Press Release from the State of Tennessee, June 3, 2019:

Most Tennessee Promise Saturday events are on June 22

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks are offering volunteer events at 54 of the 56 state parks for Tennessee Promise scholars to fulfill their community service hours. Most of the events are on Saturday, June 22.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Tennessee Promise students to meet their requirements and be a part of the outdoors at the same time,” said Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “Tennessee Promise is giving students a great chance to further their education, and we’re glad Tennessee State Parks can be a part of that.”

Tennessee Promise Saturday includes a variety of work projects at the parks, including landscaping, invasive plant removal, litter pickup, trail maintenance, and more. Participants should wear appropriate clothing for the work and bring items such as water, snacks and sunscreen. Students should check with each individual park on the activities planned and details on what they will need to do and bring.

Students are encouraged to find details about service hours at state parks by visiting https://tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/tn-promise-saturday.

Tennessee Promise provides students the chance to attend tuition-free any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institutions offering an associate degree program. One of the requirements to maintain eligibility is to complete eight hours of community service. For the class of 2019, the deadline to complete the community service is July 1. The parks also accept help on Tennessee Promise Saturday from any volunteers who wish to participate.

The two parks not part of Tennessee Promise Saturday are Big Cypress Tree State Park and Dunbar Cave State Park, but students near Dunbar Cave can go to nearby Port Royal State Park for its event.

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, May 14, 2019:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks will celebrate National Trails Day with free guided hikes at all 56 state parks on Saturday, June 1.

This will be the third of the state parks’ signature hikes this year, following First Day Hikes in January and Spring Hikes in March. Thus far, 4,787 park visitors have participated in the hikes.

“This is an opportunity for people to feel connected to nature and to learn about a Tennessee State Park at the same time with the guidance of a park ranger,” said Anne Marshall, acting deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “Whether you’re interested in a park’s history, seeing incredible views or taking a challenging trek, our parks give everyone that feeling that you can’t get anywhere else.”

The American Hiking Society designates the first Saturday in June as National Trails Day as a day of public events aimed at advocacy and trail service. Last year, 108,947 people participated in 1,203 events across 50 states.

Tennessee State Parks are offering a variety of ranger led hikes, night hikes, history hikes, nature hikes or trail clean-up hikes. With more than 1,000 miles of trails, ranging from easy paved trails to rugged backcountry trails to scenic waterways, the state parks have something for everyone.

For more information about the hikes visit: https://tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/national-trails-day-hikes/.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, May 3, 2019:

SPENCER – State and local officials, alongside former Tennessee First Lady Betty Dunn and current Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee, today celebrated renovations to the Betty Dunn Nature Center at Fall Creek Falls State Park.

“This is a special day for Van Buren County and for Fall Creek Falls State Park visitors around the world,” Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers said. “We were especially honored to have former First Lady Betty Dunn cut the ribbon on the facility she helped build.”

The renovations include new pathways, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, from the parking lot to overlooks and down to the nature center. A new overlook was constructed and improvements were made to the existing overlook. The exterior of the nature center has been repaired, with new painting in addition to new stonework. The facility has a new restroom and gift shop.

The nature center offers hands-on environmental education through naturalist-led programs. Other programs include arts and crafts, movies, campfires, organized games and live musical entertainment.

In February 1974, the Tennessee General Assembly named the nature center at Fall Creek Falls State Park for Betty Dunn for her efforts in developing the facility. The nature center, near the north entrance to the park, is a popular trailhead.

Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s largest and most visited state parks, encompassing more than 26,000 acres across the eastern top of the Cumberland Plateau. With cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams and virgin hardwood timber, the park attracts a large following from those who enjoy nature. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. Other waterfalls in the park include Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, April 16, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/news/2019/4/16/pr19-12.html

Slatery Joins 17 State Coalition Supporting EPA Plan to Ease Burden on Farmers, Landowners

Nashville- Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III joined a 17-state coalition this week to support farmers and landowners by urging the Trump administration to adopt its proposed replacement of the Obama-era, Waters of the United States rule.

The coalition, in comments filed late Monday, argued the Trump administration’s proposal would restore reasonable, predictable lines between waters subject to federal and state regulation.

“The proposed rule, unlike the rule that it would replace, respects the traditional role of Tennessee and all other states to regulate their own water resources,” said Herbert H. Slatery III.

The coalition believes the new rule will correct flaws within the 2015 regulation, which extended authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers far beyond what Congress intended and the Constitution permits.

The Trump Administration proposal also shows respect for the primary responsibility and right of states to regulate their own water resources.

The 2015 WOTUS rule, if implemented, would have taken jurisdiction over natural resources from states and asserted federal authority over almost any body of water, including roadside ditches, short-lived streams and many other areas where water may flow once every 100 years.

Tennessee signed the West Virginia-led letter with attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Read the public comments filing here: https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/attorneygeneral/documents/pr/2019/pr19-12-letter.pdf

State park boasts splendiferous waterfall, swimming hole

One way or another, Cummins Falls State Park leaves you breathless.

Located in southern Jackson County just northwest of Cookeville, this aquatic getaway ranks as Tennessee’s eighth largest waterfall. The site also lays claim to being one of the 10 best swimming holes in the U.S., according to Travel and Leisure magazine.

It’s a mere 12 miles off of Interstate 40 (Exit 280), but be warned this is no place to wear flip-flops. You’ll have to cautiously make your way down the trail to the cool waters of Blackburn Fork State Scenic River and then hike along its streambed before you reach the gorgeous gorge.

Hikers and swimmers alike have a ball at Cummins Falls State Park, which boasts the eighth largest waterfall in Tennessee and one of the Top-10 swimming holes in the U.S. It’s a vigorous descent by foot to the falls on the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River, which has served as a scenic spot and swimming hole for residents of Jackson and Putnam counties for more than a century.
(Photo by Ken Beck)

There you will spy the magnificent 75-foot-high falls, which will take your breath away. Later, as you scramble back up the trail, you may find yourself once more gasping for air. It will be worth the effort. Cummins Falls is a purely natural Tennessee treasure that you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste (although we don’t recommend you sip the water).

Park manager Ray Cutcher is a 43-year veteran of Tennessee State Parks, and he’s has been at Cummins Falls since the day after the state purchased it.

“The coolest feature is the waterfall and the plunge-pool below,” said Cutcher. “The waterfall creates the magnificent swimming hole below. The ledges beneath to climb up on make it such a unique experience that people keep on coming here. In addition it’s a wild and rugged area so you have to take a pretty good hike.”

Cummins Falls was dedicated as the Tennessee’s 54th state park May 22, 2012.

Steep Soggy Slog

The ranger noted that visitors should expect “a rugged, strenuous hike that will be rocky and slippery. Sometimes a walking stick will help while crossing the stream. You will walk through water so wear footwear, like an old pair of tennis shoes.”

He also advises that you bring water or sports drinks (no alcohol allowed) and cautions this may not be the best place to tote babies or small children.

“On a typical weekend day we can draw 5,000 to 9,000. We have become such a popular place that in the very near future we’re going to have to limit the number of people in a day,” said Cutcher, adding that likely would occur in 2020.

As evidence of its growing popularity, the park saw its attendance double this past March from March a year ago.

Hours for the day-use park are 8 a.m.-6 p.m., but the gorge area closes at 5 p.m., so those at the waterfall must start walking out at 5 p.m. in order to depart the park by 6. Visitors will find the parking lot, restrooms, trailheads and designated picnic area above the falls. An overlook of the waterfall is nearby and can be reached by foot on a trail about a half-mile long. ADA access is available upon request.

Cummins Falls State Park manager Ray Cutcher has been at the park since the day after the state purchased it in February 2012. He alerts visitors that the trail to the waterfall presents “a rugged, strenuous hike that will be rocky and slippery.” Some 5,000 to 9,000 people visit the park on a typical weekend day.
(Photo by Ken Beck)

The route descending directly to the falls is about one mile along uneven terrain with tree roots and other hazards, and part of the hike includes walking upstream through the river, thus it can be slippery.

On a serious note, there have been five drowning here since the park opened. The plunge pool, a natural area with no manmade features, is 15 feet deep in places. There are no lifeguards, thus swimming is at your own risk.

It is also important to pay attention to the weather as sudden heavy rainfalls can cause flash floods. Such an event occurred in July 2017, causing two drownings and stranding 48 people for part of a day. Heavy rains also may require the pool and the hike to the 200-foot-deep gorge to be closed for two or three days.

Longtime Local Leisure Spot 

The site has been no secret to folks here in Jackson County and in nearby Putnam County as locals and their ancestors have enjoyed hitting the ole swimming hole for more than a century.

“The Cummins family had owned the area since 1825,” said Ranger Cutcher. “For over 100 years they operated a mill on this site. The Cummins family didn’t try to restrict use to the area so it kind of became a public recreation area.”

The trek to the base of Cummins Falls may be a little too demanding for some. But views from above are sure to dazzle and delight, too. Nine-month-old Emily Shinall and her mom, Christina, enjoy the pleasant vistas from a safe vantage.

 

“People came here with grain, and while waiting for the grain to be ground would make it a little vacation and stay a few days and swim and fish,” Cutcher went on. “The mill washed away in 1928, but people still continued to come because it was such a local treasure. People never were kept out of this area.”

As for what’s new this summer Cutcher said, “We’ve started doing some different evening programs, like night hikes and campfire programs, and we also have added a few photography and painting programs. These are things that people normally don’t have access to and they are fee-based.”

The park continues to offer Junior Ranger Camp with four-day sessions for children ages 6 to 12, running June 24-27 and July 15-18. Cost is $25.

Preservation Collaboration

Since 2006, local outdoors enthusiasts and the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation had been working to protect Cummins Falls. Through combined efforts, the property was rescued from a proposed housing development at a public auction in 2010.

A stroll along the base of Cummins Falls is exhilarating, but footing can be treacherous.

It was accomplished via kindred spirits as the foundation recruited conservation buyers in Dr. Glenn Hall, Mary Lynn Dobson and Robert D. McCaleb, who temporarily secured the land. Through fundraising efforts the foundation then was able to purchase the land in 2012.

Cutcher said the park plans to purchase another small piece of property where the mill once stood. “We don’t have ownership but our friends group is holding it. And we got a Recreation Trails Program grant to build an observation deck at the main overlook. We hope to have it built later this year.”

While too late for this year, every February the Friends of Cummins Falls State Park hold an annual Cummins Falls Marathon with four certified routes: a marathon, a half marathon, a 5K and a 10K.

The last event drew approximately 300 runners with about 70 participating in the marathon. The race route is steep so, just like seeing the magnificent waterfall, the experience likely would prove breathtaking.

 


Cummins Falls State Park

Hours for the 282-acre day-use park are 8am-6pm.

The gorge area closes at 5pm. People at the bottom of the waterfall must start walking out at 5pm. in order to get back to the parking lot and be out of the park by 6 p.m.

Directions: From Interstate 40 Exit 280, go north 7.7 miles on Highway 56; turn right on Highway 290 and go about 1 mile and turn left on Cummins Mill Road. Go three miles and turn left on Blackburn Fork Road. Drive about 300 yards and turn left.

Park address: 390 Cummins Falls Lane, Cookeville, TN.

931-520-6691, (931) 261-3471.

tnstateparks.com/parks/about/cummins-falls

Press Release from the Cookeville-Putnam Visitors’ Bureau, April 4, 2019:

MANCHESTER, Tenn. – Each year, hospitality and tourism leaders from across the state join together for the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association’s CVB/DMO Conference. Taking place this year in Manchester, Tenn., March 27-28, the Cookeville-Putnam Visitors’ Bureau team not only attended but was featured as an influential destination.

Vice President of Visitor Development Zach Ledbetter was invited to speak to the group of more than 100 Tennessee tourism representatives, sharing best practices and showcasing “How Smaller Destinations Can Do Very Big Things.”

Zach Ledbetter, vice president of visitor development, Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau, addresses questions regarding best practices during a panel discussion at the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association’s CVB/DMO Conference in Manchester, Tenn. last week.

Ledbetter, who leads the charge for marketing Putnam County as a travel destination, served as a speaker during an extensive panel discussion. Topics addressed included the roots of tourism in Putnam County and how events such as BlueCross Bowl gave the visitors’ bureau and the community the confidence to move forward with recruiting and hosting additional visitor-driven events, e.g. motorcycle rallies, fishing championships, etc.

Additional presentation bullets included development of a strategic marketing plan, creation of established branding pillars, inventory of existing tourism assets and packaging those assets to increase visitation to Putnam County.

Ledbetter also addressed questions from the audience regarding challenges in how to compete with larger as well as similar-sized destinations by leveraging a limited budget with smart and strategic targeted marketing investments, e.g. digital media buys, press releases. Additionally, taking advantage of location and proximity to destinations such as Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga was also covered.

The two-day conference offered specialized sessions and workshops aimed to educate and enhance industry knowledge, expanding the abilities of Tennessee’s convention & visitors’ bureaus and destination marketing organizations.

Putnam County’s most recent economic impact statistics (2017) demonstrate $132.03 million in direct tourism expenditures, an increase of 7.3 percent, landing a spot among the top ten counties for percentage increase over the previous year. Putnam County also saw an 8.1 percent increase in payroll with $24.89 million generated by tourism-related jobs. A 5.4 percent increase showed visitor spending generated $2.7 million in local tax receipts for Cookeville-Putnam County, while employment numbers have grown to 1,060 hospitality industry jobs.

Press Release from TennGreen, March 15, 2019:

Link: https://www.tenngreen.org/single-post/2019/03/18/Fall-Creek-Falls-Expansion

The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) are thrilled to announce the protection of two significant inholdings in Fall Creek Falls State Park, located in Van Buren County.

These two properties, which total around 27 acres on the northwest side of Fall Creek Falls State Park, have been areas of interest to TDEC for decades. Prior to TennGreen’s acquisition, both tracts were privately-owned and the landowners planned to sell them at auction. However, in order to ensure that these lands would be available to the public, the landowners agreed to work with TennGreen directly.

In early 2019, TennGreen purchased both properties on behalf of TDEC. Acquisition of these forested lands, located near the meeting point of Camps Gulf Branch and Cane Creek, will protect wildlife corridors and enable parks staff to more effectively maintain the park’s boundaries and highly-used amenities.

“Fall Creek Falls is already a natural gem,” said David Salyers, Commissioner for TDEC. “We are grateful to TennGreen and the landowners for making this wonderful expansion possible. This is an excellent example of what partnerships like this can achieve, and I’m excited that we are adding this beautiful forested area to a park that is already such a special place.”

We are pleased to see this important step,” said Jacob Young, Park Manager at Fall Creek Falls. “We are honored to be stewards of this property and we are glad this expansion can be enjoyed as part of Fall Creek Falls State Park for generations to come.”

Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s most visited state parks. Named after the highest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi River—the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls—the park is home to a variety of activities, with more than 56 miles of trails, caves, overlooks, and waterfalls.

This expansion of Fall Creek Falls State Park represents one of TennGreen’s many successful partnerships with the State of Tennessee to protect lands in the Scotts Gulf region. Since 1998, TennGreen has assisted in the conservation of more than 8,000 acres—including Buzzards Roost/Millikan’s Overlook and the Cane Creek Crusher Hole in Fall Creek Falls State Park, Welch’s Point, and Virgin Falls State Natural Area.

“This acquisition will protect water quality and scenic views in the Camps Gulf area,” said Steve Law, Executive Director of TennGreen. “It will also protect habitat in this important area of Fall Creek Falls State Park where both state- and federally-listed endangered species have been documented. TennGreen is grateful for its partnership with the State of Tennessee to protect the beauty and natural assets of the Upper Cumberland for current inhabitants and future generations to enjoy.”

TennGreen is grateful to Dr. Stephen Stedman, Gloria & Ted LaRoche, Ann & Clark Tidwell, Louise Gorenflo & Dennis Gregg, and Nita Whitfield for their generous contributions to this project.

Press Release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, March 14, 2019:

Link: https://www.dvidshub.net/news/314235/recreation-facilities-receive-damage-assessments-waters-recede

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 14, 2019) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is assessing damage to recreation facilities at its 10 lakes in the Cumberland River Basin as high waters begin to recede.

Officials are working as conditions allow to determine impacts to public lands, including roadways, recreation areas, facilities and campsites to make sure they are safe ahead of the 2019 recreation season.

“What we would like to convey to the public is that the majority of recreation areas and campgrounds across the district will open on schedule,” said Freddie Bell, Nashville District Natural Resources Management Section chief.

He said there are some impacts to recreation areas and campgrounds at Dale Hollow Lake, Center Hill Lake and Lake Cumberland, where some delays and partial closures may occur for repairs.

“Be mindful that we are not able to fully assess the damage in some locations until waters recede further,” Bell added. “We are doing everything possible to limit delays and avoid reservation cancellations at our campgrounds and are looking at alternatives for visitors.”

Center Hill Lake
Corps officials at Center Hill Lake in Tennessee are assessing conditions as the lake recedes at its recreation areas, to include Long Branch Campground, Floating Mill Campground and Ragland Bottom Campground. Long Branch and Ragland Bottom Campgrounds are on schedule to open in April, though some campsite-specific closures may occur due to erosion around facilities.

Initial assessments at Floating Mill Campground reveal that the Corps may need to delay opening until at least June. Officials will post updates on the condition and availability of recreational facilities to the lake’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/centerhilllake.

Alternatives for visitors affected by reservation cancellations at Center Hill Lake include Edgar Evins State Park, Rock Island State Park, Center Hill Lake marinas, campgrounds at other Nashville District lakes, and other Kentucky and Tennessee state parks.

Dale Hollow Lake
At Dale Hollow Lake, located in Tennessee and Kentucky, the staff is assessing conditions as the lake recedes at its recreation areas, to include Lillydale Campground and Obey River Campground. Initial assessments at Lillydale and Obey River Campgrounds project a delay in opening of up to 30 days. Willow Grove Campground and Dale Hollow Dam Campground should open as scheduled. A biking trail and fishing piers near Dale Hollow Dam Campground are still under water and have to be assessed when the water recedes. Lake-wide primitive camping locations are normally open all year, but are closed due to high water, most likely into April. Officials will post updates on the condition and availability of recreational facilities to the lake’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dalehollowlake.

Alternatives for visitors affected by reservation cancellations at Dale Hollow Lake include Dale Hollow Lake State Park, Dale Hollow Lake marinas, campgrounds at other Nashville District lakes, and other Kentucky and Tennessee state parks.

Lake Cumberland
At Lake Cumberland in Kentucky where the lake reached a record pool elevation of 756.52 feet on Feb. 26, Nashville District water managers continue to draw down the lake as Corps officials assess damage to recreation areas, to include campsites and boat ramps. Fall Creek Campground is opening on April 12. Cumberland Point Campground is also opening on April 12, 35 days earlier than originally scheduled to offset the unavailability of campsites at other areas on the lake.

Impacts at Fishing Creek Campground remain tentative as the lake continues to recede; however, we expect a delayed opening until mid-July. Below the dam at Kendall Campground, 11 campsites along the river are unavailable at this time due to erosion, but the campground will open on schedule. Corps officials are assessing conditions at Waitsboro Campground as the lake recedes, and the preliminary assessment has precipitated a partial seasonal closure most likely lasting into August. Officials will post updates on the condition and availability of recreational facilities to the lake’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lakecumberland.

Alternatives for visitors affected by reservation cancellations at Lake Cumberland include Lake Cumberland State Park, Lake Cumberland marinas, campgrounds at other Nashville District lakes, and other Kentucky and Tennessee state parks.

Lake staffs are communicating with recreation.gov officials to notify guests with existing reservations of any campground and shelter cancellations. Visitors who are concerned about their campsite or shelter reservations should call the Recreation.gov direct line at 1-877-444-6777. They may also visit www.recreation.gov for information about their existing camping or shelter reservation or to check the availability of facilities. Customers with existing reservations for closed sites due to flooding will be given the option for a full refund or moving their reservation to another available site with no service charge.

News and information regarding flooding impacts to Nashville District recreation areas will be made available on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, March 12, 2019:

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has acquired nearly 400 acres as an addition to the 440-acre Piney Falls State Natural Area in Rhea County.

“This significant acquisition, which contains stunning views of the ridge and valley of the Cumberland Plateau, provides additional protection for Upper Piney Falls,” said Roger McCoy, director of TDEC’s Division of Natural Areas. “We are grateful to our nonprofit partners for their support in making even more of Tennessee’s incredible viewshed accessible to visitors and rural residents alike.”

A parking area and hiking trails are currently provided at Piney Falls. The acquisition adds acreage that could lead to future trail development.

The acquisition transfers the land to the state from The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee (TNC). The Tucker Foundation assisted with the purchase through a grant to TNC, and the nonprofit Open Space Institute (OSI) provided funds toward the acquisition.

This latest partnership with OSI and TNC provides another example of the generosity of non-government partners helping accomplish TDEC’s mission.

“Piney Falls State Natural Area is more than a gorgeous place to experience the outdoors; it is also considered a wildlife habitat priority in Tennessee’s State Wildlife Action Plan,” said Terry Cook, TNC’s Tennessee state director. “When TDEC asked for our help to save additional land there, we jumped at the chance. This project is an excellent example of how private funding sources can leverage state funding to achieve conservation results for people and nature.”

“The conservation of Piney Falls demonstrates the importance of protecting land for wildlife facing an uncertain future,” said Peter Howell, executive vice president at OSI. “We commend The Nature Conservancy for acting quickly to purchase the property so it could be conserved for future generations.”

Piney Falls is a pristine forest land featuring creeks, waterfalls and old growth forest. It is also recognized by the United States Department of Interior as a National Natural Landmark. Piney Falls consists of deep gorges carved from the Little Piney River and Soak Creek Designated State Scenic River.

Designated in 1973, Piney Falls is one of Tennessee’s 85 State Natural Areas. For more information, visit https://www.tn.gov/environment/program-areas/na-natural-areas.html.

March means angling madness for Rock Island’s early spring spawners

Ask around what’s the best-eating freshwater fish and there’s a good chance walleye tops any serious angler’s menu.

True, walleye aren’t necessarily know for their bellicose resistance subsequent to biting a bait — leastwise not in the manner of, say, a burly smallmouth or mean-spirited musky. But owing to their delectable flavor, delicate flaky texture and bulky fillet slabs, walleye are as prized as any game fish that prowls the waters of North America.

Dale Gribble and the eye-popping walleye wall mount he made for display at the Rock Island State Park ranger station. Contact Gribble’s fishing-guide and taxidermy service at 931-743-8163.

Even though they’re not officially considered a cold-water fish, walleye are regarded by many as something of a “northern” species. To give an indication, at least three cities in Minnesota alone lay claim to the title of “Walleye Capital of the World.”

But in fact, at certain times of year, walleye fishing below the Mason-Dixon line — especially here in Tennessee — is superior even to renown Upper Midwest hotspots like the Big Lake They Called Gitche Gumee.

For starters, the world record walleye was caught by a man named Marbry Harper on Old Hickory Lake in 1960. At 41 inches and 25 pounds, that fish dwarfed the 17-18 pounders that stand as state records in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

A lot of people are unaware that three years prior to the Old Hickory catch, Center Hill Lake produced a behemoth-class monster that, at 21-pounds 4-ounces, was a certified U.S. record until eclipsed by the Harper fish. You can stop in and see that fabled catch for yourself at the Rock Island State Park ranger office, where it is mounted on the wall with a placard telling the tale of how local anglers Bennie “Buck” Bryant and Glen Grissom hauled it ashore after a 20-minute tug o’ war one frigid January day in 1957.

For 54-year-old local fishing guide and master taxidermist Dale Gribble, there indeed does not exist a finer body of water than Center Hill Lake for landing trophy walleye.

Bennie “Buck” Bryant and Glen Grissom caught a 21¼ lb. walleye on Center Hill Lake in 1957. At the time it was a national record. Pictured above is Bryant and then 2-year-old Jimmy Grissom. (Photo via TN State Library and Archives)

“In my personal opinion, there is no better place anywhere in the world for walleye fishing,” said Gribble. “I have fished for walleye everywhere — from here to Canada and all over Canada. Fishing for walleye, that’s my thing. And I can tell you that when it’s on, there’s no beating walleye fishing on Center Hill Lake.”

Gribble maintains that the record Rock Island walleye isn’t even the biggest walleye he’s personally witnessed lugged out of a Center Hill honey hole.

Once when Gribble was fishing with his grandfather back in the mid-1970s, he said they observed a couple elderly anglers tow in a brute that would have eclipsed even the Old Hickory monstrosity.

“I will never forget it. They caught that thing on a bluegill, and it was he biggest walleye I’ve ever seen,” said Gribble. “I still remember the exact bush they were tied on to when they caught it. You couldn’t believe it — that fish was massive. It was huge.”

“I had a picture for years and years — I wish I still did,” he added. “It was hanging on a scale and it weighed 27 pounds. That would be a world record today.” Gribble said it measured “right around 38 inches.”

Not every walleye is a trophy, but they’re always good-eating. Here a first-time walleye fisherman shows off his catch below Cordell Hull Dam. (Photo Credit: Bill Medley, Medley Fishing School. 615-397-4137)

But it was never reported for any kind of record verification. The guys who caught it “were a couple of old-timers who didn’t care about stuff like that,” said Gribble.

As far as predicting when the fishing is going to be “on,” there’s probably no better time than March, when walleye run by the thousands up Center Hill Lake’s headwaters on the Caney Fork for their yearly spawn. That’s when and where biologists from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency collect many of the walleye they use for breeding in state-run fry-rearing facilities, like the Normandy Fish Hatchery.

“The majority of the fish we collect come from Center Hill at Rock Island,” said Mike Jolley, the TWRA fisheries manager for Upper Cumberland reservoirs.

Because of their appetizing reputation, walleye that meet size-limit regulations “generally go home with people,” said Doug Markham, a four-decade veteran of TWRA who retired last year.

For that reason, stocking programs are important for maintaining strong numbers. “It’s a fishery that needs some help to sustain itself in a lot of these waters,” Markham said. In a lot of places like the Cumberland River system, walleye “would still be there if it wasn’t for stocking, but they wouldn’t be there is such abundance,” he said.