Bays Mountain Park overdue for upgrade

Editorial Board • Jul 12, 2017 at 10:30 PM

Kingsport’s greatest asset, Bays Mountain Park, has been beckoning residents to an experience not available in many of the nation’s larger cities for just shy of 50 years. And in all that time, the park has changed little from the initial design which included a nature center and planetarium, adventure course, animal habitats and other outdoor experiences such as now, 38 miles of trails.

It is welcome news then that plans are afoot through the city’s capital improvement schedule to begin some much-needed upgrades at Bays Mountain. Kingsport will spend about $1.3 million over the coming years on replacing animal habitats at the 3,600-acre preserve.

About 200,000 people visit the park annually, and that’s a revenue stream that could be expanded with a larger park that would attract more users, and support increased fees. Currently, a carload of visitors to the park costs but $5. While there are additional fees for various park offerings, they must rank among the best bargains available considering what the park offers.

Local visitors to Bays Mountain say not much has changed over the years, which translates into diminished appeal. The work planned is focused on “a redesign of all of our animal habitats,” says Rob Cole, park manager. “Like the rest of the park, we’re 46 years old and have aging facilities. Our animal enclosures are not immune to that.”

Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium opened in 1971, and most of the 3,600 acres of the property remains in a natural, forested condition. The animal exhibits have an outdated style as enclosures for mostly close-range viewing while providing a natural setting. The update will replace all of the habitats except the herpetarium.

“We want our animal habitats to be aesthetically pleasing, have natural features that will obviously give the wildlife a sense of belonging and mimic their natural habitat the best we can,” Cole said. “We also want to enhance the visitor experience the best we can, too.”

Kingsport can’t support a fullfledged zoo on the order of that found at Knoxville, but it can and should add to the animal habitats, and through a master plan, fund other expansions to make Bays Mountain not just the largest city-owned park in Tennessee, but one of the best.

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