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/.

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 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.

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 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.