Burgess Falls seeing unprecedented number of visitors

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Davis Nolan's Weekend Waterfalls

COOKEVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) — Mother Nature has provided a much needed retreat during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Waterfalls – sparkling and serene – have been a huge attraction for coronavirus refugees looking for a socially distanced outdoor activity.

Tennessee State Parks Naturalist Randy Hedgepath said parks have seen an unprecedented number of visitors this summer. That includes parks like Burgess Falls State Park. He said, “Especially on Saturday afternoon, you may find parking on a week day, but Saturday it’s unlikely you will.”

Many claim Burgess Falls to be the most beautiful in the state. “I will let them going on debating that, but it’s one of the most beautiful for sure,” Hedgepath teased.

Hedgepath said Tennessee has these natural wonders spread out over 2/3 of the state.

Most in East Tennessee with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Cherokee National Forrest. Those waterfalls are considered cascading waterfalls that come out of the mountains.

Hedgepath explained, “Then you have the Cumberland Plateau with all these sheer drop waterfalls like Fall Creek Falls.” Those waterfalls leap off the edge of the mountain.

Another third of the state with waterfalls is called the Highland Rim. “It surrounds Nashville, the Nashville Basin. There are numerous wateraflls on the Eastern Highland Rim, including Cummins Falls, Burgess Falls, and the Rock Island State Park.”

He added with a smile, “There may be a waterfall just west of the Tennessee River, but it’s privately owned property. And I cannot talk about it.”

Some ways to take in the grandeur of Burgess Falls include a moderately accessible overlook to see the falls from afar; a heart pumping hike to the top of the falls; or a paddle by kayak to the bottom of the falls; or a boat ride – if water levels are high enough. Hedgepath warned, “It’s not an easy hike.”

Burgess Falls factoids

  • Located on the Falling Water River
  • Four waterfalls gush from over 250 feet elevation
  • 1.5-mile round-trip moderately strenuous hike
  • Service road loop accessible to hikers
  • Nearby Native Butterfly Garden

“It’s historical as well as being a natural wonder,” said Hedgepath. Burgess Falls was once owned by the Burgess family. From 1928-1944 The Falling Water River was used to generate hydroelectric power for the city of Cookeville. It became a designated natural area for the state in 1973.

Burgess Falls 2/19/1950 – Courtesy: Tennessee State Library and Archives

“Remnants of the generating station are below the falls on the left bank of the stream,” Hedgepath pointed out. “Upstream of the falls, there’s a flume that dropped through turbine to produce electricity.”

With so many people seeking solace, Hedgepath has been encouraging visitors to help keep state parks beautiful. “Well, there’s been a great increase in problems of littering and stacking rocks and streams.”

Upkeep has become somewhat of a burden for park employees. “Our parks people have been a little overwhelmed with all this. We’re trying to keep up and keep our parks clean and accessible, but sometimes we fall behind because of the overuse.”

Park visitors can help in the efforts by taking out what they brought in or even picking up litter along the way. “It’s always great to take along a garbage bag,” explained Hedgepath. “Pick up what you see and leave it better than it was when you got there.”

Visitors can also make donations at some state parks and sign up for volunteer opportunities

While the draw to Burgess Falls can be irresistible, Hedgepath suggested finding a less traveled path so visitors wouldn’t have to experience overcrowding.

Next weekend on Davis Nolan’s Weekend Waterfalls: News 2 will take you off the beaten path to show you a once hidden gem that now glistens for all of Tennessee and its visitors to see.

Quick tips on how to prepare for hike

  • Do your research: Call or email the park ranger ahead of time to check on accessibility, weather issues, and emergency plans
  • Where the right clothes: If it’s a sunny day bring hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Where closed toe shoes: Many trails are rocky and tough to navigate
  • Make an emergency plan: Remember you will likely lose cell service in a park

Visit this website to learn more about Tennessee State Parks. You can also email Ask.TNStateParks@tn.gov

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