GREENE COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Residents neighboring the Horse Creek Recreation Area gathered inside the park Wednesday to sign a petition to prevent the removal of a popular swimming hole.

The U.S. Forest Service operates the park and in a proposed improvement plan, a dam that created the swimming hole would be removed from the creek.

The forest service said the dam has become unsafe due to large deposits of sediment from upstream that have put pressure on the sides of the dam.

About 30 people showed up at the recreation area. Many recalled fond memories of the swimming hole in its glory days.

“My daddy used to bring me to the park when I was a little girl to come swimming because back in the day you couldn’t afford much,” said Gidget Fox, a long-time visitor of the recreation area.

The swimming hole has become more of a splash pad in the last two decades because of the sediment that has filled it.

U.S. Forest Service Unaka District Ranger Leslie Morgan said a dam further upstream failed in the late 80s, and that has led to the buildup of sediment at the present dam, only made worse during flooding events.

She said that buildup and the dam’s re-direction of the natural flow of the creek are threatening the structural integrity of the dam’s walls, creating a big hazard downstream.

“If it were to blow out in one of these larger rain events that we have, we have no control of where all that debris goes and where the parts of the dam when it blows out goes, and there’s house downstream from there,” Morgan said.

But residents who signed the petition to the forest service said they’d like to see the damn left intact.

“I’d love to see them clean out behind the dam and clean back out a swimming hole where people can come out and enjoy it, and not tear the dam down,” said Dennis Fox.

Morgan said it is not financially sustainable or environmentally friendly to do that every time sediment builds up.

Removing the dam would restore the natural flow, and eliminate barriers that prevent aquatic animals from migrating up or downstream, Morgan said.

In the event the dam is removed, Morgan said users would still be able to swim.

“There’ll be some natural pools that will be created on its own,” Morgan said. “They’ll still be able to go and enjoy the creek. It’s not going to be off limits.”

Park users also had concerns about the state of other parts of the park. Gidget Fox said several areas have been neglected for years.

“There has not been any maintenance in the area in quite a while. I haven’t seen a forest ranger in a long time,” Fox said.

Morgan said the forest service has been dealing with short-staffing and is currently hiring more people. She said the dam removal and stream restoration is part of a larger improvement plan for the recreation area.

It’s made possible with funding under the Great American Outdoors Act, passed in 2020, which provides greater investment in outdoor recreation areas.

Morgan said that plan includes improvements to the area’s campground like a new bridge and flush toilets and restoring a historic pavilion built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“There’ll be some growing pains. In three or four years, they’ll really enjoy what we’ve got in store,” Morgan said.

There is currently a public comment period for citizens to submit concerns and recommendations about the project. That ends this Sunday, September 18.