Cummins Falls State Park is known for it’s natural beauty and the gorge underneath the waterfall is a popular swimming area. However, concerns still remain regarding the area’s susceptibility to dangerous flash flooding.
Deadly flash flooding events occurred in both July of 2017 and more recently on June 9, 2019.
Three people have died at Cummins Falls in the last two years due to rising flood levels in the gorge.
It was the flash flooding that occurred on June 9 in which 63 people had to be rescued, and 2-year-old Steven Pierce drowned that has led to a renewed effort to put this warning system in place.
To kickstart this effort, a hearing between the House Government Operations Committee and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation occurred Wednesday to discuss plans for a warning system.
We spoke TDEC Commissioner David Salyers before this hearing about their plans for the warning system.
After the events of 2017 plans for a warning system were made and funds were made available but the project stalled. Other safety measures were put into place after the flash flood of 2017, including an increase in signage identifying the potential danger, an increase in staffing from 2 full-time rangers to 3 full-time rangers, and also offering life jackets to anyone who plans on descending into the gorge.
Salyers discussed these safety measures along with what a potential warning system would entail. The plans are to have three streaming gauges coming off of bridges that measure water levels on tributaries that flow down to Cummins Falls.
Rain gauges would also be put into place and warnings would be communicated via satellite. There would also be multiple redundant warning systems in place to increase safety.
Even with additional safety measures, the terrain of Cummins Falls State Park can be difficult to navigate. However, this warning system would help to increase safety in regards to flash flooding.
The hearing with the House Government Operations Committee is a stepping stone to getting a permanent warning system installed.