Recipient: Cathie Parrott
The Florida Scenic Highways Program is delighted to announce that this year’s Garry Balogh Inspiring Excellence Award goes to Cathie Parrott, a longtime leading advocate of the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway.
This is the highest honor the program confers, and it is always a challenge to select someone because the byway community is filled with remarkable people. The upside is that every year there is a hearty celebration of a great byway champion!
Cathie Parrott speaks at the 2019 Florida Scenic Highways Program Statewide Meeting
Adrian Andrews, Chair of the byway, nominated Ms. Parrott, a past chair and a constant leader in the organization for the last 15 years. This blog post is based on information provided by Mr. Andrews’ extensive letter of recommendation.
Like many who are nominated for this award, Cathie has worn many hats, including: Grants Coordinator, Chair, secretary, liaison to FDOT, the towns, and to other partners, author of byway newsletters, and as a meeting scheduler. These duties are substantial, but Cathie’s true significance to her byway can be best appreciated by the list of specific projects in which she has assumed a leadership role:
Preservation of the Oak/Magnolia Tree Canopy on SR 16
The SR 16’s Tree Canopy planted over 100 years ago by J.C. Penney and family is the key feature highlighted along this byway.
Its preservation is part of the byway’s goals, and Cathie represents the byway in influencing the work of the city maintenance crews. Earlier this year, after Cathie’s years of lobbying local officials, an ordinance was passed to help preserve the tree canopy throughout the town of Penney Farms.
- Sidewalks along SR 16 – Advocating for this critical improvement by adding it to the Corridor Management Plan (CMP) and working with county and city to accomplish this;
- Byway Mentor – Connecting to the William Bartram Scenic and Historic Highway group to mentor leadership in organizational sustainability issues, partnership opportunities, and available grant opportunities;
- Community Upgrades – Cathie has worked tirelessly to identify the needs, to seek funding, and to support project implementation in her byway’s community. These projects include park funding, pavilions, playground equipment, walkway beautification, benches, and having an abandoned waste facility removed; and,
- First Coast Expressway – Residents in the Town of Penney Farms were concerned about the potential impact of the construction of the outer beltway around Jacksonville. Cathie made sure the community was in conversation with FDOT, and ensured that FDOT updates the community. The beltway work is anticipated to have a minimal impact on the community.
Cathie Parrott is third from the right in this ribbon-cutting from 2012.
Innovative and Inspirational
The following examples show Cathie’s willingness to “step out of the box” for her community. Both are consistent with the byway’s mission to partner and advance the history and heritage of the byway community:
Rehabilitation of the Fire Station into a Historical Museum
Cathie was one of the primary visionaries charged with the conversion of an unused local fire station along the byway into a home for the Town’s Historical Museum. She was involved in concept development, liaison with Town/County, and helped Penney Farms to receive a $30,000 grant from Clay County to support the renovation of the historic building. The museum plans a grand opening this year.
J.C. Penney 150-year Anniversary Postage Stamp
Cathie chairs a committee working on an application to issue a commemorative postage stamp honoring J.C. Penney’s 150th birthday. In 2025, the stamp would recognize his lifelong philanthropic work. She reached out to other significant places in his life, in order to partner in the effort.
Cathie Parrott, Deb Miller and Georgia Turner enjoy a tour of Cassadaga, in conjunction with the 2018 Florida Scenic Highways Statewide Meeting.
Implementing the Byway Mission
Cathie has always been focused on the byway’s organization, goals, and 5-year work plan. She has always been in sync with the byway vision. Her focus on the broader community is shown in the projects listed above. It is challenging for grassroots organizations to meet their goals, but Cathie has always been a pacesetter, and up to the challenge. Below are a few examples:
Cathie worked to develop a tree ordinance that looked to the future, and assisted in having the Town of Penney Farms designated at “Tree City” to better recognize the value of this aesthetic amenity in attracting visitors and residents long into the future. A mature tree canopy is right in line with a good “visitor experience,” so important for byways.
Community Opinion Survey
Cathie partnered with the Town of Penney Farms and the Northeast Florida Regional Council to obtain funding for an opinion survey of the community residents. The survey was to guide planning agencies on development goals for the future, and recently served to guide the byway organization’s updated management plan.
Byway Management Plan Update
In 2019, Cathie worked with FDOT to conduct community focus group meetings to provide public input on the byway organization’s goals and create an updated 5-year plan, which is currently followed. Thanks to her efforts, the J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway has ensured that its mission and goals are synchronized with their community.
Cathie understands the relationship between a positive visitor experience and the economic impact a designated byway can have on the region encompassing it. A couple of examples help bring out her role in promoting the byway:
Penney Farms Historic 5k Run
One of only a handful of annual byway-sponsored events, Cathie was both instrumental in the original planning and implementation, and created a participant survey to better this event each year. Proceeds from the run benefit byway programs and projects that preserve the byway’s community sites.
Cathie recently identified a local business willing to assist in ramping up the byway organization’s presence online. The effort is now underway in order to update the website, enhance Facebook presence, and to have utilization of apps like NextDoor.
Cathie Parrott presenting at the 2018 Florida Scenic Highways Program Statewide Meeting
Influence and Effectiveness:
Lasting impact on the Scenic Byway community
While Cathie’s primary focus is her byway and community, she has also supported other byway organizations across the state. She has presented talks on sustainability and grant funding, most recently at the FDOT District Five byway community workshop, whose main participants were fellow byway leaders. Cathie has been recognized for years as an expert in advancing a byway’s mission.
Cathie is beloved in the byway community and treasured by those lucky enough to work alongside her for J.C. Penney Memorial Scenic Highway. She has spent innumerable hours away from family, dedicated to unsung hard work in the stewardship of her byway and community. All the while, she always shines a light to inspire others to get involved.
We believe the impact of Cathie’s leadership in laying the foundation for the long-term success of the byway organization and her town will be forever remembered by Penney Farms, Clay County, and the State of Florida.
As the 2021 Recipient of the Garry Balogh Inspiring Excellence Award, Cathie will forever be honored and remembered by the Florida Scenic Highways Program!