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Weather slows progress on Aspire

An artist’s rendition of the finished Aspire Park. In the lower center is the first phase, The Groves, which is waiting for dry weather to begin construction.
On your mark, get set … Wait.

The Hollingsworth Foundation is primed and ready to change the landscape of South Clinton if only Mother Nature would cooperate.

Even a little.

East Tennessee’s wet winter has halted all progress on Aspire Park.

“It’s stopped everything. We’re just waiting for it to dry up some,” The Hollingsworth Foundation’s marketing manager Ashlee Rollins said. “Once that happens, there will be a lot of activity starting.”

There is a certain “giddiness” and excitement for those involved in the project. There is also a little bit of frustration. They know what has to be done — it’s planned out and crews are champing at the bit to start — but all they can do is wait.

The first shipment of trees — 203 — has been delivered and crews are waiting for the ground to dry out before planting.

There will be 980-plus new trees planted in the park in phases.

While the tree planting will offer a new swath of greenery in the spring, the largest — and most anticipated — change will be seen once construction of The Groves begins.

Again, only Mother Nature knows for sure when that’s going to start.

The Groves is the first “centerpiece” of Aspire planned for the park.

Featuring four elements, The Groves will offer a gathering point for numerous events.

The first element is the midways.

“The midways provide arterial connections from the lowest point of the park near the wetland all the way up to the Overlook and Memorial Promontory,” Rollins said in a release. “The midways are flush to adjacent planting and paved areas, creating a seamless connection between spaces and prioritizing pedestrians. Large scale iconic lights are placed along the central axis of the midways to provide wayfinding and visual interest.”

That may sound like a lot to process, but think of it as a giant back yard — a well-groomed English garden, as it were — that offers a new outdoor experience with every visit.

And then imagine being part of the crew who will build this legacy and you can imagine a collective cringe everytime a weather forecast calls for “rain for the next three days.”

The second element is paved picnic areas. Accessible from the midways, these will offer large-scale community picnic tables and fixed barbecue grills.

The next element is the cultivated “planted monoculture blocks,” providing varied experiential zones that will have bosques of trees for shade and stringing hammocks; flowering trees; native grasses with meadow flowers; and a grove of Tennessee’s state tree — the tulip poplar.

The final element is the boardwalk. It will run along the southern edge of The Groves and is a true wooden boardwalk that serves to separate the upland area of activity from the wetland and stream running along the southern edge.

This is the first phase of the park. Other phases will be announced as work on those begin, but this first phase will give a glimpse of what Aspire can and will be.

“It is frustrating because we are ready to move forward,” Rollins said. “Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t agreed with us.”