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Hendersonville Parks + Volunteers = A Recipe for Success

The Spirit of Volunteerism is Alive, Well and Welcome in the City by the Lake

Ten years ago, Middle Tennessee was devastated by the great flood of May 2010. Several lives were lost due to the rising waters, and the entire region experienced over $2 billion in economic losses.

Due to its low elevation and proximity to Old Hickory Lake, Hendersonville was one of the communities impacted the most. From businesses to homes, few parts of the city escaped the wrath of the flood.

Perhaps the most visible flood damage occurred in the city’s “crown jewel,” the Hendersonville Parks system. All city parks were impacted by the flood waters, with Drakes Creek, Memorial and Veterans parks experiencing significant damage.

While workers labored long hours to clean up and repair park damage, the parks department did not have enough staff to handle the aftermath of a 500-year flood event. As recovery efforts began, there were real concerns that the parks might not be able to reopen for an extended period of time. Such a protracted downtime would have compounded the impact of the flood through the loss of revenue due to cancelled ball tournaments, holiday celebrations and other events that typically bring thousands of tourists to the city each year.

However, the citizens of Hendersonville were not willing to accept the loss of their parks. Over the weeks and months following the flood, they turned out in droves for voluntary clean-up and repair events to help restore the park facilities. Thousands of people gave up their free time to work on park recovery efforts, even while many of them were dealing with personal flood losses of their own.

“I can tell you for a fact that without the post-flood community clean-up days that were held, Drakes Creek, Memorial and Veterans Parks would not have been open again for more than a year later,” recalls Andy Gilley, Director of Hendersonville Parks and Recreation. “The work done by the volunteers was critical to getting our parks up and running again.”

Thanks to the efforts of the park’s employees and volunteers, the parks were restored in a timely fashion, enabling most of the events planned for the remainder of 2010 to occur as scheduled.

This scenario was repeated on a smaller scale during Feb. 2019, when another flood event caused over $1 million in serious damage to Mary’s Magical Place and the inline hockey rinks at Veterans Park.

“Without the community volunteers, we would not have had a hockey season,” says Andy. “Our volunteers came through again. They helped get Mary’s Magical Place back into shape, and they were able to piece together a single hockey rink in time to save the inline season.”

While the spirit of helping is often on display after traumatic events such as floods, the need for volunteers occurs on a year-round basis. From trash clean-ups to trail restorations to working concession stands for ball tournaments, there is always a place for park volunteers.

“On an average year, we have multiple groups from churches, schools and other organizations reach out to us to see how they can help out in the parks,” says Andy. “Once they contact me, I put them in touch with the right parks department personnel to organize their specific projects, including scheduling and making arrangements for any needed tools and materials.”

Over time, volunteers have been critical in helping leverage the limited resources of the parks department.

“The average parks department for a city our size has 43 full-time employees, while we only have 23 full-time and a few part-time people,” says Andy. “Thanks to our volunteers, we are able to accomplish much more than we could if we only relied upon parks personnel.”

During the past year, there have been several examples of non-flood related projects that are well suited for volunteers. In September 2019, Pope John Paul II students helped set up for the Hometown Jam concert that was held last October. In February of this year, Knox Doss Middle School softball players performed a park clean-up day.

Other examples include a local church group spreading mulch at Kids’ Kingdom in Memorial Park, ball teams helping with tournaments at Drakes Creek Park and disc golfers helping clean up Sanders Ferry Park.

No special skills or abilities are needed to volunteer in the Hendersonville Parks system, just a spirit of volunteerism and a desire to give back to the community. One group that could particularly benefit from volunteering is high school seniors.

Programs such as Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Scholars, as well as many school honor societies, require students to provide a certain number of community service hours in order to retain their eligibility. Volunteering for the parks is a perfect way to earn needed service hours while giving back to the local community.

“Our entire park system is based on volunteers,” says Andy. “That’s why we have a property called Volunteer Park, to recognize their efforts and their contributions to our city. From coaches to league administrators to school and church groups, volunteers make everything happen.”

Andy Gilley, Director

City of Hendersonville, TN

Department of Parks & Recreation

615.822.3898

HvilleTN.org/departments/parks

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