Tight security measures remain at TVA dam facilities

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Priest Dam's recreational limits persist

WARREN DUZAK, Tennessean

2/16/02

There will be no kite flying or picnicking below J. Percy Priest Dam when spring finally arrives.



There will be no radio-controlled gliders sailing over the huge concrete dam or lines of fishermen along the rocky shores that contain the dam's tail waters.

All opportunities for that ended shortly after Sept. 11.

One of the most popular recreation areas below the dam will remain closed indefinitely because of security concerns, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said this week. The closures officially began in October with the erection of gates and warning signs.

''We get a tremendous amount of traffic, … and it is a real challenge to keep it closed,'' corps Ranger Mark Vaughan said.



 
The recreational areas near the dam on the lake side will not be affected.

Since October, intrusions to the closed-off area have been kept to a minimum, Vaughan said. During the snowy weather some sledders tried to take advantage of the steep roads and earthen slopes but were told to leave.

Vaughan expects all that will change with the seasons.

''With the weather warming up, it is attracting people into the area,'' Vaughan said. ''When it warms up it is really going to be a problem, but homeland defense is a big issue, and we are taking it real seriously.''

Seriously enough to block more than land traffic. Boats on Stones River will not be permitted beyond the Interstate 40 bridge, several hundred yards below the dam.

''We don't know how long it is going to last,'' Percy Priest Resource Manager Bill Colvin said of the restrictions.

It was Ken Folger's group, Flying Disc Drive, that felt the closure first.

The nonprofit group, which promotes flying disc sports, had to move its Tennessee Flying Disc Championship, scheduled late in September and attracting as many as 120 contestants.

''It is an inconvenience for us,'' Folger said. ''We have used'' that area ''three or four times in the last five years.''

The closure has also had some effect on Nashville's proposed Stones River Greenway.

''Our project can go ahead as planned, (but) we may make some slight modifications to the design to minimize the access to the dam,'' said Bill Troup, assistant greenways director with the Metro Parks Department. ''It is not a tremendous setback. It is just another issue we have to deal with. We're not starting development from that end, so it will not hold us up.''

On a more personal level, Troup said the closure is disappointing and will have a big impact.

''It's a great place to fly kites,'' he said ''I miss not having that field open to play with my kids in.''

Corps Ranger Scott Fanning said the Department of Defense order left it up to the individual Corps districts to decide how best to secure their dams. The layout and cost called for complete closure to public-accessible areas of the dam, but there are plans to consider only a partial closure.

''They are looking at that sort of thing,'' Fanning said.

The Corps owns about 300 acres below the dam between Bell Road and Interstate 40. About 75 to 100 acres are regularly used by visitors.

The coming spring weekends will no longer see the dozens of fishermen lining the banks and concrete fishing platform as they angle for white bass, rockfish, crappie and catfish.

''Tail-water fishing is some of the best, and I am one who loves to go below the dam to catch fish,'' said Doug Markham, spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. ''It is going to hurt quite a few fishermen who fish below the dam.''

The TWRA had been stocking rainbow trout there but moved the releases to Nice Mill in Rutherford County, near the Davidson County line, Markham said

Dick Tonan, president of the Middle Tennessee Radio Control Society, said the effect on radio-controlled model glider hobbyists would be ''major.''

The model airplane pilots use the air lift created at the dam to fly their powerless gliders.

''I'm not sure where in this area you can replicate that, and I'm not sure you can,'' Tonan said. ''It is very safe, clean, quiet form of the hobby, and it is really a shame that they are going to be denied the opportunity to participate in this, where they pose no security risk whatsoever.''
 
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