ERWIN — University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd and his wife Jenny returned to Erwin Wednesday to cut the ribbon on the new Erwin Bark Park.

Built with a $25,000 grant from the Boyd Foundation’s Dog Park Dash Program, the 4-acre park was quietly opened in March when the COVID-19 shutdown prevented a public celebration of its completion.

Speaking to more than a dozen town leaders and guests who gathered for the ceremony, Boyd congratulated the town for winning the competitive grant and for the quick and efficient completion of its development.

Boyd said he is in the dog business and recognizes benefits dog parks bring to communities.

“It is much easier to have a dog if you have a place for them to go and play,” he said. “But dog parks are not only good for pets. Dog parks bring people together which is something I think we all need at this time.”

And bringing some levity to the political tensions the nation is experiencing, Boyd said, “You come to a dog park and you see young and old sitting on the same park bench. And on occasion, you see a Democrat and Republican sitting on the same park bench.”

Linda Mathes, with the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, thanked the Boyds for their investment in the park and also for their interest in Erwin. Like Boyd, Mathes commended the town for its selection of the park’s location.

Placed next to the animal shelter and along the Erwin Linear Trail, Mathes said the park has not only provided the shelter’s dogs more opportunity to get outside for exercise but also brought more animal lovers who visit the park into the shelter to see the pets available for adoption.

Mayor Doris Hensley thanked the Boyds for the grant funding that made the park possible, town leaders for authorizing the project, town employees for assisting in the park’s construction and Erwin Communications and Programs Director Jamie Rice for leading the town through the entire process.

Before returning to Knoxville where Boyd said he was focused on “getting the kids back in school and getting them educated,” the UT president and owner of three Appalachian League baseball teams spoke briefly about the disappointment of Major League’s Baseball’s dissolution of the league and the excitement that surrounds MLB’s plan to revise the sport in the region.

“When we heard Major League Baseball was closing the Appalachian League, it was a dark day for my family and Boyd Sports and I think for everybody in East Tennessee to see so many teams closing forever.

“But now that the new league is going to be reconstituted, we couldn’t be happier. It’s such a relief and we’re so excited to be able to keep baseball in Upper East Tennessee.

“The Johnson City Cardinals, we put so much investment in that new stadium. And everybody loves the stadium and loves the experience. And it’s been there for over 50 years. To see that go away was just tragic.

“We couldn’t have been happier when they said there was hope. And now that we’re actually able to do it, it’s just terrific.”