NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 5, 2023) – A team of superheroes at J. Percy Priest Lake are known for tooling around campgrounds and recreation areas while repairing and maintaining facilities, often saving the day by unclogging a restroom sink, fixing a leaky water line, or restoring power at a campsite.
These maintenance crusaders respond with the tools of their trade in a work truck, prepared to troubleshoot a problem, make repairs, and provide the very best customer service experience to millions of visitors that use the facilities every year at this popular recreation destination on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District manages recreation areas and facilities at 10 lakes in the Cumberland River Basin, including J. Percy Priest Lake, which is 42 miles long and includes 18,852 acres of public lands. In 2022, nearly five million people enjoyed recreating at the lake’s day-use areas, campgrounds, and concession marinas. Nearly two million of those visitations were exclusive to USACE operated recreation areas.
Dave Parsons, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District facility manager at J. Percy Priest Lake, said maintaining these areas is a huge responsibility given the high number of visitations, and he is extremely proud of how his team of superheroes continuously respond and support recreation at the day-use areas, campgrounds, boat ramps, office spaces and visitor’s center.
“I would say the number one thing we do is maintain our facilities, which were built in the 1970s,” Parsons said. “So of course we have repairs all year long. They get used by our recreators – that amount of usage in that number of years means we always have something that we need to fix.”
Parsons explained that the crew spends a lot of time over the winter preparing for the recreation season. That means they have to meticulously inspect for things that might be damaged or require maintenance, make repairs, and then respond as needed when people return during the spring and summer to keep facilities operating and open to the public.
The facility management team consists of disabled veterans, and includes one combat veteran who served in Afghanistan. Zach Dixson, park contractor representative and Army veteran, joined the team in May 2017. Gary Heesaker, park contract inspector and Navy veteran, came aboard in January 2018. Gerald Bell, maintenance mechanic and Army veteran, arrived in 2020. They have specific roles and responsibilities, but often work together to support recreation initiatives and repair actions.
The facilities team works all year to prepare and maintain Anderson Road Day Use Area, Cook Day Use Area, Jefferson Springs Recreation Area, Anderson Road Campground (37 campsites), Poole Knobs Campground (87 campsites), and Seven Points Campground (59 campsites).
Greg Thomas, resource manager at J. Percy Priest Lake, said an uptick of visitors the past several years resulted in additional workload for the entire staff, and notably the facility management team.
“We have seen an increase in concentrated recreational activities since the onset of COVID-19 that has presented some unique challenges,” Thomas said. “One of those challenges is the increased overcrowding at Anderson Road Day Use Area. We have had to change up our management strategy at this location in order to increase visitor and customer safety and security.”
In past recreation seasons, traffic has backed up for more than a mile entering Anderson Road Day-Use Area. This prevented campers from reaching or exiting the campground, and frustrated nearby apartment residents.
The new traffic plan being implemented at Anderson Road Day-Use Area begins Memorial Day weekend to manage traffic flow at the intersection of Anderson Road and Couchville Pike. The new flow will help safely and efficiently manage the movement of vehicles into and out of the area. It also restricts vehicular access into the parking lot of the Anderson Road Fitness Trail on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
To support this public safety initiative, the maintenance staff has been working to install a roundabout, electric gate, and park attendant booth at the entry of Anderson Road Day Use Area. They also installed speed bumps along the roadway inside the park and constructed a gravel parking area at an alternate trailhead for people accessing the hiking trail.
“Their efforts decrease the manpower necessary to run Anderson Road and frees up park rangers to concentrate on other areas around the lake,” Thomas added.
The maintenance crew is also supporting the reopening of the lake’s three campgrounds and 183 campsites. The campgrounds include a lot of amenities such as shower houses, restrooms, washrooms, electricity hookups, drinking water, shelters, picnic tables, barbecue grills, fire pits, dump stations, boat ramps, playgrounds, and swimming areas. They all require maintenance.
On opening day May 1 at Poole Knobs Campground, the team cleared branches and debris, fixed a washing machine, and performed electrical checks at campsites. While replacing a malfunctioning electrical breaker at one campsite, Heesaker noted that making sure the campground is safe for visitors is really their number one priority.
“We have to go through and assess hazardous trees and come in here to remove dangerous limbs or trees, especially now with the ash borer situation,” Heesaker said. “We replace hydrants and pedestals, perform upgrades in the facilities and wash houses, do plumbing work and replace water heaters, things of that nature.”
During the recreation season, contractors are also utilized to perform landscaping work, mow grass, clean restrooms, wash grills and picnic tables, and remove leaves and limbs from campsites.
Parsons added that certain repair actions are coordinated during the off season when these maintenance superheroes can safely move materials, utilize heavy equipment and manage lengthy construction projects when it is possible to reduce impacts to recreation activities.
“We can’t really be out there using heavy equipment and making major repairs while people are using the facilities,” Parsons said. “We build up this whole litany of information throughout the year, and then we hit it pretty hard during the wintertime. And of course we are fighting the weather then, but we try to make all the repairs and prepare for the opening of the next recreation season.”
The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow J. Percy Priest Lake on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jpercypriestlake. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at https://www.linkedin.com/company/u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-nashville-district