PUTNAM COUNTY, Tenn. — The state has a new safety plan to keep visitors safe at Cummins Falls State Park after a fatal accident in June.
The park reopened on Wednesday for the first time since flash flooding swept a 2-year-old Kentucky boy away from his family
A new comprehensive safety plan has been announced that will change how Cummins Falls State Park will operate after a young boy was swept away at the falls and died. 64 total people were evacuated from the park that day after heavy rains caught them by surprise.
The falls have been closed to the public since the incident but reopened on Wednesday, Aug. 14. Weather will play a key factor in the new safety plan, as the park will only operate during fair weather conditions.
“We are glad to be in a position to reopen Cummins Falls with added enhanced safety tools and procedures that we are putting into place,” TDEC Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson said. “This area is an extremely rugged area in a dynamic watershed that will never be completely risk free, and the best way to enhance safety is to take a comprehensive approach, and in this case that means new policies, educational tools and wet-weather protocols for our visitors.”
Three new policies are being added regarding access to the gorge:
- Each child 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
- Each child 12 and under must have a life jacket.
- Each child 12 and under must wear the life jacket when swimming.
TDEC also encourages families with children under the age of five to not enter the falls and gorge areas.
There will be new signage at the trailhead, in both English and Spanish, that will warn of the dangers of flash flooding in the area and new warnings on the website about the dangers. A temporary visitor center has now been erected over the trail leading to the falls that includes two 70-inch monitors playing a safety video on loop as visitors prepare to enter the trail.
Because weather and high water are the biggest dangers, the park's weather monitoring station will now monitor watershed-specific radar during park operating hours.
“Park staff will evacuate the gorge when radar indicates rain anywhere in the watershed, not just the park itself,” Bryson said. “This is the most conservative and appropriate protocol at this time.”
Three river monitoring gauges have now been installed on tributaries upstream from the falls to measure water levels. They will send texts and email alerts to park staff and local 911 emergency response centers when the water levels rise significantly.
The park is also adding two new seasonal employees to help with crowd management and assist with weather monitoring and visitor safety.
If park officials evacuate the park, there are now three clearly-marked refuge areas on high ground where visitors can find safety.