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.
“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.
“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.