Toward An Optimum System of State Parks

I was shopping in the Hillsboro Village area last week ( First week of May 2000) and encountered a sign in a shop window which read SOSPARKS Save our State Parks. The sign also gave a web address: SOSPARKS.ORG.

I knew, of course, that this sign was a response to the proposed “closure” of certain Parks as a budget move by the Department of Conservation and Environment. I had seen photographer John Netherton interviewed on TV recently discussing the same subject. In fact many of my friends have asked me for my opinion on this subject.

Well, it is not simple. The history of the development/ acquisition of certain Tennessee State Parks is not a pretty picture. While I have never seen a Park that I did not like, the list of Parks cited for ” closure” ( which means transfer out of state hands) contains at least three Parks which should never have been part of the State Park System. The list also includes others which simply do not require State management. Unfortunately, the list contains a couple of areas which I would not have included.

The State, in my considered opinion, has a need for the development of several new major State Parks to meet the needs of our growing population. The State will be constricted in responding to this growing demand unless it is permitted to prune the system of several Parks which could be considered peripheral. It is simply not practical, nor is it necessary , for the State to carry the keys around at every nice park. This does not mean that we simply walk away or turn the property over to developers. We find alternatives.

The Indian Mountain State Camping Park in Jellico is a nice little place. It is, in fact, a reclaimed strip mine. That is a good thing. We need places to demonstrate that strip mine areas can be reclaimed and can be useful again. This Park, however, is of little statewide significance. Recently the State has been forced to build a swimming pool at the park. This goes to show why the park is there at all…to provide local recreation services which the local government of the area has negligently not provided. The fact is that visitors from outside the local area are rare. This Park should be operated by the City of Jellico, under contract with the State.

The Bledsoe Creek Campground on Old Hickory Lake near Gallatin, is another area of minimal statewide significance. It basically provides campground sites in an area which has an overabundance of such facilities. The US Army Corps of Engineers has numerous campgrounds within a stones through of Bledsoe Creek. I suspect that we are there because the Corps gave the State the land for free. This area should be mothballed.

The House Mountain State Park, in Knox County is an area which came to be part of the State Park System in spite of the efforts of at least two State Park Directors to avoid its’ acquisition and management by the State. In House Mountain we have an example of a not-for profit organization (the Trust for Public Land), not understanding what is meant by the word NO. This is an area which is worthy of protection. However there and a myriad of ways to protect a piece of land short of State ownership. This area should be turned over to Knox County.

The Dunbar Cave State Park is certainly an example of an area of clear statewide interest. There are archeological resources buried under the floor of the cave entrance. The cave itself in a unique geological feature as well a habitat for bats. The cave entrance was used for many years as a venue for dances and social gathering (promoted by Roy Accuff). The park is located directly adjacent to the municipal golf course managed by the Clarksville Department of Parks and Recreation. The City of Clarksville has been interested in managing the Dunbar Cave area for times going back to at least 1986. And, they are perfectly capable of managing the Park in an acceptable manner. This area should be managed by the City of Clarksville under contract with the State.

Another Park, not on the list of “closures”, should be. Panther Creek State Park in Morristown came into the system due to the relentless promotion of the Hamblen County Chamber of Commerce. It is virtually nothing but a local park. The County of Hamblen together with the City of Morristown is perfectly capable of managing this area.

I think it is unfortunate that the list contains the Burgess Falls State Natural Area. This is truly an amazing natural feature. It costs very little to maintain and there is not a clear alternative to state management of the area ( no capable Local Parks and Recreation Agency exists in the locale).

Similarly, Big Hill Pond State Park in McNairy County is a remote area which is not intensively developed. It presents the type of place which is representative of our West Tennessee natural landscape. There is no apparent alternative manager of this area. I hope that the State can bring active management to this area again in the near future.

I would encourage the environmental advocacy community to be thoughtful in there reaction to the States cutback proposal. This is not an issue which Parks “pay for themselves” and which ones do not. We need to be considering what the optimum state park system should be and working toward that goal. Trimming here and there is properly a part of working toward an optimum system. Hopefully, in better economic times, we can look toward an expanded system of quality parks.