published Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Cumberland County, Crossville officials try to hammer out accord

Jason Silcox climbs a rise inside a rock shelter  in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Oneida, Tenn. Big South Fork is famous for its rock shelters, which resemble shallow caves and typically are found at the bases of the sandstone cliffs along the upper reaches of the river gorges.
Jason Silcox climbs a rise inside a rock shelter in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Oneida, Tenn. Big South Fork is famous for its rock shelters, which resemble shallow caves and typically are found at the bases of the sandstone cliffs along the upper reaches of the river gorges.
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Cumberland County and Crossville, Tenn., officials are hammering out details for a proposed $555,000 visitors center just off Interstate 40 to create a southern gateway to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

The 125,000-acre national park near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, actually a 70-mile rural drive north from Crossville into Fentress and Scott counties, draws more than 600,000 visitors a year. Officials at the southern approach from I-40 say they want to land park-bound travelers at Crossville's exit 320.

"Where we're at now, the city passed a resolution that allowed either the city or the county -- and the county has accepted at this point -- to operate it on a 20-year agreement with a 50/50 split of the operating cost," Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr. said.

Crossville City Manager Bruce Wyatt said the city has agreed to fund the 20 percent grant match but officials still have two concerns to address before the project is launched.

City officials want a $120,000 cap on the city's match on the $600,000 grant and they want to remove the agreement's option of contracting for an outside company to manage the center, Wyatt said. They want either the city or the county to be responsible for its operation, he said.

Visitors centers are already located in Scott County and inside the park itself, but Cumberland County and Crossville officials say they want to make the most of a "gateway" location off of heavily traveled I-40.

The park is the second-largest of 12 national parks in Tennessee and is well off the beaten paths of Interstates 40 and 75. The main routes into the park in Tennessee are U.S. Highways 27 and 127.

The visitors center idea has lingered in Cumberland County since around 2004, but was finally put out for bids for the first time in March 2011, county Finance Director Nathan Brock said.

"It took us three tries to get it there," Brock said of rebidding and plan revisions.

According to county records, the first round of bids came in ranging from $828,000 to more than $946,000, and a second round of bids in July 2011 ranged from $728,400 to $779,000.

The most recent bids opened March 1 netted three ranging from $640,000 down to the winning low bid of $555,100 from Doyle, Tenn.-based Johnson's Builders, according to Brock. The bid was finally within the $600,000 price tag officials had in mind, he said.

Intern architect Bryan Rider, with Lyman, Davidson, Dooley Inc. in Nashville, said plans have gone through two cost-trimming revisions.

"It was much larger with a lot more amenities," Rider said. "Then they came back and eliminated some square footage and went with some different finishes."

The result was "a large open assembly space" with adjoining office space, he said. "It's a pretty simple design, but it still brings out the character of the South."

Carey said the project now is down to finalizing details to get started at the site.

"The lot's been leveled and there's a gravel base in there," he said. "It's building ready."

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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