Interview with Brock Hill
On March 1 it was announced that, after 16 years of leading Cumberland County, former Mayor Brock Hill would be the Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Parks and Conservation. Hill helped build schools in Crossville, and helped promote the growth of golf in Cumberland County, transforming it from a $48 million a year attraction to a $96 million a year economic driver. Hill described his motivations for working for the parks, his views on the economic and historical value of the parks and plateau, and what he wants to do with them while in office.
While already a supporting member of the movement to turn the Cumberlands into a national heritage area for the Civil War, Hill joined the Alliance for the Cumberlands during its effort to transform the plateau into a national heritage corridor.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Hill said. “I knew that it was important for this area to be a heritage corridor.”
I love the natural world, I grew up in the woods, and I really enjoy what I feel when I’m there.
Hill has a history of supporting the parks and the historic places on the plateau, having worked for the parks in high school and college, for working with the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation as an advisor, and working with Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation. He also has some of his own reasons for choosing to work for the parks.
“I see and feel the presence of God more in the parks than in other venues,” Hill said. “There’s also the natural scenic beauty that surrounds us. I love the natural world, I grew up in the woods, and I really enjoy what I feel when I’m there.”
The Value of the Cumberlands
The Cumberlands have traditionally been a remote area. Secluded because of the mountainous barriers surrounding them, but, with technology and vehicles, the mountains that were once obstacles have now become a scenic drives. As a result people are able to come to the Cumberlands and experience a region that is still more remote than most and hasn’t been over developed.
“We have an opportunity to display the scenic beauty of the Cumberlands,” Hill said. “Most of the property here is pretty much unspoiled, so we can showcase the natural world and culture of the Cumberlands. ”
The Impact of the Parks
“I’ve had the opportunity to see the economic impact of the parks,” Hill said. “I spent my first day in office talking to the hospitality group and looking at all the income producing parts. Every time someone spends money at the restaurants or the hotels that’s taxed and that has a direct impact on the local government.”
In some areas the parks and natural areas are big business. The state parks system is the number one employer in Van Buren County, and the golf courses in Cumberland County pushed it into the top 15 contributing counties in the state. The plateau alone has around 20 parks nestled within its borders.
Hill commented not only on the economic impact of the parks but the cultural impact as well.
“Before they were parks these areas had an impact on the people,” Hill said. “I believe we are a product of our environment, and how we feel and see things is impacted by our lives and where we’re from. This is a special place because it can provide a sustainable economy. We have 53 state parks and a lot of beautiful areas, and when I speak to the people in these communities they tell me that these parks are important to them.”
Plans for the Future
Hill has only been in office for two months, but he has already begun to look towards the future of the parks systems in Tennessee.
“We don’t want what we have to suffer in order to fund an ambitious growth plan,” Hill said. “Right now I’m going to the parks, and I want to visit as many as I can before the end of the year. I go and speak to the rangers and look at the facilities we have now.”
We’re one of the few states in the nation that still has free parks. We feel it’s our responsibility to the tax payer and to the general public to provide affordable recreation opportunities.
Hill admitted that sometimes the bureaucracy of Nashville can get in the way when parks are asking for funds for maintenance, but says that they are working to find ways to react quicker.
“The hospitality business has to move fast, and if the park has to wait months just to change a pool filter then you’re not serving the customers,” Hill said. “We’re one of the few states in the nation that still has free parks. We feel it’s our responsibility to the tax payer and to the general public to provide affordable recreation opportunities.”
Hill is still new in office, but with a proven track record of getting things done the future for the parks looks promising.