NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — February 17, 2022 update: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to end the bidding process, to lease out 200 acres of lakefront property along Percy Priest Lake.
Freddie Bell, Nashville District’s Nashville Area Operations manager, said in a release that applicants for the partnership collectively did not fulfill the tenets of the initiative, which would have provided a fully functional campground designed for a broad range of camping styles, multipurpose day use area offering a diverse set of low-impact nature-based recreational opportunities, and a long-term business model and associated development plan that would safeguard the environment.
“We really appreciate the public’s engagement, especially from the communities that are connected to and enjoy the recreation areas the Corps manages,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Sahl, Nashville District commander. “We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with local communities and to provide visitors to Cook Recreation Area with the same recreational opportunities consistent with the USACE mission at J. Percy Priest Lake.”
Whether it's hiking, boating or RV camping, people use Percy Priest Lake in all sorts of ways. That's why there's a fierce debate underway for what should be done with 280 acres of lakefront property.
Between the dozens of yard signs and speeches from the bed of a pickup truck, you'd be forgiven if you thought Andy Clark was running for office.
"Thank you again for coming," said Clark, a member of the group Friends of Cook Recreation Area.
But don't be mistaken, he is launching a campaign.
"One-thousand one hundred names of people who have signed the petition," said Clark.
The group, Friends of the Cook Recreation Area, is upset over a proposal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They've opened up a bidding process for a private company to take over the management of 280 acres of Percy Priest Lakefront property. The lease would last 25 years and allow the winning bidder to make big changes to the recreation area.
"Bigger boat ramps, bigger parking lots, maybe canoe and kayak rental," said Greg Thomas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Manager for Percy Priest.
Thomas says they've done market research showing as Nashville grows, so does demand for amenities like RV parking, campground stores and dog parks.
"We’ve had record crowds, so this is kind of an effort to provide a higher level, more amenities, more parking, more recreation opportunities out here at Percy Priest Lake," said Thomas.
A previous primitive campground, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, closed at Cook Recreational Area in 2004.
Thomas tells NewsChannel 5 bids for theme parks and a new marina will not be considered. He did say, if a private company takes over management for the area, they would likely charge a launch fee for boats but promises it would be consistent with fair market rates.
Clark says, his group isn't against all improvements.
"We’d like very much for the campground to be made into a camping ground for smaller vehicles, not the large, leviathan RVs that are so prevalent now," said Clark.
But they are against developments that could destroy nature.
"We want to keep it natural with as least disturbance to the nature, the area, the animals, the birds," said Clark.
The group held a rally Thursday morning, featuring several members of their organization down at the Cook Recreation Area public boat ramp. Even Nashville Mayor John Cooper made a brief appearance.
"We’re blessed to have it, let’s keep it," he told the crowd.
A representative of the corps did not attend the gathering, but Clark made sure they received the message. He got in his truck and drove their collection of 1,100 signatures and comments and delivered them personally inside the lake's visitor center.
"We’d like to drop it off to either of you," Clark said as he handed off the petition.
Greg Thomas with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says they have not made a final decision if the land will be privatized. They say they value public input and will take any and all concerns into consideration.