PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, Sept. 20, 2017:

TDCI Announces Approval of Rates for 2018 Individual Marketplace

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) announces today the approval of insurance rates requested by the three carriers offering coverage on the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) ahead of Open Enrollment for 2018.

The rates sought by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Cigna, and Oscar Health for coverage on the FFM in 2018 are as follows:

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee: Average 21.4 percent increase (Range: 4.6% – 44.5%)

Cigna: Average 42.1 percent increase (Range: 12.2% – 182.2%)

Oscar Health: Initial Rate Filing (Rating Area 4)

A map detailing the carriers’ plans across Tennessee’s eight rating areas can be found here.

TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak, who testified twice this year to the Senate on behalf of consumers, has supported stabilization of the market by Congress in order to lower the 2018 rate requests. Recent bipartisan efforts ended Tuesday without an agreement.

“I’m disappointed by yesterday’s announcement out of Washington,” said McPeak. “While Tennessee is supportive of long-term strategies such as the Graham-Cassidy Amendment introduced in Congress, I appreciate the diligent efforts of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to find common ground in providing more immediate stabilization in the marketplace. Instead, it appears more likely that Tennesseans must prepare themselves for a round of actuarially justified rates for 2018 that are far higher than could be necessary as a result of uncertainty in Washington. On behalf of Tennessee consumers, I continue to urge Congress to take action to stabilize insurance markets. The Department stands ready to take action to aid consumers should stabilization measures be enacted.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must now review Tennessee’s approvals.

Companies will have until September 27 to sign agreements with CMS to participate in the marketplace.

On Oct. 5, the Department will hold a public meeting where insurance carriers will present their coverage plans to navigators.

Open Enrollment for 2018 is slated to begin Nov. 1 and last through Dec. 15.

PRESS RELEASE from Tennessee Tech University, Sept. 14, 2017:

The 13th Annual Nolan Fowler Constitution Day Celebration at Tennessee Tech presents “After Philadelphia: The Voice of the People and the Rowdy Origins of the Constitution” with Lorri Glover Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. in Derryberry Hall Auditorium.

Lorri Glover, author of “Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries”

Glover teaches at Saint Louis University, where she holds the John Francis Bannon endowed chair in history. She has written extensively about early America, from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. Glover has published works concerning siblings and kinship in South Carolina, masculinity in the Early Republic, the seventeenth-century colonization of Virginia and its sister settlement Bermuda, the intersection of family and politics in the lives of leading American Revolutionaries, and, most recently, the contentious debates over ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787-1788.

Her latest works include “Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries;” with Craig Thompson Friend, “Death and the American South;” and “The Fate of the Revolution: Virginians Debate the Constitution.” Glover received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Alabama and her master’s degree from Clemson University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky.

The Nolan Fowler Constitution Day Celebration, now in its 13th year, commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. Named in honor of Nolan Fowler, a retired history professor at Tech who taught history and constitutional law at the university from 1962 to 1979, the annual event is made possible by his financial endowment to establish the Constitution Day Celebration at Tech.

The event is free and open to the public.

Derryberry Hall is located at 1 William L. Jones Drive, Cookeville.

Press release from the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, Sept. 12, 2017:

Area to be Featured on World Fishing Network, Sportsman, and Outdoor Channels

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Internationally televised, Emmy-nominated television show Fishing University will soon make Cookeville-Putnam County home, filming two episodes to air in 2018 and featuring not only area lakes, but local dining, activities and attractions. The film crew, along with hosts/fishing legends Charlie Ingram and Ray Brazier, will arrive in late October, fishing and filming on area lakes with Center Hill Lake already confirmed.

Fishing University holds a viewership of more than 63 million households, airing in all 50 states as well as in 51 additional countries. The Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau is serving as point for the project, viewing it as strategic marketing opportunity to reach a target audience of potential guests seeking an outdoor travel destination.

“When Fishing University reached out to us with their proposal, we knew it would be a natural fit to accompany our other marketing and advertising efforts for 2018,” said Zach Ledbetter, vice president of visitor development for the Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau. “We will not only be able to put a spotlight on the world-renowned fishing opportunities in our region, but also feature the community, culture and activities that guests can experience while visiting.”

“Fishing University filming on beautiful area lakes is an exciting opportunity for Putnam County and the state,” said Kevin Triplett, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “This is a testament to the natural assets we have for professional and hobby anglers alike. They can wet a line in more than 50,000 miles of rivers and streams and a half-million acres of lakes. Being featured on Fishing University features those assets, exposes scenic outdoor destinations and gives visitors a chance to explore communities along the water. We are thrilled they have chosen Tennessee and Putnam County.”

Within each 30-minute episode of the show, a 90-second promotional spot will be included. The spots will be created to mirror marketing efforts of the visitors’ bureau. Hosts Ingram and Brazier will also include numerous mentions of their location during each show.

In addition to filming promotional spots and fishing, the hosts and film crew will also present a one-hour program at local schools to share with area youth the importance of attaining an education and the outdoor career options available to them. The session will offer a “q & a” time with discussion of majors such as communications, marketing, biology, wildlife management, and animal husbandry. Each school will have a 2-minute segment within the show.

“We are proud to welcome Fishing University to Putnam County,” said Ben Prine, chairman for the Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau. “Coverage such as this will be seen by an audience of anglers that travel and have expendable income which will be good from both a branding and economic impact perspective.”

The competitive fishing show is packed with how-to tips and tricks of the trade, making it popular among competitive amateur and professional anglers. Viewers of World Fishing Network and the Outdoor and Sportsman Channels tend to spend more time on the water and are more active consumers than those of competing networks.

Standing Stone’s ‘Rolley Hole’ Tournament Celebrating 35th Anniversary

It’s something of a well-worn cliche to label a secluded place of natural beauty a “hidden gem.” But in the case of Standing Stone State Park, the description fits perfectly.

Located deep in the steep rises and ridges of the Highland Rim, the park is set covertly against the Cumberland Plateau amidst a maze of cryptic hills south of Dale Hollow Lake, about 10 miles northwest of Livingston.

Standing Stone is tucked well off and away from paths typically beaten by travelers and tourists exploring the Volunteer State’s numberless destinations for scenic eye-appeal. The 855-acre park in Overton County is also surrounded by more than 8,000 acres of state forest. Its rolling countryside is lavishly adorned with rugged woods and resplendent waterside scenery.

Opportunities for observing thriving wildlife populations — deer, turkey, fox, raccoons, bobcat, waterfowl, hawks, owls and songbirds — are commonplace, often tranquilly intersperse among areas frequented by crowds of human visitors.

“It’s most definitely not a place where you get tired of working,” said Shawn Hughes, a ranger at Standing Stone who grew up in the area. “It’s gorgeous in whatever season you are in, and it always offers something for everyone.”

Wildflower blooms are immense, and Standing Stone offers particularly spellbinding sprays and displays along contemplative timberland footpaths. “On our lake trails, the abundance of the shooting-star wildflowers is one of the highlights,” said Hughes. “And you don’t have to go very far — you might just go down one trail a little ways and see 70 or 80 specimens in bloom.”

Standing Stone’s colors and bold contours draw visitors throughout the year, but it’s late summer that brings about one of the most distinctive attractions for which Standing Stone is known, beyond just the grand landscape. The most highly anticipated happening the park has annually offered for the past three and a half decades is a crown-jewel of a marble tournament.

On Saturday, Standing Stone will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship, one of the the most prominent and history-laden events of its kind in the United States — perhaps even the world.

Many books and articles have been written about the Rolley Hole tournament over the years — and the ageless sport of marble-shooting in general along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. From Sports Illustrated to Southern Living to the Smithsonian Institution, Standing Stone’s Rolley Hole tourney has been spotlighted numerous times over the years on national television news and sports programs. It even made an appearance in Charles M. Schulz’s famed “Peanuts” comic strip.

“The sport of rolley hole requires technical shooting skiffs as well as thoughtful strategy. It shares features in common with golf, pool, and croquet,” wrote renown Tennessee folklorist Robert Fulcher. “A centuries-old phenomenon, numerous variants of rolley hole have been documented worldwide. Shakespeare mentioned the game of Cherry Pit, which involved rolling a marble into a hole.”

Ranger Hughes is the chief organizer for the annual Rolley Hole tournament. Getting to know the game means gaining greater appreciation for regional culture and history, he said.

“The whole marble culture thing is so neat and cool,” said Hughes. “It really is deeper than what it looks at first glance, and the more you are around it and learn about it the greater it is.”

The game “seems super simple but the depth and complexity and strategy is really amazing,” he said.

More than even that, the Rolley Hole Championship and the accompanying festivities throughout the day — live music, food, marble-making, trading and selling — brings together the past and connects it with the future.

“You see a lot of older folks sort of get to step back in time and relive some of their youth,” said Hughes. “Or an older generation teaching a younger generation. Seeing a grandfather with his grandkids, teaching them to play marbles — I don’t know how much better it can get than that.”

In addition to “a day full of marble fun,” the 35th Rolley Hole event will include 7 hours of live bluegrass, blues, and old-time music by bands and artists like Uncle Shuffelo & His Haint Hollow Hootenanny, the Rockdale Ridgerunners, Avery Trace, Lonesome County Line and Kentucky Just Us, Trenton Caruthers, Mike DeFosche, Conner Vlietstra and a special set by Robert Eskew.

Also planned is a tribute to the music of the late Robert “Bud” Garrett, a legendary local blues musician and marble maker.

The festival begins at 8 a.m. and admission is free. For more information about the festival and Standing Stone State Park, visit http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/standing-stone or call 931-823- 6347.

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Sept. 6, 2017:

More than Pumpkins to Pick on Local Farms This Fall

NASHVILLE– A trip to the pumpkin patch has become standard fare for autumn loving locals, and this year it’s worth looking around for more than great gourds. Many farmers are expanding options for consumers to learn how and where food and home goods are grown or made.

Bountiful Acres Farm near Watertown produces a wide range of personal care products, and found that customers also wanted to learn how to make their own. Owner Sue Dickhaus added a retail store in Lebanon where she hosts soap making classes using the same goat’s milk, honey bee products and herbs her family produces on the farm.

In addition to dairy and creamery tours, Noble Springs Dairy near Franklin hosts farm festivals every Saturday from September 16 through October 28. Their celebrations include pumpkin picking, food trucks at their picnic area, a bounce house and petting zoo.

Greeneville’s Two Roots Vineyard and Alpacas hosts a National Alpacas Farm Days festival September 24 and 25. Visitors can try spinning and weaving in addition to touring the vineyard, picnicking and mingling with the farm’s alpacas.

Most agritourism farms, like Falcon Ridge near Jackson, still offer farm favorites like wagon rides, petting zoos, pony rides, all kinds of fall décor, and pumpkin picking. Family movie nights in the pumpkin patch, praise and worship opportunities for area congregations, and educational corn mazes are also popular fall fare. The Plantation Barn of 1810 in Morristown is a popular wedding venue, and this year plans to host a community wide “trunk or treat” for the first time.

Find fall farm activities and products with the Pick Tennessee mobile app or here. Most on-farm activities depend on good weather, so call ahead and check the farm’s social media posts before traveling.

Pick Tennessee is the farmer to consumer service of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and offers farm, farmers market, and farm product directories as well as seasonal recipes. Follow Pick Tennessee on social media.

Scenic Center Hill Lake recreation preserve something of an undiscovered treasure

When Kenny Gragg took over the top managerial post at Edgar Evins State Park last winter, it was something of a homecoming for him.

As a kid growing up in Cookeville, Gragg would often visit the 6,000 acre nature preserve and recreation destination overlooking Center Hill Lake on fun-seeking outings with friends or camp-retreats with his church group.

But it wasn’t until after he graduated with a degree in wildlife management from Tennessee Tech and worked at other parks that he said he really came to appreciate what Edgar Evins has to offer.

Kenny Gragg, managing ranger at Edgar Evins State Park

“Edgar Evins is so unique and diverse with flora and fauna. It’s nothing to see all kinds of wildlife just walking a quarter mile down one of our trails,” Gragg said. “Of all the state parks, it has some of the most diverse wildlife in the state. In my entire career I’d never seen a bobcat until I came here.”

He added, “There’s always the possibility that a bear could migrate in and show up, although I haven’t seen one, but I would never rule it out.”

Gragg, who worked as the managing ranger at Tims Ford in Franklin County before taking over the chief administrator slot at Edgar Evins, said he’s a deeply committed advocate of the Tennessee outdoors in general.

“You won’t find a bigger fan of the state of Tennessee than me,” he said. “I worked in Wyoming for a summer and I loved it out there. I even thought it might be great to move there. But when I came back, I fell back in love with Tennessee and now I never want to leave again.”

But Gragg said he was all the same a little stunned when he showed back up at Edgar Evins last winter to start his current job. It was a particularly nice day in February, the sunlight gleaming on the cliffs over the lake. A heartfelt appreciation was stirred in him for the beauty and distinctness the park’s ridges, slopes and crags.

Observation tower overlooking Center Hill Dam at Edgar Evins State Park

“One of the first things I really noticed here after coming back from Tims Ford was the hills,” he said. “It’s hilly at Tims Ford, of course, but not like it’s hilly here. This side of the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, you really just can’t beat it — I love being back in these hills.”

“Just driving on the backroads around here — like Lancaster Highway down below the dam — I’m not sure where you find a more beautiful stretch of highway in the country than that,” Gragg said.

One of Gragg’s priorities is boosting the “business side” of the government-run park by enticing more people to come to appreciate its appeal. He said he wants to do more to promote the park and “get it on the map.”

“It is amazing how little people know about the park and all that it has to offer,” he said.“You can drive to Smithville and find people who don’t even realize there is a state park over here.”

He believes a key to success in that regard is to “drive up the overnight visitation.”

“To do that we have got to develop more recreational opportunities,” Gragg said.

One of his long-range ambitions is to work with Middle Tennessee and Upper Cumberland mountain biking enthusiasts to design and build riding trails around the park. Designated backcountry biking paths would wonderfully complement the area’s hiking trails and vast capacity for paddling, fishing and boating, he said.

“For visitors to be able to go kayaking one day and then go mountain biking the next would be fantastic,” said Gragg.

For a list of upcoming events at Edgar Evins State Park, go here.