The announcement was made Monday afternoon in front of the Carl Perkins Boyhood Home, where the new visitor center will be set up.
Tennessee Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely and Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker delivered the hot news under a hot afternoon sun. Joining the commissioners under a canopy were State Rep. Phillip Pinion, State Sen. Roy Herron, County Mayor Macie Roberson and Tiptonville Mayor Danny Cook.
While Whitaker and the tourism department are not involved in the grant decision, she said West Tennessee had not been well represented among the grant recipients in previous years. The state regularly receives requests for five times as much grant money as is available. This year, she said, the state made a big effort to try to fund more West Tennessee projects.
Many also credited the ceaseless lobbying of Herron and Pinion, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. They, in turn, credited Gov. Phil Bredesen.
The transportation-enhancement grant will cover about 80 percent of the costs with the city of Tiptonville chipping in the remaining 20 percent with cash and/or in-kind services.
The visitor center will be set up inside a train caboose beside Carl Perkins' Boyhood Home, which is on Highway 78 in Tiptonville. The old Illinois Central Railroad caboose, owned by Tiptonville Main Street, is currently located on the railroad tracks near the Tiptonville water tower. While time has taken its toll on the caboose, Tiptonville Mayor Danny Cook said he believes it can be turned into a visitor center fairly easily. The caboose will be moved to the Perkins home site, where it will replace an existing trailer.
The visitor center will include information about Tiptonville, Ridgely and Lake County.
Tiptonville also plans to build a 2.5-mile walking and bicycling trail from Highway 78 to the park overlooking the Mississippi River. Cook said he's not sure at this point whether the trail will start at the visitor center or at the intersection of Highway 78 and Church Street. That intersection was the original site of the proposed visitor center, and the plans have changed in the last five years.
The grant also includes money for decorative lighting, landscaping and benches along the recreational trail.
Cook said the city will finish preparing the new budget this month. Once the money is in the budget, Cook said the city will get started on the project.
Bredesen is participating in a governors' conference and was unable to attend Monday's announcement, but he sent his congratulations. "The state will be giving the city of Tiptonville a grant in the amount of $438,958 to assist with this project that is designed to enhance the beauty and history of this area of your city, which is such an important asset to Lake County," he said in a statement.
Nicely described the project as fitting. "We are here on the banks of two of Tennessee's most important and most scenic waterways, the Mississippi River and Reelfoot Lake, to announce an important project for Tiptonville," he said. "This project creates a potential for Tiptonville as a heritage tourism center by tapping into the Reelfoot Lake traffic as a catalyst for growth and development."
The grant is made available through a program operated by the Tennessee Department of Tourism. In 1999, Congress set up a system to fund activities that strengthen the cultural, aesthetic and environmental aspects of the nation's transportation system. In the following years, Tennessee awarded millions of dollars worth of projects, such as historic transportation facilities, bike and pedestrian trails, landscaping and other non-traditional transportation projects such as museums and welcome centers.
"Programs like our enhancement grant effort are an important part of our commitment to provide more than just paved roads and concrete bridges in communities," Nicely said. "We fully recognize that transportation has a multimodal meaning and that we must seek new ways to enhance these facilities in our communities across the state."
Whitaker said she liked Tiptonville's proposal because it fits nicely with the tourism department's new theme: "Tennessee: The stage is set for you!" Whitaker said it also ties together two unique aspects for which Tennessee is famous: its musical heritage and its scenic beauty.