Website urges residents support opening Bridgestone for hiking, kayaking and caving
By Pamela Claytor | March 31, 2016 6:38 am
The Bridgestone/Firestone gift of 10,000-acre Centennial Wilderness Area in Scott’s Gulf abounds with a number of waterfalls, a 26 mile hiking trail, bluffs overlooking the Caney Fork River Gorge and nine primitive backpacking campgrounds.
But the property is closed to everyone, except hunters, from September through December of each year, a crucial time for tourists seeking spectacular fall foliage views.
According to Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce President Marvin Bullock, “This is adversely affecting the economic development of White County.”
Bullock has created a website, roomforboth.com to draw attention to and educate residents of White County, as well as nature lovers, about the annual closure that has been put in place by Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency so that hunters have exclusive use of the land during these months.
When the property was given to the state by Bridgestone/Firestone, the deed restrictions state that the land was to be preserved in its natural state, and used by the public for hunting, hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities.
According to Bullock, if the property is closed to the public during three months of the year by TWRA, it is not being used as intended.
A sign sits outside the property that reads “Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Federal Aid Project funded by your purchase of hunting equipment.
Bullock says this is a misrepresentation of the property. “TWRA alludes that their properties were purchased via their fees for hunting licenses and therefore they contend that gives them the jurisdiction to close the properties to any activity other than hunting. The truth is, Bridgestone was a gift to the State of Tennessee by Bridgestone Corporation. Many of the adjoining properties were partially paid for by the Heritage Trust Fund. The Heritage Trust Fund is financed by the taxpayer.”
Bullock is emphatic that he is not anti-hunting, which is why he proclaims, “There is room for both.”
The problem, he contends, is the growth of trails that is stunted without yearlong use of the land.
“The Friends of the Mid-Cumberland would like to put a loop trail from Lost Creek, near Sparta, to Fall Creek Falls. This will require passing through the Bridgestone gift and adjoining state-owned properties. When complete this trail will be over 60 miles long. It will likely have more waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and caves per mile than any other trail in the southeast and quite likely the United States. The state now owns enough contiguous land to make this possible, some managed by the Tennessee Department of Conservation (parks), but a much larger portion managed by TWRA. The Boy Scout trail, and the Mid-Cumberland Trail can run in conjunction for a good portion of the distance,” he explains.
“When asked about the logic in this closure, people are told that it would be dangerous to have hunters and hikers in the woods at the same time. If this is true, would you not want to limit the hunting to only one hunter? With two hunters, one might shoot the other. Why are hikers not just as capable of deciding that they will be in the woods during hunting season, as are hunters?”
According to Bullock, there has never been an incident in Tennessee in which a hunter has shot a hiker.
“Besides that, even if all of the hunters show up on the same day, they have over 100 acres each to hunt, one might still hike through the woods and never see a hunter. Using Bridgestone’s description, with a 1000′ buffer, the hunters would still have vast tracts of flat land to hunt exclusively, and the hikers, kayakers, birdwatchers, etc would have access to some pristine acres to enjoy their activities too. There is ample room for both.”
Bullock says progress has been made in opening all of Scott’s Gulf year round. Welch’s point is now open 365 days per year, and the road to the Caney Fork is now open year-round for kayakers to pull their boats out of the water.
Besides the loss of tax revenue from tourists in the months when the fall colors are vibrant and the temperature is still comfortable, Bullock says it could also be a loss of new business.
“People ‘relocate where they recreate.’ In the past seven months two businesses have relocated to White County because the owners like our outdoor opportunities. One of our largest employers says that he realizes that he has many over-qualified workers who have moved to the area to enjoy the outdoors. Several businesses have moved to the Cumberlands for the whitewater and hiking.”
Additionally, Bullock says figures show that deer hunting has continued to decrease since the opening of the Bridgestone WMA in 2004.
Bullock asks that residents visit the website, roomforboth.com, follow the link to contact their local legislator, and ask that they open the area year round to hikers, cavers and kayakers to enjoy.