BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Leaders in Sullivan County are pushing ahead with planned improvements to Observation Knob Park despite objections from current campers.
Monday night, the Sullivan County Commission Observation Knob Park Committee held a meeting to discuss the future of the park, nine days before the deadline County Mayor Richard Venable set for current seasonal campsite holders to clear the park.
Venable is staying the course with his plans to change the park despite pushback from current campers.
“Change is tough,” Venable said at the meeting. “But you’ll see in our operating numbers an improvement.”
Among the changes Venable hopes to make: raising monthly fees to maintain a seasonal campsite from $185 to $300 during the summer season and decreasing the number of seasonal sites from 178 to 88.
According to an estimate presented to committee members Venable’s proposed price increases would generate nearly $100,000 of additional revenue for the county each year.
Venable says the changes are aimed at supporting Sullivan County taxpayers.
“To bring the park up to where we could make it a better park, we need to break even,” Venable told News Channel 11. “We don’t need to be putting taxpayer money into it.”
Current campers, however, feel their interests were ignored in the process of making the park more profitable for Sullivan County.
David McKee has maintained a year-round campsite at Observation Knob for four years. Now he’s moved out his trailer and applied for a spot at a nearby campsite.
“We’re not planning on coming back,” McKee said.
McKee said current campers should be seen as an asset, not a liability when it comes to improving the park.
“We have thrown out ideas,” McKee told News Channel 11. “We have made suggestions. ‘Let’s do this. Why don’t you look at this? Why aren’t you looking at this?’ We basically have been ignored since October,” McKee said.
McKee said the county didn’t adequately explore ways to improve the park without removing current campers.
Venable said removing current campers is necessary for an annual inspection by the TVA, which leased the property to Sullivan County and to bring the campsite into compliance with TVA length-of-stay guidelines which the park committee voted to adopt last year.
Along with rate hikes, Venable also announced a $475,000 Tennessee Department of Transportation grant to improve accessibility and transportation within the park.
“‘I’m excited about where we can go,” Venable said. “I’m sad that we’ve made people sad. It’s terrible. Some of the folks have been there for 15-20 years. I’m sad for them, but it was never designed for that.”