The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation is striving to save Cummins Falls in Jackson County.
This is the largest privately owned waterfall in the state, and is located 20 minutes outside the Cookeville city limits.
The Foundation offers guided hikes the first Saturday of every month to give people a chance to safely visit the waterfall and enjoy its many benefits. Last summer, 186 acres went up for auction. Developers planned to build over 80 housing lots along the bluffs, which would have destroyed much of the beauty the falls has to offer. Cookeville resident, Dr. Glenn Hall, stepped in and saved this from happening by outbidding the developers and purchasing the land for just over $1.3 million.
“Our goal is to make Cummins Falls Tennessee’s newest State Park and Natural Area, to be enjoyed by all and preserved forever,” said Projects Assistant Jeanne Fitch.
This past August, the State Building Commission voted to allow the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to obtain Cummins Falls. With the support of Representatives Ryan Williams and Kelly Keisling, Senator Charlotte Burks, TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill, and members of the Foundation, Cummins Falls will officially be preserved as a state park natural area.
“Improvements are being done to increase accessibility, improve safety, and maintain new regulations,” said Fitch. “This includes a new guardrail on Cummins Mill Road that will route traffic to the new park entrance on Blackburn Fork Road.”
A new parking lot is also in the works for visitors. Installing a staircase to allow easier access to the bottom of the waterfall has been mentioned, but no official plans have been made. Once the park opens, there will be two park rangers on site to maintain and enforce safety rules.
“While in this transition period, TPGF offers guided hikes the first Saturday of every month to give people an opportunity to visit the waterfall and learn more about the effort to save it,” said Fitch.
The hikes will be difficult to strenuous and consume close to four hours. Those who do not wish to go upriver on the longer hike can still enjoy the falls from an overlook. The hike and the viewing from the overlook are on the property north of the falls and do not involve road parking or access. Hikes will start on the north side from Blackburn Fork Road through a gate that will be unlocked for hikers on the scheduled hike dates. Entry by permission only is allowed through Blackburn Fork Road.
“If you visit the waterfall on your own, you’ll notice signs put up by the Foundation to ‘close the waterfall to the public’,” Fitch said. “Our official statement is ‘While we are fundraising to Save Cummins Falls as a public park, our policy is to only allow access via guided hikes the first Saturday of every month.'”
“Our goal is to forever conserve Cummins Falls for public use once fundraising is complete and Cummins Falls ownership is transferred to Tennessee State Parks,” Fitch said.
Despite the posted signs, there are still hikers and swimmers who resort to the area. Anyone who decides to visit the waterfall at anytime other than a guided hike enters at his/ her own risk.
“For liability reasons, permission cannot be granted to visit the waterfall other than the scheduled guided hike dates,” Fitch said.
Those interested in registering for a hike should contact Jeanne Fitch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the falls, visit the blog http://savecumminsfalls.wordpress.com, or “like” the “Save Cummins Falls” page on Facebook. To learn more about TPGF, visit the web site at www.tenngreen.org.