DENSO EcoPark's 1st phase opens

29 Apr 2016

DENSO Manufacturing Athens Tennessee creates opportunities both inside and outside its plant.
On Wednesday, the Athens industry officially unveiled the DENSO EcoPark, located adjacent to the plant on Private Brand Way near Midlab, Inc. A grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting marked the completion of the park's first phase of development.
The 11.5-acre EcoPark creates a safe place for the entire community to walk, learn and be immersed in nature. The idea originated from a business trip Shawn Bryant, DENSO's manager of Safety, Health and Environment, took to Japan in 2012, where DENSO has a similar concept at one of its plants.
"It's a place where their associates can embrace nature," said Bryant. "It really opened my eyes to how cool it would be to have an outdoor classroom or learning environment that meets the needs of the community, but also meets the needs of what DENSO is trying to do with what we call Eco Vision and preserving the planet, which is one of our philosophies."
Upon his return from Japan, Bryant contacted Athens Public Works Director Shawn Lindsey and the two collaborated on ideas for a local EcoPark. In late 2013, Lindsey presented these ideas to DENSO and, less than a year later, DENSO forged a partnership with the City of Athens to build the park.
"From the roots of Japan to East Tennessee and Athens, we have this EcoPark," said Bryant.
With the effective completion of the first phase of park development, the park now boasts a walking trail, fruit orchard, 3,300 freshly planted trees and 1,000 East Tennessee tulips. Also nearing completion is a Japanese-style pavilion under which Wednesday's ceremony was held.
The McMinn County Economic Development Authority donated the property where the EcoPark is located.
"This site was perfect because, basically, the whole site is a wetland," said Lindsey. "There was nothing else we could do with the site, so this is a great purpose."
Over the last year, a dedicated group of volunteers - many of whom are DENSO employees - worked to clear the land and begin to develop park features.
"It's been really satisfying working with DENSO," said Lindsey. "There's a couple of traits (the employees) all have in common: They're extremely hard working, they take their role in benefitting the world around them very seriously and they're very committed and creative people."
DENSO's neighbor industry, Midlab, joined onto the project and donated new picnic tables made of 100-percent recycled plastic for the park.
Lindsey gave an overview of what the community should expect in the next two phases of park development.
Plans are under way to develop a natural swimming pool with native fish and a surrounding beach area near the walking trail.
Another element yet to be developed is an all-green parking lot similar to the one located at the Athens-McMinn Family YMCA.
A 15-kilowatt solar array will be constructed within the next two phases. The power generated will be used on site, with any unused power being sold for to pay for future development.
Educational signs will continue to be added along the walking trail to identify trees and plant life. Guests can use their smartphones to scan QR codes on the signs to obtain more information about the park's natural features. School groups are expected to begin touring the park later this year.
Earth-sheltered restrooms and an alternative fuel picnic area that utilizes solar cookers are also part of future plans.
Eventually, all the area industries, restaurants and the future Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Business Innovation (CAMBI) will be interconnected to the EcoPark with ELF (Electric Light Fun) alternative vehicles to transport employees and other guests from place to place.
"It's basically a 'Flintstone' car," said Lindsey. "It's a car you pedal and they're also run by solar arrays. You can take these things anywhere you'd take a bicycle."
Lindsey would like industries to consider holding meetings at the EcoPark.
"It is so stress relieving just to get out of the office, even for 20 or 30 minutes," he said. "Take a walk or come to this pavilion and have a meeting."
The project architect is Studio Four Design of Knoxville, which focused its efforts on the Japanese-themed elements including the pavilion.
"We gave them some impossible things to do and they did it," said Lindsey.
Phase Two is expected to be complete late this year and Phase Three should be finished by late-2017. As development continues, the park will be open for all to visit.
"It's a great partnership with DENSO to maintain and use the park, but it is open to the public," said Lindsey. "DENSO wanted it to be open for everyone."