Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Sell House Mountain?
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   03/03/2000)

Even before you reach the summit, while still threading your way through soaring hardwoods, dripping springs and boulders big as houses, you find yourself wondering:

Sell House Mountain?

Inconceivable. Where is the soulless lackey who would sign off on such a proposal?

Are there no champions in the state bureaucracy for this well-wrought gem of God and nature? Do those who manage our state's park system truly love this garden that is Tennessee, or are they just so many stuffed shirts and political appointees filling slots? Have they taken the trouble to walk up here where hawks and buzzards, songbirds and butterflies, enact aerial ballets?

Close this park?

It's time to write your governor, your representative. Something is bad wrong. No one who has basked in the view from the highest point in Knox County would willingly close this park. The view, after all, is the main event here where waves of blue, green and aqua wash all horizons. Clinch Mountain, Chilhowee Mountain, English Mountain, the distant Smokies and more crowd the East Overlook. Short hikes along a narrow ridgeline present vistas that are equally splendid to the north, south and west.

There's Sharps Ridge, the Holston River, the far-off Cumberlands. And between you and them, down in the valley 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.

There's no lodge.

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 hikers-per-trail or 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 on outings, couples enjoying a romantic day in nature's embrace, and scouts or church groups seeking 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 one steep mile away, it's hard to see what could be budget-busting about House Mountain.

Where's the expense? Posting maps at the kiosk? Hauling off garbage once a week? Locking down the gate at night?

The problem is much bigger than House Mountain, of course. Nine state parks are threatened with closure by June, including the impressive Dunbar Cave and magnificent Burgess Falls—among 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" published by the Department of Conservation, which is trusted with managing our parks.

Among the lofty sentiments expressed was the following:

"Our mission is to preserve and protect, in perpetuity, unique examples of 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 as fortunate.

Such hopeful scenarios miss the point, however. The State of Tennessee should be the first bulwark in the preservation of such natural wonders. The State, evidently, has other priorities. Even as it seeks to sell or shut down our parks—ostensibly to save several hundred thousand dollars—it's spending (begin ital) millions on millions (end ital) for misguided projects that few outside government really want. I'm talking about the four-lane highway through Townsend. The thoroughfare and bridge through the heart of the University of Tennessee campus, and new four-lanes in various stages of planning and construction in Upper East Tennessee.

I have a suggestion for state officials. The next time you feel an itch to build a highway through God's country or shut down a state park, turn off your cell phone, your calculator, your appointment gizmo and climb a mountain.

Find yourself an overlook and open your eyes, your heart, your mind.