Input sought on $400,000 investment at Booker T. Washington, Harrison Bay state parks

Staff file photo / A couple fish from one of the covered piers at Booker T. Washington State Park on Chickamauga Lake.
Staff file photo / A couple fish from one of the covered piers at Booker T. Washington State Park on Chickamauga Lake.

Tennessee State Parks officials are seeking input from park visitors and the public on what to do with $400,000 in funding apiece for Chattanooga's Booker T. Washington and Harrison Bay state parks to replace now-closed swimming pools with alternative recreational facilities.

The pools at both parks were closed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 issues - along with pools at 14 other state parks - and "reopening the pools is unfeasible due to aging facilities, cycling visitation and high expenses" state parks officials said in a news release issued Tuesday.

The state is seeking ideas from the public for the $400,000 allocated to each park for outdoor recreation activities - other than swimming pools - in two public meetings set next week, officials said.

"The swimming pools at Booker T. Washington State Park and Harrison Bay State Park require major maintenance upgrades while usage continues to decline. We believe it is unfair to Tennessee taxpayers for the state to continue to invest in the swimming pools with increasing costs and declining use," Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson said in a news release on the search for public input.

(READ MORE: Mines: Once Black-only, Booker T. Washington State Park now serves everyone)

photo Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Booker T. Washington State Park hosted a two-mile first day hike on Jan. 1, 2020.

"Fortunately, the Tennessee General Assembly has been very supportive of the parks in recent years, which has allowed us to allocate funding for options that are more fiscally responsible to taxpayers and that visitors can enjoy year-round. We first want to hear from visitors of the parks about what they would prefer and use," Bryson said.

Officials are looking for the biggest bang for the taxpayers' buck.

The funds for the parks will go to options that can be used throughout the year. The swimming pools, in contrast, operated only 70 days each year, agency spokesperson Kim Schofinski said in the release.

Cindy Morgan, president of the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park social media group, said the loss of the pool is a shame but she's hopeful the money can go toward something better.

"I think we definitely need a water feature there, maybe a splash pad," Morgan said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

If you go

Tennessee State Parks is hosting two public input meetings on how to best use $400,000 in funding each for Booker T. Washington State Park and Harrison Bay State Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The pools at the two facilities have been closed and officials are looking for alternative recreational uses for the funding.Booker T. Washington State Park: Public meeting set Dec. 14 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the group camp in the park at 5801 Champion Road, Chattanooga, TN 37416.Harrison Bay State Park: Public meeting set Dec. 16 from 5-6 p.m. at the recreation hall at 7855 Bay Marina Circle, Harrison, TN 37341Source: Tennessee State Parks

She said there are areas around the park where people can get in the lake "but we don't have an area that has a beach or anything like that, which would be kind of cool, too."

"I'd like to hear what other people would like to see at the park," Morgan said.

Shawanna Kendrick is the owner of H2O Life, a local guide service that leads women of color on healthy and spiritually uplifting hikes around the area, including at Booker T. Washington State Park.

Members of the public shouldn't miss this chance to let their voices be heard on ideas for the two parks, she said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

"It is imperative that the public gets out there and allows the powers that be to hear their voice," Kendrick said, calling on users of the parks to chime in.

"If they don't, decisions will likely be made that you may or may not agree with. As a taxpayer, as a member of the public, this is our space, and we have a right to be a part of that conversation," she said.

At Booker T. Washington State Park, the pool is 30-plus years old and visitation is extremely low, Schofinski said. At Harrison Bay State Park about 6 miles north of Booker T. Washington, the pool is 36 years old, visitation is down 19% and swimming is available in the lake in the summertime, she said.

(READ MORE: Camping records set at Tennessee State Parks in 2020 as people 'stay home' outdoors)

photo Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / Jim Redman fishes at Harrison Bay State Park in April 2020.

Harrison Bay State Park, consisting of 1,200 acres and about 40 miles of Chickamauga Lake shoreline, was originally developed in the 1930s as a Tennessee Valley Authority recreation area, according to information on the park's website.

The park gets its name from the town of Harrison, which was flooded by TVA in the creation of Chickamauga Lake and is now a haven for golfers, campers, boaters and anglers and has RV sites and campsites and has a 4.5-mile loop bike trail. Harrison Bay became the first Tennessee State Park in 1937.

Closer to Chattanooga, Booker T. Washington State Park covers 353 acres with a 6-mile mountain bike trail, picnic pavilions and individual picnic sites on the park property and is noted for fishing and boat access, according to state parks information.

The park is named for pioneering Black educator Booker Taliaferro Washington, born into slavery and freed by age 9. Washington fought throughout his life to obtain a higher education, eventually earning a scholarship to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia, according to state historical information.

The park was developed for recreational purposes by the TVA and was leased by the state from TVA in 1938. The park property for Booker T. Washington was formally deeded to the state in 1950, the same year the Harrison Bay property was handed over to the state for $1, according to park histories.

While pools at the two Chattanooga area parks and 14 of the state's other parks are closed, the pool at Fall Creek Falls will reopen next season, according to parks officials. Fall Creek Falls, where construction of a new, $40.4 million, 85-room lodge is wrapping up, is about 50 miles north of Chattanooga between Pikeville and Spencer.

(READ MORE: $40.4 million Fall Creek Falls Lodge on course for fall completion)

The meetings next week at Harrison Bay and Booker T. Washington state parks are open to the public.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

photo Staff file photo / A member of the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park group in 2019 empties the donation container installed to help feed rescued injured birds housed in large cages at the entrance to the park. Park superintendent Don Campbell, left, observes the claiming of funds for birds and education.

Upcoming Events