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Something Special About Small-Stream Smallies

Big lakes and large rivers aren’t the only habitat for brawny bronzebacks

Anglers are notoriously tight-lipped about where they go to rip fish lips. And that’s especially true among those serious about stalking skinny waters in search of fat bass.

But one of the great things about Middle Tennessee and the Upper Cumberland is that opportunities abound around here for escaping the mechanized weekend multitudes by sequestering yourself on backwoods bodies of moving water. There’s no shortage of covert creeks, secluded streams and secret side-channels that house hidden lairs holding lunker smallmouths.

Fervent fly fishermen like Sawyer Campbell are, of course, forever in thrall to the thrill of landing a big wily trout on an isolated run of fast-flowing river. Campbell, a Tennessee Tech grad, is Outdoor Experience of Cookeville’s floor manager and in-house fly shop tutor. But when he wants to steer clear of the Caney Fork’s flailing fleets of summer pleasure-floaters — or if an overnight excursion to East Tennessee’s South Holston River isn’t feasible — he likes to trek out to undisclosed stretches of tributaries feeding the Cumberland River in search of the copper-tinted kings of lower-elevation creeks and streams.

“It really doesn’t get much better than this,” Campbell remarks as he admires yet another plump, vermillion-eyed smallie he’s wrestled to submission on his 6-weight fly rod somewhere deep in the Roaring River watershed.

Creek-bass angling in the Upper Cumberland offers opportunities to connect with fish both in numbers and for size. That’s a pretty seductive win-win proposition for any fanatical sport fisherman, says Campbell, who’s always game to gab about fly-angling pursuits with customers browsing in the store. One of his specialty topics is discussing tips and tactics with trout anglers interested in crossing over into the realm of bass-catching.

Always Ready to Rumble

Anybody who’s ever caught a smallmouth will tell you they’re among the fightingest fish, pound for pound, of any inland North American warmer-water species. In moving currents, the initial hookup and subsequent thrashing fracas is especially vigorous.

“If you’ve caught smallmouth on lakes before, then you will understand,” said JG Auman of Mt. Juliet-based Tennessee Moving Waters Guide Service (tnmovingwaters.com). “I’d say these stream fish are on average twice as strong as a reservoir smallmouth.”

Auman and his business partner, Nick Adams, guide almost exclusively in Middle Tennessee on, as their name denotes, moving waters. One of their sought-after talents is putting customers — typically using traditional spinning rods — on secret holes in unfrequented streams that support large smallmouth.

When Auman and Adams head out for a day on the water, they ask clients if they’re looking to catch lots of fish, or just interested in targeting the big ones. If it’s the later, wielding a rod and line with some heft is imperative.

Big Fish Require Bigger Tackle

Battling a bruising five-pound smallmouth in swift current is probably a losing proposition with light gear and tackle, Auman said.

JG Auman of TN Moving Waters

“We do tend to use heavier tackle than what people often associate with stream fishing, because we often try and target trophy fish,” he said. “They will either break the rod off or break off the line when they pull it up under a tree or rock.”

Auman, who also works as an aquatic biologist for the Nashville Zoo, said a creek smallmouth that’s 20 inches long is probably 15-20 years old. “It knows every rock, every tree, every branch in its home,” he said. “And when you hook it, those are the places it’s going. You are not going to be able to stop them if you’re tackle is too light — you just aren’t going to keep them out of the cover. We learned that from experience long ago.”

In 2015 Adams and Auman were featured on Chad Hoover’s popular Youtube channel, KayakBassinTV. Hoover, who also lives in Middle Tennessee, is usually partial to chasing largemouth. But in the episode with the TMW crew, he acknowledged there’s little not to love about paddling for smallmouth on the region’s scenic rivers and creeks.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t done as much (smallmouth fishing) for the show — primarily, because I’m selfish,” Hoover said. “I really like to keep these smallmouth places to myself.”

Destinations Classified 

Auman said he gets a fair number of people calling him up not so much looking to book an outing, but just “fishing for stream names.” But he’s a devoted practitioner of the fisherman’s code of secrecy, especially on the matter of small-stream smallmouth fishing.

Holes that hold big fish will fizzle in a hurry if they get publicized, he said.

Not only doesn’t Moving Waters give out stream names, but some of their highly classified hotspots are designated for tourists only. “If I have clients that are local, I take them to streams that are somewhat known,” he said. “Then I have others that I fish only with out-of-town clients, because I know they aren’t going to tell people or come back later. In this day and age of social media, all it takes is one person to get on a Facebook page that has 5,000 members and start giving out creek names, and it’s ruined.”

All the same, Auman encourages anglers to get out and explore for their own patches of highly productive moving bass waters. Most anybody can be successful if they just scout around and study some maps, he said.

“You want to find streams that flow directly into larger bodies of water — that’s the best way that I tell people to find good smallmouth streams,” he said. “If you can find a stream that is a direct tributary to the Cumberland River or the Caney Fork River, then those are the streams you are going to want to look for. You probably don’t want the streams that just feed into another little stream.”

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Medical Cost-Savings App Available for Free

Healthcare Bluebook seeks to empower patients to shop around, negotiate ‘fair prices’

A Nashville-based company that specializes in researching and comparing medical-care costs and rating quality-of-care outcomes is offering its services for free to Middle Tennessee residents.

“Health care is the one industry in which people make purchases without knowing the cost in advance,” says Jeffrey Rice, CEO of the price-transparency company called Healthcare Bluebook.

Often, even within the same general area, there are “huge differences between hospitals and other health care facilities for the exact same procedure,” said Rice, who is himself a doctor.

That needn’t be the case, he said. Healthcare Bluebook’s mission and function is to advance, in the company website’s words, a “simple, yet powerful idea: create fairness in the healthcare marketplace.”

American consumers obviously know how to shop for good deals on all manner of goods and services, yet when it comes to making health-care choices and obtaining medicines, they often just take what’s given to them without shopping around, said Rice, an editorial board for the American Journal of Medical Quality.

Healthcare Bluebook’s app works by crunching pricing information and service-quality assessments from a wide set of providers in regions around the country.

“We know that most hospitals perform most services, but they are not equally good at everything,” Rice wrote in an op-ed column for The Tennessean back in April. “Bluebook offers consumers information about quality of care that allows them to see hospital outcomes for the specific service they need. We combine this health-care quality information with cost information so that they can get the quality care they need at a price they can afford.”

Cost and quality-rating information is presented to the app’s users in easily understood color-coded grading and ranking schedules, giving patients and their families the ability to locate high-quality, lower-cost alternatives for medical treatment than what they might think are otherwise available.

Healthcare Bluebook also strengthens the patient-as-customer’s ability to successfully negotiate a “fair price” after the fact, if they feel overcharged, or when discussing payment arrangements with a care-provider’s billing department.

“We really like it, and a lot of people in the area really like it to help them get an objective price on medical procedures,” said Bob Gunter, CEO of Premier Diagnostic Imaging in Cookeville and Tennessee chapter president of the national Radiology Business Management Association.

If a medical services provider isn’t willing to negotiate a billing amount that’s in line with what Healthcare Bluebook has determined is the fair price for a procedure or service, “then you should probably go someplace else,” said Gunter.

A 2016 survey by the Kaiser Foundation, a national health policy analysis center, discovered that nearly 70 percent of patients sampled across the country reported substantial difficulty trying to find useful or binding estimates on prices for medical procedures ahead of time. And more than 65 percent who attempted to negotiate a bill-reduction with a care-provider afterward said their efforts failed.

Healthcare Bluebook helps patients deal with both issues, says the company’s marketing director, Greg Stielstra.

“This works for people who are insured as well as uninsured,” he said. “People mistakenly think the problem we must solve is getting everyone insurance so they can pay for overpriced health care. But what we ought to be doing is trying to solve the pricing of health care itself, which you can greatly reduce by making it more transparent.”

The lack of transparency in health-services pricing hasn’t just resulted in people paying more than they think they should. It also causes consumers to believe that market rates for health care services are higher than they actually are.

Health care need not be outlandishly overpriced, or prohibitively expensive, said Stielstra. To the contrary, Healthcare Bluebook shows that affordable options actually exist, and they’re usually not far away, he said.

Healthcare Bluebook has been available for free to Middle Tennessee residents since February. Stielstra said they typically market the premium app services to business owners, who in turn offer it as a free benefit to their employees.

Given that Nashville is “the health care capital of the nation,” said Stielstra, company officials want to see the app as widely available as possible here. They’ve determined that’s best achieved by offering it free to whoever wants it.

As a result, Stielstra hopes Nashville and the surrounding region will become “the most transparent in the nation in terms of price and quality.”

“Transparency is transformative,” he said.

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VIDEO: Condo Fire Aftermath

A fire suspected to have been sparked by lightning-strike early Monday caused extensive damage to Building H at Highland Cove Luxury Condominiums overlooking Center Hill Lake.

Crews had mostly extinguished the flames by 8 a.m.

The fire occurred about four miles south of Center Hill Dam just off Dale Ridge Road, Highway 96.

No one was reported injured in the blaze.

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New Statewide ‘Trout Management Plan’ in Draft Form

Anglers’ suggestions for improving fisheries welcome

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency is updating and revising the state’s comprehensive trout-management plan.

As part of the process, the agency is seeking public comments on a new draft blueprint that’s available for inspection on the department’s website.

The deadline for submitting commentary, criticisms and suggestions for agency officials to take under advisement is Aug. 4.

Authored by “a committee of TWRA’s coldwater fisheries specialists” and edited by trout biologist Jim Habera and statewide streams coordinator Brandon Simcox, the trout plan includes sections discussing the history and present-day health of the prized gamefish populations in Tennessee.

Beyond the high, free-flowing mountain streams of the Appalachians — the natural range of the state’s only native species, the eastern brook trout — Tennessee wasn’t home to wild-spawning trout prior to the last hundred years.

However, as a result of the numerous river-impoundment projects undertaken throughout the Tennessee Valley region, as well as an advancing understanding of trout-rearing and habitat-management techniques, the Volunteer State now contains a diverse selection of highly productive trout waters, both year-round and seasonal.

Some rivers, like the Caney Fork, Elk, South Holston and Watauga, consistently lure anglers from across the country and around the world seeking spectacular trout fishing against backdrops of magnificent scenery.

Hatchery stocking is typically relied upon for the maintenance of productive Tennessee trout fisheries. But some waters have, over time, become “naturalized through stocking,” and the fish now reproduce at sustainable or even above-optimal levels, as is the case with brown trout on the South Holston.

Biggest brook trout ever recorded in Tennessee caught below Center Hill Dam on April 1, 2016.

In spring of 2016, the Caney Fork produced a new state-record northern brook trout. The 4-pound, 12-ounce fish was reared at Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery. When caught on a live baitfish by Sasa Krezic of Nashville, the burly brookie measured just over 20 inches and tipped the scales at nearly a pound more than Tennessee’s previous record-setter, which was netted in 1973 on the Hiwassee River and weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces.

The three primary trout species stocked in Tennessee streams and lakes are brown, rainbow and brook. Lake trout are also released in a few select waters.

“Rainbow trout are the most abundant and widely distributed wild trout in Tennessee,” according to the TWRA plan. “Although native to Pacific drainages of the western us, rainbow trout became naturalized in many suitable Tennessee streams through the intensive stocking efforts that defined trout management during much of the twentieth century.”

Brown trout, traditionally native to Europe and Asia, are particularly suited to many Tennessee tailwaters and have thrived as a result of stocking.

“While not as widely distributed as rainbow or brook trout, brown trout can live longer (up to 12 years) and may attain larger sizes up to (25 inches or more),” the plan states. “They typically occur with rainbow trout, but are the predominant wild trout species in a few streams.”

The trout plan outlines goals, strategies, action items and public outreach objectives designed to guide TWRA’s management efforts over the coming years.

The net intention of the Trout Management Plan, as described in the 55-page document’s foreword, is to “provide guidance for the management of Tennessee’s trout fisheries given the current status of wild trout resources and hatchery trout production, as well as changing trout angler preferences and attitudes and new resource management issues.”

The basic mission of the TWRA trout program is to “provide a variety of quality trout angling opportunities that are compatible with Tennessee’s other aquatic species.”

The last time state fisheries officials updated their overall trout-management strategy was in 2006.

“There is no legal mandate or anything like that for us to do this, but we just feel there is value in looking a little further out for such a broad, high-scale planning effort,” said TWRA’s chief of state fisheries, Frank Fiss.

Although it isn’t necessarily written to address particular concerns related to specific water bodies, the statewide plan does speak to issues often on the minds of anglers who frequent trout-holding hot spots and honey holes.

Under “management goals” are sections that address habitat-protection initiatives and minimizing threats from introduced species and disease, as well as discussions on improving and, where appropriate, expanding angling opportunities.

The idea of “biosecurity” is a fundamental concern in the new plan, said Fiss.

Preventing new pathogens and invasive, destructive organisms from entering the state “has really come to the forefront,” said Fiss, a principal author of the 2006 trout plan.

“We were aware (ten years ago) of whirling disease and some of the other things that can be problematic, but at the time they were not as threatening to Tennessee as they are now,” Fiss said. “In just the last five years there’s been a heightened awareness among our staff. North Carolina had some issue with whirling disease, and we are constantly battling Asian carp and other invasive species, so we are just hyper-aware of problems that come with introduced species and pathogens. I would say that’s a new level of focus for us.”

The plan notes that TWRA and federal hatcheries that serve the region are committed to releasing only disease-free fish into the wild. The plan reiterates that trout-stocking in streams by private landowners remains illegal, unless done with TWRA’s assent.

Also discussed at length in the 2017 trout plan is how TWRA can better optimize the use of hatcheries to produce bigger and more abundant fish.

“Anglers obviously prefer to catch larger trout, thus TWRA should strive to stock fish that are at least 10 inches long,” the report says. Consistently hooking up with smallish hatchery trout “can detract from an angler’s fishing experience.”

Moreover, targeting particular streams for stocking even larger fish — like those grown to 14 inches or longer before release in the wild — could enhance angler satisfaction even more. “Catch rates may be reduced, but many anglers would prefer the opportunity to catch larger fish,” the plan’s authors suggest.

The trout plan also includes a section on expanding angling opportunities for people with physical disabilities, as well as youngsters.

“TWRA sponsors or hosts dozens of kids fishing day events across Tennessee,” the plan states. “Several are held at coldwater hatcheries (including Dale Hollow) or other locations where trout can be provided. They often provide kids with the opportunity to catch their first trout.”

Each of the management goals includes descriptions of objectives and problems that tend to confront execution of strategies.

For example, one of TWRA’s management goals is to “maintain a variety of trout fisheries.” The overarching aim, according to the plan, is balancing “a diverse public’s many different skill levels and definitions of quality.”

But a natural problem that invariably arises is “management that optimizes opportunities or satisfaction for one group may exclude or diminish satisfaction for other groups.”

Fiss said it’s helpful — especially when addressing points of contention or controversy among anglers and other stakeholders with respect to individual waters — to have a comprehensive stewardship-plan cataloging all the various aspects of trout management across Tennessee.

Numerous citizen groups and individuals are “very passionate when it comes to trout,” said Fiss. The management plan is “where people can get information so they kind of know where we are coming from,” he said.

Maintaining and improving public outreach is one strategy for attempting to address potentially discordant priorities among trout enthusiasts. The plan prescribes regular public opinion-seeking so as to hopefully “make sure TWRA’s management and trout angler preferences align as much as possible.”

The plan also provides a useful reference when dealing with federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which partners with the state on fish-stocking efforts, he said. About half the trout released in Tennessee come from federal hatcheries, and state-run hatcheries also receives federal funding, said Fiss.

According to the plan, trout production increased by 10 percent at TWRA hatcheries over the past ten years, mostly as a result of facility improvements at Erwin, Flintville and Buffalo Springs. However, agency trout managers believe that an additional 40,000 pounds of fish a year, beyond the 275,000 pounds that state-run hatcheries are currently rearing, would further enhance Tennessee’s angling outlook.

In the long run, that probably means bringing another hatchery on line. “TWRA would like to build a new facility, but this would cost about $18 million and — assuming funding becomes available — require several years to complete,” wrote the plan’s authors.

In a subsection on Tennessee’s tailwaters where trout are stocked, like below Center Hill Dam, the plan says that in past decades many rivers “were limited by poor water quality and inadequate flows.” That, in turn, compromised “trout growth and survival,” thus necessitating “higher stocking rates” just to “maintain angler catch rates.” A river’s production capacity for “quality-sized fish” is diminished by inadequate or oxygen-deficient water.

The plan commends federal dam operators for their willingness to pay closer attention to water flows and support building infrastructure improvements with an eye toward enhancing trout habitat.

“Installation of weirs and oxygen injection systems, establishment of minimum flows, and other efforts by TVA have greatly improved water quality below many of its dams particularly South Holston, Cherokee, and Norris,” the plan says. “Operational at Center Hill Dam by the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) have also greatly improved water quality on the Caney Fork, although further improvements there and at Dale Hollow (Obed River) would help improve these fisheries.”

To provide comments on the draft version of the Tennessee Trout Management Plan, email agency staff at TWRA.TroutComments@tn.gov, or write to the TWRA Fisheries Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204.

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Fare Well in Local Canning Competitions

Rule of thumb: Stick with the standards

Once something of a dying art, home canning has enjoyed a mini resurgence as more and more people rediscover the joys of country living. And county fairs are a great place to see what others in your community are putting in jars — and maybe, if you’re up for a challenge, seeing how your efforts stack up against the competition.

If you’re hesitant to try your hand at canning for fear of making a mistake – or making someone ill — think about taking a course in canning. Local county extension offices offer classes that walk a would-be home canner through the dos and don’t of food-preservation safety.

Also, the USDA publishes time-tested canning guidelines and recipes on a “Complete Guide to Home Canning” webpage that’s easy to find and follow.

Judging in the home canning arts category is no joke to Shelly Barnes, an agriculture extension officer in Wilson County. Food safety is the number one concern for canned goods, she said.

What judges like to see are entries that have clearly been properly processed in clean mason jars, with brand new lids and rings.

So, for example, a bright red jar of tomato sauce that has not been processed long enough is sure to be skipped in favor of a browner product. And if your jelly jars are sticky with jam, that is an indication that something went wrong in processing and it will not likely winning a ribbon.

In fact, Barnes said she’s not above refusing to award a blue ribbon if no entry is worthy of one.

The Competitor View

Tapatha Ray of Smithville knows a few things about blue ribbons. Last year she won an astounding 55 of them in the Dekalb County Fair.

Her farm sells produce at the farmers market on Saturdays. But what doesn’t sell is carefully preserved for winter use by her customers and family. When county fair time arrives, Tapatha chooses samples from her store to submit for judging.

Ray said that in her experience, what “doesn’t work” is getting too creative in canning competitions and coming up with odd concoction and mixtures that judges likely haven’t seen before.

“One year I added bright red peppers to my pickles and those jars were not chosen, probably because they were not your usual pickle,” said Mrs. Ray.

No Taste-Testing

It’s pretty obvious to anybody who’s tried them that home-canned foods taste better than their store-bought counterparts.

So it might seem a little strange that Tennessee fair judges don’t typically perform taste-tests on the contents of the jars they’re evaluating. Wilson County Fair’s Barnes said that’s because they have no way of knowing whether the submissions were in fact properly packed, processed and handled. And the equipment required to check for safety is expensive, she said.

In sum, if you want to make a winning impression at your local fair, choose your produce carefully, use proper mason jars, measure the “headspace” and make certain to follow established guidelines and conservative recipes.

Catching a judge’s eye in a good way often means signaling that you’re confident enough in your canning skills to put traditional simplicity to the competitive test.

Nicole Sauce is a homesteader, publisher, podcaster and local coffee roaster. Reach her at LivingFreeInTennessee.com.

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Life Crests on the Upper Cumberland

After climbing world’s highest mountain, local man gains appreciation for TN

For his 70th birthday last year, Tim “Bubba” Garrett of Buffalo Valley wanted to do something unique, in keeping with a tradition he’s developed over the years.

So the retired businessman and software engineer decided to climb Mt. Everest, the highest mountain on planet Earth.

He didn’t go all the way to the top. Just to the base camp, and then, for the heck of it, another thousand feet or so beyond that.

Mind you, that’s no small feat. It takes at least eight days just to trek up to the base camp, which is about 17,000 feet above sea level. That’s more than three thousand feet higher than anywhere in the continental United States, and nearly 11,000 feet above Tennessee’s highest point, Clingmans Dome. Climbers often spend several days at the base camp acclimating to the altitude before ascending Everest’s highest ridges.

Tim “Bubba” Garrett holds a photo of the Mt. Everest base camp in Southern Asia that he hiked to last fall for his 70th birthday.

Being determined as he was that Mt. Everest “wasn’t going to be the hill I died on,” Bubba said he took serious medical and training measures beforehand to prepare for the physically taxing journey.

He said avalanches are always a concern, and bad weather, but altitude sickness tends to be “the real killer.”

“People die going to base camp, because of the altitude,” he said. “There’s just no way to prepare for the altitude. It’s brutal. Just about everybody gets altitude sickness.”

In order to avoid the additional risk of food poisoning, he lived almost solely on energy bars the entire time he was on the mountain.

Bubba said October and November tend to be drier and warmer in the day, but it still gets cold after dark. “When night comes, you better have that down jacket on, cause the bottom falls out of it,” he said.

Past a certain point, “there’s nothing but rock,” Bubba said. So the accompanying yaks provide an essential source of warmth in the camp huts. “The only heat you got is burning the yak dung,” he said.

But while the yaks may be indispensable as pack-animals and fuel-providers, they aren’t particularly friendly, said Bubba. “One of the really dangerous things up there is, if you get near a drop-off, those yaks will push you off,” he said. “They tell you to watch out for the yaks. They’re mean and they’re big.”

Bubba’s camera became a yak-casualty after one of the brutes stepped on his bag.

As for day-to-day nourishment, Bubba said he lived on pretty much solely on energy bars the whole time because the last thing he wanted on top of everything else was a case of food poisoning.

His time on Mt. Everest lasted just shy of three weeks. “I arrived at base camp November the 15th, and my seventieth birthday was on the 16th,” he said. Bubba described the homeward expedition off the mountain as “starting the descent of my life.”

Nowadays Bubba has embarked upon his newest adventure: raising Tennessee fainting goats. It’s something he’s wanted to do since childhood. He’s getting assistance from his good friend, Billye Foster, a professor at Tennessee Tech’s School of Agriculture.

“She told me that ‘Raising Goats for Dummies’ was going to be too advanced for me, so she made me my own book,” Bubba said.

Bubba plans to hire out the goats for free to clear overgrown rural cemeteries around the region. Although he said that if the property owners can afford it, he’ll encourage them to make a donation to a charity that serves farmers in Africa that Professor Foster works.

Through all his travels and adventures and novel undertakings over the years — Professor Foster says Bubba is the type of person who “changes directions easily” — Bubba says he’s come to truly appreciate an old adage that says, “Happiness isn’t getting what you want, but wanting what you got.”

“People spend a lot of time saying, If only I had this or if only I had that,” said Bubba. “Well, I’ve traveled all over the world and I have never found a better place to be than right here.”

 

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Lee Leads Expeditions in Imagination at Liberty Paper

DeKalb County artist expands frontiers of experimental creativity

Claudia Lee loves what she does and loves living where she does it.

Growing up in Connecticut and New Jersey, Lee always knew she wanted to live in Tennessee.

“When I was little, I had a best friend and he and I were determined to move to Tennessee because that is where Davy Crockett was from. We were big Davy Crockett fans,” recalls Lee, who 20 years ago moved to the woodsy slopes and shady hollers northeast of Dowelltown. Prior to that she spent three decades in the Tri-Cities area, in fact not far from Crockett’s Greene County birthplace.

Lee has become something of a pioneer in her own right — not just living, as she does, encompassed by DeKalb County’s timberland wilds — but as an artist. On an old farmstead along Cripps Road, she’s made a home and runs her Liberty Paper art studio amidst the tall pines, thick cedar and sturdy hardwoods, by a small stream that runs down to Smith Fork Creek.

Lee’s artistic expertise lies in handcrafting colorfully elaborate paper — typically from raw fibrous plant materials, like flax and leaves of abaca, a species of banana tree native to the Philippines. In turn, she masterfully stitches, weaves, molds and otherwise shapes the paper into elegant sculptures, ornamental boxes, wall pieces, decorative lamps, table adornments and richly detailed book covers and scrapbook pages.

Lee says she’s always experimenting, always making unique paper sheets with novel textures, hues and consistencies.

She’s collected numerous honors and recognitions for her expressive spirit and innovative initiative over the years.

In 2011, she was commissioned to design the various individual Governor’s Awards that the Tennessee Arts Commission biennially bestows upon the Volunteer State’s most creative contributors to the arts and cultural life. “The awards themselves represent artistic genius from some of the finest working artists across the state of Tennessee,” the commission’s website declares.

Light sculptures by Claudia Lee.

Lee’s latest accolade came in the form of a cover-feature and six-page photo spread of her work in this summer’s edition of a national quarterly magazine called Bound & Lettered, which is prominent in the world of bookbinding, papercraft and calligraphy. In addition, the editors asked her to craft an essay detailing her fascination with papermaking.

Lee wrote that her vision has always been to “develop a signature body of work” which would blend “many textile techniques, including weaving, spinning, dyeing, and stitching.” But it’s the methods of her undertakings, as much or more even than the finished products, that fulfill her yearning for artistic adventure.

“When you make paper almost every day for more than thirty years, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the magic of the process,” Lee wrote. “It begins with a humble plant growing in yard, field, or woods; cooking the plant to remove non-cellulosic materials; beating it into pulp; and adding the pulp to a vat of water.

“Next is stirring the vat with your hands,” she continued. “An experienced papermaker can tell by the feel of the pulp in the water if the amount of pulp is sufficient for a sheet. With each dip of the mould and deckle into the vat, the sheet miraculously forms before your eyes.”

Lee doesn’t see her artistic role solely as one of blazing new trails and charting exploratory courses on her own. She gains great satisfaction and gratification in teaching the techniques of her craft both to novices and other experienced artists.

Lee said papermaking was something she learned “from the ground up.”

She knew immediately it was something she wanted to learn when she first encountered it at a craft school decades ago. It’s something that often draws people in from the moment they see it, she said.

“Sometimes people just walk into the studio and that’s it,” Lee said. “It is very tactile. And it is immediately accessible to people.”

Getting started “is so easy to do,” she said.

“I have worked with small children and handicapped kids, they can all make paper,” said Lee. “So it is a very friendly medium. If you make a mistake, you dump it back in and make another one. It is user-friendly, easy to do and you can do it very simply at home with very little equipment.”

One of Lee’s primary objectives when instructing people is to teach them in a way that build their confidence and understanding of the process, so they indeed can do it again on their own. “I want them to go home and do it,” she said. “I don’t want them to be like, OK, I did that once, now what?”

Those who take an immediate interest have sometimes become absorbed already with scrapbooking or notecards or activities that require purchasing a lot of paper at a craft store. “It’s kind of the next step up to make your own paper,” Lee said.

Working with established artists who’re already proficient in some other medium is also rewarding, she said. Helping them incorporate their own handmade paper into other projects and creations enables them to dive deeper into their own creative processes.

“People can design a unique sheet of paper for their work, so that no one else is going to have that kind of paper,” Lee said. “And the great thing about making your paper if you are an artist is you can design what you need. If you run out, you just make more.”

To set up a time to visit with Ms. Lee, tour her studio or inquire about attending classes or purchasing her work, email her at libertypapermaking@gmail.com. Visit her website at claudialeepaper.com.

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Demand for Pest-Free Firewood Heating Up

Parks and campgrounds urging heat-treatment certification

Federal and state natural resource agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation want to expand availability of government-certified firewood at public campgrounds.

Public lands managers are looking to put a damper on fires made from wood that hasn’t undergone heat treatment beforehand. For that reason, hauling unapproved firewood into a state park or federal recreation area might become a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future.

Their aim is to impede the spread of tree-threatening non-native creepy-crawlies, like the emerald ash borer and longhorned beetles, both indigenous to Asia, as well as the gypsy moth and gold spotted oak borer, which are unwelcome guests to Tennessee from, respectively, Europe and the southwestern United States.

“All these things have been introduced — that’s why we call them invasive,” said Greg Aydelotte, who administers plant protection and quarantine procedures for the USDA.

Aydelotte was one of several forest-health specialists who delivered presentations in Cookeville this spring during a seminar on the certification process. The goal of the May 25 conference, attended by about 50 people, was to cultivate interest in the certification program among would-be Upper Cumberland wood-products entrepreneurs.

“Emerald ash borer tends to be the one that we handle in most situations involving firewood,” Aydelotte said. “People will bring firewood from long distances.”

For that reason, campgrounds are often suspected as a point of entry when invasive pests spread into areas that were previously free of them.

According to a TDEC information sheet on the state’s “Don’t Move Firewood” campaign, “Native trees have defenses against insects and diseases that they’ve been living with for millions of years. Likewise, native predators eat native insects, keeping their numbers in check. Non-native insects and diseases have no predators in their new homes and the trees have no natural defenses against them. Because these foreign bugs don’t have anything stopping them, they reproduce rapidly, killing thousands of trees in their wake.”

All Tennessee State Parks now adhere to a certified-firewood-only “policy” — although it’s not actually a state law, according to TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski.

State park managers also don’t want people bringing untreated wood in from the surrounding vicinity. TDEC officials believe areas near Tennessee state parks may in some cases already have infestations of invasive forests pests, even if they’re as yet undetected.

“We encourage campground and cabin guests to follow this policy in the effort to stem the spread of invasive pests that damage our forests,” Schofinski wrote in an email to Center Hill Sun. “This is a joint education effort with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry and the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee. National Parks also have firewood policies in place.”

Campers are still allowed to make fires using “dead material on the ground” or “downed wood collected inside the park, near the campsite.” However, in many circumstances such fuel is scarce near high-use camping areas, or gathering it may in fact be prohibited in some places.

Park and campground managers are encouraging private vendors to fill the void by selling more certified heat-treated wood that’s “clearly marked with a state/federal seal.”

Obtaining a government seal of approval — and with it, an official online listing by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as a certified-firewood seller — requires signing a compliance agreement and acquiring a firewood-heating system, which in turn must undergo periodic inspection by regulators.

To ensure the firewood is heated to at least 140 degrees for 60 minutes, as required for the certification, temperature probes are inserted into individual sticks of firewood throughout the kiln.

“We’re looking for the center to reach those temperatures,” said Heather Slayton, a forest health and sustainability expert for the state Division of Forestry who has been delivering presentations around Tennessee on the firewood-certification program. “The probes are put randomly throughout your kiln, and every single one of the probes have to pass the certification.”

Slayton said there are a number of “turnkey” kilns available on the market, but homemade rigs and systems work just fine, too. Woodland property owners, farmers, loggers and anybody else that might have access to a steady supply of fuel-timber is encouraged to get into the firewood-selling game.

Constructing a homemade kiln-heating mechanism is perfectly acceptable. “We’re not certifying the kiln design,” said Slayton. “Build it how ever you want to build it.”

The central requirement is that certification regulators verify that it’s heating the wood sufficiently, and for the appropriate period of time, to terminate all unwanted bugs and their larva, she said.

According to the USDA, heat treatment procedures may employ steam, hot water, kilns or any other method that raises the center of the wood to 140 degrees for a full hour.

“It doesn’t have to be high-tech,” said Slayton. “But you do have to be able to monitor your temperatures and write them down. If you’re going to build your own, you need to make sure you think about how the thermodynamics work.”

If the kiln isn’t insulated properly or doesn’t allow for appropriate air circulation to disperse the heat, it may fail when put to the test by the certifying agents. “You’ve got to hit those temperature thresholds,” said Slayton.

Retail sellers of certified firewood include big-box stores like Lowes, Home Depot, Gander Mountain, Academy Sports, as well as numerous other smaller vendors like grocery stores and gas stations, she said.

While the number of certified firewood-drying kilns in Tennessee is still relatively small, Slayton said she’s “working extremely hard to raise that number so folks can buy Tennessee-produced certified firewood as opposed to out of state producers.”

If you’d like to get more information about the procedures for certification, contact Ms. Slayton at heather.slayton@tn.gov.

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VIDEO: Fly Tips for Catching Big Bass in Small Creeks

Hamilton “Ham” Wallace, a fly fishing specialist for Cumberland Transit outfitters in Nashville, offers pointers for hooking up with sizable bass in smaller streams and creeks in Middle Tennessee.

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Best Local Bets for a Good Cup of Joe

There’s obvious truth in the observation that unforeseen slips often come ‘twixt cup and lip. It’s easy to forget, though, that much goes into making the cup’s contents worthy of attempting a sip to begin with.

Local roasting experts agree that starting with freshly roasted coffee beans makes all the difference.

Coffee flavor stems from the bean itself and Eric Tate of Bootleg Roasting Company takes time to learn the best roasting profile for each bean he sells.

Bootleg specializes in a dark roast, but they have found certain high-end beans, such as those from Hawaii’s famed Kona Region, taste much better at a medium to light roast. BRC, derived their name as a joke about being a black-market bean provider: they were an underground source for fantastic coffee for their family and friends.

Calfkiller Brewing Company’s fire-roasted blend sprung from roaster Don Sergio’s love of a quality cup of coffee and a need for something special to add to a coffeehouse stout beer. After experimenting with a homemade contraption over an open fire, Sergio developed his own roasting system to take advantage of his unique take on flame-based roasting.

It isn’t too difficult to fashion your own intermediate-sized coffee roaster, like this one one built into a propane grill.

Roasters in our region all tell a similar tale that starts with equal parts love of good coffee and passion for local marketing. They began roasting at home, then grew to providing coffee for family and friends. They built their own intermediate-sized roasters – each adding a unique take on the concept. And as their skills developed, they took the plunge into the retail market.

Yet there is more to roasting coffee than simply applying heat to a green bean, according to Zach Buckner of Broast in Cookeville.

Ambient temperature, airflow and relative humidity can impact the speed of the roast as well as the flavor of the end product. Buckner compares using freshly roasted coffee to using fresh herbs.

Buckner says there is just no comparison between a coffee roasted four days ago and one that has been sitting on a shelf for six months. In sum: Freshness matters.

With the growing number of micro-roasters in the Upper Cumberland region, there is likely a fresh bean that meets the preference of any coffee drinker. Consider trying something new in your morning brew from a local craftsman.

Local Microroasters
● Calfkiller, Sparta: http://calfkillerbrewingco.storenvy.com/
● Broast, Cookeville: http://www.broasttn.com/
● Bootleg Roasting Co., Cookeville: https://www.facebook.com/bootlegroastingco/
● Holler Roast Coffee, Lancaster: HollerHomestead.com

Nicole Sauce is a local coffee roaster, backwoods podcaster and publisher of Center Hill Sun. Learn more about her homesteading endeavors at LivingFreeinTennessee.com.