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Citizens ask Townsend commissioners to curb "love locks" on swinging bridges

Locks may be for love, but Townsend’s government is not about to let their local bridges suffer for a romantic tradition.

During a meeting on Tuesday, commissioners discussed a small issue hampering the Dark Island swinging bridge: padlocks. People have been locking them onto the bridge’s fencing and not leaving the key behind to remove them.

The practice may link back to a bridge in Paris, France, where locks were so numerous on one bridge, it began to collapse under the weight.

As quickly as they have been locked on, police, bridge repair workers and even residents have been taking the locks off.

But to no effective avail.

The issue has burdened the town's iconic landmarks for several years, and while it doesn’t necessarily have a negative affect on them, some residents who care about the bridge’s image are concerned.

Pat Jenkins lives near the bridge and he addressed commissioners near the end of their meeting.

“Over the past year, it’s gotten quite noticeable that visitors think putting padlocks on the bridge is a cool thing to do,” Jenkins said during the meeting. “Is it enough to cause a weight issue? No.”

But he said he and others have been traveling down to the bridge to cut off locks and throw them away because it just looks ugly.

“I don’t know how you could prevent it except by telling people not to do it,” Jenkins said.

Commissioner Becky Headrick suggested the possibility of putting some sort of fine netting over the fencing currently in place.

Police Chief Kevin Condee said police also have been cutting the locks off and throwing them away.

“Here’s the thing,” he said to Jenkins during the meeting. “It wouldn’t constitute a vandalism. It might stretch a littering charge.”

Condee joked that the plan had been to cut the locks off and sell them as a source of revenue for the city, but followed the quip by saying the city will try to keep up with the issue.

Furthermore, Condee said that putting out the word on social media, letting visitors and residents alike know the locks were prohibited, also would help. He also proposed figuring out the verbiage for signs to put on either end of the bridge, telling people the “love locks” were not allowed.

Commissioners liked the idea and Commissioner Michael Talley proposed the city take action and get the signs created and put up.

“I don’t know if it’s considered to be a legal offense,” Jenkins told commissioners. “And I don’t know how other people feel, but we go down there on Sunday evenings quite often and cut locks off of there.”

Jenkins has appeared in several public meetings to advocate for the upkeep of the town’s bridges, which have recently fallen into disrepair and closed at different points.

The Dark Island bridge near the town’s center was recently repaired after issues related to neglect and potential safety concerns shut it down.

Today, the bridge is open and populated with both pedestrians and a smattering of locks. Jenkins — who lives four doors down from the bridge — said if various parties didn’t take the time to remove them, there would be hundreds. He said the matter has gotten “out of control” over the past two years.

“Really it’s an aesthetic thing,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

The only other swinging bridge in the area, commonly known as the Kinzel Springs swinging bridge, is currently under repair after its own years of neglect and may open as soon as the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hyde Farms is agribusiness on display

Old McDonald never imagined what a modern farmer has to know. Sure, Hyde Farms in Greenback has a moo moo here, an oink oink there, a quack quack here, a baa baa there, a cluck cluck here and maybe even an E-I-E-I-O when school kids visit on field trips.

But today’s farms need more. East Tennessee is no place for a Midwestern-style megafarm. Amber waves of grain don’t stretch to the horizon. No foothills are harvested by doodadded-out combines that can cost upwards of $600,000.

In these parts agriculture is about family farms, not corporate food chains. Sharecropping, sure. Shareholders, not so much.

Hyde Farms sets on 115 acres off U.S. 411 S. in Greenback, 12 miles past the Maryville Walmart into Loudon County. It’s a full-time operating farm with a produce stand and decorated Thursday for the season, especially with pumpkins from the patch where customers can pick their own from the vine for $5. In spring they pick strawberries.

What it lacks in size compared to farms in America’s breadbasket, it makes up for in diversity. Mitchell Hyde calls it agribusiness. He owns it, he can tell it:

“We raise our own pork and beef here on the farm and we sell it out the door here too. It’s all fresh. No anabolic steroids or hormones. We do have a corn maze and playground equipment area. We’ve got sand piles and we’ve got a big corn pit the kids can play in,” Hyde says.

The pit is like a giant sandbox filled with kernels of corn.

“They like it probably as well as anything. Then we’ve got a petting barn over here with animals in it. We’ve got sheep, cows, pigs. We’ve got a pig race for the kids to come and see. We do hay rides. The hay ride will take you to the cotton patch and the corn maze, concession stand and the playground area and a pavilion that we use for a picnic area. A chicken house over here and ducks and several animals are part of the farm here.”

And they’re off!

Hyde’s speaking inside the produce stand. In a few minutes he’ll be out in the field, a big playground really, asking school kids which pig they want to cheer for as the three contestants, with logo kerchiefs around their necks to indicate their namesake, prepare to race around the pig race course.

“Who’s for Superman!” Hands go up. “Who’s for Batman!” More hands. “Who’s for Captain America!” Batman pig seems to be the favorite of sixth-graders from Mountain View Elementary School in Etowah at the farm on a field trip. Winner by a pig’s snout.

It’s all in a day’s work for Hyde, whose two phones keep bleeping as he talks. He takes a few calls, answers others later. Not only does he own Hyde Farms, he also owns Hyde Construction Co. LLC, which does new residential construction and restoration and the same for commercial. He was general contractor for construction of his church, First Apostolic Church of Maryville.

Self-starting farmer

Hyde is a first-generation farmer. Started at age 15 in Tellico Plains when he was in a family of nine children. He didn’t live on a farm but next to one and he took it up.

“I’d buy calves from a dairy, 3-day-old calves, and raise them up. Then I bought me a cow to help nurse ’em and bought some pigs and just keep grown’, ya know. Nobody helped me. Nobody handed me nothin’.”

By age 17 he was married, had his own place and was raising a family. Forty years later his grandchildren run around his Greenback farm as his daughter, Bailee Elliott, runs the produce store.

Where’s the pork

For all the crops and produce, it’s the meats that Hyde hypes, especially the pork chops and sausage.

“Anything you buy in the store is not as fresh and all-natural. You can’t find good meat that’s not got some antibiotics or steroids in it. You don’t know where they raised it and what they’ve fed it. All my animals that I sell, my pork and beef, was raised here on the farm and my guys take care of it and know exactly what is fed and how it’s processed,” Hyde says.

He accepts a good-natured jibe about being the epitome of the term “working man.”

“I think I’ve got that down pat. Yep, maybe way too much sometimes.”

The full-fledged farm and the construction business keeps him busy, but it’s been good for his family, Hyde says. His daughter says she wants to learn everything her dad can teach her and she wants to continue the farm. But Hyde knows it’s not easy.

“I’ve been in business, since 1989, in different kinds of businesses, and farming’s the toughest I’ve ever been in. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the prices. The seasons we can’t control. It’s a tough business to be in,” Hyde said.

Despite all that: “It’s a good family lifestyle. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.”

For more information call 423-667-6981 or visit www.hydefarms.net.