Even before you reach the summit, while still threading your way through
hardwoods, dripping springs and boulders big as houses, you find yourself
Sell House Mountain?
Inconceivable. Where is the soulless lackey who would sign off on such a
Are there no champions in the state bureaucracy for this well-wrought gem of
nature? Do those who manage our state's park system truly love this garden
Tennessee, or are they just so many stuffed shirts and political appointees
Have they taken the trouble to walk up here where hawks and buzzards,
butterflies, enact aerial ballets?
Close this park?
It's time to write your governor, your representative. Something is bad
one who has basked in the view from the highest point in Knox County would
close this park.
The view, after all, is the main event here where waves of blue, green and
all horizons. Clinch Mountain, Chilhowee Mountain, English Mountain, the
Smokies and more crowd the East Overlook. Short hikes along a narrow
vistas that are equally splendid to the north, south and west.
Holston River, the far-off Cumberlands. And between you and them, down in the
there, is a three-dimensional patchwork quilt of gold and green fields
sprinkled with white
houses, silos and chapels in the Tennessee countryside.
(begin ital) Shut down House Mountain? (end ital)
What could they be thinking? Sure, you've heard the arguments.
No golf course. No fishing here. And it's the least used park in the system.
But I wonder
how they measure such things. Surely if you figure usage on the basis of
visitors-per-acre, this small park is competitive.
I've climbed House Mountain twice. The first was two years ago. Both times the
parking lot was overflowing. Both times I met families on picnics, students
couples enjoying a romantic day in nature's embrace, and scouts or church
a breath of divinity.
The price tag for all that?
There's some debate, but from the parking lot to the 2,100-foot-high summit
steep mile away, it's hard to see what could be budget-busting about House
Where's the expense? Posting maps at the kiosk? Hauling off garbage once a
Locking down the gate at night?
The problem is much bigger than House Mountain, of course. Nine state parks
threatened with closure by June, including the impressive Dunbar Cave and
Burgess Fallsamong the most beautiful falls east of the Rockies.
Maybe you've seen Burgess Falls. Four hundred thousand people visit them each
year. Recently a picture of them was used to illustrate a "mission statement"
the Department of Conservation, which is trusted with managing our parks.
lofty sentiments expressed was the following:
"Our mission is to preserve and protect, in perpetuity, unique
natural, cultural and scenic areas." How long is "in perpetuity?"
In the case of
House Mountain, evidently, about three more months. To see this pledge
eclipsed with the
stroke of a bureaucrat's pen is disheartening. It helps that both Knox County
and the City
are interested in House Mountain. I hope parks in the rest of the state are
Such hopeful scenarios miss the point, however. The State of Tennessee should
the first bulwark in the preservation of such natural wonders. The State,
other priorities. Even as it seeks to sell or shut down our parksostensibly
to save several
hundred thousand dollarsit's spending (begin ital) millions on millions
(end ital) for
misguided projects that few outside government really want. I'm talking about
four-lane highway through Townsend. The thoroughfare and bridge through the
the University of Tennessee campus, and new four-lanes in various stages of
construction in Upper East Tennessee.
I have a suggestion for state officials. The next time you feel an itch to
highway through God's country or shut down a state park, turn off your cell
calculator, your appointment gizmo and climb a mountain.
Find yourself an overlook and open your eyes, your heart, your mind.