BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – Sullivan County leaders say changes to Observation Knob Park’s layout have made the 2023 summer season one of the park’s most profitable.
“We’ve exceeded the last year’s revenues every month this year, and we finished the year out in the black by about $20,000,” Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable told News Channel 11.
In February, Venable announced that the number of seasonal campsites would drop from 178 to 88. That decision led to complaints from several long-term campers who would also face steeper costs for those lengthier stays. A lottery was held in the spring to determine who could take those seasonal spots.
With more campsites available to rent on a day-to-day basis, Sullivan County Parks Director Chris Irhke said Observation Knob has also become accessible to a wider range of campers.
“We have had a very large amount of new guests, new faces to the park, from Sullivan County,” said Ihrke. “Opening these sites for residents and surrounding residents and travelers. We feel that that’s been a very good decision made.”
Venable said it’s not just the financial situation that’s different this year.
“The culture of the park has changed,” Venable said. “This is a family campground now. It wasn’t always that way. You bring your family here, and we have security.”
First-time campers Brenda and Leslie Mulkey said the changes have been good.
“Before, you couldn’t get a spot, and now you can rent and camp, and it’s more enjoyable now because you can get a spot when you want,” said Leslie Mulkey.
With a new system for the park settled, county leaders are looking to the future.
The county is working to finalize a contract for a nearly half-a-million-dollar grant for park improvements, like wheelchair accessibility and a new office.
Venable said plans are in the works to create a biking and walking trail through the park, a new swimming area and a disability-friendly playground.
Ihrke said he hopes construction can begin next year.