Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

A second group of residents pitched the Franklin Board of Aldermen on an outdoor adventure park last week, asking the board to consider turning the Whitmire Property into a public/private business venture.

Clarke and Heather Ball, co-founders of Outdoor Education & Adventure Center have been working on a concept for an outdoor adventure park for Macon County for some time when the discussion about what to do with the Whitmire PRoperty began. Ball attended the town’s budget work session and the couple has since worked to develop a concept for the property that they believe brings new life to the property and opportunity to the residents of Franklin.

“We’ve come up with an idea that is a win, win for the Town of Franklin,” said Ball. “Our proposal would be a mutually beneficial partnership with the Town of Franklin as a public/private venture, because we feel that our business concept would be a perfect fit for the Whitmire Property and the Town of Franklin.”

Ball’s presentation outlined how to fully utilize the property’s 12.7 acres for an outdoor education center, a garden, and outdoor recreation for the community. The proposal includes plans for a timber frame education center in the area of the old home site. The education center would offer short courses to more intensive classes all with an outdoor theme for many different skill levels. The plan also includes nature trails with labeled educational stops in the forest area located in the middle of the property.

Ball said that part of the benefit of the public/private venture would be that funds from the outdoor center helping to clean up the property and prepare it for development. As it stands, the town has budgeted  several thousand dollars to clean up the debris left when a building on the property was burnt during a training exercise for the Franklin Fire Department. Ball noted that if the partnership was approved, the town wouldn’t have to fund that cleanup and instead the outdoor center would handle it.

The community garden proposal includes garden spaces that can be rented out for educational purposes as well as a way to provide food to local food pantries and schools. The space would be further utilized to include community-oriented events, providing indoor and outdoor venues for schools, dances, weddings and other events. An outdoor amphitheater for performances and concerts is planned for the natural bowl area of the property.

The outdoor adventure portion of the plan includes a pump track and skate park, bouldering wall and dirt track for mountain biking.

Ball’s presentation to the board marks the second time a group has presented an  outdoor activity option for the Whitmire Property. While both groups have pitched outdoor recreation concepts for the property, the town of Franklin hasn’t discussed either option beyond the presentations. Franklin Mayor Bob Scott thanked Ball for the proposal and commended the couple on their presentation and proposal for the property. He noted that at this time, the board is still in the very preliminary planning stages of what direction to take with the property. Some board members have expressed interest in putting the property on the market, while others have said they would like to see it put to public use.