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Recreational Trails Program Highlight: Tennessee State Parks Tires to Trails Program

Tennessee State Parks Win National Award for Tires to Trails Program

by Sue Crowe, Database Coordinator

Tennessee State Parks was honored with the Project Excellence Award from the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals for the parks’ innovative Tires to Trails program, which recycles tires. The award is presented annually to exemplary outdoor recreation projects and collaborating agencies and organizations who were key to the success. Selection criteria include unique or special circumstances; problem-solving; level of innovation and creativity; impact or effect of a project; and collaborative team effort.

Tennessee State Parks officials, along with those from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), cut the ribbon in June on a new hard-surface pathway over 2.5 miles long – made from rubber crumbs derived from tires – at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. The path is one of the longest rubber-bearing trails in the United States. The trail largely replaces worn cart paths from an old golf course, with new connections making for a modern loop trail design. The project was a partnership between the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), TDOT, the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and Memphis City Beautiful.

The cleanup had 450 registered volunteers and saw 10,000 tires collected in one day. The project, which began with collection in 2019, was funded by a Tire Environmental Act Program grant of $250,000 from TDEC’s Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices, a special litter grant of $200,000 from TDOT, and a Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program grant of $280,000 from TDEC’s Division of Recreation Resources.

Workers cleaned up over 24,000 dumped tires, including passenger, commercial truck, and heavy equipment tires. Tires that had been illegally dumped in the area around the park were gathered by volunteers and local contractors, then transformed into crumbs by Patriot Tire Recycling in Bristol, the only facility in the state with the ability to recycle tires in such a way. Once the tires were recycled into crumbs, the material was brought back to the park for construction of the trail. The crumbs are between one-quarter inch and three-eighths inch in size.

"This is a quintessential example of recycling in full circle, collecting dumped material then converting it into positive use,” said David Salyers, commissioner of TDEC. “It’s exactly the kind of responsible environmental activity Tennesseans can be proud of, where an area can be cleaned up then have people enjoy the benefits in a new way.”

“Litter and illegal dumping are costly and damaging to Tennessee. TDOT spends more than $19 million annually picking up litter and educating the public about the negative impacts,” said TDOT Interim Commissioner Joseph Galbato, III. “We are thankful for collaborative partnerships like the ‘Tires to Trails’ project which not only addresses the litter problem but turns it into a meaningful and positive long-lasting resource for the community.”

“We’re pleased to see discarded tires recycled to improve T.O. Fuller State Park,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “The new trail is a great example of collaboration with our federal, state and city partners to invest in our shared environment and a treasured community asset.”

T.O. Fuller State Park was the first state park open for African Americans east of the Mississippi River. A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp initiated construction of the park facilities in 1938. It was designated Shelby County Negro State Park in 1938 and was changed to T.O. Fuller State Park in 1942 in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller, a prominent African-American educator, pastor, politician, civic leader, and author.

photo credit: Michael D. Meister
Volunteers and officials in T.O. Fuller State Park gather tires that will soon be shredded and used for park trails.

Volunteers and officials in T.O. Fuller State Park gather tires that will soon be shredded and used for park trails.

About the Author

Sue Crowe joined American Trails in September 2016 as the RTP Database Coordinator after retiring from a career in local government. Sue spent 15 years in fiscal operations and management, with 12 of those years as staff accountant to the Shasta County Regional Transportation Planning Agency. Sue worked extensively on programs in both motorized and non-motorized transportation, including administering grant programs such as Safe Routes to School and the Secure Rural Schools Act.

Sue volunteers at a local animal shelter where she helps to socialize shelter dogs like Honey in the photo. Sue also paints custom pet portraits on rocks and canvas. All proceeds help with special medical need shelter dogs.

Sue moved to Redding in 1987 after growing up in Trinidad, California. She and her husband, John, enjoy hiking with their dog and spending time at their house at Trinity Lake.

Contact: [email protected]

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