County commission considers Palisades Park property purchase

The Blount County Commission held a hearing last Thursday to provide for public input in connection with its proposed preapplication for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to purchase a tract of land contiguous to Palisades Park property. The hearing was necessary to meet a “preapplication” deadline of May 31 to apply for the grant. The report of the hearing was handdelivered to Montgomery the next day to meet the deadline, according to Commission Chairman Chris Green.

The proposed purchase would enable the county to secure title to property where a small chapel has already been built on the edge of the rock bluff at a place called Meditation Point. (It was apparently built there by mistake some years ago, just off park property.) In addition, the proposed purchase, totaling between 10 and 20 acres would add approximately 740 additional feet of rock bluff line to the park property.

Much of the acreage actually extends outward from the base of the bluff, providing additional recreational opportunities in the form of boulders – some the size of a small house – scattered along the sloping, wooded ridge. Climbing those rocks, an exercise called “bouldering,” has become an added attraction to the rappelling opportunities offered by the rock bluff itself.

The transaction would depend on securing the Land and Water Conservation Fund grant of $30,000 with a $30,000 local match required, as well as securing additional funds to meet the $30,000 match requirement, without the necessity of using monies from the county general fund to buy the property.

“We are not anticipating using any county funds to make this purchase,” Green said. “Some have worried that this would take away from funding used for county roads, but that is certainly not the case, and I wouldn’t be in favor of that if it were. We’re planning to secure all the required match funding from grant sources, if possible,” he said.

The exact size of the tract will not be determined until late this year, acccording to the owner’s wishes, when the leaffall will make it easier to determine exactly how much land the owner is willing to sell. Total price of the parcel could be as little as $30,000.

All comments at the hearing were favorable toward purchasing the property. Most speakers spoke of the purchase as enhancing the tourism value of the park to the county and its citizens. Only District 2 Commissioner Carthal Self sounded a note of restraint when he recommended that the county should buy the least number of acres possible to secure the Meditation Point site and the bluff line.

Speaking in favor of the purchase were District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert, District 4 Commissioner Gary Stricklin, and former Jefferson County Judge Gary Pate, a rock climbing enthusiast who has recovered from a critical injury suffered in a climbing accident at Palisades Park several years ago. Pate spoke in favor of the project and indicated he has made contacts with other organizations which may be willing to engage in fundraising activities to provide a portion of the local match money required for the grant.

Eldridge Bynum, chairman of the Palisades Park board, said he felt at least a portion of the proposed property should be added to the park.

Jeff Todd, Palisades Park manager, said he has for several years favored adding the property to secure Meditation Point ownership for the park and to enhance its recreational value. He estimated annual visitors to the park total 40,000, about 50 percent of which he estimated are repeat visitors.