Growing Henry Horton State Park

From camping and lodging to dining and golf, the attractions at Henry Horton State Park, located in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, have grown since its founding. The park has seen seasons of wax and seasons of wane, but continued growth—a new kind of growth—is top-of-mind for the parkâ€TMs staff.

“Even though we live in a rural area, most people around here donâ€TMt have gardens,” says Mark Matzkiw, conservation worker at Henry Horton. “[This park] used to be a farm, and weâ€TMd like to see it become a fully functioning farm again.”

Raised on a Tennessee farm himself, earning a degree in agriculture from MTSU, and now having worked in Tennesseeâ€TMs state parks for seven years, Matzkiw certainly knows something about cultivation and conservation. While he has a grand vision for the future, though, heâ€TMs modest enough to know that much difficult work needs doing in the present—lots of sowing before the reaping.

To that end, Matzkiw oversees a quickly expanding community garden on Henry Hortonâ€TMs grounds. In this common space, locals grow vegetables and herbs and share them with one another.

The community garden has quadrupled in size since last year, and itâ€TMs become an educational forum for students taking field trips to learn about gardening and for younger members of the community to learn from their older neighbors. One local man in his seventies, for example, regularly imparts his gardening wisdom to a local third-grader. Both have plots in the garden.

Another intriguing feature of Henry Horton is its “garden-to-table garden.” With an expected crop of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, spinach, and more, the park uses whatâ€TMs grown here in season to stock its restaurant. Last year, Matzkiw and other staff members raised about 600 tomatoes, and this year, they need to double the supply.

Ryan Jenkins, a park ranger at Henry Horton who dove into these projects with Matzkiw, calls these efforts collectively, “the perfect storm.” Whatâ€TMs happening at the park is exciting, but upkeep isnâ€TMt easy.

“Besides funding, personnel is our biggest challenge,” Jenkins notes. While the community is stepping in to help—about 100 students are stopping by in a couple weeks—Matzkiw and Jenkins are always looking for “many hands” to help lighten the workload.

Henry Horton State Park is a model for the ways in which communities can work together toward common goals. Itâ€TMs about people and itâ€TMs about planting, health and education. Itâ€TMs about hard work, and itâ€TMs about reward. No, Henry Horton isnâ€TMt utopia, but it is a place thatâ€TMs doing something right.

By Eric D.S. Dorman
To find out how you can help, e-mail Mark Matzkiw at mark.matzkiw@tn.gov or Ryan Jenkins at ryan.jenkins@tn.gov. You can also find Henry Horton State Park online at tnstateparks.com/parks/about/henry-horton.