Corps cancels plans to lease 300 acres on Percy Priest Lake to private vendor

The Corps’ announcement comes after sustained pushback from local residents and visitors to the scenic wilderness area

By: - February 18, 2022 6:00 am

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has backed down from plans to privatize hundreds of acres of wilderness area, beaches, hiking trails and boat access along J. Percy Priest Lake in Nashville after a sustained campaign by local residents seeking to keep the area public.

The Corps’ original plan called for vendors to submit proposals for a private enterprise inside the 300-acre Cook Recreation Area, with options that included reviving a defunct campsite along with snack bars and restaurants, boat ramps, kayak and canoe rentals, classroom facilities, a camp store, pool, and improved hiking and fishing areas.

The plan to develop one of the largest public access areas along the lake galvanized opposition from local residents, who launched the nonprofit Friends of Cook Recreation Area dedicated to a public education campaign against developing the site. Last week, the group presented Corps officials with a petition with more than 1,000 signatures opposing development.

The Nashville Metro Council formally opposed the Corps plans too, enacting a resolution urging the Corps to keep the area fully public. And Mayor John Cooper added his voice, encouraging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “pursue solutions that minimize environmental impacts, preserve natural resources, provide no-cost access to the public, and align with the community’s interests and desired uses of the space.”

On Thursday, the Corps announced the initiative had been cancelled.

Anderson Clarke, who has lived in the residential neighborhood adjacent to Cook Recreation for 27 years, leans on the railing of a fishing pier. Photo: John Partipilo

The applications the Corps received from potential vendors “did not fulfill the tenets of the initiative, which would have provided a fully functional campground designed for a broad range of camping styles, multipurpose day use area offering a diverse set of low-impact nature-based recreational opportunities, and a long-term business model and associated development plan that would safeguard the environment,” a statement by Freddie Bell, Nashville District’s Nashville area operations manager, said. 

“The Corps will continue to operate and maintain the Cook Recreation Day-Use Area,” Bell said. “The campground will remain closed.”

“We really appreciate the public’s engagement, especially from the communities that are connected to and enjoy the recreation areas the Corps manages,” Lt. Col. Joseph Sahl, Nashville district commander, said.

The site currently offers parking and beach access, miles of trails and fishing piers, picnic shelters and playgrounds.

Andy Merrill, who helped launch Friends of Cook Recreation Area, said he was “overjoyed” by the Corps’ decision.

“The Corps heard the people and the people won,” he said via email. “Three hundred acres of natural area will remain accessible to the people who need it the most.”






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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.