BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — People who have been camping at Sullivan County’s Observation Knob Park showed up to a meeting in Blountville to voice their concerns about changes at the park.
Observation Knob Park on the banks of South Holston Lake has offered public space for campers for nearly half a decade. Now, managers of the county park, which is on land leased from the TVA, are asking people to park their campers there year-round to move to a new location.
On Monday, the room was filled with concerned campers at a meeting of the Observation Knob Park Committee. Some of them have rented spaces at the park for several months and in some cases years.
The park went under new management in January with the goal of increasing revenue for the county. Park Director Chris Ihrke says some of the changes have already given the park a financial boost.
“So we are up this season 45.8% on just our fees,” Ihrke said.
Park managers say they are trying to maximize public use and help the park be self-sustaining. But the latest round of changes has campers speaking out.
“The whole campground is in an uproar because of how this situation was handled,” camper Jaima Helbert said.
However, Sullivan County leaders say they do not have a choice because the park is located on land leased from the TVA. That lease is coming up for review in 2025 and the county says TVA does not want long-term seasonal camping at the park.
Last week, long-term campers were given a notice saying they had to move to a different spot in the park by Oct. 31.
This affects nine campers, five of which are residents of Sullivan County. Ihrke is giving these residents first priority in the moving process.
“My money is as good as Tennessee folks’,” said one Virginia resident who is being asked to wait to be relocated.
These campers have to re-apply and be put in a lottery before they can be relocated.
Some say moving the campers means uprooting a community.
“They have friends that don’t go to school with them that they see during the summer, that live in Chilhowie and up in West Virginia, and they’ve grown up together,” Helbert said.
Some have called for Ihrke’s removal.
The committee will review the information from Monday’s meeting and public hearing. The issue is expected to come back up at the committee’s meeting next month.