Locals attempt to make Cummins Falls a state park

A grassroots effort to protect Cummins Falls from developers plans to make the privately owned waterfall a state park. The nonprofit organization Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation leads the endeavor. The foundation describes the site as one of Tennessee’s finest treasures.

“Cummins Falls is grand,” said Kathleen Williams, executive director and president the foundation board. “When you conserve a place like this, you conserve heaven on earth.”

Travel and Leisure magazine names Cummins Falls in its top 10 list of Swimming Holes in the U.S. The 75-foot-tall waterfall also boasts a location on Blackburn Fork State Scenic River, which holds the highest possible rating given by the Tennessee Rivers Assessment Project for natural and scenic properties.

The scenery surrounding the waterfall draws tourists every year providing economic benefits for the local area.

“It is certainly an incredible asset for the community to have for attracting tourists,” said Steve Walsh, Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation membership director. “This in turn helps draw businesses to the community.”

When the Cummins Falls area went up for auction this past May, Cookeville resident Dr. Glenn Hall bought it to give the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation a chance to raise enough money to buy the land from him. The foundation has until June 16, 2011 to procure the property.

“There just aren’t many waterfalls like that left,” Walsh said. “It’s an incredibly biodiverse plant and animal community right now. If homes were built there, it would have a terrible impact on that community. The only way to provide another option is for us to raise more than a million dollars to protect Cummins Falls.”

In an attempt to raise money to help the foundation, a group of students at Tech plan to spur the student body to action.

“Our minimum goal is to raise $5,686, which is equivalent of donating an acre,” said Bill Hedderick, a junior wildlife major. “We’d like to donate the acre on behalf of Tech students.”

To meet their goal, the students will hold fundraising events.

“We’re throwing events until the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation has this fully funded,” said Colby Paul, a senior agriculture major. “We also hope to get students to stir up community involvement.”

The first event will be held this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Cummins Falls off of Blackburn Fork Road.

“We’ll have free food, guest speakers and a hike down to the bottom of the falls,” said Paul. “It’s also a chance for students to see Cummins Falls. It changed a lot after the flood.”

President Bob Bell is personally supportive of the effort to save Cummins Falls.

“This property is a significant natural and environmental resource and I believe the current efforts will have an impact on many, many generations of Tennesseans,” said Bell. “I am delighted to encourage everyone to get involved in this effort.”

Bell also sees the potential for Cummins Falls as an asset to groups on campus.

“While the University cannot engage in any ownership negotiations, there are many academic and student organizations that will benefit from this purchase,” said Bell. “Cummins Falls can become a strategic resource for programs like fisheries, wildlife, environmental science, agriculture, our Water Center and many others.”

The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation continues to raise money for Cummins Falls and currently holds $426,013 in donations toward their goal.

“It’s a stunning place and we’re thrilled that Tech students have stepped up to help us protect an acre,” said Walsh. “That will keep the momentum going on the project.”

For more information about the effort to save Cummins Falls or to make a donation, contact TTUsavecummins@gmail.com or visit the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation at tenngreen.org.