State Senator Paul Bailey said his goal remains to introduce legislation to make Virgin Falls a state park.
The plan to purchase 1,500 to 2,000 acres for $4 million was delayed earlier this year when COVID hit and the states budget was cut. However, Bailey said the plan is to try this purchase again after a year where the economic power of state parks became evident.
“Tennessee being a sales tax based state, that’s the way we derive our revenue,” Bailey said. “Then each time that those visitors spend a dollar in the community, that dollar is basically helping our communities and helping them grow and thrive.”
Bailey said there are a lot of conservation groups that assist in the funding, saying there would be private money going into the land purchase, not just state dollars. He said one local group already has a two year option on property that would connect the park.
“The Friends of Virgin Falls, they currently have an option for two years on approximately 200 acres, there’s an additional 1500 acres that would be joining that,” Bailey said. “That would connect Virgin Falls along to Dog Cove, so it would make a full and complete area there connecting the top side all the way down to the bottom side.”
Bailey said funding the purchase with $4 million would help with more than just acquiring land. He said it would put Virgin Falls in a position to handle a large amount of visitors.
“That would also help to create some trail heads going into the park area,” Bailey said. “It would basically get the park to a position to where we could have a lot more visitors come in and offer parking areas, offering trail heads and offer a complete experience for those that would like to hike into that area.”
Bailey said Virgin Falls is not just in a beautful area of White County. He said it is also in a strategic location for bringing in tourists.
“We’re kind of at a crossroads with Highway 111 moving north and south and I-40, as well as Highway 70 that runs through White County,” Bailey said. “We have a lot of visitors coming out and wanting to visit our state parks. We’ve seen with COVID this year, people are not necessarily travelling too far from home but they’re going into the parks.”
Bailey said when vacation habits changed, areas with state parks were able to capitalize on tourist dollars. He credited efforts by the Haslam and Lee administrations for investing in state parks.
“It’s been so important that after the last several years that we as a state have recognized and basically appropriated money to continue to upgrade our parks that we currently have,” Bailey said. “This was a time that Tennessee shined… because we were prepared for a lot of our visitors to be able to come in and visit these state parks.”
Bailey said he plans to continue working to introduce legislation to make Virgin Falls a state park with Representative Paul Sherrell. The two legislators worked together on the first attempt earlier in 2020.