You might expect your county's new parks and recreation director to know about sports. You probably assume he's done some coaching, managed ball fields and ball games, knows all about maintaining walking trails, facilities and equipment.
Catoosa County's director of Parks and Recreation, Travis Barbee, has certainly done all those things, but there's a lot about him, both professionally and personally, that's surprising.
Barbee grew up in Cartersville, Ga., and played soccer and baseball in school. "My mom coached my soccer team and my dad coached my brother's team," he says.
While he was attending college at Georgia Highlands, Barbee was asked to serve as assistant soccer coach at his former high school. That position grew into one as head coach.
After earning a degree in sports management from Kennesaw State, Barbee began working on an MBA in coaching, but that choice looked less appealing when he started to consider the travel involved in coaching and all the things it would prevent him from doing.
"I asked myself what else I felt passionate about," says Barbee. "That turned out to be recreation."
Recreation, says Barbee, certainly has a strong sports focus, but it's also "whatever people enjoy doing. It's not defined by sports." Barbee's own wide array of interests helped him understand this and eventually apply it.
During his college days, Barbee bought a few chickens. "I got to thinking I should make my hobby pay for itself, so I started to hatch chicks and sell them."
Next on his list of interests came gardening, something he'd hated as a child when his mother put him and his brother to work weeding her own gardens and picking prickly okra. "At first, I bought a fruit tree, then another and another. Then I started growing green beans and okra and tomatoes." One year, he says, he put in 60 green bean plants and 100 cucumber plants for canning.
Barbee also decided to try out keeping honey bees and has since harvested 10-25 quarts of honey a year. "I can get excited about my bees or things like getting some new chickens or blackberry plants or building a new feeder."
Barbee also enjoys playing golf with his father and he likes fly fishing and backpacking.
Barbee's first job as a parks and recreation director was with the tiny town of Unicoi, Tenn., (population: 3500) where his ability to look at recreation from many angles was put to the test. "When I was first hired, townspeople said, 'Oh, you're a soccer guy. You're going to make us play sports.'"
But Barbee says that's not what the town was interested in, and he never spearheaded any sports programs during his time there. Instead, he says, he listened to what people wanted.
"Unicoi is a unique town. The people pride themselves on being different. They didn't want to be like every other town," says Barbee.
What Barbee did in Unicoi was develop and grow the annual festivals the people loved – close to 20 every year. "There was the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival, named after a local teacher. We had a parade to kick it off, and a bicycle decorating contest for kids. We had Heritage Days, with reenactments and cannon fire. I added witch trials to that festival, based on the hex signs hanging on a cabin that was a center of events in town. Years ago, people would make the signs using blue, milk-based paint to scare off the 'haints.'"
Other festivals and events Barbee coordinated in Unicoi included Old-fashioned Christmas at the Cabin, complete with a fire in the fireplace and citizens gathered around singing carols, pictures with Santa and a candy cane hunt; an annual Christmas parade; and the Ice Cream Social, during which the mayor milked a cow and local folks enjoyed homemade ice cream. Then there was Pickin' on the Porch, a bluegrass festival, and Movies in the Park. A civic group called the Ruritans made apple butter during one
festival, and there was Corn Days.
The History Committee of Unicoi made bread in the Cabin fireplace to help raise money. "I would go to the cabin and get a fire going four hours before time to put the bread in," says Barbee. "Then we'd rake out the fire and slide the bread in and cover the front of the fireplace so it could bake."
Townsfolk loved fireworks, so Barbee went to pyrotechnic school and became certified to do pyro shows.
Unicoi is also where Barbee gained experience writing grants. He authored four successful grant applications, the largest for $150,000 to help pay for a new pavilion and rest rooms. Another grant paid for carcharging stations that made it possible for electric car owners to travel from one side of Tennessee to the other.
Barbee's next position was almost the opposite of Unicoi. He became supervisor of athletics in Durham, N.C., a city of 175,000. "All I did there was sports," he says. "Youth soccer and basketball, adult basketball. There were 200 employees in our department. It was a big change from Unicoi, very political, a lot of people to run things by before you could implement them."
The next move Barbee made was for his wife. "She was offered a job in Cartersville. She had always been willing to change jobs to follow my career path, and I thought it was time I did the same for her." He became parks manager for Bartow County.
After Bartow County, Barbee served a year as parks and recreation director for Tazwell, Va.
"Finally, last year, my wife and I both found satisfying work in the same area – she in Chattanooga and I in Catoosa County," says Barbee.
Barbee is excited about the potential of Catoosa County. "We have great facilities and great people here. We've already started partnering with local people to expand what we offer. We have a farmer's market starting soon and we're partnering with Fusion Factory Sports Academy to have summer camps for kids this year. We've been talking with Back Alley Theater about doing Shakespeare at the amphitheater. We've been talking about quilting classes and music camps."
Barbee says he tries to look for things people leave the community to do and find ways to offer those things closer to home. "We have great sports and we'll keep expanding that, but we're also working on bringing in new things so we'll have a good variety of activities for people to enjoy."
The cities of Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold are preparing for sewage rate increases from the city of Chattanooga, which handles the treatment of waste water for both municipalities.
According to city manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins, the city of Fort Oglethorpe has had an agreement for its sewer water to be treated by the city of Chattanooga for the past 20 years, an agreement that is now up for renewal.
"We rely on Chattanooga to treat our wastewater," Payne-Simpkins said. "Essentially, Jennifer this new agreement will be effective for the next 15 years, and requires assessment of our wastewater collection and transmission system and flow monitoring.
The existing agreement was set to expire May 13, with a draft of a new agreement being sent between both municipalities. However, as of Friday, May 12, Payne-Simpkins said nothing had been signed off on.
"We're still waiting," she explained. "We sent back the draft with some proposed amendments from our side, but we're not expecting it to be finalized by the time the current agreement expires."
During the city's most recent city council meeting on May 8, Payne-Simpkins and Fort Oglethorpe director of Public Utilities Phil Parker, explained the situation to the mayor and council.
The new agreement includes higher penalties for overages, and is expected to lead to higher rates for both residents and businesses.
"It will include a 15-percent penalty on the city's total bill if the flow rate from our system into the Chattanooga system exceeds 186,250 gallons per hour at any given hour during the billing period," Payne-Simpkins said. Our staff requested history from the city of Chattanooga and received a very large file that gave us the flow rate every 15 minutes since 2013. We analyzed 32 of those months, and out of the 32 months the past three years, 31 of those months had at least one hour exceeding a flow rate of 186,250 gallons per hour. Therefore, we recommend from a staff perspective increasing the base sewer rate that includes the first 2,000 gallons and the rate for each
additional 1,000 gallons for residential and commercial customers inside and outside of the city by 15-percent as a direct result of the new agreement."
To the average resident that uses approximately 3,000 gallons of water per month, this means their total bill will increase by at least $3.59 per month, and possibly more depending on usage.
Rate breakdowns per the new agreement
- Inside city sewer rate for residential will be $21.82 for the first 2,000 gallons and $5.75 for each additional 1,000 gallons.
- Inside city sewer rate for commercial will be $27.95 for the first 2,000 gallons and $10.94 for each additional 1,000 gallons.
- Outside city sewer rate for residential will be $28.37 for the first 2,000 gallons and $7.38 for each additional 1,000 gallons.
- Outside city sewer rate for commercial is $36.33 for the first 2,000 gallons and $14.21 for each additional 1,000 gallons.
"These are our existing base rates time 15-percent," Payne-Simpkins said.
Councilman Derek Rogers asked about ways the city could keep from incurring penalties as it has in the past.
"There are ways to decrease the flow through flow monitoring and trying to prevent rainfall from getting into the sewer system," Parker explained.
"So, if we can get the flow under control, then we can come back and give the citizens a discount," Rogers asked.
"Absolutely," Payne-Simpkins replied.
Payne-Simpkins says that even though the agreement wasn't finalized by the time the old one expired, Chattanooga will still treat the water under the existing agreement until the new one can be signed off on.
Mayor Earl Gray said the city staff will use Facebook, its website, and the bills themselves to try to create some public awareness so residents know about the increase, the reasoning behind it, and how they can help keep their own costs down.
"We have our staff looking at the big picture, evaluating what's the most fair and equitable way to deal with this," Payne-Simpkins said. "
Ringgold city manager Dan Wright had a similar conversation with his mayor and council that same evening, but explained that the city has a little more time to evaluate the possible hikes.
"Primarily we have to get this in our mind that there are fixing to be some changes when it comes to paying for the treatment of our waste water," Wright said. "The city of Chattanooga a few years ago entered into a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at an estimated $250 million. I guess due to the fact that they've entered this decree, they're looking to increase everyone's rates. About 95-percent of the city's volume is meter flow...right now we're at $1.52, and that's going to $2.18 at a 44-percent rate increase which is for the purpose of paying for these upgrades to Moccasin Bend and their facilities. There's also another increase that will start hitting us in July where they have recalculated the wheelage rate and treatment charges for 2016, which I believe is allowed by contract... they're going to divide that total up to $11,038.68 and add it to our monthly bill starting in July."
Wright added that Ringgold isn't alone, and that municipalities like Rossville, Walker County, Fort Oglethorpe, Trenton, Dade County, and regional customers in Tennessee are looking at the same type of increases.
"We will be meeting with Fort Oglethorpe to see how this is impacting them, and this will be extremely important to how we charge our customers because he have to be able to cover our treatment expenses," Wright explained.
While city leaders are not excited about raising rates, Ringgold council lady Sara Clark says she understands the need where water facilities are concerned.
"We need to think beyond the cost, and we need to think clean water," Clark said. "Sometimes those systems get really old and things start to breakdown and things start to happen. If we're going to use their system, we want that system to be up to par. There's another component in all of this that isn't just the cost to the city of Ringgold."
Wright says his staff is already evaluating the situation.
"I've asked our finance director and also our waste water director to really put a pencil to this and see how it's going to effect our budget," Wright said. "We're going to see if we're going to be forced to raise rates and those type of things. We should hear back in two to four weeks how this is going to impact us and our customers."
Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield, Georgia State Senator Jeff Mullis and Robert Wardlaw, Chairman of the Walker County Development Authority, joined Scenic Land Company President Duane Horton to announce a new master plan and strategic vision for Lookout Mountain's Canyon Ridge Resort. The planned project introduces a major branded, upperupscale/luxury resort, conference center and spa to Northwest Georgia and the Chattanooga MSA that will attract regional, national and international visitors.
The Walker County/Scenic Land Company team has identified the Canyon Ridge Resort site as unique within the Southeast. No location offers a similar mountaintop, upperupscale/luxury resort experience within a two-hour drive of 14 million people and 28 Fortune 500 companies in the Nashville, Birmingham, Knoxville, Huntsville, Atlanta and Chattanooga markets. The resort will complement and expand the market for the numerous tourist destinations in Walker County and surrounding areas in Northwest Georgia, the northern region of what the State of Georgia has identified as the "Historic High Country."
Over the past months, Scenic Land Company has been meeting with the Canyon Ridge Homeowners Association, the Walker County Development Authority, officials with the State of Georgia and other stakeholders. These efforts have resulted in overwhelming support and enthusiasm for the resort. Plans call for the
resort to be built on a shelf on the eastern brow of Lookout Mountain overlooking historic McClemore Cove. The setting will allow visitors to enjoy spectacular
sunrises as well as the majestic shadows of Lookout Mountain covering the valley floor as the sun sets. The resort is designed to take full advantage of these dramatic views without taking away from its natural and unique setting.
Scenic Land Company has assembled a nationally recognized team to design, develop and build the resort. The team members are highly regarded for their strong sense of commitment to the environments and communities in which they work, as well as to the attention to detail they apply to each aspect of their projects.
The resort's Master Planner, Hart Howerton, is renowned for its proven ability to plan large-scale national and international projects authentic to location and sensitive to the natural settings of each site. Known for its groundbreaking design of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Hart Howerton has grown its portfolio to include resorts in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Scottsdale, as well as Palmetto Bluff, the expansion of Sea Island, and the restoration of The Greenbrier. Most recently, their work took them to Shanghai where they completed work on the newest Disney Resort.
Scenic Land Company looked to Valor Hospitality Partners, an Atlantabased global hospitality management company led by Euan McGlashan, to provide oversight and operations for the resort. McGlashan's experience includes Cape Grace Hotel in South Africa, named "Best Hotel of the Year" in 2000 by Conde Nast, Barnsley Gardens where he served German Prince Hubertus Fugger of Bavaria, Sea Palms Resort and Hotel Indigo-Atlanta, among its more than 40 locations spread across three continents.
Although the resort requires expertise and experience not found locally, Scenic Land Company is locally based and committed to utilizing local resources at every opportunity. Numerous local resources including design, construction, legal and financial services as well as many others are already engaged, and more are targeted as the project progresses. Horton noted "We are primarily funded by local investors and we are developing a project for the benefit of the local community and our investors."
Commissioner Whitfield said, "We've known for some time that Canyon Ridge, with the previous investment made, had the potential to be something special for Walker County and the entire region. This development provides a tremendous opportunity to positively impact our county. We appreciate the time taken by Scenic Land Company to assemble such a strong team that wants to promote long-term, sustainable growth in one of our most scenic areas. It is also equally important to note that our friends at Scenic Land Company have brought plans that do not include any financial contributions or risk backing from Walker County or the Development Authority. Even though it was never requested, we made it abundantly clear from the beginning that Walker County is not in a position to take on any financial investment or risk at this time. We committed to the Scenic Land team that we would enthusiastically support and facilitate the process, and we have certainly made good on that commitment. This is a very exciting opportunity for our county and the region."
He noted that Phase I of the project is slated to cost approximately $106 million and will create nearly 2,000 construction jobs and 280 permanent jobs, according to a FedFit Study.
"This is an important opportunity for economic development in Walker County," said Robert Wardlaw, Chairman of the Walker County Development Authority. "The Development Authority Board has been most impressed with the professionalism, candor, and vision demonstrated by Mr. Horton and his team. This is a very unique development in a very unique venue. The project creates tourism dollars from outside the area, which increases Walker County's retail tax base." The Walker County Development Authority is governed independently from Walker County and led by Chairman Wardlaw, appointed to the Board by the City of LaFayette.
Duane Horton, a native of Walker County, said, "We are humbled by the overwhelming support we've received not only from the residents of Canyon Ridge but also by those willing to invest in the plans we have for the area. We appreciate the patience of everyone as we thoughtfully and methodically work through every challenge and detail of this project. I grew up in Walker County, at the base of Lookout Mountain, working on farms and then at Rock City before earning a degree in Construction Management from Georgia Tech. It brings me great joy to have the opportunity to reinvest in my home community."
Horton also noted, "It's an added benefit that this project will not only increase jobs and economic development in Walker County but will also benefit the entire region. This is evidenced by the support at the state level being led by State Senator Jeff Mullis. Senator Mullis' support is instrumental in securing investment in our community from the State of Georgia, specifically the Tourism Development Act created to incentivize projects just like the Canyon Ridge project. It is exciting to see a collaboration of leaders working together for the benefit of everyone they represent as well as those in neighboring communities."
For further information, please visit: www.CanyonRidgeResort.com.