The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Tuesday, 14 November 2023 23:06

‘Where dreams go to die’ — Frozen Head State Park needs your input

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frozen_head.jpg Commemorative sign in Frozen Head State Park.   Creative Commons Mark BY-NC 4.0  Jim “Gravity” Smith — Hike with Gravity: North Bird Mountain Trail

Written comments will be accepted until Nov. 30, 2023

WARTBURG — Harvey Broome Group of the Sierra Club and Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning want to encourage the public to weigh in on the proposed Tennessee State Management Plan for Frozen Head State Park & Natural Area in Morgan County.

Some of the proposed developments could drastically impact park natural resources and visitor experiences. Frozen Head hosted nearly 400,000 visitors in 2022. It is frequented by many East Tennessee residents and is an important destination tourist attraction. Importantly, it is an outstanding reservoir of biodiversity in the heart of the Cumberland Mountains.

The Management Plan states Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area mission is “to protect and preserve the unique examples of natural, cultural, and scenic resources and to save one of the last vestiges of undisturbed landscapes in the Cumberland Mountain region,” and park management is intended to “restore and maintain the diversity and integrity of the resource.”

Tell what you think would be good or ugly

There is much in this Management Plan that furthers the park’s mission, including support for and expansion of the feral hog management plan, the protection and conservation of neotropical and native birds, and protection of the native flora and fauna. The plan also rightly incorporates improvement of the existing toilet facilities, educational activities and a new bathhouse at the Big Cove Campground.   

However, the major activity proposed for completion in the next decade is to build an RV campground with associated utilities, roads and a check-in station at the park’s entrance on Flat Fork Road in the Rocky Fork Field. We believe an RV campground is not appropriate at this location, or elsewhere in the park, for the following reasons:

  • An RV campground is at odds with the stated mission of the park since an RV campground will neither preserve nor protect the natural, cultural and scenic resources.
  • Placement of the proposed RV campground and its infrastructure in Rocky Fork Field will directly interfere with current community use and enjoyment of the site as the staging area for the renowned and internationally recognized annual Barkley ultramarathon races, a holiday event area for local community groups and churches, a site for community volleyball games, a frequent family use area for picnics and reunions, as a safe and quiet walking trail, and as an overflow parking area for the public during special park events such as the annual Heritage Day. As such, the Rocky Fork Field is much valued by the local community and park guests in its current state and should not be sacrificed.
  • There is no sewer line servicing the Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area. It is unclear how sewage and wastewater from the recreational vehicles will be handled; the Rocky Fork Field soils are shallow and the area is prone to flooding, and either a dump station or a leachfield could put the water quality of Flat Fork Creek at risk.
  • A state-supported RV campground will compete with local private and commercial campground venues, which are developing in areas near the park. Therefore, there is no need for one inside the park.
  • An RV campground anywhere in Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area will greatly disrupt the natural character and appeal of this rugged and primitive area that is mostly managed as Class I or II State Natural Area.

Addressing existing problems instead of inviting new ones

A much more urgent investment is needed to restore Tower Road throughout its length. Tower Road provides essential connections to many trails throughout the park, but it is a gravel road that is frequently trafficked by park vehicles and other personnel. It is periodically graded, which has resulted in nearly all culverts becoming completely blocked. Blocked culverts cause drainage in the roadbed, resulting in tremendous levels of erosion. Other culverts are far too long, resulting in dramatic erosional scars below them.

The Management Plan notes that W. Tower Road is in “poor” condition and E. Tower Road is in “fair” condition, but the Plan does not propose resolving their conditions in the next decade. The tremendous erosion undoubtedly contributes to sedimentation in the lovely streams that drain throughout Frozen Head State Park, which can affect habitat for fish and aquatic species. We would like to see the RV campground funds redirected to remediating the dramatic erosion on Tower Road and building a single-track trail to replace Tower Road in the hiking trail system.  

Additional funds should also be applied to restoration of the Ross Gap Trail, which is also highly eroded. This trail is an important access to the new segment of the Cumberland Trail between Bird Mountain and the town of Wartburg.

We hope that you will take the opportunity to tell Tennessee State Park managers how much you care about Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area, share your thoughts about the proposed improvements, and suggest others that may be needed! Comments are due by November 30.

Submit online comments at

Address written comments to:

Attn: Liz Campbell
WRS TN Tower – 2nd Floor
312 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
Nashville TN 37243

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 May 2024 11:00