By Molly Moore
The state of Tennessee is moving forward with plans to privatize the facilities at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The plan calls for demolishing and rebuilding the inn, conference center and dining amenities. A private company would also eventually operate the park’s cabins and golf course.
The privatization process was put on hold in early March, and as of press time the state had not reopened the bidding process. During a State Building Commission meeting on March 23, the commission was given more control over demolition and construction of park buildings to address some of the concerns about the plan.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the changes didn’t go far enough. “I would consider it nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig, because outsourcing and privatizing our state parks are absolutely unacceptable.”
Officials at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation support privatization, pointing to falling occupancy rates and the need for improvements at the facility. The Tennessee State Employees Association, one of the opponents of the plan, has suggested using state funds to renovate the facilities instead of selling them. Park employees and local officials have also expressed concerns about how outsourcing and layoffs at the park would affect the area’s rural economy.
Fall Creek Falls State Park, situated on the Upper Cumberland Plateau, is Tennessee’s largest and most-visited state park. In addition to hiking and biking, park activities include boating, fishing, swimming and golf.