News Update – Despite the stay at home orders that many states have issued there has been a lot going on here at the Tennessee Tree Toppers.

Last month, out of concern for our members and our community over the impact of COVID-19, we closed our site to camping. We have now reopened our flying sites to camping and flying with some restrictions. We ask that you follow the social distancing guidelines, wear masks when distancing is an issue and sanitize your hands and commonly used areas as often as possible. Respect others around you. If your behavior is considered endangering to other members, you’ll be asked to modify it or to leave. We’re not trying to be rude, but if we have the responsibility to require you to wear helmets and carry parachutes to protect yourself, we certainly have the responsibility to require you to behave in a way that protects our members. This is a fluid situation and will be re-evaluated on a regular basis keeping our members safety in mind. Thanks for being considerate.

If you’ve been away for some time, you’ll see a lot of changes in progress on the TTT sites. The most obvious is a privacy fence that has been started between the Tree Toppers and the commercial business to our south. This project has been discussed by the board for over two years now and has enlisted more volunteers and donations than any project since the building of the Burnside launch. After being up for a few weeks now it is obvious that it creates no interference for pilots of both organizations to be able to move freely back-and-forth between the properties. This fence had a number of objectives, one was to make an obvious delineation of our property line so non-members and uninvited public were aware that they were entering private property. Another was to help secure our property when the gate was closed. With open access to the south, closing our front gate to keep the public out, was like locking your front door but leaving the rest of your house wide open. A third reason was our hope that by providing a degree of privacy and personal space, we could start to reduce the tensions between the two organizations. This apparently is already working, with many of the most active members commenting on how they feel more relaxed with more privacy and with the return of members we have not seen in a long time.

Our Henson’s campground is changing too, we’ve begun clearing a half acre or more in the woods on the new Burnside property, and have begun cleaning up around the bathhouse. You’ll noticed that our garbage storage area has been removed. Our original plan was to move it to a different location, as it was considered an eyesore and was attracting rodents that were infesting the bathhouse and storage room. At the beginning of the COVID scare we removed the garbage cans and asked our guests to take care of their own garbage. It immediately became apparent that there was much less garbage overflow and litter if members and the public became responsible for their own trash. This has led to a much cleaner and more sanitary area. We thank you for your participation in keeping our site neat and clean. One thing needs to be made perfectly clear, we are not a camping club, we are not a commercial campground, we are a flying club, your dues are to pay for flying related assets, management and maintenance. Camping and showers were an amenity that way we happily introduced years ago; it was not intended as anything more than a primitive campground. Every year we are asked if people can join our club to camp here and we turn them down. Camping is a luxury we provide to facilitate our mission statement, to promote flying. If you are camping while you’re here flying, you should expect to donate significantly to our utility bills, they are a significant portion of our annual expenses.

Whitwell too has undergone significant changes. The launch has been revamped and is now much more paragliding friendly, we have increased the width and added a 30-foot-long 14-degree slope at the front. The grass is returning and the overgrowth has been cleared on both sides. New wind streamer poles were installed, and the tall stuff around the edges at the Whitwell launch has been hand-wacked with Jeff and Julie’s help, while our gracious neighbor Maria Basham ran the riding mower over most of the tall grass on Memorial Day. With some donated funds and effort, we hope to build an outhouse at Whitwell launch, a common request. Henson has been given priority by our limited maintenance staff but soon we will be working at Whitwell again. The massive project of clearing the south fence line and burning the debris has been completed at the Whitwell First Baptist Church LZ.

Unfortunately, there is one change we are not happy about but has become a necessity. For many years our general liability insurance has been recommending that we put no trespassing signs at all of our entrances. This is something we have resisted doing for all these years because we did not want to appear unwelcoming to the public or new members. Due to minor vandalism at each of our three separate properties, uninvited trespassing issues and a threat to our property rights, we have been advised by our general liability insurer, the RRRG, our attorney and the local law enforcement to conspicuously post no trespassing signs at all ingress and egress points. Although we consider these signs unsightly, they are a necessary step in our ability to protect against and prosecute vandalism, uninvited trespass and by making a statement of ownership may help to protect us in a property rights dispute. Please be assured these are not to deter entrance of prospective members, members and guests or the invited general public.

Another change that we are very happy about, not visible but significant is our new guest policy. We are now encouraging full members to invite qualified pilots that have never flown our sites to come as their quest for a one time only, 48-hour introductory visit to TTT sites. No charge to the member or guest. How often do you get something for free? Of course, we’re hopeful that the guest pilots will have such a good time they’ll sign up as full members and come back repeatedly, and if they’re just passing through may they take pleasant memories with them and a desire to return someday. Check out full details in our new FRP section regarding guest pilots.

This year we have seen the largest return of volunteerism I have noted in quite a while. We had a plumbing leak at the bathhouse, Tony had it fixed within a day. The clubhouse has been maintained and sanitized by Doug on a regular basis. Bill showed up for an afternoon and spent some time digging a drainage ditch then hiked the new rescue trail and helped do a little clearing. There was a crowd that showed up one day to help with the fence project, too many for me to remember all their names, but you know who you are and I want to say thanks. There are a few people that deserve a little special recognition for the unbelievable amount of time they put in this year. Reid Sparks a.k.a. Sparky has put hundreds if not more hours into working on our IT problems. Hopefully this will help carry us years into the future without the need for major changes. Jeff Laughrey serves many rolls for our Board of Directors. When we need any important communication taken care of, he’s on the ball, or should I say the computer, getting it done. He became the point-man for the Whitwell church landing field project and was there till dark many nights when the rest of us could go on no longer. Then, he still had energy to come to the Henson launch and help with maintenance up there. Steve & Kathy Lee have been the sole maintenance people for the upper Henson’s landing area. They hauled their tractor down the mountain for the grass cutting, weed whacking the edges and clearing fence lines of overgrown trees. And of course, kudos go out to Tom Prouhet, no one puts more effort into maintenance than Tom. I don’t know where he gets the energy, but he keeps our sites in better shape than I ever remember them. Thank all these people when you see them, they are the ones who are constantly working to keep our sites safe, clean and in good shape for us all to enjoy.

Not everyone has the time or ability to donate labor on keeping our sites up. Some feel monetary donations are the best way they can help. We’ve had a lot of donations in the last couple years amounting to well over $55,000. I can’t thank those individuals enough. Right now, I’d like to focus on this year, and a couple lifetime members who are really making a difference. Terry Presley has made a $600 donation to kick off our “make a payment” fundraising effort, and Gary Engelhardt has put up another thousand-dollar donation as a challenge to our life members to renew their life membership in support of our club. This is not the first donation for either of these club members. I hope many of you follow suit and join in their dedication to our sport and club. Both of these fundraising initiatives will be followed up by a letter from Anne Horgan who will soon be detailing these new fundraising activities. Please don’t forget the TTT 200 fundraiser started when we first purchased the Burnside property. Get your name permanently logged in Tree Topper history and donate to the TTT 200; all donations go strictly to the Burnside Paragliding Launch initiative. You can find details on our website.

I hope all our lives return to a more normal time, but I am aware that this might not be soon. Use your best judgment when making decisions to come and visit us. Consider the safety of our community, our club members and yourself while making your plans. As always, I look forward to your visit and getting to meet each and every one of our members and hopefully getting to share some of the best flying in the country with you.

Thank you for being a Tree Topper Member and best regards,

Mark Dunn
President, Tennessee Tree Toppers