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Attraction one of 53 state parks
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Breathtaking views, cascading waterfalls, and birthday cake. They will all be available this Saturday, May 5, as Rock Island State Park celebrates its 45th birthday.
Along with free cake and games, a new connector trail has been added and guided tours will be offered.
“We hope families have fun and get involved in the activities we have available,” said park naturalist Dava Lundquist.
The party will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Area 2, located by taking the first right after passing the park’s office on Beach Road. Guided history hikes on the new trail will be offered from 9-11 a.m., and from 2-4 p.m.
Tennessee acquired land on May 5, 1967 from which the scenic park was formed. The 883-acre park now has 60 campsites, 10 cabins, 10 hiking trails, picnic areas, a playground, walking trails and restroom facilities where visitors can enjoy swimming, picnics, nature walks and fishing.
“The park continues to pursue its goal set in 1967 to bring recreational and educational opportunities, as well as preserve and protect the scenic, natural and historical features for the people who come to visit them,” said Lundquist.
In hot pursuit of continuing that goal, the park has established a new connector trail called Collins River Connector Trail. Lundquist says its a two-mile inner loop of the park’s three-mile Collins River Trail.
“We felt like the park needed this trail in order to provide access to the original home site and two cemeteries of the Cunningham family that were not accessible before,” she said. “We hope this trail helps connect our visitors to Rock Island’s history.”
Added later will be interpretive signs that describe life as a pioneer and the historical use of the land before it became a park.
The area in and around the park has a long history going back to the Mississippian mound builders, but it is most known for three eras — the first pioneers, the age of industry, and the roaring 1920s.
Highway 136 was once a buffalo path the Native Americans followed. This path was later turned into a major stage coach route. A ferry was put in where the path crossed the river. The ferry was at a small island called “Rock Island.”
A small town built up around the ferry. In order for the new settlers to claim land, they had to take it from the Cherokee. Before the last Treaty of Tellico was signed, there was one last skirmish the battle of Rock Island in 1792.
In 1881, the Southwestern Railroad was built about one mile away. The Falls City Cotton Mill was built around 1889. Soon after it met its demise by the river in 1902, the first Great Falls dam was constructed in 1917 by Tennessee Electric Power Company.
The dam was one of Tennessee’s first big hydroelectric dams. When raised in 1924, it created one of the first recreational reservoirs. The rail would bring the rich and famous from Nashville to vacation on the waters of Great Falls.
Locals gathered signatures on petitions that convinced the state to purchase the land. With the advent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund created in 1965 to help the state plan, acquire and develop outdoor recreational areas, the state was able to start planning for the park in 1966. Land was purchased on May 5, 1967.
In conjunction with the local celebration, Tennessee State Parks is celebrating its 75th anniversary. There are 53 parks spread across Tennessee – enough so that there is a state park within an hour’s drive of just about anywhere in the state.
As for the 45th birthday celebration, cake, volleyball, basketball, hula hoops, chalk, and horseshoes will be available for the enjoyment of visitors. Ramble the Raccoon, Tennessee’s State Park mascot, will make an appearance.
For more information about the birthday party or other activities offered at the park, call 686-2471.