1971 Kingsport Times-News
1971 Map of Bays Mountain Park

Park History

The story of Bays Mountain Park is filled with twists and turns, just like the trails that decorate our mountain




J. Fred Johnson began securing land to build a dam and create a lake to be used as a water source for the unincorporated city of Kingsport


In 1914 Kingsport Waterworks Corp surveyed Bays Mountain and Holston River Mountain. Due to the convergence of the two mountains it was decided to build a dam at Dolan Gap to create an impounded water supply. The corporation purchased the land to build a dam designed by F. S. Tainter, Consulting Engineer

1916 Bays Mountain Survey Map


Dam construction lasted 2 years. In November 1916 water began flowing from the reservoir through a pipe system down to Kingsport

Dam Construction Crew


The City of Kingsport was incorporated. Around the same time, the Dam walls were raised 6 ft to increase the watershed capacity for the growing city


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) "Camp Gleason" built the road system around the lake for firefighting purposes


The Fire Tower was constructed by the CCC


In July 1944 the City discontinued the use of the Bays Mountain reservoir as a water source due to the establishment of a newer water plant on the South Holston River that could keep pace with the growing water needs of Kingsport


With growing interest from the community, in April 1965 Mayor Hugh Rule formed a committee to study ways to develop Bays Mountain as a possible city park. Members were Joseph H. Lewis (Chairmen), W. Kirk Allen, and Karl Goerdel. The study later recommended employing a naturalist as soon as possible to ensure the beauty of the area is preserved, hire an engineering firm to examine the dam, survey the entrance/service road, and hire a landscape architect to layout improvements


The new access road was built. Tennessee Eastman provided an easement passing over its property and also paid for road construction


In September 1967 Mayor J.H. Lewis appointed the Bays Mountain Park (BMP) Development Commission consisting of Dr. Merritt B. Shobe (Chairman), James C. White, Karl Goerdel, Harry V. Steadman, and James H. Thornton. The City hired the National Audubon Society to help with planning, and in January 1968 the Society sent representatives Joseph Shomon, Byron Ashbaugh, and Robert Holmes to help design the 1,300 acre watershed area


In June 1968 Robert F. Holmes was hired as the first Bays Mountain Park Director. He was formerly with the Audubon Nature Centers Planning Division


In September, the first City school students visited the park for an informal nature study led by Arthur Stupka, retired naturalist for the Smoky Mountains National Park. Since the access road wasn't finished yet, the students had to hike 1 mile up to the Park


In November the entrance road was opened with a 100-car limit enforced. The Park was open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons only


In April 1969, nature hike programs started with Arthur Stupka training volunteer hike leaders from the Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club: Zellie Earnest (President), L.P. Foster (hike coordinator), Dr. Creston Barker, and Ed Gift


In June, Gary Mullins was hired part time as the Park's first naturalist. Later in the summer Jonathan Wert was hired as the first full-time naturalist


In August, Tennessee Eastman gave $225,000 to the City towards construction of a nature center building in the park


On April 24, 1970 the Nature Center groundbreaking ceremony was held including James C. White and Dr. Merritt Shobe (BMP Development Commission), Harry McNeeley (Pres. Tennesse Eastman), Mayor Fred Gillette, Congressman James H. Quillen, County Judge Lon Boyd, and Rev. Douglas Berndt (invocation). The Nature Center was built by Steadman Construction


In July the BMP Development Commission announced the formation of the Bays Mountain Park Association. The first Association Board members were Louisa Jackson (President), Zellie Earnest (VP), Donald Kreh (Sec/Treasurer), Dr. Merritt Shobe, James Thornton, Joseph H. Lewis, Bob Delius, John K. Sullins, Fran Huffaker, Louis Milhorn, David L. Neeley, E.J. Triebe, Margaret Argabrite, Barbara Newell, Clara Gift, Martha Byrd Hoyle, Kenneth Perry, James P. Brown, Nell Eckerd, and Ted C. Fritz


In August a $200,000 Federal Bureau of Recreation Contingency Grant was approved to help the Park acquire 2,000 additional acres for compatible recreation


In September bids were opened for supplying the Planetarium equipment. The contract was awarded to Planetariums Unlimited for $95,000


In October Jack Gross was hired as the first Planetarium director. Phil Lightner was later hired as the exhibit preparatory


1,500 acres were purchased in Hawkins County. This roughly doubled the size of the Park, adding properties west of Ledbetter Gap and Feagins Gap


In March 1971, the City approved new BMP Association bylaws changing the Association from an advisory group to a volunteer service organization. This recognized the significant role the Association would have in the future of the Park


In April, the first live native animal exhibits opened at the Park featuring 2 yearling deer, an adult buck, a deodorized skunk, and several snakes


The BMP Development Commission was replaced by a permanent BMP Commission: David Nealy (President), James Thornton (VP), John Sullins (Secretary), Lloyd Barr, Karl Goerdel, Harry Steadman, and J.C. White


On May 24 the Nature Center opened. Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn delivered the dedication address


On July 17, the Planetarium held its grand opening featuring the show "Voyage To The Edge of Infinity"


Spring - the Park offered barge rides around the lake for the first time


Bays Mountain Park was designated as a Tennessee State Natural Area


On February 3 deer were first introduced within the watershed area of the park. They came from Ft. Campbell Military Reserve. Until that time, deer were not common to this area


Youth Convervation Corp (YCC) spent a significant amount of time working in the park on numerous projects including installing the sliding roof for the first observatory building. Other projects involved cutting trees across trails, cutting wooden shakes for the cabin roof, and placing a smaller building to the right of the current cabin


During this decade the native animal habitats gained a raccoon, bobcat, fox, skunk, and a black bear. The current fox habitat originally housed 2 hawks which were later replaced by 2 coyotes

Dr. Dan Johnson (ETSU Prof.) held his dragonfly study, hosting an international dragonfly symposium at the Park


Freshwater jellyfish were found in the reservoir, possibly carried on the feet/legs/beaks of waterfowl


The first river otter habitat opened, featuring "Speedwell" and "Coco"


On October 23 the Harry V. Steadman Mountain Heritage Farmstead Museum was opened


On November 13 the Waterfowl and Wading Bird Aviary opened


On May 19 the Park held the grand opening of the new $30,000 domed telescope observatory


In January the BMP Association hired its first employees to augment Park staff and handle Association business


In March, otter "Sanibel" delivered the first otter pups born in the park


On February 29 the bobcat habitat opened with an event called "Leaping of the Lynxes" to recognize Leap Day


Summer - an elevated walkway was added to the deer habitat to allow better viewing of the animals


In October the grey wolf habitat was added. The first wolves arrive on Oct. 15: Navarro, Kashtin, and Djenoun


In May, three new wolf pups arrived at the Park. This was the beginning of the Park's wolf pup program requiring round-the-clock attention while the pups acclimate to their new setting. In August the pups were ready to join the existing wolf pack


Eastman donated Dolan Branch property from the top part of Forest Walk Loop Trail to the current wooden bridge below the dam


The Herpetarium was added with construction by Steadman Construction


Fall - the Birds of Prey Aviary was added with funding provided by the BMP Commission and the BMP Association


In June the first "WolfCam" camera was placed at the wolf habitat


Spring - several new animal species arrived at the Park:
- Barred owl "Merlin", barn owl "Rusty", and black vulture "Aladdin"


The first Park website was launched around this time


In June "The Watershed" (formerly "Ocean Pool") opened in the Nature Center as a freshwater exhibit


A great horned owl "Bubo" and the Park's first turkey vulture "Chia" joined the Raptor Center


Spring - a new outdoor Turtle Habitat was opened


Eastman donated 380 acres of property located at Sentinel Point


In November the Park received its first opossum "Poindexter"


In August the new gate house was completed with $15,000 of funding provided by Eastman Credit Union


The Bays Mountain Hiking Club was formed


The Adventure Ropes course was added on April 16th


Summer - the Planetarium announced its newest in-house developed show on total solar eclipses, highlighting the Aug 21, 2017 eclipse


Fall - otter "Otto" and fox "Jamie" joined the park


Spring - The Lily Pad Cove Pavilion was completed. It was designed by Kingsport architect Jim Wright and built by Armstrong Construction for $245,000. The Pavilion won the "Pavilion Project of the Year Award" (under $2.5M) from the Associated General Contractors of America, TriCities branch


Spring - Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Park buildings and programs were closed but the grounds remained open. During this time, Bays Mountain was appreciated as the only park open to the public in a 250 mile radius as state parks had been temporarily closed