This weekend state parks and wildland recreation areas across Tennessee will be hosting guided hikes, special activities and volunteer events in celebration of National Trails Day.

On the first Saturday of June for the past 26 years, the American Hiking Society has promoted a nationwide gathering of hikers of all ages, abilities and experience levels to discover or rediscover a sense of beauty and adventure along a local public-lands footpath.

Thousands of the trail-marching meet-ups are hosted throughout the country throughout the day.

The concept for National Trails Day is to connect people with a wide range of trail activities on a single day.

This year, National Trails Day is expected to “establish a trail service world record” by having “the most people improving trails in a single day,” according to AHS.

National Trails Day represents “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 of the 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.”

Below is a partial list of hikes and events scheduled for Saturday at Tennessee Upper Cumberland regional state parks. For a full statewide listing of National Trails Day activities, go to https://tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/national-trails-day-hikes/

Edgar Evins State Park

Millennium Trail Hike. 8-11am. Roughly 2.5 mile hike over moderately strenuous terrain.

2nd Annual Storybook Trail Ribbon-Cutting Party. 10am-1:30pm. Hike on the half-mile trail to see the new book, “Anybody Home?” Event includes craft-making for kids and a wild animal show.

Cummins Falls State Park

National Trails Day Hike. Meet at 9am, Tiny House by parking lot for 2.5-mile round-trip. Stops along the way by old Cummins house, waterfalls overlook and base of falls. (See page 1 story.)

Cedars of Lebanon

2:30-4pm. Explore newly acquired Sadie Ford Historic Farm.

9am-noon. Volunteers gathering for trail-maintenance and park beautification activities. Meet at Nature Center.

Fall Creek Falls

Hike to the Base of Fall Creek Falls. Meet at 9am at the Main Overlook of Fall Creek Falls at 9:00am central time for a short but strenuous hike to the bottom of the falls.

Virgin Falls State Natural Area

Hike to Virgin Falls. 8am-4pm. Strenuous 9-mile in-and-out trip. Features spectacular waterfalls and other lovely Cumberland Plateau water features. Hike is free, but call for registration (limit 20 people).

Rock Island State Park

Collins River Trail Hike. 10am. Meet with ranger at trailhead on National Trails Day for free interpretive walk around moderately difficult two-and-a-half mile-loop.

Burgess Falls State Park

9-10:30am. Park Manager Bill Summers will lead free guided stroll.

South Cumberland State Park

Work on Collins Gulf Trail. 9am-3pm. Join staff for a day of building trail in beautiful Collins Gulf to celebrate NTD at South Cumberland SP.

Cordell Hull Birthplace State Park

Lecture: Tennessee’s Superb Suffragists: A Legacy of Leadership. 1pm. Tennessee women’s suffrage movement scholar Paula F. Casey will discuss ratification of 19th Amendment.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee May 24, 2019:

The Asian longhorned tick (shown left) and the Lone Star tick (shown right). Photo by G. Hickling, courtesy UTIA.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, Tennessee Department of Health, and University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) today announced the detection of the invasive Asian longhorned tick in Tennessee.

The Asian longhorned tick has now spread to 11 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there is no evidence that the tick has transmitted pathogens to humans or animals in the U.S.

Two Asian longhorned ticks were recently found on a dog in Union County, and five were found on a cow in Roane County. In the U.S., the tick has been reported on 17 different mammal species.

“Tennessee has a relatively large amount and variety of ticks,” Dr. R.T. Trout Fryxell, Associate Professor of Medical and Veterinary Entomology for UTIA, said. “It is important to be diligent and keep an eye out for all ticks because many varieties can transmit pathogens or cause painful bites.”

Tips to prevent tick bites in animals and livestock include:

  • Coordinate with your veterinarian to determine appropriate pest prevention for pets and livestock.
  • Check pets and livestock for ticks frequently.
  • Remove any ticks by pulling from the attachment site of the tick bite with tweezers.
  • Monitor your pets and livestock for any changes in health.
  • If your animals are bitten by a tick, Dr. Trout Fryxell suggests putting the tick in a ziplock bag, writing down the date and where the tick was most likely encountered, and storing it in a freezer.
  • If any symptoms of a tick-borne disease begin to develop, you should bring the tick to your veterinarian.

For additional information about the longhorned tick in the United States, click here. To find more information on tick-borne diseases, click here.

Following a no-confidence delivered by the Republican caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives yesterday, Speaker Glen Casada has announced he will no longer serve as the the lower-chamber’s top legislative officer.

Casada, R-Franklin, issued a statement Tuesday saying he wants to “facilitate a smooth transition” to a new speaker.

Gov. Bill Lee, who said Monday night he’d be willing to call a special session of the House in order to remove the scandal-beset speaker, lauded Casada’s announcement.

“Speaker Casada has made the right decision, and I look forward to working with the legislature to get back to conducting the people’s business and focusing on the issues that matter most to our state,” the Republican governor tweeted.

The Tennessee Senate’s speaker, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, also applauded Casada’s move. McNally had been among those suggesting Casada should step aside in wake of a scandal involving the House speaker’s former chief of staff.

McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge, wrote on Twitter: “Speaker Casada announcing his intent to resign is the right decision for the legislature, the @TNGOP and the state. I commend him for it. Now we move forward. I am committed to working with leadership in the House to help restore the trust that has been lost in any way I can.”

On Monday, Republican lawmakers gathered in Nashville to vote on whether Glen Casada, the politically besieged GOP speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, retains enough support to continue on in his role as the the chamber’s presiding officer.

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin

The results went markedly against the Williamson County Republican, who was elected to serve as speaker just this year.

On a 45-22 vote, the House Republican Caucus delivered a no-confidence motion, signaling that faith in Casada’s ability to effectively run the legislative body is critically in doubt.

The outcome of the vote was seen as something of a surprise, given that only a handful of the 73-member House Republican Caucus had previously given any public indication that they want to see Speaker Casada step down or be removed in wake of revelations that one of his former staffers sent racially disparaging and sexually explicit text messages in years past, in addition to boasting about using illegal drugs.

Some of the electronic private messages at issue were received by Casada himself, who apparently made no effort to reprimand or take disciplinary action against the employee — and later promoted him to chief of staff after Rep. Casada was elected speaker.

Monday’s vote appeared to mark a dramatic shift in Casada’s political fortunes — with some of the state’s most powerful and prominent GOP politicians and operatives now pushing for his removal as speaker.

“The vote of no confidence by the Republican caucus sends a clear message; it is time for the Speaker to heed the advice of the majority of his fellow legislators and step down from his position of leadership and allow someone else to begin the process of restoring the trust of all Tennesseans,” Republican Party state chairman Scott Golden said in a statement Monday.

Also on Monday, Governor Bill Lee said he’d be open to calling a special session of the House of Representatives to strip Casada of his leadership post if the embattled speaker refuses to go voluntarily.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, has joined calls for Casada to step aside as well.

“Regardless of how long ago, regardless of what the behavior is, we take this type of allegation very, very seriously,” Lamberth told reporters following the vote. “And I think that has been stated very clearly by this caucus today.

Republicans in both the Tennessee House and Senate enjoy supermajority control of their respective chambers, meaning their voting bloc is large enough to set agendas and conduct business irrespective of the wishes of Democrats, who enjoy little popularity and support outside the state’s major urban areas.

House Democrats have been calling for Casada’s removal since the scandal broke earlier this month.

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 13, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/commerce/news/2019/5/13/tdci-commissioner-mcpeak-announces-departure-for-private-sector.html

TDCI Commissioner McPeak Announces Departure for Private Sector; Governor Bill Lee Names Deputy Commissioner Carter Lawrence as Interim Commissioner

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak announces today she is leaving Tennessee state government in order to pursue career opportunities in the private sector. Her last day as commissioner will be June 14, 2019. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has named TDCI Deputy Commissioner Carter Lawrence to serve as the Department’s Interim Commissioner until a permanent commissioner is selected.

“We thank Julie Mix McPeak for her over eight years of service and her tireless commitment to her Department and to Tennessee. We wish her the best in her future endeavors,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “Carter Lawrence has ably served as Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Commerce and Insurance, and I look forward to serving alongside him as he steps into the role of Interim Commissioner.”

McPeak, who was first appointed commissioner by Governor Bill Haslam in 2011, is the immediate past president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. The former executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance, McPeak is the first woman to serve as chief insurance regulator in more than one state.

“Tennessee is a special place, and it has been a distinct privilege and honor to have served the Volunteer State,” McPeak said. “It’s been an amazing journey. At the end of the day, I’m enormously proud of our accomplishments on behalf of Tennesseans. I believe the Department has helped play a role in transforming Tennessee into a national and international destination for families and businesses. I am excited about the next chapter of my life and my career in Nashville – and I’m equally excited about what’s in store for Tennessee.”

Under McPeak’s leadership, the Department’s multiple divisions undertook numerous initiatives and programs that have improved Tennessee, including:

  • Accreditation of the Department by the NAIC. As part of the NAIC’s accreditation program, state insurance departments must undergo comprehensive, independent review every five years to ensure they meet financial solvency oversight standards. States that maintain their accredited status demonstrate that the current means of regulatory monitoring is intact and continues to work effectively.
  • Creating and implementing the “Get Alarmed, Tennessee!” free smoke alarm program. Since its inception in 2012, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office and its Tennessee fire service partners have distributed over 198,000 smoke alarms statewide. Smoke alarms installed through the program are credited with saving 265 Tennesseans from fire danger, so far.
  • Modernizing Tennessee’s captive insurance laws, resulting in Tennessee domestic captive insurance companies exceeding $1 billion in written premiums in 2017 for the first time. Its efforts resulted in Tennessee being named Domicile of The Year (Less Than 200 Captives) at the 2018 U.S. Captive Review Awards for its achievements.
  • Streamlining the process of issuing professional licenses, enabling Tennessee professionals to obtain their license in a more timely and efficient manner.

A full bio and photo of McPeak can be found here.

Lawrence previously served as TDCI’s Deputy Commissioner overseeing the Department’s administration as well as the Division of Regulatory Boards. While managing the Division of Regulatory Boards, he oversaw nearly 40 fee reductions across the division’s 27 program areas, benefitting many of the more than 250,000 licensees across the Volunteer State.

A native of Williamson County, Lawrence is an attorney and studied law at the University of Tennessee, where he also obtained a Master of Business Administration. For undergraduate studies, Carter obtained a Bachelor of Arts at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill). He and his wife, Amy, are the proud parents of two boys and are members of Church of the Redeemer, where he serves as a vestryman.

Said Lawrence: “Commissioner McPeak leaves a legacy of sound management practices and continually challenging the Department’s executive staff and our team members to strive for their best as they serve the public. Following her example, I will champion Governor Lee’s vision for Tennessee during my service as Interim Commissioner. I thank Governor Lee for the opportunity to serve Tennessee in this role.”

A former Republican state senator and candidate for governor has been selected to oversee Tennessee’s system of state parks and natural areas.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced Monday that Nashville entrepreneur and marketing specialist Jim Bryson, who in 2006 ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen, will replace Brock Hill as deputy TDEC commissioner.

Jim Bryson

Hill, a Cumberland County native, was let go earlier this year following allegations of “workplace misconduct.”

The department’s press release is below:

TDEC Announces Bryson Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Conservation

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers today announced the appointment of Jim Bryson as deputy commissioner of Parks and Conservation at TDEC.

“Jim’s experience in business, state government and community involvement, coupled with his passion for the outdoors, makes him uniquely qualified for this position,” Salyers said. “I look forward to working with Jim to make Tennessee State Parks the best run state park system in the nation.”

“I am honored to be chosen for this role and I look forward to serving Tennessee in this capacity,” Bryson said. “We have an outstanding record in parks and conservation in Tennessee, and I am committed to building on that success alongside the incredible staff. This is a special opportunity for us to preserve and enhance enjoyment of the great natural wonders of our state.”

Bryson is founder and president of 20/20 Research Inc., a market research consulting, project management and technology firm based in Nashville. The business launched in 1986 and is a global leader in online qualitative research software and services. Its QualBoard research platform is used by clients in over 90 countries and in more than 30 languages. Bryson served three terms as president of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, an international association of research professionals.

Elected in 2002, Bryson served four years as a senator in the Tennessee General Assembly, representing Williamson and Davidson counties, and was his party’s nominee for governor in 2006.

Bryson’s love of the outdoors began in rural Arkansas, living near Lake Dardanelle and Lake Dardanelle State Park. He spent many days and nights in the park, on the lake or in the woods hiking, camping, hunting and fishing.

Bryson is founder and president of The Joseph School, providing a globally competitive education for poor and orphaned children in Haiti. He was a founding board member of the Marketing Research Education Foundation, focused on improving global childhood education. He is a member of the Nashville Downtown Rotary Club and First Baptist Church in Nashville. He received a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University after graduating from Baylor University. He and his wife, Carol, have four children and two grandchildren.

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson, May 13, 2019:

An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, has resulted in the federal indictment of Patrick Martin, the former executive director of the Community Prevention Coalition of Jackson County.

The coalition was a 501(c)3 not-for-profit with a stated mission to reduce underage drinking and tobacco use and increase the capacity for prevention in Jackson County. Its primary funding came from grants from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Investigators determined that Martin stole at least $46,335 from the coalition between January 2014 and December 2015.

Martin’s schemes included:

  • Using coalition funds to reimburse himself for personal purchases such as hunting supplies, a crossbow, and payment of his personal electric bill.
  • Using coalition funds to reimburse himself for coalition expenses that had already been paid with coalition checks. For example, Martin paid a coalition electric bill totaling $1,607.28 with a coalition check on April 24, 2014; however, he had already written himself a check for that exact same amount three weeks earlier with the memo “electric.”
  • Martin used $4,000 of coalition money to purchase a 1987 Ford Mustang that he gave to friend.
  • Martin wrote several coalition checks to himself indicating they were for repayment of coalition loans; however, the proceeds were used for Martin’s own benefit. In one instance, a $7,500 coalition check was used for a $6,400 payment on his personal mortgage. The remaining $1,100 was deposited into his personal bank account.
  • Martin issued himself 10 extra paychecks.

Approximately seven days after the Comptroller’s investigation began, certain invoices and other financial records were apparently destroyed in a fire while in Martin’s custody. Because these records were unavailable for examination, there is an extraordinarily high risk that additional coalition funds were misappropriated or misused by Martin.

The board of directors of the Community Prevention Coalition of Jackson County elected to cease operations in July 2017 following this investigation.

Subsequent to this investigation, Comptroller investigators joined with federal investigators and expanded the scope of the inquiry. In May 2019, Patrick Martin was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, on a 48-count indictment, including two counts of theft, 30 counts of wire fraud, and one count of destruction of records.

“Theft is difficult to detect when one person prepares all of the checks and board members do not take time to review bank statements or other financial information,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “This organization had a number of inadequate financial practices that provided an opportunity for fraud.”

To view the investigation, go to: https://comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html

Yahweh non grata in Democrat-controlled U.S. House

Fresh off his widely-panned fried chicken-noshing schtick contrived to mock the U.S. attorney general for declining to attend a pre-prepped political searing in the House of Representatives, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen has once again cooked up a recipe for national attention and controversy.

Recently, United States Rep. Steve Cohen labeled Attorney General William Barr a “chicken” for refusing to testify before House Democrats regarding the Mueller Report. Fearing the subtlety of his barb might be lost on the American body politic, the Democratic congressman from Memphis sought to further illustrate the point by using props.

This time, though, the seven-term Shelby County Democrat is in the news not for the powerful Trump administration names he’s hankering to grill in committee hearings, but for a higher-power name Cohen and fellow majority-party members want henceforth excluded from formal congressional proceedings.

Upon orders from House Democrat leaders, who seized gavel-handling dominion from Republicans in wake of the 2018 election, the words “So Help Me God” have been removed from the swearing-in oath administered to committee witnesses.

Cohen was quoted in a Saturday New York Times article indicating he’s apparently divined the Divine’s Will, and the Ruler of the Universe no longer wants His name invoked as an attestation of testimonial truth.

Here’s an excerpt from the story headlined, “‘So Help Me God’ No More: Democrats Give House Traditions a Makeover”:

In the House of Representatives, to the winner go the spoils, and Democrats, the new decision makers, control everything, including what legislation gets a vote and the minutiae of procedural choices, such as whether witnesses must utter the traditional plea for divine aid.

Democratic chairmen and chairwomen of several key committees have deemed no such entreaty is necessary.

“I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress,” said Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

What Republicans are doing, he continued, “is using God.”

“And God doesn’t want to be used,” he said.

 

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Congressman John Rose, May 10, 2019:

Rose Fights for Small Businesses in Rural Communities

Link: https://johnrose.house.gov/media/press-releases/rose-fights-small-businesses-rural-communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, marking the midpoint of National Small Business Week, Congressman John Rose (TN-6) advocated for the proud small business owners in rural communities of Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District at the House Financial Services Committee meeting. He strongly encouraged his fellow committee members to support his proposed legislation that would allow entrepreneurs in rural communities to receive the capital formation technical assistance available to many other small businesses across the state and nation.

“Small businesses are truly the engine of growth in rural communities,” said Rose. “The vast majority of the 19 counties in Tennessee’s Sixth District are rural, and the workforces in these communities depend on job opportunities provided by entrepreneurs who build their businesses from the ground up. The men and women who operate and work for these enterprises are some of the hardest working people I have met. Startups, family businesses, and local companies in rural communities are often overlooked. Yet, their challenges deserve the same attention other innovators and job creators would receive. This is commonsense reform and a great step toward empowering entrepreneurs by leveling the playing field for small businesses in all types of communities across the United States.”

The legislation, H.R.2409, adds rural small businesses to the mission of the Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation and will require the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to consider any adverse effects of regulations on rural small businesses. It was introduced on April 30, 2019 and reported favorably out of the House Financial Services Committee on May 8, 2019. Congressman Rose introduced the legislation with Reps. Cynthia Axne (IA-3), Alex Mooney (WV-2), Nydia Velázquez (NY-7), Chris Pappas (NH-1), and Denver Riggleman (VA-5). The Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

Congressman John Rose represents Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District and resides in Cookeville with his wife, Chelsea, and their son, Guy. The Sixth District includes Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Robertson, Smith, Sumner, Trousdale, White, and Wilson counties as well as portions of Cheatham and Van Buren counties.