The city of Huntland has been chosen to receive a total investment of $936,000 from the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation in the form of a new city park complex.
The park will bear the BlueCross Healthy Place program name and will offer numerous amenities to city and area residents and their children for years to come.
Some of the many features covered in the investment include a full basketball court with bleachers, a fully accessible playground, a walking track with outdoor fitness equipment, water fountains, picnic tables, grills, parking areas, and an upgraded pavilion for hosting community gatherings.
The good news was revealed to a standing-room-only crowd at the Huntland Community Center on Friday by representatives from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Huntland Mayor Dolton Steele was on hand and introduced Vice Mayor Ann Gardner who led the way in pursuing the dream of providing new playground equipment for the Huntland community.
Gardner then introduced Scott Wilson, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee director of community relations.
The announcement came with a surprise twist as Wilson addressed the gathering.
City officials had initially asked for about $215,000 to purchase desperately needed playground equipment, and Wilson confirmed that the Huntland community had indeed been selected to receive those funds.
Wilson unveiled an artist’s rendering that showcased the park’s new playground, and the announcement was received with applause.
After the crowd had finished applauding the initial announcement, Wilson continued to speak.
He went on to unveil almost a dozen artist renderings of multiple recreation components that would be funded by the BlueCross Health Foundation.
When Wilson finally concluded his announcement, the stunned gathering learned that the Health Foundation would invest an additional $721,000 into the Huntland community, bringing the total investment to $936,000.
This figure included a separate fund designed to be used by the city to repair and maintain the park complex decades into the future.
Lead by Gardner, efforts to raise money for a new playground had been ongoing for several years.
Current playground equipment was donated to the city of Huntland over 30 years ago, and the equipment had already seen decades of use when it was initially donated and installed at the current playground location at the corner of College and Johnson avenues behind the Huntland Softball Complex.
A small swing set, a basketball goal without a rim or a net, and a picnic table are the only playground items currently available to area children.
It was clear that new playground equipment was desperately needed, and Gardner decided to make it her mission to somehow procure new playground equipment for the Huntland community and surrounding areas.
Committees were formed, and members worked tirelessly to realize their goal of a new playground area.
Though the local Huntland community rallied together and supported fundraising efforts for a new playground, the possibility of finding the funds needed for the cause seemed bleak.
Gardner did not give up, however, and learned of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation.
Gardner led the way and completed all the paperwork necessary to apply for the BlueCross Healthy Place grant.
“I can recall sitting at my kitchen table for hours and hours filling out the necessary forms and building a strong proposal on behalf of the Huntland community,” Gardner said.
Upon hearing the surprise announcement on Friday regarding all the additional amenities to be funded by the BlueCross Healthy Place, Gardner was overcome with emotion.
“I am amazed and blown away,” Gardner said. “I want to thank Scott Wilson and everyone involved with BlueCross Health Foundation, and I also want to thank Beth Blevins at the Tennessee Department of Health for her help on our behalf.”
Huntland Playground Fundraising Committee members include Sarah Counts, Debi Wilkinson and Amanda Rigsby.
Members of the Huntland Parks and Recreation Committee include Vice Mayor Gardner, Debbi Daniels, Beth Locke and Brad Myerring.
Eighty municipalities were interested in being selected by the BlueCross Health Foundation to receive funding for their projects, but the years of hard work and Gardner’s strong proposal set Huntland apart from the other applicants, Wilson said.
“The city (of Huntland) already uses this space as an integral part of their community, and we wanted to enhance it so that it could be enjoyed by the whole family,” he said. “They had been working for years toward a new playground, and their presentation made us realize how important this is to the Huntland community.”
Construction on the BlueCross Healthy Place project at the Huntland City Park will begin soon, and the Chattanooga-based company PlayCore will head the project. The park is scheduled to open this fall.