastructure, as individuals, families and communities should be coupled with working toward solutions, locally, nationally and globally.

That strategy could encompass many things but one area for which there are resources to help citizens prepare is the aftermath of natural disasters. The federal government provides  guidelines for individuals, families, farms and businesses to prepare for such events at

To be in a position to help others when local resources are stressed by critical incidents, become certified as an emergency medical responder or for a community emergency response team, or CERT. Licensed ham radio operators can become vital links in the chain of communication when phone and internet services are interrupted. The Tennessee State Forestry website provides strategies to prevent and minimize damage to property from wildfires.

Climate change should be on the radar of our local elected officials and their constituents should be engaging them in helpful conversations to develop plans to halt or reverse it and manage the impacts. Ditto for our state and national representatives.

The good news is that as more data emerges, more people are taking a common sense look at what the potential outcomes and solutions are. By using Earthwise strategies we can adapt to and overcome the threat posed by climate change. We must if we’re going to avoid disaster.

Father of the Bird: Fatherhood runs the gamut among world’s birds


Since we honored fathers this week with a special day, I thought it might be a good time to look to the bird world for some examples of what fatherhood means among our fine feathered friends.

Among many of the raptors, which includes hawks, falcons and eagles, females are significantly larger than males. Unsurprisingly, much of the job of protecting the nest and young falls to the larger and stronger females. Male raptors, for the most part, are good parents and hunt prey and deliver food to the nest. Sometimes, though, there can be trouble in paradise. For example, researchers are giving a new look at the dynamics between mated bald eagles. The prevailing theory once supposed that bald eagles mate for life.

In an article published Nov. 9, 2012, on the website of William and Mary College, researchers announced that they have begun to notice that eagles on occasion undertake the avian equivalent of “divorce.”

Bryan Watts, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology, was interviewed for the article. Watts noted that both males and female eagles will cheat. Getting away with cheating, however, favors the female. Watts explained that the male may be absent fishing when another male eagle visits the nest site and proceeds to mate with the female. Consequently, the unsuspecting mate returns and could end up raising eaglets that were fathered by the intruder instead of himself.

There are some male birds who are more steadfast once they mate. For instance, swans, cranes and albatrosses are known for sticking with a chosen mate over a lifetime. Two endangered species — the California condor and the whooping crane — are known to mate for life. Cranes typically choose a mate when they reach the age of two or three; condors, on the other hand, usually don’t mate until they are at least six to eight years old. Of course, both these birds live long lives. Whooping cranes may live to the age of 25 while condors can live for as long as six decades.

According to the Audubon website, we can look to a family of shorebirds for some examples that go against usual gender norms. Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds, with the females being larger and more colorful than males, In addition, females take the lead in courtship, while males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young once the business of mating is done. Three species of phalaropes inhabit North America: Wilson’s phalarope, red-necked phalarope and red phalarope.

Many male birds lend a hand in building nests or raising young. There are some examples of “deadbeat dads,” however, with one of the most glaring being the beloved ruby-throated hummingbird. A male hummingbird is unlikely to ever lay eyes on his offspring. Once mating has been concluded, the female is left to build a nest on her own. She also incubates the eggs without any help from her mate, who has probably already skipped out and started to court other female hummingbirds in the vicinity. Once the two eggs hatch, the female hummingbird is solely responsible for feeding the hungry offspring. It’s the primary reason hummingbirds always lay two eggs. With her high metabolism, a female hummingbird would be hard pressed to feed herself and any more than two young.

Some male birds, like their human counterparts, approach romance by initiating courtship by bringing some shiny bling to the relationship. Bowerbirds, which are found mainly in New Guinea and Australia, are renowned for their unique courtship behavior.  A male bowerbird will build a structure — the bower — and decorate it with sticks, flowers, shells or other brightly colored objects in an attempt to attract a mate. Alas, once he has won a mate with these “bribes,” he’s no better than male hummingbirds. The females are left to build the nest and raise the young without any assistance from the males.

Satin bowerbird males often decorate with blue, yellow or shiny objects, including berries, flowers or even plastic items such as ink pens, drinking straws and clothes pegs. As the males mature they use more blue objects than other colors. The decorated bower becomes a stage from which males carry out intense behavioral displays called dances to attract their mates.

The world’s largest flightless birds – ostriches, emus, rhea, cassowaries and a few others – would make good “father of the year” candidates. For instance, male ostriches share incubation duties with females. Once the eggs hatch, male ostriches are active in leading young to suitable foraging habitat and protecting them from predators. Some male ostriches can stand nine feet tall and weigh 320 pounds, so dad is an imposing obstacle for many predators. In the event of an attack, the male will try to draw off the predator while the chicks run for cover with their mother.

Fatherhood often means a dedicated effort on the part of some birds, while others basically make their genetic contribution to ensuring the survival of the species and are done with the concept. There’s a surprising variety to behold once one starts looking at the different avian approaches to fatherhood.

Taking a closer look at nature’s ‘unprecedented’ rate of decline


Imagine a world where about one million species of animals and plants have died. Much of the human population doesn’t have clean drinking water and the loss of species and worsening climate change has led to severe food and water shortages, rampant disease, an increasing number of environmental refugees, civil unrest and political turmoil.

Now imagine that scenario is real and unfolding now. Because it is.

A report summary released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in May ( unveils an environmental apocalypse that has been accelerating for decades. Left unchecked, the rapid degradation of our environment means that by the time my grandchildren reach my age of 50-something, the world they live in will seem like a science fiction dystopia compared to today.

The IPBES report, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, assessed changes in the environment over the past 50 years to project possible outcomes for the future of planet Earth. It calls the rapid decline of nature “dangerous” and “unprecedented,” with species extinction rates “accelerating.” It warns that the “current global response is insufficient” and “transformative changes” are needed to halt the decline.

Here are some of the report’s findings:

• Up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades.

• Approximately 75 percent of the land-based environment and 66 percent of the marine-based environment has been “severely altered” by human actions.

• About 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are extracted globally each year, up nearly 100 percent since 1980

• More than 85 percent of the wetlands present in 1700 were lost by 2000 and that loss continues to grow.

• More than 75 percent of global food crops rely on animal pollination and $235 to $577 billion of annual global crop value is at risk due to pollinator loss.

• 100-300 million people in coastal areas are at increased risk due to loss of coastal habitat protection.

• Only 68 percent of global forest area remains today compared with the estimated pre-industrial level. More than 700 million acres of native forest cover were lost from 1990-2015 due to clearing and wood harvesting.

• $345 billion in global subsidies are paid to industries like coal, oil and natural gas global for fossil fuels that result in $5 trillion in overall costs, including costs to the environment.

• More than 2,500 political conflicts over fossil fuels, water, food and land are currently occurring worldwide.

• 40 percent of the global population lacks access to clean and safe drinking water.

• More than 80 percent of global wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment.

• 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.

• Plastic pollution has increased 10 times since 1980.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Josef Settele, co-chair of the assessment, in a news release ( “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

I wonder if we would be so nonchalant about destroying so many other species if so many of us weren’t under the delusion of being separate from nature and our environment. We are as much a part of it as the bug crawling across my floor, the bird singing outside my window that will eat the bug when I put it outside, the tomatoes growing in my garden that I’ll eat this summer, the bacteria and fungi that will eat me when I die.

Animal, plant or fish, we all drink the same water. We breathe same air. In fact, without trees, plants and algae, we’d have no oxygen to breathe and our atmosphere would become so saturated with CO2 that we couldn’t survive. Nature and the environment are our food, water, medicine, energy, and shelter.

The good news from the IPBES report summary is that opposition from “vested interests” — those who make money off of destroying the environment —  can be overcome for the public good. It will require new legislation to change how we allow industries to operate at our expense. But legislation takes time and, according to the report, we don’t have much time to turn things around.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for legislation to be passed to start doing the things we know we need to do to save ourselves and our planet. While we ask our lawmakers for better laws and raise awareness with our friends and neighbors, we can begin taking action, individually and locally, to minimize the harm we cause ourselves. Together, by choosing to live Earthwise, we can change things for the better.

Protecting our rivers of life: The Nolichucky


Rivers sustain life. They provide water to vegetation, creatures and humans. They serve as a means for transportation and provide energy that has been used to run mills and is transformed into electricity. They are a source of food and provide beautiful space for recreation and contemplation. They are an economic asset. Throughout recorded history, rivers have been the waters of life that allowed humankind to expand and cultivate civilizations.

The Nolichucky River, one of the best known and most loved in our region, threads its way for 115 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains at the North Toe River in western North Carolina to Douglas Lake in Jefferson County, Tennessee. It’s also been a thread winding through the history of our area.  Prior to European colonization, Native American civilizations relied on and enjoyed the Nolichucky. Pioneers settled along its banks in the 1770s and today it nourishes farmland on its way through Unicoi, Washington, Greene, Cocke, Hamblen and Jefferson counties.

Scholars and area residents sometimes dispute the meaning of the name Nolichucky. According to Brett Riggs, Ph.D, a Sequoia Distinguished Scholar at Western Carolina University, in the documentary “Secrets of the Nolichucky,” it’s derived from the Cherokee word Na’na-tlu gun’yi, meaning Spruce-Tree Place. Local lore interprets it as Rushing Waters, Dangerous Waters, Black Swirling Water, River of Death and Man Killer. Some of these names undoubtedly came about because the sometimes turbulent force of the river can trap a person in horizontal swirls beneath the surface, drowning them.

Depending on the season and which stretch of the river you’re on, the Nolichucky can be wide or narrow, slow or rapid, placid or raging. It’s loved for wild, white water rides and a relaxing day of fishing. I love to take my grandchildren to play on its banks in David Crockett Birthplace State Park. Seeing anything through a child’s eyes reveals worlds often hidden to preoccupied adult minds. In turn, the river can often teach lessons difficult to explain in words to children but easily read by them in the illustrations of the living river.

I hope my grandchildren will be able to take their own children and grandchildren to the same banks someday. But I know that threats to the river could mean they won’t be able to fish or swim in it if adults who love it don’t watch over and protect it now. Among the concerns for its ecosystems, economic viability and beauty are sediment and chemical runoff from farming, chemical manufacturing and radioactivity.

Erwin Nuclear Fuels’ presence on the river began posing concerns many years ago and just last October, a scientist held a public forum in Jonesborough to announce he found enriched uranium in the Nolichucky. He said he traced it back to the NFS facility. Not long after, U.S. Nitrogen, a chemical company located on the Nolichucky in Greene County, disclosed to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that water monitoring tests showed thallium in water in one of their holding ponds on the river. Thallium is a potentially deadly chemical but one not used by U.S. Nitrogen, which manufactures ammonium nitrate. It seems more likely, since thallium is used to make pesticides and weed killers, that it entered the water through rain runoff and was still present during the manufacturer’s required tests.

Just a few weeks ago, TDEC announced an extension of the fish consumption advisory it issued in August because mercury levels are higher than normal. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can cause illness, disability and death. The river has also been listed as impaired due to excessive sedimentation from agricultural runoff. 

What we can do to help protect this precious resource? A good starting point is to deepen our relationship with it. The saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” applies here. We fight harder for things we love. Visit it often to fish, paddle, float or simply enjoy a quiet day or family picnic on its banks.

Staying informed, though a challenge in our busy lives, is a good next step. The EPA, TDEC and a Cocke County-based organization called Clean Water Expected in Tennessee all have Facebook pages or newsletters to help residents stay informed about the state of rivers. State parks and fishing, wildlife and water sport organizations sometimes coordinate volunteer days to clean up rivers and creeks.

Nolichucky Wild and Scenic is an effort to protect a portion of the Nolichucky from Poplar, North Carolina to Erwin, Tennessee, by having it designated under the Wild and Scenic Act. The effort, supported by Tennessee District 4 Representative John B. Holsclaw, Jr., has gained momentum but needs a push from local residents to win the support of Congress. Find more information about the effort at

And remember, water is life.

What I hope to do is take what we have learned from our committee hearings and the recommendations we received from industry experts, and compile the proposals into a package of legislation that can pass in Congress and be signed into law, so that we can give all Americans better health outcomes and better experiences at a lower cost.

Ducks, goats in the spring build rich childhood memories


Growing up, Ward’s Feed Store was a sort of magical place. On the outskirts of downtown, it was the Waters family source for any farm supply we might need. There was always a lazy dog lounging on the concrete floor, a plethora of snacks to choose from at the counter after school and an undeniable smell of feed each and every time you opened those large metal doors. But for us, specifically one Easter, Ward’s held more than just our weekly supply of sweet feed.

We owned a small hobby farm nestled in the heart of Kingsport. The place was grandfathered in and so my mom got her lifelong wish of having any farm animal she could want. This also meant my sisters and I had that same luxury (at times, to my dad’s dismay). One Easter, as it was told to me, my mom and dad “saw the Easter bunny hopping down the street with a basket full of baby ducks” — which really meant they got a duck for each of us at Ward’s.

To a 6-year-old girl growing up in the ‘90s, who else would you name your duck after other than Ginger Spice, your favorite member of the all-girl band, The Spice Girls? (However, I’ve since decided Sporty Spice was a much more worthy member of the band, but that’s a column for another day and special edition all together).

My two older sisters named their ducks Mo, after the third member of the Three Stooges and KC, because the duck was a Khaki Campbell. As for my younger sister, she came up with a name I’m sure no one has ever given to a duck or any other living thing for that matter. She decided she’d name her duck “Salad” — “because her neck is green,” she would say.

Being the proud owners of four baby ducks wasn’t what we expected though. For starters, we eventually discovered that three of our ducks, which had girl names, ended up being males.

For a family of all girls, this was upsetting — though I guess Salad could pass as a male or female’s name.

As for Mo, who was the only duck we thought was a male, “he” in fact turned out to be the lone female. My sister renamed her Mojo, so that she didn’t have to go the rest of her duck life as a female duck named “Mo.”

After our ducks put what we called “the duck pen” to good use on our property, we later got two goats. They were wonderful, small pet goats, but as most goats do, they had a knack for escaping their pen.

Macarena, a Nigerian goat named after the ‘90s hit, “Macarena,” and Tinkerbell, a Pygmy goat named after the fairy from Peter Pan, both loved to climb our fence and roam our property and sometimes that of our neighbor’s. And when that wasn’t enough entertainment, they’d happily climb up in the large oak tree in the backyard.

The two goats weren’t the only two who liked to escape. We also had a Morgan Thoroughbred horse named Beauty. One time, she somehow escaped from her pasture and found herself a nice flower garden to fertilize in our neighborhood. Our neighbor on the end of the cul-de-sac didn’t welcome that sort of fertilizer and requested that we shovel it from her yard.

Spring and summer at the Waters household was never dull, that was for sure. And though I’m certain my mom was sick of seeing our two goats way up in the tree in the backyard and my dad probably wasn’t too excited to shovel manure out of our neighbor’s yard, chasing goats and misnaming ducks was all part of the fun of growing up on a farm — and it certainly has provided a plethora of memories to look back on for my family.

I can’t say we’ll be looking to get back into the duck business anytime soon. And the goats we have now are well secured (and I’m proud to say, have not ventured into our neighborhood in quite some time). Ward’s is nothing but a memory now as it looks like it’s well on its way to becoming a parking lot and that childhood home of ours is owned by someone else and looks entirely different from how it used to (it breaks my heart to see the spot where the colossal barn that had to coolest loft a kid could ever dream of once had been).

But my family and I often revisit that place in our minds along with the adventures we had there. This spring, and really in each season we encounter, I urge you to live in the moment and say yes to that animal every once in a while — and then prepare yourself for more memories than your Easter basket can carry.

A message from the mayor — Washington County: Education, commerce, heritage remain the keys

I appreciate the invitation to reflect on the past and talk a little about what I see for the future. I look forward to hearing from readers about what they hope to see in their own lives over the coming year.

Historically, Washington County places great value on building a strong educational system, warmly welcoming commerce and preserving our heritage. These values continue today as cornerstones essential for a dynamic and productive Washington County.

Building on these values, Washington County reached several major milestones in the past 12 months, some readily recognizable while others require a closer look to appreciate their impact. 

First, in completion of an important Washington County capital project, the Board of Education plans to open the new Boones Creek K-8 School in August 2019.

The new school’s “Bars” mascot is reflective of Washington County’s deep tie to frontiersman Daniel Boone. Much like Boone, blazing trails to open a new future for a young country, the state-of-the-art facility will empower our young people to blaze their own trails by embracing our heritage while learning to compete in a global economy. 

Amid brick-and-mortar achievement is an equally important accomplishment for citizens: establishment of strategic financial management that reduced existing debt and interest so we can afford a cutting-edge project like the Boones Creek School. 

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be shuttered Boones Creek Elementary School presents another opportunity to advance the lives of our residents by improving workforce readiness. To achieve this, Washington County government is asking the Tennessee College of Applied Technology to consider BCES’ reuse as a technology training school.

Washington County also continues to nurture relationships with businesses that have invested in our community. I devote significant time each month to visiting existing businesses, like Nakatetsu Machining Technologies, to hear first-hand what the needs of our job creating industries are.

And, we have added urgently needed development inventory in the form of two new pad-ready sites at the Washington County Industrial Park that is home to Nakatetsu. These sites can accommodate large businesses needing 200,000- to 500,000-square-feet locations. As a Select Tennessee Certified Site, the industrial park is certified competitive as the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development works to locate new businesses in our state.

Another construction project is one you may not notice unless you make a point to look for it.  Renovations to our Historic Washington County Courthouse on Main Street in Jonesborough are underway.  The 105-year-old clock tower has been freshly painted, with structural work underway that will preserve the building for future generations.  Renovations continue through this summer. 

Also, many of you are aware that in late 2018 BrightRidge began deploying high-speed fiber optic and fixed wireless internet. Beneath the headlines, your county government placed a strong focus on ensuring BrightRidge also provides rural residents with a new high-speed Internet option.

At the same time, Jonesborough and Johnson City are now among a handful of communities nationwide with 10 Gb symmetrical internet available. In today’s economy, world-class broadband infrastructure is essential in both education and economic development.

And, tucked away near Telford, BrightRidge and Silicon Ranch also broke ground in 2018 on a 5-megawatt solar farm which is now providing clean, low-cost energy to residents, schools and businesses alike through the region’s first solar community offering.

In looking ahead, I believe the cornerstone of a successful future for Washington County will come through developing new partnerships.

Aerospace Park at Tri-Cities Airport is a prime example. This effort required cooperation between cities, counties and the state to construct an aerospace-oriented business park essential to attracting new high-paying jobs to Northeast Tennessee.

Similarly, Johnson City’s recognition as the Top Mid-sized Town in the 2018 Top Adventure Town contest rewards years of focus and investment in improving access to the mountains, rivers and attractions of Washington County.

And, most recently, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has granted $2 million to the Washington County Economic Development Council’s for railroad connectivity improvements. These improvements, which only happened by working together, will bring greater access to area industries serviced by the railroad. 

In closing, I again thank you for this opportunity to bring citizens up to speed on progress to date, and know that as Mayor, I strongly believe our brightest future will only be realized through strong cooperation between county departments, constitutional offices and the commission; between the city and county; and where ever it makes sense on a regional basis.

Mayor Joe Grandy