published Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Walker County expands Mountain Cove Farms, gears up for county fair

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    Horses graze in front of the Mountain Cove Farms barn in Kensington, Ga.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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The first time Bebe Heiskell went to the "spring barn" at McLemore Cove was in 1966 to see singer Loretta Lynn, who went on to be a country music legend.

"She sat on a bale of hay and sang 'How Great Thou Art,' and then she cried," Heiskell said.

Heiskell has gone on to become the sole commissioner of Walker County, Ga., and she's worked out intergovernmental agreements with the state to lease for 100 years -- at no charge -- the spring barn and a small airplane runway at Mountain Cove Farms, 1,839 state- and county-owned acres in McLemore Cove where Lookout and Pigeon mountains meet.

"We told them that we want to preserve the spring barn because it's about to fall in," Heiskell said. "We want to use the runway for the county fair that we're having."

Walker County will hold its first county fair in years on Sept. 12-14 at Mountain Cove Farms. The event is still in the planning stages, but the airstrip may be used as a midway with rides, young people will enter livestock competitions, and the popular area bluegrass band Dismembered Tennesseans will perform, Heiskell said.

"There's a lot of interest in it," county Cooperative Extension Agent Norman Edwards said. "Here in Walker County, I don't have any knowledge of a prior county fair -- but there could have been one years ago."

Heiskell said her office has received a $30,000 state historical preservation grant to refurbish the spring barn so it can be used as a smaller venue.

"People have wanted to take pictures in there and get married there, but we wouldn't let them," she said. "It's not in good enough condition."

Renovations to the barn, which is being leased from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will be fairly minimal and mostly include reinforcing the structure. No new flooring will be put in, and the barn likely will be able to accommodate only about 100 people, she said.

The county will lease the airstrip and some land at the cove from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"We're waiting on the intergovernmental agreement from them on that," Heiskell said.

The spring barn and the airstrip are the latest additions to the county's holdings at Mountain Cove Farms. The county runs a "country store," or convenience store in an old stone building, a show barn that's rented out for weddings, a mansion built in 1835 that can hold conferences, a bar and grill, and several "cabins" equipped with amenities such as flatscreen TVs, Wi-Fi and dishwashers.

In 2008, Mountain Cove Farms came under public ownership for a purchase price of $10.5 million contributed by the state, Walker County and private conservation groups. Walker County's contribution of $2.15 million in sales tax revenue bought 295 acres and most of the farm's buildings.

The county, which envisions Mountain Cove Farms as a "destination resort," held the first big public event there on a rainy weekend in September of last year when thousands came to see a three-day Civil War re-enactment of the Battle of Chickamauga on its 150th anniversary. The re-enactment was held there because the National Park Service won't allow re-enactments to take place on actual battlefields.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

Contact staff writer Rachel Sauls-Wright at 423-757-6439 or email at rsauls@timesfreepress.com.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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