For decades, Oak Grove has been the red-headed stepchild of Christian County. Mama Fort Campbell always let some of her soldiers stay with Oak Grove, but that was little enough, and she was busy making doe-eyes at Clarksville. Papa Christian County loved her, sure, but not as much as he loved his pride and joy Hopkinsville.
Ignored, stereotyped, and oft-forgotten, Oak Grove wasn’t anybody’s destination. Some high profile criminal cases and allegedly corrupt government employees didn’t help. To put it bluntly, Oak Grove was a place you leave.
Specifically, it’s a place soldiers leave when they get assigned somewhere else. Because of that, most of the population is transient. Beyond making election participation numbers look absolutely ghastly, it means that not many people even inside Oak Grove really care much about it.
No, these aren’t bad people. But it’s hard to care much, hard to invest much, in a community you’re going to have to leave anyway.
So Oak Grove’s full-time residents were left wanting. Some local efforts have made headway. I think the folks at OG Tourism deserve every cent they get. But festivals don’t bring in people year-round, and they certainly don’t bring new jobs, new residents.
Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of help from outside, either. The county seat is Hopkinsville. The county government is in Hopkinsville. Most of the buildings and efforts the county has are also interests of Hopkinsville. Please note there is a Hopkinsville-Christian County Library, a Hopkinsville-Christian County Airport, and museum.
There are no Oak Grove-Christian County buildings. Heck, there isn’t even a school in Oak Grove. Whatever reasons they had, and they may be great ones, past Christian County school boards have elected to build schools everywhere but. They built one in a field next to a cemetery in Pembroke, home of fewer than a thousand souls. They built one in Herndon, which is so small that it’s not even an incorporated community. That’s just what that area is called.
If you’re generous, Fort Campbell can be credited with Oak Grove’s existence. But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. Most of Fort Campbell’s gates open directly into Oak Grove, yet the vast majority of its soldiers head to Clarksville to live, to spend money. Pretty soon Clarksville is going to be the fourth-largest city in Tennessee, with no small contribution from soldiers who move there, and choose to retire there. Again, no one’s fault. There’s more to do in Clarksville, more attractions, arguably better living. If anything, blame Kentucky, blame Christian County, blame Oak Grove, for not doing more when it had a better chance of competing for those soldiers.
I’m not assigning blame, but stating facts. Oak Grove was left in third place, behind even Hopkinsville, which had a brief history of actively shunning soldiers. Heck, Clarksville overshadows Oak Grove so badly that the headliner at the first Oak Grove Spring into Summer festival I attended told everyone he was happy to be in Clarksville, Tennessee.
So the town on the border got the scraps from everyone. For a long time, that seemed all it would ever get. No disrespect to the fine people in Christian County government or Fort Campbell. Deep down, even if they offer good reasons, this is the truth.
Then Kentucky’s world-renowned horse racing industry came calling. Just like that, there’s real progress being made in a town that’s been more stagnant than the water always flooding that field next to city hall (by the way, if you’re interested, Lake Oak Grove is for sale if you have $1M).
Churchill Downs and Keeneland have committed to investing more than $150 million, and the ramifications of that investment, should their track and wagering facilities prove successful, will only lead to more investments.
At the groundbreaking of the new facilities, wouldn’t you know it, mom and dad were all of a sudden really interested in little old Oak Grove. Heck, big sibling Hoptown even sent some of its representatives. For once, Clarksville had something to be jealous of.
Oak Grove isn’t on the sideline anymore, it’s winning itself a beauty contest.
So naturally the whole thing was met with disgust and calls for it to go away immediately. Everyone from state officials who represent Oak Grove but rarely step foot in it, to concerned church officials in Hopkinsville and some Oak Grove Facebook residents decried it, predicting dire consequences from homelessness to a rise in crime, saying the track is just taking advantage of our poor soldiers. Some of the locals just want a place for their kids to play, why didn’t they bring in a park instead of this immoral racing facility?
It’s time to suck it up. Everyone wants progress, but the detractors never seem satisfied with the type of progress on the table. There aren’t any other offers to take. It’s this, or it’s nothing.
No, it’s not all positive. Some people will fall prey to addiction, maybe crime goes up. Whatever the negative consequences, there’s no way they can stack up to the good being done for the community. Nothing is worse than idle stagnation, the spinning of tires. Oak Grove has been stuck in the mud for decades. It gets priority treatment from no one and nothing.
This is the city’s biggest moment in its long history. It represents a chance to grow, to do more for OG citizens, to finally stop being the stepchild, the laughingstock, the place people just drive through. It can have an identity, and one that has nothing to do with undercover prostitutes being murdered.
It can be a place where people go, for maybe the first time, on purpose. It can be a community where new jobs come in, followed by new housing, new infrastructure, and maybe even a park or two (for the record, Wade’s Way Park exists, and it’s just fine, but please tell your children to stop destroying it, thanks). The possibilities, the future doors this development unlocks, are plentiful.
But if anything good is coming for Oak Grove, it all starts here. I’m begging you, don’t look this gift horse in the mouth.
JESSE JONES is the editor of The Eagle Post, a member of Paxton Media Group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.