Haslam completes the ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate the new interpretive center at Sycamore Shoals. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
ELIZABETHTON — Gov. Bill Haslam said he was returning to the roots of his predecessor Friday during a visit to Sycamore Shoals.
He said Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier, led the Overmountain Men from Sycamore Shoals to the Battle of Kings Mountain, which he called a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Haslam was in town because of that history. He came to dedicate the new $500,000 interpretive center at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area.
The governor said this was one of the more enjoyable trips he has made as governor. He praised Sycamore Shoals and all the state parks across Tennessee as places to visit and enjoy.
To honor the governor on his visit, Maj. Chadwick Bogart of the re-enactment group Washington County Regiment of the North Carolina Militia presented the governor with honorary membership in the unit and replicas of an 18th century haversack and powder horn.
Park Manager Jennifer Bauer thanked the governor and said “this is a wonderful day for Sycamore Shoals.” She said the opening of a high-quality interpretive center fulfills a dream that her predecessor, Herb Roberts, “kept close to his heart while he was park manager for 20 years and kept close during the time he served as East Tennessee area manager.”
Bauer said one other person she wished could be here to see the opening was Chris Taylor, who cared deeply about Sycamore Shoals and the stories it told. She said Taylor had died only a week ago.
“This has been a massive team effort,” Bauer said of the people who contributed to the interpretive center. She said the architectural design was by the architectural firm of Reedy and Sykes. Exhibit Designs was by Natural Concepts. Video production was by Connor Communications. Exhibit construction was done by Essyx Design and Fabrication and Rainey Contracting.
Bauer said the authenticity of the displays was provided by talented artists, including Richard Luce, who created four original paintings that were made into murals; Steve and Susie Ricker, who made the clothing and accoutrements for the mannequins; Jerry D. Grear, who did the photography for the Roan Mountain mural; Jeff Brooks, who did the Native American art; Bob Estep, who did the Native American tools; Ryan Barryhill, who did the weaving; Mark Halback, who did the flintlock rifle and silver engraving; Will Hines, cooper; Dale Johnson, gunsmith; Kim Palmer, tanner; Christy Reynolds, embroidery; and Alyssa Rich, beading.
Bauer said the state had always intended to include an interpretive center as part of the park’s visitors center, but the plan was always delayed as budgets became tight.
State Rep. Kent Williams said a grant of $450,000 was finally awarded in 2008 under then-Gov. Phil Bredesen and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke. He said somehow the money was diverted to other projects.
“I didn’t find out about that until someone at the park told me something had happened to the money,” Williams said. When he became speaker of the House, Williams said the grant was finally approved for more than $500,000.
After the governor cut the ribbon, the first visitors said they were pleased with how informative the new center is and how lifelike the displays are. The dream that Roberts had kept alive throughout his career is finally a reality.