Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, April 30:

Comptroller’s Office Studies Teacher Salaries In Tennessee

Link: https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/news/2019/4/25/comptroller-s-office-studies-teacher-salaries-in-tennessee.html

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has released a report examining how money intended to boost teacher salaries has been used by local school districts. More than $300 million in new, recurring state dollars was appropriated by the General Assembly though the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. The legislative intent for the increased state funding was to increase teacher salaries across Tennessee.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) surveyed Tennessee’s school districts, and the majority of respondents reported awarding salary increases to teachers for three consecutive years (fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018). Those pay raises resulted in an increase of Tennessee’s average classroom teacher salary of 6.2 percent (just under $3,000), making it the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries during fiscal years 2015 through 2018. In addition to providing raises, districts also used increased state BEP instructional salaries funds to hire more instructional staff.

OREA found that while total local revenue budgeted for school districts increased at about the same rate as BEP state revenue, salary expenditures (whether for new hires or raises) could not be linked back to their revenue source, either state or local. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid with state funds versus local funds.

The state’s main lever for increasing state funding for salaries – the BEP formula’s salary unit cost figure – is not directly linked to pay raises for every teacher. The increased funding generated through the salary unit cost is applied only to BEP-calculated positions; most districts fund additional positions. Because districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP.

OREA examined district expenditures and found that, statewide, districts increased spending for instructional salaries and health insurance by about 9 percent while spending on retirement increased about 8 percent. At the individual district level, the growth in salary expenditures varied, from a decrease of 10 percent to an increase of over 26 percent.

The Comptroller’s report includes policy considerations addressing how the state may wish to implement an in-depth salary survey of selected districts to periodically obtain a more complete picture of district salary trends, as well as develop a process to determine which districts are eligible for a separate state allocation of salary equity funding, intended to raise teacher salaries in select districts with lower-than-average salaries.

To read the Comptroller’s report, please visit https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/

Paddlesport fishing promoters chart course into international waters

A potentially sea-changing angling competition is set to launch on the vast, bass-rich reaches of Center Hill Lake at the end of May.

During the week following Memorial Day, elite kayak anglers from across the Western Hemisphere will converge on the Upper Cumberland to test their skills and try their luck against one another in a first-of-its-kind invitational tournament that organizers hope baits the hook for bigger fish to fry down the line.

The Caney Fork River’s impounded waters behind Center Hill Dam will serve as venue to a distinguished lineup of paddle-and-pole wielding mastercasters who’ll compete in this year’s inaugural Pan-American Kayak Bass Championship.

Drew Gregory will participate in the Pan American Kayak Fishing Championship on Center Hill Lake May 28-31.

Countries slated to ship angler-ambassadors here to contend against the USA Bass Kayak team for transcontinental bass bragging rights include Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

The overarching goal of the tournament is to lay the foundation for establishing an officially sanctioned world-championship kayak fishing competition — which could lead ultimately to recognition and embrace of the sport by the International Olympic Committee.

At a minimum, the multinational USA Bass-sponsored meet-up will elevate Center Hill Lake’s profile, and burnish the Upper Cumberland’s reputation as a paddling-angler’s paradise second to none.

Participants are expected to arrive early and stay late exploring various regional fisheries in addition to Center Hill — like Cordell Hull and Dale Hollow lakes, as well Cumberland River Basin moving-water jewels, like the upper and lower reaches of the Caney Fork and its multispecies-filled tributaries, the Falling Water, Calfkiller and Collins rivers.

A Natural Fit

The Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau is responsible for luring the event to the area.

This region is a “natural fit” for high-end angling tournaments and other adventure-sport gatherings with the capacity to draw substantial crowds of participants and spectators, said Zach Ledbetter, vice president of visitor development.

“We have an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who want to compete on calm and bass-filled waters,” said Ledbetter. “Aside from the outstanding hospitality of our community, the value of our natural assets allows us to welcome anglers from all over the world.”

Ledbetter put together a bid package last fall that outshined efforts by other fishing destinations — including Columbia, S.C., Hot Springs, Ark. and Branson, Mo.

“Cookeville and Center Hill Lake quickly became the clear choice to host this historic event,” said Tony Forte, president of USA Bass and founder of the U.S Angling Confederation, a nonprofit sport-fishing advocacy group.

The public is encouraged to meet and mingle with anglers at the tournament launch areas — Ragland Bottom Recreation Area, Cane Hollow Boat Ramp and Rock Island State Park.

Forte said tournament officials “looked at Dale Hollow pretty hard, too.” But DHL lacked CHL’s logistical appeal, he said. Center Hill Lake is situated nearer Nashville and I-40 — and it’s neighbored by inviting communities like Sparta, McMinnville and Smithville in addition to Cookeville.

Tourism-focused businesses throughout the area may get a bite of extra business from the Pan Am event. “We really hope this proves advantageous to the host communities, and commerce is obviously part of that process,” said Forte. “If this event allows for some guided fishing trips and more stays in local hotels and meals in local restaurants and those kinds of things, then we’re all about it.”

That’s obviously what Ledbetter has in mind, too. And he echoed a sentiment shared by chamber leaders around the Upper Cumberland: visitors come here for numerous regional attractions, so it makes sense to work across county lines to promote events, activities and destinations.

Cookeville serves as a destination hub for the Upper Cumberland, Ledbetter said, and visitors will often roam out to explore the surrounding region using the city as a base camp. In fact, none of the Pan Am tournament launch points are actually in Putnam County — Cane Hollow is in White County, Ragland Bottom is in DeKalb, and Rock Island is in Warren.

“We push day trips a lot,” Ledbetter said. “Whether visitors just stay right here in Cookeville, or go out to places like Cumberland Caverns in Warren County or Granville in Jackson County, we consider it a win for all of us.”

Big Name Boaters

Forte said kayak angling has for the past decade been “exploding worldwide.” But as yet it “hasn’t evolved to the point where it’s making household names.”

“That’s part of what a tournament like ours is designed to do,” he said.

Chad Hoover

The Pan Am Kayak Bass Championship could launch competitive kayak angling onto the global stage — and likewise position the Upper Cumberland to anchor future international tournaments.

“I would love to see a world championship come to Cookeville at some point — where we invite all the nations’ best kayak anglers to come,” said Forte. “We’re hoping we can make that happen.”

If the anglers competing to win the Pan Am aren’t household names exactly, some aren’t altogether unrecognizable either.

The two biggest names on the U.S. team are probably those belonging to Chad Hoover and Eric Jackson.

Both are media-savvy adventure-sport entrepreneurs who’ve navigated their life’s passions into lucrative careers that allow them to spend a lot of their waking hours on the water for a living.

A resident of Hendersonville, Hoover hosts Youtube’s most popular kayak fishing channel.

Not only has Hoover been a kayak-fishing fanatic for two decades — long before its popularity caught on — he’s organized some of the largest North American paddlesport angling tournaments ever held. His KBF brand is one of the Pan Am tournament’s sponsors — although he himself is solely a participant.

Eric Jackson

Jackson is already a pioneering, world championship-winning athlete ranked among whitewater kayaking’s most accomplished competitors in the sport’s history. Propelling himself onto the winner’s dock to hoist aloft the first ever Pan Am kayak bass champion’s trophy would constitute a truly remarkable follow-up to Jackson’s brilliant 30-year whitewater paddling career.

There’s also the fact that the company Jackson founded is probably the most identifiable paddlesport boat-maker in the world.

Jackson Kayak’s immense White County factory headquarters bolstered the area’s allure to Pan Am organizers. JK is helping sponsor the event and will provide kayaks for anglers visiting from far-flung foreign fisheries.

Springtime Is Primetime

Speaking of which, home-water advantage for Tennessee anglers like Hoover and Jackson won’t likely play as big a factor in the Pan Am championship as might typically be expected, according to a pair of veteran anglers well accustom to competing in bass tournaments on Center Hill Lake.

The Pan Am’s timing coincides with what’s typically some of CHL’s hottest bass fishing, said local pros Josh Tramel and Adam Wagner.

Tramel lives in Smithville and Wagner in Cookeville, and both have earned more tournament wins and money finishes on the lake than either can rightly recall. Each could stock an enviable trophy room just with Center Hill Lake hardware they’ve collected over the decades.

Already this year Tramel has landed an FLW first-place trophy on CHL in a tournament that saw Wagner place 5th. Wagner netted a victory on Dale Hollow Lake over the winter — his 11th career victory in FLW Bass Fishing League competitions, tying him at third for most FLW tourney first-place finishes of all time.

Pan Am anglers will compete for inches rather than pounds.

Tramel and Wagner say black bass on CHL in late May will likely be holding in relatively shallow water, and probably in a mood to bite and fight. That’s good news for anglers unfamiliar with the lake’s perplexing range of deeper-water structure, around which bass will spend most of their daytime hours after water temps start their summertime climb in June.

Tramel expects Pan Am tournament anglers will locate fish in water less than 15 feet deep — maybe even less than 10 feet in some areas. “The 10- or 12-foot range will catch them at that time of year,” he said.

Another nice thing about spring fishing is that anglers can choose from a variety of plugs, plastics and presentation tactics that will yield success, said Wagner.

“It’ll be really, really good in late May,” he said. “That post-spawn bite over there is always good. You can catch them on topwater, you can catch them on a Carolina rig, you can catch them on a crankbait or a spoon. There are just a whole lot of things you can do to catch fish on Center Hill at that time of year.”

Tramel said Pan Am competitors might have difficulty tracking down paunchy females, but aggressive males will be guarding schools of recently hatched fry and “will be hitting pretty good.”

“It’s a really good time for like two-and-a-half to three-and-a-quarter-pounders,” he said.

Like Wagner, Tramel expects surface-swimming lures will make for good fishing during the tournament, which isn’t always the case on Center Hill.

“Topwater will be a player. There will probably be a lot of fish caught on topwater at that point,” Tramel said. “There’ll also be some good fish caught on a shakey head, drop-shot sort of thing. My favorite thing would be pitching at that point in the year — pitching a jig or some plastics, bigger-profile type baits.”

One of Tramel’s standard strategies on CHL is to keep moving. He avoids spending too much time in one area if he’s not hooking up — even if he’s already boated a couple in the vicinity. It’s kind of unusual to catch multiple keeper-size fish in one location on Center Hill, he said.

If they were competing in the Pan Am tournament, both Wagner and Tramel say they’d want to launch from Cane Hollow or Ragland Bottom.

“With either one of those, you wouldn’t have to go far at all to catch fish,” Wagner said. “You could basically put in and start fishing. All the area around both Ragland and Cane Hollow is pretty good.”

“I fish around Cane Hollow a lot,” Tramel said. “It is up in Falling Water River and there are just a couple different sorts of structure-types, but historically the fish will be hitting back in there.”

Located in the heart of the Center Hill Lake, the Army Corps of Engineers-managed Ragland Bottom recreation area offers a wealth of fish-habitat diversity in many directions.

“There’s a lot of versatile water around there where you can do a lot of different things,” Tramel said. “You’ve got the main channel, you’ve creeks and pockets and all different kinds of structure that the fish can get in to.”

Certain areas of the lake are better for smallmouth than largemouth, and visa versa, Tramel noted.

“Whereas in Falling Water, you’re going to be targeting largemouth primarily, around Ragland Bottom you’re going to have access to whatever bass species you want to fish for,” he said.

Spotted bass caught on Center Hill have lately been running smaller than smallmouth and largemouth, Tramel added.

Wagner disclosed that Davies Island, located about two river miles north of Ragland, is a Center Hill sweet spot.

“It’s got some very good current through there, especially when they’re really pulling water (at the dam),” he said. “There are a lot of spots there, where current hits, that are really good.”

Davies Island is positioned at the confluence of the Falling Water and Caney Fork river arms. The island is four miles in circumference and “a huge population of fish” tend to congregate around it, said Wagner.

Fishing in a kayak is quite a bit different than fishing in a boat. Whereas stealth and maneuverability are a kayak’s chief attributes, bass boats can obviously cover a lot more water.

Tramel and Wagner agree that not being able to zip across the lake at 60 miles an hour in search of covert bass cover would dramatical change how they’d approach a tournament.

“In a bass boat, I can run from one end of the lake to the other in not a whole lot of time,” Tramel said. “In a kayak, you better start where there are some fish, or you’re probably going to be in trouble.”

News Release from Middle Tennessee State University, April 18, 2019:

Link: https://mtsunews.com/healthcare-tech-jobs-report-2019/

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — App developers are the most in-demand tech jobs in the Middle Tennessee’s burgeoning healthcare industry and demand for healthcare tech workers overall “grew steadily” in recent years, according to a new MTSU report.

Released Thursday at the latest tech talk hosted by the Greater Nashville Technology Council, the “Healthcare Tech Middle Tennessee” report was developed by the Department of Information Systems and Analytics in MTSU’s Jones College of Business in partnership with the tech advocacy organization.

Report author Amy Harris, associate professor in information systems and analytics, moderated a panel of experts from area healthcare tech companies to discuss the report findings and what they mean for the region’s healthcare sector.

“Health care is such a strong economic driver in this region that we felt it was important to understand more about its contribution to tech workforce demand,” said Harris, who released a report late last year about the state of tech jobs overall in the Midstate.

“The study’s findings provide evidence of healthy — and growing — demand for health care tech workers. Of the 38,000-plus postings for tech jobs in Middle Tennessee last year, one-third were associated with healthcare. That’s just over 12,500 healthcare tech jobs. This is strong evidence that the increasing use of technology in healthcare delivery is fueling job growth in our region.”

The report — which includes breakdowns in areas such as most in-demand occupations, job titles, and skills — covers the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin and Clarksville, TN-KY metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). You can download the full report at http://www.middletntechjobs.com/healthcare-tech-2019/.

“Understanding the specific tech talent needs of our major industries is vital to the success in growing our tech workforce,” explained Brian Moyer, president and CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council. “We want to thank Dr. Harris and the MTSU Department of Information Systems and Analytics for their continued efforts to shed light on the unique facets of region’s tech community.”

Other report highlights:

  • When comparing healthcare tech job demand to overall tech job demand, there was a high degree of consistency in the top occupations, job titles, skills, and qualifications. However, there was considerable variation in the proportion of overall tech demand driven by healthcare when looking at individual occupations and job titles.
  • Demand for healthcare tech workers grew steadily through 2017 and 2018, peaking at 3,072 active job postings in December 2018.
  • The most in-demand healthcare tech occupation was Software Developers, Applications with 12.7 percent of postings associated with this occupation group. The Management Analysts and Computer Systems Analysts occupation groups followed close behind, with 12.5 percent and 11.8 percent of postings, respectively.
  • SQL (a software programming language) is the most in-demand skill for healthcare tech workers with 23 percent of postings referencing this skill. Agile Software Development and Business Requirements followed, appearing in 15 percent and 9 percent of postings, respectively.

This report is part of the Middle Tennessee Tech research program, which has the goal of providing industry, economic development, and academic audiences with data on the current state of the Midstate technology workforce. It is a partnership between MTSU’s Department of Information Systems and Analytics and the Greater Nashville Technology Council.

News Release from the Republican Party of Tennessee, April 18, 2019:

Link: https://www.tngopsenate.com/2019/04/18/capitol-hill-week-legislation-calls-for-medicaid-block-grant-waiver-to-construct-an-innovative-plan-that-better-serves-the-needs-of-tenncare-recipients/

Legislation calls for Medicaid block grant waiver to construct an innovative plan that better serves the needs of TennCare recipients

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 18, 2019 – Major legislation calling for Tennessee’s Commissioner of Finance and Administration to request a block grant waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to better serve recipients of the state’s TennCare program was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week.

Senate Bill 1428, sponsored by Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), is designed to maximize flexibility in constructing an innovative plan that serves the needs of Tennesseans, while ensuring the state continues to receive its full share of federal Medicaid dollars.

“The overall goal is to provide an effective and innovative plan that is specific to the healthcare needs of all Tennesseans, while lowering costs and increasing access to patient-centered care,” said Senator Bailey. “We need the flexibility to determine what is best for our citizens instead of continuing down the path of a one-size-fits-all program from Washington.”

Bailey said the legislation has been worked on diligently over the past several weeks with TennCare officials, Senator Lamar Alexander’s office, and Senate leadership.

“I, along with Senate leadership, have worked diligently to address the concerns of all stakeholders,” added Bailey. “We are in a unique situation with Senator Lamar Alexander currently chairing the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and I am confident his office will continue to be a valuable resource moving forward.”

The legislation requires the commissioner to submit the block grant waiver request to CMS within 180 days of the bill’s enactment. The block grant must convert funding for the program into an allotment that is tailored to meet the needs of Tennesseans. Coverage for the existing TennCare population would be maintained under the proposal.

The bill specifies that funds must be indexed for costs such as population and inflation growth. Funding must remain at the level set, without any decrease in the federal share based on deflation or a reduction in population. Administrative costs would be excluded, permitting the state to continue to draw federal matching funds for operating the program. To provide maximum flexibility regarding pharmacy benefits, the amendment includes fluctuation of prescription drug costs, diabetic testing supplies, and over-the-counter medications.

In addition, the proposal gives the state additional flexibility to serve other needy populations with distinct financial or healthcare needs.

The measure would become law upon Governor Lee’s signature. It now goes to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for consideration, and must also receive approval from the Finance, Ways and Means Committee before moving to the full Senate for a final vote.

The Tennessee Legislature this week approved a measure that proposes creating a nine-member statewide commission to authorize new charter schools and oversee their subsequent performance.

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a school-choice proponent, has been promoting the legislation.

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 796, the “Public Charter School Commission” would act as an appeals board for hearing challenges to a local board of education’s decision to reject a charter school application. If the commission reverses the local board’s decision and subsequently approves the charter school, then the commission members would thereafter serve as that charter school’s oversight authority.

The legislation passed by decisive margins in both General Assembly chambers — 61-37 in the House and 27-3 in the Senate. State Reps. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were the only Upper Cumberland lawmakers voting against the bill.

The new commission would supersede the charter-school oversight responsibilities currently administered by the State Board of Education, according to one of the legislation’s primary Senate sponsors, Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey.

The State BOE would, however, ultimately oversee the Charter School Commission.

“Most public charter schools in our state are offering a great education to our lowest income children for free,” Kelsey said in a press release. “We are hopeful that this legislation will encourage more high-quality schools to open in Tennessee.”

Kelsey predicts that the measure will create an environment wherein charter schools are held to higher standards. Senate Bill 796 will also ensure that “low-performing charters” are more effectively weeded out, he said.

Press Release from Tennessee State Library and Archives, April 18, 2019:

Event free, but pre-registration required due to limited seating

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Civil War has touched the life of almost every U.S. citizen but connecting families with complete records can present challenges. On Saturday, May 4, the Tennessee State Library and Archives will host a free workshop entitled, “Cross Connections to the Civil War.”

Presenter J. Mark Lowe will demonstrate how to search and use the wide variety of records available through the Tennessee State Library and Archives – including records from the Grand Army of the Republic, United Confederate Veterans, United States Colored Troops, Confederate and Union Army pensions, Southern Claims Commission, court martials, newspaper accounts, unit histories, letters to governors and presidents, diaries and more. Participants can expect to leave with knowledge and tools to draw a more complete picture of their Civil War ancestor and family history.

J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA, is a certified genealogist who has been researching family history for more than 50 years. Lowe is a renowned author and lecturer specializing in original records and manuscripts throughout the South. He grew up in Tennessee but has extensive family roots in Kentucky. He has traveled both states and enjoys sharing his love of genealogy and the joy of research with others.

Lowe has served as president of the Association of Professional Genealogists and is past president of the Friends of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. His expertise has been featured on several genealogical television series including African American Lives 2 (PBS), Who Do You Think You Are? (TLC) and Follow Your Past (Travel).

The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m to 11 a.m. CDT Saturday, May 4, in the Library and Archives auditorium. The Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Ave. N., directly west of the Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville. Free parking is available around the Library and Archives building.

Although the workshop is free and open to the public, registration is required due to limited seating. To make a reservation, visit https://crossconnections.eventbrite.com.

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 Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, April 11, 2019:

McGee appointed to serve in the Western Section of the Court of Appeals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee appointed Carma Dennis McGee to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section. She will replace Judge Brandon O. Gibson who was appointed as a Senior Advisor in the Office of Governor earlier this year.

McGee, 48, has served as the Chancellor of the 24th Judicial District since 2014. Prior to becoming Chancellor, she practiced law as partner in the firm of McGee & Dennis. She also served as a Rule 31 Listed Family Mediator for ten years.

“Chancellor McGee’s experience and knowledge will make her an excellent judge on the Court of Appeals,” said Lee. “Tennessee is fortunate to have her in the Western Section, and I am grateful she has accepted this high honor.”

McGee earned a Bachelor of Arts from Union University and a Juris Doctor from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis. McGee and her husband, Todd McGee, who is a teacher and coach with the Hardin County School System, have two teenage children, Sarah Beth and Caleb.

“I am proud to serve the people of West Tennessee, and I am honored that Gov. Lee has entrusted me with this opportunity,” said McGee. “Judge Brandon Gibson served in this role extraordinarily well, and I look forward to continuing the exceptional work being done in West Tennessee.”

Under an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution passed in 2014, the Governor’s appointments to appellate courts must be confirmed by the General Assembly. After she is confirmed by the General Assembly, Judge McGee will be subject to regular retention elections.

Once confirmed by the General Assembly, McGee will be one of 12 judges on the state Court of Appeals, which hears appeals in civil cases from state trial courts. Appeals from the Court of Appeals go to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, April 10, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/museum/news/2019/4/10/tennessee-state-museum-marks-20-years-of-the-titans-in-tennessee-with-special-display-in-grand-hall.html

Coinciding with the NFL Draft in Nashville, ‘Touchdown Titans! The NFL in Tennessee’ includes artifacts related to historic 1999 season and more

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – April 10, 2019 – The Tennessee State Museum will mark 20 years of the Titans in Tennessee with Touchdown Titans! The NFL in Tennessee, a special display in the Grand Hall of the Museum that will run from Tuesday, April 23 – Sunday, May 5, 2019. Scheduled to coincide with the NFL Draft in Nashville from April 25-27, the display in the Grand Hall includes artifacts related to the team’s arrival as the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, its historic 1999 “Music City Miracle” season, and its continuing growth.

Highlights include a mahogany football used at the unveiling of the new Titans logo in 1998 and later presented to the Museum by former governor Don Sundquist; a Titans game-worn helmet from 2000 signed by Titans superstars Eddie George, Steve McNair, Jevon Kearse, and head coach Jeff Fisher; and a program and ticket from the January 8, 2000 game when the Titans faced the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. It was in this game, with 16 seconds left, that the Titans called “Home Run Throwback,” a play that has since been termed the “Music City Miracle.”

“The arrival of the Oilers in 1997, and their first season as the Titans in 1999, ushered in a new era for professional sports in Tennessee and growth in Nashville,” says Richard White, history curator at the Tennessee State Museum. “That first season was nothing short of magical, and it’s a thrill to offer visitors – especially while the NFL Draft is here – a small glimpse into just what made it so.”