LANCASTER, Tenn. (Jan. 16, 2019) – Center Hill Lake Park Rangers urge the public to “Keep your wheels on the street, use your feet” when visiting the lake’s recreation areas, boat ramps, campgrounds and hiking trails access points.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District project, Center Hill Lake encompasses a total of 38,976 acres of land and water. Park rangers serve to protect and preserve land and water resources for the enjoyment and safety of everyone.
“Unauthorized off-road vehicle use is a year-round issue seen in certain areas around the lake due to the remoteness and easy road access,” said lead off-road vehicle enforcement Park Ranger Phillip Sliger. “During summer time, visitation increases around Center Hill Lake. As more people go out and recreate we see an increase in off-road vehicle activity.”
Traditionally across the nation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers primarily establishes low density land based recreational opportunities. Such activities include hiking, primitive camping, mountain bike trails and hunting. High density recreation, if not managed or planned properly, can lead to negative environmental impacts.
Center Hill Lake supplements water for the cities of Smithville and Cookeville, Tenn. Vegetation along the shoreline act as a buffer, which purifies run off by preventing litter and pollution from entering the public’s drinking water. In turn, prevention of contamination decreases the need for a more stringent water treatment process before human consumption.
Park Rangers are not only concerned with environmental impacts caused by off-roading activities, but also for the safety of visitors. Areas around the lake have limited cell phone service and off-road vehicle trails that are established without proper planning and development make the illegal activity more susceptible to accidents and even injuries.
“Off-road vehicle access degrades the natural resources. You can see where people have tried to climb the biggest and steepest hills,” Center Hill Lake Resource Manager Kevin Salvilla noted. “We have reached out through public meetings and the community has been very receptive with doing their part to keep Center Hill natural and safe.”
Center Hill Lake staff has built relationships with adjacent landowners to preserve public land for future generations. Previously, off-road vehicle retreaters would cross between private and public land destroying crops and increasing liability risks for private land owners from possible injuries. Gates were installed by landowners on private land which has restricted access to federal land.
Local members of the public have even observed decreased boat traffic by land and water. The remote access points where illegal off-road vehicle use primarily occurs has put an impact to visitors’ sense of safety and security.
“The outreach our office has done in the community has brought awareness. Previously the public didn’t know they couldn’t ride on public land,” Salvilla said. “The community now recognizes the Corps of Engineers care and we are stewards of public land.”
The rules and regulations governing public use of water resource development projects prohibit operating or parking a vehicle off authorized roadways and driving around or beyond a restrictive sign, recognizable barricade, fence, or traffic control barrier. Failure to comply can result in a written citation with a fine or mandatory federal court appearance.
One example of where the use of barriers is working to regulate Illegal off-road vehicle usage is at Cane Hollow on Center Hill Lake. With the termination of off-road vehicle access park rangers hope to repurpose the area with better management practices.
“Not only have we installed signs and held public meetings, we have installed reflective cable barriers to known access points,” said Sliger. “Once the problem is solved we can better manage the area.”
Sliger added that the Corps is in the preliminary process of forming a partnership between several regional entities. Student Conservation Association is scheduled to document the degradation and damage of the existing trails for the Corps of Engineers this spring. Once the trails have been mapped and conditions assessed, Caney Fork Cycles and Cummins Filtration tentatively plan to direct volunteer efforts towards restoring the destroyed area and converting it into low impact recreation areas for biking and hiking trails.