Where are you from?
After meeting each other in Chicago, my Alabaman mother and Canadian father moved to Riverside, California where I was born. We left California when I was only three and moved to Alabama. I'm basically the guy who grew up on a farm near Selma, Alabama. That’s why I have the accent.
When did you move to the Cumberland Plateau region?
Well, I've lived in Marion County since 1994, but I moved to Bryant, Alabama on Sand Mountain about a mile from the Tennessee line in 1980, at age 17. After about a year, I moved to Ooltewah in Hamilton County, which was close enough to the Cumberlands to be familiar with, and spend time in them.
Why did you move to Marion County?
I moved to Marion County later because my wife got a teaching job at the Jasper Middle School. She taught art for ten years there. Now she is a self employed Pilates instructor / fitness trainer.
When do you do for a living?
I'm self employed, operating a one person landscape maintenance service. This is my twentieth season of doing that. I didn’t intend for it work out that way. I started out construction work four years before doing landscape work.
When did you become interested in environmental conservation?
My interest in nature has existed from birth, as far as I can tell. I generally trace my interest in environmental conservation back to my acquaintance with the TV show, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, at about age six. That was a Morland Perkins and Jim Fowler show and they traveled around the world capturing wild animals. They were big on conservation. That was one of the first nature shows on TV and it ran till sometime in the late 80’s.
How and when did the Nickajack Recreational Corridor Coalition get started?
The Nickajack Recreational Corridor Coalition has been in its current form since last October. It's the replacement for the Marion County Greenways and Trails Committee, which began as a committee of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce in late 2005. After evaluating a number of ideas, the committee settled on the name Nickajack Recreational Corridor, consisting of a River Gorge recreational trail, a Jasper to South Pittsburg Greenway, and various other priority projects along the Tennessee River in Marion County.
After I first met Daniel Carter through a mutual connection between our wives I became more involved. He approached my wife who is a fitness trainer and told her about the Greenways and Trails Committee and my wife said that it was me that he should speak to. That’s how I was invited to the first meeting.
What is the mission of the organization?
Basically, to serve as a coordinating entity for various user groups in helping to enhance the considerable recreational potential of the Tennessee River Gorge and other areas along the river that lie between the gorge and the Alabama line. We plan to do this by improving public access through trails and other facilities. We also work with land management agencies, such as TVA, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, the Division of Forestry, and local municipalities to implement recreation and trail plans.
Who is a part of the coalition?
Current partners include: Tennessee River Gorge Trust, SORBA Chattanooga, National Wild Turkey Federation, Southern Appalachian Backcountry Horsemen Association, Marion County Chamber of Commerce, Trust for Public Land, Outdoor Chattanooga, TN Dept. of Environment and Conservation, University of Tennessee - Chattanooga, Jasper Elementary School's Outdoor Education Initiative Committee, and the South Cumberland State Recreation Area. (Not having the current list before me, I could have forgotten someone).
Also, I have a five person advisory committee consisting of: Daniel Carter, Jim Brown, of the River Gorge Trust, Philip Grymes of Outdoor Chattanooga, Bob Richards, the state Greenways and Trails Coordinator, and Jeff Duncan with the National Park Service.
What is your vision for the area?
My vision is to preserve the natural ecosystem and other qualities that make the area an attractive place to live and visit. I believe the best way to do this is through promoting the outdoor recreational potential of the area, thus getting more public support for conserving the local environment.
You keep an online blog called the Nickajack Naturalist. Tell us a little about that.
The Nickajack Naturalist was originally an idea to cover outing schedules, events, conservation initiatives, or places that people might want to know about. I had been thinking about it for years. Back in the 80’s I started exploring the Cumberlands and I first had the idea of doing a newsletter about recreation in the Cumberlands to make people aware of all there is to do in the region. Right now, I am trying to do two posts per week.
What role do you play in the organization?
I'm the Coalition's coordinator. In other words, I do most of the day to day operations.
What do you love most about the Cumberland Plateau region?
Oh boy! Let's see. I like the fact that when I'm returning from a trip and I see bluffs on the horizon, I feel like I'm home. Also, I guess I tend to root for the underdog. I've always felt the Cumberlands don't get the attention that places like the Blue Ridge get, so they need my help more. But mainly, I've always found the Cumberland Plateau region to be more interesting, with its canyons, caves and streams and its biological diversity. Also, being a bit lazy, I like being able to hike or bike on relatively level ground while enjoying mountain scenery, unlike the Blue Ridge region, where it's pretty much all up or down.
Thanks Bob Butters and good luck with all your projects!