A new, $2.7 million visitors center at Fall Creek Falls State Park on the Bledsoe-Van Buren county line was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.
"This is a special day for Fall Creek Falls and our parks system," Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson said Friday. "This facility enhances Fall Creek Falls as one of our most prestigious state parks, and we look forward to its role in bolstering the park and the community."
The new center is part of more than $40 million in major updates at the remote park atop the Cumberland Plateau between the towns of Pikeville and Spencer. The new building stands at 2009 Village Camp Road in the center of the park, where most of the visitor facilities on the east side of Fall Creek Falls Lake are located. Chattanooga-based Dillard Construction was the contractor on the project.
The new, 4,800-square foot building will have 24-hour accessible restrooms, a gift shop, information desk, large maps of the area, a rentable conference room and a covered patio with a gas fire pit, according to Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson Kim Schofinski. All overnight cabin and camper guests will check in at the center, she said.
On the west side of the lake, the new, 85-room Lodge at Fall Creek Falls, with what officials describe as modern room design, conference space and a full-service restaurant and lounge, is expected to open in 2021, Schofinski said.
The price tag on that project soared from $29.4 million in 2017 to $40.4 million when tallied in April 2019. At the time, state officials said the cost increase stemmed from construction cost escalation and difficulty in finding contractors willing to bid on the remote project.
The replacement project for the inn got the green light in November 2017 and demolition began in January 2018. When the state conducted a visitor survey in 2013, couples from Jacksboro and McMinnville who visited frequently told the Times Free Press their main complaint was the old inn.
Fall Creek Falls State Park encompasses more than 29,800 acres, and at 256 feet, Fall Creek Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern U.S. The park contains more than 56 miles of trails, a nature center that offers hands-on environmental education, four playgrounds, five covered picnic pavilions and the Fall Creek Falls Golf Course and pro shop.
A Canopy Challenge Course, which has wobbly bridges, rope swings and zip lines, was added in 2014.
Origins of the park itself date back to the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps began work around the mountaintop on the Bledsoe-Van Buren county line to address erosion, according to historic accounts on the state's website and in the Tennessee Encyclopedia. The corps began doing erosion and reforestation work in 1937 — a cluster of old Civilian Conservation Corps buildings still stand near the park on Bledsoe State Forest land — and in 1944, the National Park System transferred ownership of the park property to Tennessee.
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