Money to expand RiverWalk, help build interpretive center
Nearly $2 million in state grants has been awarded for improvements at Fort Defiance and nearby areas.
Clarksville Mayor Don Trotter picked up the checks – one for $682,000 to build a pedestrian trail, the other in the amount of $1,299,560 for an interpretive center at the site – on Wednesday at the state Capital Building in Nashville.
“I don’t know when we’ve gotten this kind of grant money before,” Trotter said. “A lot of people are envious of Clarksville today.”
The money came from the Tennessee Department of Transportation Enhancement Program.
Howard Winn, a member of the Fort Defiance finance Study Committee and a professor of history emeritus at Austin Peay State University, said the pedestrian walkway will extend from the fort’s location on the north side of the Red River to the river.
Jeff Robinson, chairman of the Clarksville River District Commission, said the RiverWalk will eventially connect via a bridge to the Fort Defiance trail.
Winn said the interpretive center will focus on three historically significant periods of the Fort Defiance area – the frontier era, between 1780 and 1815; from 1819 to 1843, when Clarksville was in competition with Cumberland, a rival tobacco port that no longer exists; and the Civil War and Reconstruction era, from the 1850s to 1870s.
“Its not just a story about a bunch of rebels,” Winn saud if Clarksville’s experience during the Civil War. “It’s more a story of Union occupation.”
Winn said plans haven’t been drawn for the interpretive center because the committee didn’t know how much money would be available.
Clarksville had to provide about $260,000 in matching funds to conduct preliminary work to be eligible for the grant.
“It paid off in dividends,” said Trotter.
Winn agreed it is an investment that will continue to pay.
“It will be a beneficial site for tourism,” he said, one that would dovetail nicely with the new Wings of Liberty Museum.
Winn said the grant was submitted more than a year ago, and had since been enduring “an agonizing” wait.
“I thought (the grant might be awarded) but until the announcement is made and the money is in hand, one never knows what is going to take place,” Winn said. “We’ve been trying to do something like this since the 1980s.”
Winn characterized the process as “a struggle” and offered thanks to state Rep. Kim McMillan, 78th District state Rep. Phillip Johnson, 22nd District state Sen. Rosalind Kurita “and I can’t tell you how many other people.”
Trotter said City Grant Manager Ron McClurg also deserved “a pat on the back.”
The Fort Defiance Study Committee will meet at 4 p.m. today at the Parks and Recreation Department to discuss their next steps, such as drafting plans and creating an account for the grant money.
“There’s just a thousand and one things we’re going to have to figure out,” Winn said.
One will be to determine when the committee can begin drawing from the grant money.
After years of waiting, Will said he would like to see the improvements quickly.
“I’m too old. I”d like to get this things over with before I kick off,” he said.