I’ve been up to the park only a few times in recent years and those visits were to attend special events that, while entertaining, didn’t require much in the way of walking. I’ve joined friends two years running for the film “Hocus Pocus” at the park’s amphitheater during the Halloween season. And Vicki Cooper Trammell and I have gone to the Bigfoot festival.
Yesterday a friend and I went to the park specifically to hike. Or walk. I’m out of shape. An avid hiker, he’s not. I told him I’d have to start out with something moderate. He chose the Lakeside Trail, which circles around the 44-acre lake in the park. I’ve gotten mixed messages on how far it is, mileage wise. One portion of a park brochure says 2.3 miles, but another says 2.75 miles. It is a relatively moderate walk. I last made it several years ago. It used to be a “must” on my list of things to do with out-of-town guests.
I’m not sure I’d ever walked it before at this time of year. It proved to be a delight. I’m pretty sure I reached a good speed a few times, but several times other hikers gave us verbal warning they were passing around us. We stopped and sat on benches at a couple of different spots with views from the “far side” of the lake. And we still made the loop in less than two hours. The last bench we sat on gave us a great view of the Pavilion at Lily Pad Cove event venue and the park’s barge at its dock.
My friend asked if I would mind stopping in the Nature Center — and said that I’d never guess what he wanted to buy at the gift counter. He told me before I could guess (a toy skunk) “Astronaut ice cream?” I explained that when I was in elementary school here in Kingsport and we’d take field trips to the park, freeze-dried “astronaut” ice cream was what all the cool kids wanted to spend their allowance on. I always thought it looked gross. I preferred the rock-filled pencil. I was happy to see both are still among the gift shop’s offerings.
Our next move also took me down memory lane. We watched a show in the planetarium. It seemed bigger back in grade school. The show was fantastic. Afterward we headed back to the car and back down the mountain. I felt invigorated, relaxed, and proud. Proud of my city’s crown jewel, Bays Mountain Park. I hope to make it a regular stomping ground for myself from this day forward.
A few fun facts from the park’s website:
• In 1907, one of Kingsport’s founders, J. Fred Johnson, began buying up land on Bays Mountain to create a lake to be used as a water source for fledgling Kingsport. By 1914, Johnson had purchased the roughly 1,200 acres that surrounded the watershed and sold it to Kingsport Waterworks Corporation, which promptly began work in 1915 preparing to build the now iconic dam seen as visitors enter the common area atop Bays Mountain Park.
• Bays Mountain’s dam was built by approximately 35-40 men who worked 10-hour days to complete the project. Many of those who assisted were family members of those living on and around the mountain. For example, mountain landowner Jerome Pierce provided a wagon and team of mules to haul the rock and steel needed to build the dam. Much of the rock was quarried from the mountain itself.
• In 1916, water began flowing to the city and in 1917 the dam was raised six more feet, creating a 44-acre lake, the same size the lake is today. Bays Mountain’s lake served the city until 1944, when the city had finally outgrown the lake’s capacity to provide water.
• In 1965, Mayor Hugh Rule appointed a committee to study ways to possibly develop the mountain into a park. Following the committee’s report, which included hiring a naturalist, the city of Kingsport hired the National Audubon Society to help design a park.
• Development began in 1968.
• With assistance from Eastman Chemical Company (then known as Tennessee Eastman) and from a bond referendum approved by citizens, work began in 1970 on the park’s nature center and planetarium. The Nature Interpretive Center was dedicated and opened on May 24, 1971.
• It is one of the nation’s largest city-owned parks, encompassing a 3,550-acre nature preserve and offering 40 miles of trails approved for hiking and mountain biking.
And that just skims the surface.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]