Repairs planned, but not for popular old metal stairway

Storm-damage last summer to scenic observation decks and the unique gorge-descending staircase are keeping prime Burgess Falls viewing points inaccessible this spring.

A notice on the state park’s website declares, “Repair work should begin on the overlook shortly, but the stairs down to the main falls will remained closed.”

Visitors may still hike along the Falling Water River and view various smaller cascades in the park.

“Extensive damage” to the metal staircase and overlooks in July resulted in both being “compromised and badly damaged,” park officials say.

Repairs are planned for the main falls overlook, which will cost around $55,000, and the middle falls overlook after that, said Kelly Brockman, a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman.

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Storms last summer blew out two overlooks and the staircase into the gorge at the popular state park along Falling Water River.

Federal money has also been earmarked for park upgrades by way of the Americans With Disabilities Act. “That should help as well,” she said. “We do have funding for that, and we are in the early design process.”

However, no plans are in the works to fix and reopen the staircase, which is fastened to 90-year-old concrete pillars.

“That’s more of a capital project, and we don’t have funding for that right now,” said Brockman.

Located on the Falling Water River southwest of Cookeville, Burgess Falls State Park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

“A lot of folks come from all over the United States to see this, it’s unbelievable,” said Mike Jeffers, whose family runs MMKM Family Produce on Burgess Falls Road.

Jeffers’ business is noticeably off this spring, as it was last year after the overlook and staircase closings.

“We’re down 50 percent, easy,” he said. “People go down there and they come out mad. They drive a long way and they can’t see anything.”

Jeffers, who’s been in business 13 years, figures he can weather the financial doldrums, though. When the Window Cliffs Natural Area opens, “we’ll be right in the middle of both parks,” he said.

Ronnie Howard is an expert Tennessee angler with decades of fish-finding experience on regional waters. He’s also the resident fly fishing aficionado for Cumberland Transit outfitters in Nashville.

Howard chatted with Center Hill Sun about some tactics and must-have trout flies that will enhance your chances of hooking up with a trophy brown, ‘bow or brookie when you bug out for the Caney Fork River.

Go-to patterns include woolly buggers, midges, soft hackles, nymphs, emergers, mayfly imitators, stimulators and, occasionally, elk hair caddis and cicadas.

One of the not-so-obvious flies that every trout angler ought to have at the ready for when the fish get inflexibly finicky is an everyday red or black ant.

“Most folks don’t think an ant is capable of catching big fish, but big fish like ants, too,” said Howard.

Josh B. Tramel of Smithville hooked a victory on Saturday at the American Bass Anglers Ram Truck Open Series tournament on Center Hill Lake.

Tramel’s 19.46 pound bag of bass bested runner-up Jason Dies of Lebanon by nearly a pound and a half.

The heftiest hog in Tramel’s sack weighed in just shy of six pounds — the second biggest catch of the day.

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Josh B. Tramel and the biggest of his hefty catch to win the April 17 Ram Truck Open Series ABA tournament on Center Hill Lake.

Tramel said angling is pretty hot right now on Center Hill Lake, especially in the morning.

“I caught them all day long, really. They were hitting pretty good today,” he said. “Early is definitely better. But the good ones hit all day, you just catch less of them as the day goes on.”

Tramel, an accountant by day during the week, said he hooked all his fish on a jig in three- to 10-feet deep water.

The tournament whopper was a 6.39 pound largemouth landed by Noel Smith of Portland, who finished third overall.

Anthony Ryan Layhew of Murfreesboro won the co-angler division with a 10.52 pound bag of three fish.

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BAGS O’ BASS: Competition anglers on Center Hill Lake keep their sacks of fish alive in oxygenated tanks as they await weigh-in. All the fish were later released.

Other anglers from the Center Hill Lake region fared pretty well in the tournament, which included 56 entrants from Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky in the “boater” division, and 24 in the “co-angler” division.

Local fisherman placing in the Top 25 were Kenneth Reece of Brush Creek at 5th, Tim Staley of Dowelltown at 8th, Dustin Barlow of Walling at 10th, Greg Barnes of Rock Island at 13th, Anthony Nash of Quebeck at 15th, Mike Redmon of Dowelltown at 23rd and Frank Bell of Smithville at 24th.

At day’s end, 380 fish were weighed totaling 768 pounds. The average keeper-size bass for the tournament was in the two-and-a-half pound range. All the fish were later released.

The Wheelhouse Restaurant at Sligo Marina is firing up the grill for the season.

Fifty or so hardcore fans of the on-the-water eatery just east of Smithville braved balmy temperatures and blue skies on Friday to celebrate the launch of 2016’s sun-soaked session of spring-and-summer fun.

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Sligo Marina Maniacs

Chris Batty is steering the Wheelhouse this year. He said Center Hill Lake customers ought to sail on in with high hopes and healthy appetites.

“We’re going to provide fresh quality food with excellent customer service, that’s our plan,” Batty promises.

Batty’s hoping the grade A prime rib, succulent sea food, ample-sized sandwiches, hand-prepped burgers and fresh-battered chicken tenders keep lake lubbers cruising back for moor all season long.

The Wheelhouse Restaurant hours of operation are Friday’s 4:00 PM to 2:00 AM, Saturday’s 8:00 AM to 2:00 AM, and Sunday’s 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Organizers of the inaugural Upper Cumberland Wine Festival, billed as the “first of its kind for the region,” say it was a huge success. Read more

Tennesseans in these parts love hitting the slopes, using any means necessary, anytime there’s a substantial snowfall. This video was shot at the top of Indian Creek Road just off Highway 70 west of Smithville.