SPENCER, Tennessee – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee opened the $ 40.3 million, 85-room Lodge Fall Creek Falls on Tuesday, the latest addition to the 29,800-acre state park on the Cumberland Plateau.
Fifty years ago this year, a dedication was held at Fall Creek Falls State Park for an $ 8 million development project that included a $ 1.4 million inn that has now been replaced.
The park is now thriving with new housing and enthusiastic staff “in one of the most beautiful places in all of America and now one of the most beautiful lodges in all of America,” Lee told a chilly crowd at the park. of the inauguration ceremony Tuesday.
Lee praised lawmakers, state officials, construction crews, park officials and government leaders for supporting the project. He said the new facility and other updates would bring more tourism dollars to Bledsoe and Van Buren counties, and he said he expects more funds to go to state parks. in the future.
Investing in parks now is important “if we want Tennessee to remain one of the most beautiful states in the country, if we want our grandsons to stay here when they are as old as me and appreciate the natural resources that we have. “, Lee mentioned.
New $ 40.3 million Fall Creek Falls Lodge opens
Lee said 35 million people visited Tennessee state parks and brought in more than $ 1.8 billion to the state last year.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton said on Tuesday the opening of the lodge marked “a big day for the community” of neighboring counties and said Bledsoe and Van Buren counties “will see their revenues increase” thanks to improvements to Fall Creek Falls.
Sexton said he had been coming to the park since he was 8 years old.
Bell & Associates Construction, based in Brentwood, TN, was the general contractor for the project, which includes conference and meeting spaces, a take-out space, a restaurant / bar with indoor seating and by the lake and a large fireplace.
“Our goal was to provide a space where visitors could seamlessly transition from the beautiful outdoor scenery of the State Park to modern and relaxing accommodations,” Tennessee Department of General Service Deputy Commissioner John Hull said, in a press release issued Tuesday. “We hope Tennessee residents and visitors from across the country enjoy this state-of-the-art facility for years to come.”
The project price fell from an initial estimate of $ 29.4 million in 2017 to $ 40.4 million when it was calculated in April 2019, a few months after the start of the project. The project grew by $ 11 million and was a surprise addition to the 2019-2020 state budget of $ 38.5 billion when it was approved by Tennessee House. The demolition of the old hostel was completed in 2018 under a separate contract.
A limited number of rooms are currently available for reservations, and the restaurant is open with limited hours and a menu, state officials say. According to the State Park website, the standard nightly rate for a room with a king-size bed for the next weekend is $ 135 or $ 121.50 for a resident or senior of Tennessee. The standard rate for a room with two queen beds is $ 145 or $ 130.50 for a resident or senior of Tennessee, and the addition of a double daybed raises the rate to $ 170. and additional bunk beds increase the rate up to $ 180.
(READ MORE: Fall Creek Falls State Park’s new $ 2.7 million visitor center opens)
The park itself dates back to the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps began working around the top of the mountain to control erosion, according to historical accounts posted on the state’s website and in the Encyclopedia. of Tennessee. The corps began performing erosion and reforestation work in 1937 – a group of old corps buildings still stand near the north entrance to the park on the Bledsoe State Forest lands along the State Route 30 – and in 1944 the National Park System transferred ownership of park ownership to Tennessee.
At first, federal officials only allowed a few vacation cabins, an inn, stables, and a few trails to be built to encourage people to visit. Once it was owned by the state, it was in 1950 before the recreation facilities were funded. Bathing facilities were added in 1954. By 1962, the park still had two serviced camping areas and boating was prohibited.
Newspaper records show that early plans included an amphitheater, swimming pool, restaurant, ‘motor hut’, vacation cabins on land near the water, and others built over the water with facilities. for boats, hiking trails and a golf course nearby. The first plans were for facilities “large enough to host conventions,” according to a Jan. 31, 1969, Chattanooga Times article about a project presentation at the Chattanooga Rotary Club.
(READ MORE: Chickamauga, Tims Ford, Fall Creek Falls among 18 “Bill Dance Signature Lakes” to share $ 15 million in upgrades)
At the time, the General Assembly also worked to block the development of facilities at Fall Creek Falls, including accommodation and a golf course. So-Sen. Fred O. Berry Sr., R-Knoxville, objected to the work because Tennessee “has no interest in getting into the resort business,” and the project was “in competition with the free enterprise and violates the intentions of our founding fathers, “according to the records.
Berry preferred to use state money to purchase additional land for park purposes and other needs in other state parks. Nonetheless, the first tenders for the earthwork began to come out in the summer of 1969, according to records.
According to records, construction continued until 1971 and the park’s $ 8 million expansion project was dedicated in 1972 by the government of the day. Winfield Dunn consisted of the original $ 1.4 million inn, nature center, cabins and 18-hole golf course on what was then 16,000 acres of land including the park. Fall Creek Falls was one of five new Tennessee state parks to open that year.
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Over the past few years, the 56-mile-long park has undergone several upgrades, but none are as drastic as the new lodge.
Since 2007, many campgrounds and camping facilities have been upgraded, the existing pool and snack bar have been upgraded, 20 of the park’s fishing cabins on the 345-acre lake have been upgraded and another 10 upgraded, according to archives. Parts of the Village Green building complex have been renovated and a new irrigation system has been installed on the golf course. The park also received a new playground, roof replacements, toilet upgrades and fresh paint on the structures. A canopy challenge course with hanging obstacles and ziplines has also been installed in recent years.
The most recent addition completed is a $ 2.7 million, 4,800 square foot visitor center, opened in August 2020. Officials said the center shares some design elements with the lodge.
Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.
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