published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

TWRA seeks public comments on ATVs at Cummings Cove Wildlife Management Area

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People wishing to comment on vehicle use at Cummings Cove have at least 45 days to email TWRA.comment@tn.gov, or mail them at 464 Industrial Blvd., Crossville, TN 38555.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is asking for public input on the use all-terrain vehicles in Cummings Cove Wildlife Management Area atop Aetna Mountain in Hamilton and Marion counties.

The area has been used by off-road vehicles for years and is showing damage -- heavy erosion, siltation and pollution -- that's ruining the area's hunting and fishing opportunities, officials said.

"Parts of the [Wildlife Management Area] resemble a moonscape, void of vegetation, wildlife and stream aquatic species, once plentiful there," TWRA Region 3 wildlife program manager Kirk Miles said in a news release.

Current guidelines prohibit operating any motorized vehicles anywhere but on designated open roads. Currently no roads on Cummings Cove are designated as open.

So Cummings Cove actually is closed to any vehicles, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Lt. Joe Busch said.

"We haven't enforced that law since we took over [in 2006]," he said. "We're not looking to start enforcing it at this time. Will we enforce it in the future? I don't know. That's why we have a public comment period, and we're waiting to see what comes out of it."

Law enforcement will take action against any other violations, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or littering, Busch said.

WeRock, an off-road club, has been using the area for years and members say that not allowing off-road vehicles to use the area alongside hunters and fishermen is discrimination.

Christie Perkins, a WeRock member, said it makes her sick that the club can't use that property, too.

"We've rode on Cummings Cove for years," she said. "We'd even be willing to pay for a permit like the hunters so we can use it."

Seventy percent of the funds for the area are generated by people with fishing and hunting licenses, Busch said.

"Those are our main constituents, so anytime we can maximize land for hunters we're going to take every opportunity we can to provide a more suitable habitat or even more habitat for hunters to access," he said.

Having public opinion may provide some ideas that would lead to a compromise where off-road vehicles can make use of the area, TWRA officer Dan Hicks said.

"There are plenty of opportunities where we could reach a compromise," he said.

In 2006, the 1,200-acre area was purchased with federal funds from the Forestry Legacy Program by the U.S. Forest Service. Thereafter, the area became a wildlife management area under the TWRA.

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