July 29, 2008

Federal Funding Helps Tennessee Parks Improve Services

By Morgan Simmons, The Knoxville News Sentinel, Tenn.

Jul. 28--Visitors to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will notice improved services throughout the park this summer thanks to a federal funding increase.

The additional funding is part of President Bush's Centennial Initiative, which calls for $1 billion during the next 10 years to help parks prepare for the National Park Service's 100th anniversary in 2016.

This year, in addition to its $4.2 million base budget, the Big South Fork received $229,000 as a result of the Centennial Initiative.

The money has enabled the park to hire additional lifeguards this summer for its swimming pool, which translates into longer pool hours each day.

The Visitors Center at Bandy Creek is open until 6 p.m. each day instead of closing at 4, and the park has been able to hire an additional seasonal law enforcement ranger.

For the first time, the regional Welcome Center in nearby Helenwood, Tenn., is open on weekends.

Some members of the trail crew will be hired on longer thanks to the funding. The Big South Fork covers 125,000 acres and includes about 300 miles of trails -- 140 miles for hiking and about 160 miles of multiple-use trails open to horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking.

The funding also has enabled the park to hire a visitor assistance specialist for Bandy Creek Campground.

In all, the Centennial Initiative funding has paid for 18 new positions, plus additional hours for seasonal staff.

The project actually breaks down into two components: the Centennial Initiative, which funds basic park operations, and the Centennial Challenge, which calls for $100 million per year to be made available to parks to be used to generate matching funds from private sources.

Located on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and Kentucky, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has been averaging about 650,000 visitors a year for the last several years.

Unlike most National Park Service units, the Big South Fork permits hunting and accommodates mountain bikers along with horseback riders and hikers.

The area protects 70 miles of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, along with its tributaries.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park received $1.5 million this year as part of the Centennial Initiative. The park also has identified 13 projects totaling $4.3 million that would be eligible for matching public-private funding under the Centennial Challenge.

Another area national park that has benefited from the Centennial Initiative is Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which covers almost 22,000 acres and receives about 1 million visitors each year.

Cumberland Gap's share of the Centennial Initiative this year was $13,000. Park superintendent Mark Woods said the money has paid for three seasonal employees who assist with interpretive programs and conduct tours of Gap (Cudjo) Cave and Hensley Settlement.

"It's making a difference with our programming for the summer, particularly with a variety of educational programs with schools," Woods said.


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