Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Conservation Jim Bryson spoke about the economic impact and the importance of Tennessee state parks at the Rotary Club of McMinnville meeting Thursday.
Tennessee state parks have been popular lately and especially at the height of the pandemic when outside activities were deemed safer.
“Our parks were there when our citizens needed them most. Our parks have never been more important than they have within the last 18 months,” said Bryson.
With record crowds at state parks over the past few months, the economic impact has increased.
“Like everyone knows it’s great to get out to the state parks, but what people don’t realize all the time is what kind of economic impact our parks have on our state,” he said.
Tennessee really benefitted from the increased tourism to state parks, Bryson said.
“We’ve always felt like our state parks had a tremendous economic impact, but we didn’t really have a way to measure it until last year. We contracted with the University of Tennessee and an economics firm out of Dallas, Texas and they did a study of the impact of our state parks and what we found was the state parks have a $1.84 billion with a ‘b,’ billion dollar impact on the state of Tennessee.”
Along with discussing economic impact, Bryson spoke about the upcoming building projects going on at state parks.
“We have initiated over the last 12 months another $184 million in building projects. The governor and the legislature has been very generous to state parks,” he said.
One building project in production is the lodge at Fall Creek Falls. The old lodge was completely taken down and they are rebuilding it to have 85 rooms overlooking the lake. The lodge is set to open this November if everything goes as planned.
South Cumberland Park is also getting an upgrade in the future. Bryson acknowledges this park is more of a hiking park where people enjoy the wilderness aspect, but they are planning to give parts of it a more state park like feel. Gov. Bill Lee and legislators have allocated $30 million to build a Stone Door annex site and build a visitor venter with 60 RV campsites eventually.
“We are excited for the opportunity to get started on that. Because we operate on state time, it will probably be four or five years before that is actually open to the public, but we are starting to work on that,” said Bryson.
After speaking on future projects and economic impact, Bryson made sure to acknowledge the hard work of all the people who worked in the state parks over the last few months.
“When the chips were down, and times were tough, they stepped up and they took care of our citizens,” said Bryson.
Bryson will expand on his Rotary Club remarks when he appears on the weekly “Focus” interview program on public radio WCPI 91.3. The half-hour conversation airs Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1 a.m.