From the basement to the courthouse: Edward Jordan promotes grassroots environmentalism

Published 11:33 am Monday, October 7, 2019

With new, state-wide recognition a few weeks ago, Keep Carter County Beautiful continues to cultivate its growing influence in Carter County and beyond. For chairman Edward Jordan, however, the plaque he received in Nashville pales in comparison to the view from his own backyard, a view he has dedicated his life to preserving.

Jordan grew up in North Carolina, but moved to Colorado after his time in the military.

“It was very clean there,” Jordan said. “You hardly saw any trash there.”

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When it came time to retire, he said he and his wife settled on Carter County after seeing how beautiful the landscape was.

“I always loved the mountains,” he said. “To my astonishment, we did not see any trash, and we looked for it.”

And so, towards the end of 2014, he and his wife moved to Carter County near Happy Valley High School.

However, when they officially finished the move in January 2015, the difference in what he saw once he moved as opposed to when they visited was staggering.

“All I saw was garbage,” Jordan said. “It was really bad.”

In Colorado, Jordan worked in construction sites for new homes, and said he worked diligently to keep his work sites as clean as possible, a strong work ethic he said helped his work stand out from his competitors when it came time to sell the homes.

“My job site was immaculate,” Jordan said. “Who would you rather build your home?”

This mentality stuck with him to Carter County, leading to a fateful car ride with his wife down Milligan Highway. On that day, he decided to start doing something about a problem he said was killing the county’s beauty.

His first step was to write a letter to the editor in the Elizabethton Star newspaper, and shortly after, he started getting phone calls from equally concerned residents.

“I said we should meet at a local restaurant, Smokehouse BBQ Company,” he said. “We talked about a lot of different things.”

On that day in 2015, Carter County Proud first came into being.

CCP quickly went to work raising awareness of the problem and organizing ways to get actively involved in fixing it. Not only did they start addressing city and county officials to take action, but they also adopted Milligan Highway through the Tennessee Department of Transportation and started organizing cleanups.

“This trash and illegal dumping is impacting our environment greatly,” Jordan said. “It is killing some of the species.”

On top of that, he said such trash is an eye-sore. Just like his work sites, he said if all visitors and tourists see is garbage all over the road, the chances of them making return trips are slim.

To start, CCP began meeting in Jordan’s basement, but as the years went on and their efforts began bearing fruit, Jordan said it was time to become official. He wanted to be part of Keep America Beautiful. There were a few steps they needed to complete first.

“We needed a letter from the highest county authority,” Jordan said.

At the time, that was Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who Jordan said greatly supported their efforts.

Under a recommendation from Keep Tennessee Beautiful’s Executive Director Missy Marshall, Jordan went to the Elizabethton/Chamber of Commerce to ask to be under their umbrella as an organization.

“We were not asking for money,” Jordan said.

He said this was because that was how the majority of other local branches of Keep America Beautiful operated, so it made sense to do the same with CCP.

Jordan said the Chamber rejected his request to be under their umbrella as an organization not once, but twice.

Fortunately for Jordan’s aspirations, this setback was not a permanent roadblock.

“We were going to the county commission and city council in the meantime,” he said. “We needed $4,000 for our official application.”

He said the mayor wrote a letter of intent, the county voted in favor of giving $2,000 while the city of Elizabethton voted to give $1,000.

He said the application would have died if not for a $1,000 donation from Mitch Miller, with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership.

“Our application was approved a year ago last month,” Jordan said.

With that, Keep Carter County Beautiful was born.

KCCB is constantly working on raising awareness, promoting cleanups when trash dumps occur and educating the community on why preserving the environment is important.

“Every day, you should do one thing to better the environment,” he said. “When you see ducks with Coke tabs on their feet and they die, when you find the Tennessee River is the most polluted river in the world, […] that should wake anybody up.”

Gone are the days of meeting in Jordan’s basement or in a local restaurant. KCCB meets monthly at the county courthouse, and their board features city council member Mike Simerly and county commissioners Ross Garland and Ginger Holdren. The organization regularly partners with other organizations like the National Forestry Service, Carter County Drug Prevention, Benny Lyons with the Landfill and Recycling Center and more.

“There are a lot more people that care,” he said. “It is a few messing it up for all of us.”

What they are messing up, he said, is a natural resource no other county can boast, one he sees every day out his back porch: the rolling hills and mountains of Carter County, filled with trees, rivers and wildlife who also claim the region as their home.

“We have a diamond, and it is not in the rough,” Jordan said.