$10.5 million saves Horton State Park Inn

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Marshall County received confirmation of a $10 million investment in the county and the preservation of a key piece in the county’s economy and growth plans at a meeting held on Friday.

“We’ve got good news and we’ve got great news,” said State Representative Rick Tillis.

Tillis and State Senator Jim Tracy officially announced the successful budget appropriation for Henry Horton State Park.

The General Assembly passed the final version of Governor Bill Haslam’s 2017-2018 budget last week, which fully funded the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s $10.05 million capital expenditure request for the park.

The Tennessee State Park system falls under TDEC’s oversight.

More importantly for the county, the only part of the budget proposal that was not approved was the demolition of the existing inn at the park.

That plan rallied county politicians and supporters of the park in support of retaining the inn.

A packed conference room at the park heard of the proposal back in early March and began a letter-writing and phone campaign to the Governor’s office lobbying for the inn to stay.

An equally full room heard that their campaign had been successful on Friday.

“You guys deserve a lot of credit,” said Tillis. “The Governor’s office told me that they got a lot of feedback on this issue.”

“Without all of you this would not have happened,” added Stacey Cothran, president of the Friends of Henry Horton State Park.

Tillis and Tracy also met with Haslam personally to plead the case for the inn at the park.

“We sold (the Governor) on the future of Henry Horton,” said Tracy “We think the growth here is going to be tremendous.”

TDEC had asked for $6.7 million in a preliminary budget proposal for the renovation of the 60-room inn building at the park.

That part of the request did not make it into the final budget presented by the Governor, which instead called for the demolition, without replacement, of the inn instead.

Facilities at state parks have suffered from years of deferred maintenance, leading to outdated and run-down structures making it difficult to attract visitors.

Similar capital expenditures proposed for Pickwick Landing State Park and Paris Landing State Park also were passed as well.

Tillis indicated that TDEC would begin the detailed planning process for the park projects in the fall of this year.

The initial request was intended as a fairly broad proposal with design details and location of projects within the park to be determined later.

Other than the demolition of the inn, the budget request included funds to build a visitor’s center for the park, possibly tied into a reconstruction of the Wilhoite Mill, a historic gristmill that operated on the Duck River for many decades and was typical of similar mills in the region.

The Duck River Agency has already pledged $350,000 to assist in the development of interpretive exhibits highlighting the ecosystem and history of the Duck River valley.

Henry Horton is the only state park of comparable size not to have a visitor center building.

The proposal also included renovation of the 12-room motel building in the park and funds for the construction of a new restaurant at the park, converting the current space to a convention and meeting area.

Parts of the request will have to be reworked.

For example, the initial request included money to build a new laundry facility at the park to replace the one that would have been lost with the demolition of the inn.

TDEC will also need to decide how to use the $1 million that was intended to pay for the inn’s demolition. The funds were still appropriated and a different use will need to be found for them.

The success of the park impacts the entire county.

Chapel Hill has identified the park as a key partner in the town’s future growth.

“The park fits into our vision for the town and how we plan to grow,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Danny Bingham.

In addition to providing residents with recreational and educational activities, the park serves as a destination for visitors to the county who spend money at area businesses and contribute to the county’s sales tax collections.

Additionally, in 2016, the county collected $177,000 from it’s hotel/motel tax, approximately $62,000 to $70,000 directly linked to Henry Horton.