Tennessee state park officials have made progress on implementing a warning system at Cummins Falls State Park.
State Representative Ryan Williams said state officials are working to find ways to collect information that can be shared during flash flood events.
“There are additional systems that have been installed and they are in place. TDEC and the state parks are collaborating with (Tennessee) Tech in order to monitor that data with the consulting engineering firm,” Williams said. “Of course you have to have a rain event, see how it responds to the data, and see how that data is collected. Then once you’re collecting that data, how can you distribute that data to park rangers, staff, or emergency personnel.”
Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) initially gave a 45-day time frame of having a fully-functional system running at the park. Nearly two weeks since the deadline has passed on July 24, the gorge remains closed at Cummins Falls.
The gorge was first closed in June after a two-year-old child from Kentucky drowned during a flash-flooding event at the park. The boy’s drowning came almost two years after two people also drowned during a flash flood, prompting the initial push for a warning system at Cummins Falls.
Williams said although officials have made progress, hurdles still remain in distributing warning information.
“I’m happy to say that they are collecting data down there,” Williams said. “But, there are still some challenges not with the data collection system, but the warning system as it relates to mobile service or satellite service in order to collect and distribute that data.”
Williams said he hopes officials can finalize a solution in the near future so that they may reopen one of the Upper Cumberland’s most popular tourist destinations.
“There’s progress to be made, just not as quickly as we had all hoped, and particularly it’s not quick enough for those businesses and communities like ours that are affected by the overall decrease in tourism dollars,” Williams said. “But the (TDEC) commissioner, his staff, and the Upper Cumberland delegation want to make sure that when we [reopen the gorge] that we are confident that we’ve done all we can do to make sure those that go down to the gorge are safe.”
During a special-called House of Representatives meeting in June, Williams asked officials to look into building an elevated platform for visitors to stay on in the event of a flash flood.
However, Williams said TDEC officials told he and other state lawmakers Friday a platform was not in the works for updates at the gorge.