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Burgess Falls Overlooks Closed, Park Still Open

Repairs planned, but not for popular old metal stairway

Storm-damage last summer to scenic observation decks and the unique gorge-descending staircase are keeping prime Burgess Falls viewing points inaccessible this spring.

A notice on the state park’s website declares, “Repair work should begin on the overlook shortly, but the stairs down to the main falls will remained closed.”

Visitors may still hike along the Falling Water River and view various smaller cascades in the park.

“Extensive damage” to the metal staircase and overlooks in July resulted in both being “compromised and badly damaged,” park officials say.

Repairs are planned for the main falls overlook, which will cost around $55,000, and the middle falls overlook after that, said Kelly Brockman, a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman.

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Storms last summer blew out two overlooks and the staircase into the gorge at the popular state park along Falling Water River.

Federal money has also been earmarked for park upgrades by way of the Americans With Disabilities Act. “That should help as well,” she said. “We do have funding for that, and we are in the early design process.”

However, no plans are in the works to fix and reopen the staircase, which is fastened to 90-year-old concrete pillars.

“That’s more of a capital project, and we don’t have funding for that right now,” said Brockman.

Located on the Falling Water River southwest of Cookeville, Burgess Falls State Park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

“A lot of folks come from all over the United States to see this, it’s unbelievable,” said Mike Jeffers, whose family runs MMKM Family Produce on Burgess Falls Road.

Jeffers’ business is noticeably off this spring, as it was last year after the overlook and staircase closings.

“We’re down 50 percent, easy,” he said. “People go down there and they come out mad. They drive a long way and they can’t see anything.”

Jeffers, who’s been in business 13 years, figures he can weather the financial doldrums, though. When the Window Cliffs Natural Area opens, “we’ll be right in the middle of both parks,” he said.

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Can-Do Trout Flies for the Caney Fork

Ronnie Howard is an expert Tennessee angler with decades of fish-finding experience on regional waters. He’s also the resident fly fishing aficionado for Cumberland Transit outfitters in Nashville.

Howard chatted with Center Hill Sun about some tactics and must-have trout flies that will enhance your chances of hooking up with a trophy brown, ‘bow or brookie when you bug out for the Caney Fork River.

Go-to patterns include woolly buggers, midges, soft hackles, nymphs, emergers, mayfly imitators, stimulators and, occasionally, elk hair caddis and cicadas.

One of the not-so-obvious flies that every trout angler ought to have at the ready for when the fish get inflexibly finicky is an everyday red or black ant.

“Most folks don’t think an ant is capable of catching big fish, but big fish like ants, too,” said Howard.

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Friendly Flavor at Foglight Foodhouse

Out-of-the-way White County restaurant prides itself on amiable ambiance, hearty cuisine

Chef Edward Philpot and his right-hand woman, Lisa Harris, know their alluring little supper-serving outpost in Walling is hard to locate.

Their motto is, “You’ve got to get lost to find us.”foglighbutterfish

The actual address is 275 Powerhouse Road. That’s well off the beaten path for most folks who don’t happen to be visiting Rock Island State Park’s Twin Falls observation area just down the lane.

If you know the restaurant is there, you might catch a glimpse of it glimmering above the Caney Fork River banks as you zip across the Highway 136 bridge. If not, you might just keep cruising along — unmindful that you’ve just missed one of the Center Hill Lake region’s most distinctive, scenic and relaxed first-class dinner venues.

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Click on the map for directions

Their forte at Foglight Foodhouse is superior fare made from fresh ingredients.

“We don’t rely on a freezer here,” says Lisa. “Our steaks are hand cut. Our salmon is fresh and so are all our sauces and vegetables, which we always try to get locally in summer. We use farm-fresh eggs in all of our desserts.”

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Lisa Harris, assistant chef at Foglight Foodhouse

Innovative appetizers, hand-cut steaks, Cajun dishes made from scratch, crisp and creative green salads, smoked pork, tasty tossed-pasta concoctions, grilled chicken, seafood and freshwater fish aplenty; Lisa describes the menu as “an eclectic collection of everything — eating here is truly a unique experience.”

Despite the not-so-obvious location and the backwoods backdrop, the Foglight isn’t a particularly well-kept secret. “If we’re open, we’re busy,” says Chef Edward.

A typical night’s clientele is both homegrown and far-flung, with regulars mixed in from both groups. Much of Foglight’s business is return customers from out of the area and out of state.

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Fresh seafood and hand-cut steaks are Foglight Foodhouse’s strong suits. Chef Edward Philpot believes running a successful restaurant means trying every night to reach perfection — even if you know there’ll always be room for improvement. “It’s taken us 19 years to become an overnight success,” he says.

Foglight doesn’t take reservations, so it’s probably not a place you want to visit when you’re in a hurry. Sometimes the wait for a table — either inside or on the veranda overlooking the forest and the water — can be a little lengthy. But with plenty of cold microbrews on tap — including selections from nearby Calfkiller Brewing Company — and an outdoor fire pit to gather and relax around, the wait tends to be quite bearable, even enjoyable.

“That’s part of the entertainment,” says one of the Foglight faithful. “You meet friendly people here from all over.”

The Foglight Foodhouse serves dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5-8, Friday and Saturday 5-9.

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Talkin’ Turkey Restoration in TN

Robust return of iconic game bird has been hailed a marvel of modern conservation

Few sounds echoing through the woods are more emblematic of springtime in Tennessee than the exuberant gobble of a strutting tom turkey.

But not so long ago, that sound — along with clucks, cackles, peeps, whistles, yelps and other modes of turkey talk — was all but unheard in the wilds.

By the early 20th Century, turkeys had virtually disappeared from Tennessee. Remnant populations survived only in remote swatches of the Cumberland Plateau and Mississippi River bottomlands.

turkeynwtfToday, however, turkey populations throughout the country appear stronger than at any time since likely before Europeans began settling North America.

And nowhere has the rebound been more impressive than Tennessee and the South. The great turkey turnaround is one of the “tremendous success stories” of American wildlife restoration efforts, said Brad Miller, a regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

“Particularly in the last 25 years or so, turkeys have really grown in numbers across the state,” he said. “In 1990, hunters killed a little over 2,600 birds in Tennessee. Fast forward to the year 2000, and they reported killing a little more than 22,000 in Tennessee.”

In the current decade, hunters are bagging in the neighborhood of 30,000-35,000 birds a year statewide, said Miller.

Few have a keener appreciation for the turkey’s arduous odyssey than Tim White, a biologist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

White’s become something of a Tennessee turkey historian, having investigated two-and-a-half centuries worth of books, statistics, articles and photos documenting the demise and recovery of turkeys across the three Grand Divisions.

He calls today’s overall robust health of today’s flocks “pretty astounding,” given what the future looked to hold in the first half of the last century.

But even well before that, turkeys were facing trouble. Throughout the mid-to-late 1700s and into the 1800s, wild turkey populations had started declining, he told the Center Hill Sun. The culprit then was primarily over-hunting.

War is Hell on Wildlife, Too

But it was the Civil War and its aftermath that set in motion the most ruinous period for the wild turkey. Habitat destruction resulting from four savage years of military operations in the South proved catastrophic for many native wild species, said White.

“The Civil War had some pretty devastating impacts on habitat and wildlife, and not just turkeys,” he said. Estimates suggest that in the years 1861-1865, Union and Confederate armies were clearing 400,000 acres of timber a year just for firewood, White said.

In the war’s aftermath, so continued the “big downward slide for a lot of wildlife, like elk and passenger pigeons that went extinct,” he said. “Deer and turkeys were really hit hard, too.”

“People killed and ate pretty much anything that they could find. There was widespread poverty,” he said. “Most everything was in pretty serious decline.”

Under the Deadening Chestnut Tree

Yet the the nadir was still to come.

Another decimating shock started taking shape in the early years of the 20th Century: The appearance of the chestnut blight. Over the course of the ensuing four decades, virtually all the mature, native chestnut trees in the eastern United States were felled by the disease. Prior to the blight, as many as one in every four or five trees in American hardwood forests are thought to have been chestnuts.

“The chestnut was really common in the Southeast back in the day,” said White. “It was a really important food source — and it was suddenly gone.”

To make matters worse, as the chestnut die-off was climaxing, the Great Depression commenced. And just as in the aftermath of the Civil War, destitute-stricken rural populations often turned to hunting wild meat for basic sustenance, or selling for extra money.

“Everything seemed to be working against the turkey back then,” said White. “The forests had been obliterated all across the Southeast. By the end of the 1930s, we were pretty well at a low point with wildlife — not just in the Southeast but probably everywhere.”

Hatching Restoration Plans

For the entire decade of the forties, turkey hunting was banned in Tennessee. But White said few probably took much notice: There were hardly any birds left to kill anyway.

Over roughly the same period, more than 3,700 pen‐reared “wild” turkeys were released across the state, 200 at a time. Most all succumbed to predation or disease or the general rigors of nature, and the stocking of the quasi-domesticated turkeys was halted in the early fifties.

White sees 1949 as the beginning of the bounce-back for turkeys. With the state Legislature’s formation of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission as a stand-alone agency, more focus and technology was brought to bear on restoration, and regulation of hunting became a primary concern.

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A state conservation officer tags one of only 14 turkeys legally killed in 1951. That was the first year turkey hunting was open since 1940. (Photo credit: Tennessee State Library and Archives; Dept. of Conservation photo collection.)

Still, the 50s were lean times. Conservation officers at the time reported turkeys absent in more than half of Tennessee. In many of the counties where turkeys were confirmed to exist, sightings were “very rare.”

But things were actually starting to look up.

Wildlife managers in 1951 began attempting to trap both deer and turkeys for transplant, a strategy that would ultimately prove essential for reintroduction efforts across Tennessee. But it was slow going at first, especially for turkeys. It took three years before state officials actually even caught one. According to White, just 119 birds had been relocated by 1960.

However, new systems of trapping would soon prove revolutionary.

The black powder cannon-net — which was later upgraded to a military-grade rocket-net — propelled out when fired and descended upon an unsuspecting flock of feeding birds. The turkeys could then be efficiently captured, tranquilized and transported to new environs.

There’s unmistakable irony in the fact that explosive-driven projectiles, much so responsible for disintegrating wild turkey flocks, did also ensure the revered bird’s extraordinary resurgence.

Even so, the net method still wasn’t an overnight success, and had its ups and downs. In his book, “Boxes, Rockets, and Pens: A History of Wildlife Recovery in Tennessee,” Doug Markham describes how even the howitzer powder-powered net mortars didn’t always work. “If you blinked your eyes, you missed it,” said one former wildlife management official interviewed for Markham’s book. “But even as fast as the rocket nets were, we still had turkeys outrun them.”

Rebound and Recovery

As the years wore on, though, the successes started to mount.

All told, according to White, more than 11,000 turkeys were trapped and relocated in the second half of the 20th Century. The wildly successful programed was ceased in 1999 because it was deemed to achieved the goal of bringing sustainably reproducing, harvestable turkey populations back to all 95 of Tennessee’s counties.

Caston Bowers, 11, and his sister, Laney, 8, always get geared up for going after spring gobblers. Their four-month-old cousin, Lizzie Watson, might have to wait a couple years.

Caston Bowers, 11, and his sister, Laney, 8, always get geared up for going after spring gobblers. Their four-month-old cousin, Lizzie Watson, might have to wait a couple years.

According to National Wild Turkey Federation population estimates, Tennessee is now one of the top states in the nation in turkey populations.

Although calculating accurate aggregate turkey numbers is difficult, NWTF’s 2015 “Spring Hunting Guide” put Tennessee’s statewide flock at 315,000. Only five states had higher totals — Texas with 500,000, Alabama with 400,00, Kansas with 350,000, Georgia with 335,000 and Missouri with 317,000.

“Although the wild turkey once was found only in isolated pockets and inaccessible areas, populations now occupy more square miles of habitat than any other game bird in North America,” concluded an NWTF publication summing up the turkey’s sensational history. “The restoration is truly a modern conservation marvel that is a credit to the wild turkey’s adaptability to a variety of climatic and habitat conditions, as well as to the great bird’s ability to respond well to modern management.”

(Note: The feature image at the top of this story is a portrait titled “Sons of Thunder” by Ryan Kirby. The National Wild Turkey Federation named Kirby its Stamp Print Artist of the Year for 2016. His work is available for purchase at ryankirbyart.com.)

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Tramel Lands Win at ABA Center Hill Bass Tourney

Josh B. Tramel of Smithville hooked a victory on Saturday at the American Bass Anglers Ram Truck Open Series tournament on Center Hill Lake.

Tramel’s 19.46 pound bag of bass bested runner-up Jason Dies of Lebanon by nearly a pound and a half.

The heftiest hog in Tramel’s sack weighed in just shy of six pounds — the second biggest catch of the day.

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Josh B. Tramel and the biggest of his hefty catch to win the April 17 Ram Truck Open Series ABA tournament on Center Hill Lake.

Tramel said angling is pretty hot right now on Center Hill Lake, especially in the morning.

“I caught them all day long, really. They were hitting pretty good today,” he said. “Early is definitely better. But the good ones hit all day, you just catch less of them as the day goes on.”

Tramel, an accountant by day during the week, said he hooked all his fish on a jig in three- to 10-feet deep water.

The tournament whopper was a 6.39 pound largemouth landed by Noel Smith of Portland, who finished third overall.

Anthony Ryan Layhew of Murfreesboro won the co-angler division with a 10.52 pound bag of three fish.

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BAGS O’ BASS: Competition anglers on Center Hill Lake keep their sacks of fish alive in oxygenated tanks as they await weigh-in. All the fish were later released.

Other anglers from the Center Hill Lake region fared pretty well in the tournament, which included 56 entrants from Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky in the “boater” division, and 24 in the “co-angler” division.

Local fisherman placing in the Top 25 were Kenneth Reece of Brush Creek at 5th, Tim Staley of Dowelltown at 8th, Dustin Barlow of Walling at 10th, Greg Barnes of Rock Island at 13th, Anthony Nash of Quebeck at 15th, Mike Redmon of Dowelltown at 23rd and Frank Bell of Smithville at 24th.

At day’s end, 380 fish were weighed totaling 768 pounds. The average keeper-size bass for the tournament was in the two-and-a-half pound range. All the fish were later released.

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Sligo Marina’s Chow House Churning Out Fresh Grub

The Wheelhouse Restaurant at Sligo Marina is firing up the grill for the season.

Fifty or so hardcore fans of the on-the-water eatery just east of Smithville braved balmy temperatures and blue skies on Friday to celebrate the launch of 2016’s sun-soaked session of spring-and-summer fun.

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Sligo Marina Maniacs

Chris Batty is steering the Wheelhouse this year. He said Center Hill Lake customers ought to sail on in with high hopes and healthy appetites.

“We’re going to provide fresh quality food with excellent customer service, that’s our plan,” Batty promises.

Batty’s hoping the grade A prime rib, succulent sea food, ample-sized sandwiches, hand-prepped burgers and fresh-battered chicken tenders keep lake lubbers cruising back for moor all season long.

The Wheelhouse Restaurant hours of operation are Friday’s 4:00 PM to 2:00 AM, Saturday’s 8:00 AM to 2:00 AM, and Sunday’s 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

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Spring Colors Reign at Edgar Evins State Park

There really isn’t a bad time to visit Edgar Evins State Park. But if you’re looking for a best time, spring is arguably it.

As winter recedes and summer approaches, colors emerge, then abound. Birds, buds, leaves, butterflies and beautiful Tennessee wildflowers burst forth with vital vernal effervescence. Read more

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Landowners Urged to Take Long View When Logging

Deciding when to cut timber on your property, and in what manner, is one of the most important decisions a woodland landowner can make.

When it comes to agriculture commodities like row crops or cattle, if you make a mistake you can recover in a relatively short period of time. Such is by no means the case with trees, warns University of Tennessee extension forestry specialist David Mercker. Read more

Early Spring Edition is Here

Spring is in the air and the Center Hill Sun is headed to your mailbox! Read more

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