An area of Fort Oglethorpe that a year ago was a swampy breeding ground for mosquitos is turning into a beautiful homage to those who work hard to protect citizens every day — the military and first responders, as well as to the citizens themselves.
"Honor Park: A Tribute to Those Who Serve" is situated two blocks from the fire department, just off Cleburn Street. It's a segment of ground, nestled behind private homes and beside a creek, that borders part of the city's 10 miles of walking trails.
The idea for the park was that of Fort Oglethorpe Councilwoman Paula Stinnett. From her vision was born the Fort Oglethorpe Veteran and Citizen Committee (VCC), the non-profit organization that is building Honor Park.
"I wanted to do something different," says Stinnett, who led the city to becoming both a Tree City USA Community and a Purple Heart City. "Combining three things I deeply care about and had already worked on — nature, veterans and serving citizens — seemed natural."
Stinnett asked Navy and Army veteran Jerry Haymons to head up the committee to establish the park. "The park is a way to bring everyone together," says Haymons. "It's not about just one segment of the population — the military and first responders. It's about all people working together."
The first problem VCC faced was a water issue. "When we started, there was 10 inches of standing water in some parts of the park," says Haymons. "The EPA would not let us divert it."
VCC called upon Fort Oglethorpe City Arborist Megan Mullinax. "Megan helped us find trees that would absorb water," says Haymons. "We're planting weeping trees that use up to 150 gallons of water a day."
Weeping trees, including willows, make up the personality of the park. The largest, which will eventually grow to 80 feet, represents the largest portion of the population — citizens.
Throughout the park, other weeping trees — four varieties, so far, including a weeping cherry tree, represent the minority of the population that protects the majority.
There is a tree each for the branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines.
There will soon be trees to represent police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services. There is even a tree to represent service animals.
A huge oak tree that was already standing on the property has been dubbed "The General."
Mullinax helped the committee choose trees that will bloom at different times and in different colors to add to the interest and beauty of the park. But that's just the beginning of the thought that has gone into what will be planted.
"The edges of the park that border homes," says Haymons, "will be lined with over 30 crepe myrtles. Some will bloom white and some red, and we learned that putting iron shavings around the bottom will turn some of the white ones blue. So we'll have red, white and blue."
Also on the property will be a "Gold Star Wives" garden. (Gold Star Wives is an organization that helps and encourages the families of deceased military personnel.)
"The local Gold Star Wives will choose the flowers that will go in the garden," says Haymons.
And that's still not all. Stinnett says there will be a Purple Heart tree and a tree to honor WACs — Women's Army Corps members, thousands of whom were trained in Fort Oglethorpe in the 1940s. Rolling Thunder TN II will be planting MIA, POW and KIA trees.
In addition to all this, the military trees ring an area that will feature a "missing man" chair. There is a 30-foot flag pole in the park and parking for up to ten vehicles. VCC is also planning for lighting and they hope to one day have a pavilion in the park that already has public restrooms on the grounds. "We planned on this taking three years," says Haymons. "Right now, we're a year ahead of schedule."
Stinnett says many people have contributed to the building of Honor Park. "Tennessee American Water Company has done amazing work helping us clear and prepare the land," she says.
Funding, supplies, discounts or other help have been provided by Modern Woodmen of America, Gold Star Wives, IBEW Local Union 175, Food City, Camping World, Flags Unlimited, Sequatchie Concrete, Ray Adkins, the Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department, First Volunteer Bank and Natalie Hunt with Community National Bank, and as well as many individuals. The city of Fort Oglethorpe has committed to some funding for the park, too.
To help raise funds and personalize the park for those who visit, VCC is selling granite pavers that can be engraved with service symbols and names. The pavers will be placed throughout the park or, if people wish, they can keep their pavers. The cost is $150 for a 12-inch by 12-inch engraved paver.
"We're working with Avery Monuments in Flintstone," says Haymons. "We wanted to keep it local so if we ever have a problem it can be handled quickly." Haymons says the committee decided against offering engraved bricks when they learned that bricks begin to crumble within 5-7 years.
The all-volunteer Veteran and Citizen Committee consists of ambassador Paula Stinnett (a non-voting member), chairperson Jerry Haymons, vice chair Mack McCord, treasurer Frank Donato, secretary Mae Duncan and chaplain Charity Gibson. The committee meets at Fort Oglethorpe City Hall at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month unless otherwise announced. The public is invited to attend and get involved.
To learn more, see VCC on Facebook at facebook.com/FortOglethorpeVeteranandCitizensCommittee or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. And swing by and see the park for yourself.