Anderson County Chamber leadership program goes on vacation

Last Tuesday, the Leadership Anderson County class of 2020 took a mini vacation.

I’d like to say it was a lot of work, but it wasn’t. It was just fun.

Life moves on and so should we, as the saying goes, but remembering, respecting and meditating on the past can sometimes help us know what we want and what we’re missing today.

A strong unified sense of purpose and community is one of those things, I’d say. Learning about the history and purpose of Oak Ridge brought that to light as we went on a tour of all the tourism and arts programs we could cram into one day.

Before we spent time in Oak Ridge, though, we began our day bright and early at Windrock Park in Oliver Springs. Program day directors Naomi Asher and Callie Archer said they wanted us to feel like we were vacationers in Anderson County, and I think we would all agree that their mission was accomplished.

While we sadly didn’t have a chance to ride any of the ATVs, we did learn a lot about the park. Windrock consists of 73,000 acres, something that most of us did not know. That’s more than 110 square miles, with 300 miles dedicated to trail riding. Visitors can rent not only ATVs, but also cabins and campsites. The park also hosts concerts throughout the year.

It’s a beautiful place, and it has a powerful economic impact on the county. Lots of tourism dollars spent. The folks that come to Windrock aren’t bringing the four-wheelers we grew up riding — they’re bringing $20,000 ATVs, much more expensive trucks to haul them on, and a decent budget for restaurants and hotels.

Our next few stops centered around the history of Oak Ridge. We heard from Don Hunnicutt with the Oak Ridge Heritage Preservation Association, a park ranger, and arts advocate Jim Dodson. There was a recurring theme in their messages, and that was: Community.

A whole lot of people who came to work in Oak Ridge stayed in Oak Ridge for the long haul. It was a muddy mess back then and no one knew exactly what they were working on, but the camaraderie and sense of unified purpose was very strong.

All the speakers painted a vivid picture of thousands upon thousands of people — most of them in their 20s — traveling to Oak Ridge for a job that would pay them more than anything they could make at home. They had a very full social life, filled with live music, shopping and get-togethers.

They worked hard and played hard.

It’s interesting to think of a town that was so rural and small suddenly flooded with people who must have all been at least a little adventurous. It changed from no-tech to high-tech within a matter of days. Stop by the Preservation Association’s museum at 102 Robertsville Rd. in Oak Ridge to learn more about the town and its people. It’s really incredible what an impact on the world our county has had.

Lunch at the Museum of Appalachia was followed by (not a nap, sadly) a trip to the Appalachian Arts and Craft Center outside of Norris. A thriving weaving community meets there regularly, and many artists have their products on consignment in the gift shop. Beautiful pottery, handwoven scarves, photography, jewelry, books by local artists and more are available for purchase, and many classes are available for those who want to learn how to do it themselves. There was a piece of pottery I wish I had gotten that had a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “It is a great art to saunter.”

Two more stops were on our agenda that afternoon: Norris Paddling Adventures and Clinch River Brewing. I have to admit, I got a little bus-sick on the way to the lake and did not participate in the paddle boarding and aqua-biking.

But, I’ve done it in the past, and it’s a whole lot of fun for not a lot of money. Owner John Marquis got everyone on the water quickly and safely. It’s a very peaceful way to spend some time on the lake.

Last, Clinch River Brewing showed us where and how they make their much-raved-about beer! We also enjoyed some snacks cooked up by Chef Brandon Cruze. My favorite menu item of theirs was not served, and that was the smoked trout dip. It’s addictive. (And not made from the trout in their pond.)

A quick side note about the bus rides — it was interesting hearing how all of us got a little something different out of the day’s events. Some of my classmates work in Oak Ridge, and still do work they can’t tell us about. It’s without a doubt still a Secret City. Others grew up in the city, and have a very different view of the place, simply because their own lives are superimposed on top of the history.