ROGERSVILLE — Laurel Run Park is famous for the fictional flooding scenes filmed there for the 1983 movie “The River,” but now the park is facing massive repairs due to the real flooding that has occurred over the past two years.
Last year, two footbridges were taken out by flooding, and an engineer told county officials earlier this week that another bridge is in jeopardy if steps aren’t taken to curb shoreline erosion along Laurel Run Creek.
Another problem that needs to be addressed soon is the 2-mile hiking trail that follows the creek up the hollow to a popular waterfall.
Heavy rain this past weekend washed a deep trench in part of the trail, and the engineer, who works for the USDA office in Rogersville, reportedly told county officials that the trail is only going to get worse if steps aren’t taken to divert rainwater off the trail and into the creek.
On Tuesday, the Hawkins County Commission’s Parks Committee voted to forward a recommendation to the Budget Committee to fund approximately $225,000 worth of repairs to the park in the 2021-22 budget. That work includes erosion protection for the hiking trail and creek shoreline and new bridges on the trail and near the waterfall.
The committee included the caveat in its motion, however, to put the park repairs in the budget “if funds are available.”
Flooding reveals weakness in one bridge and trail
Parks Director John Young told the Parks Committee on Tuesday that a lot of erosion has taken place over the past two years, and the flood that occurred this past weekend revealed weaknesses in one bridge and the hiking trail itself.
Last year the footbridge farthest up the trail was washed out by flooding and was replaced thanks to an Eagle Scout project. Despite recent flooding, that new bridge’s foundation remains solid and intact.
The next footbridge downstream, which is the first one hikers cross as they start up the trail, is currently safe and still has about 2 feet of solid foundation.
However, the engineer reportedly stated that bridge has experienced erosion to its foundation and might have only a year left before it fails.
“He says we’re good now, but if it continues to flood like it has the last two years, he said one more year, it wouldn’t be safe,” Young said.
The remedy would be installation of large boulders “about half the size of a car hood” to prevent water from eroding the bridge foundation at an estimated cost of $5,000.
“That’s something that would be a top priority for me due to safety concerns,” Young told the committee. “We need to get that project done, and that would be cheaper than actually building a whole new bridge.”
The footbridge that leads toward the playgrounds was checked by the engineer this week and is currently open and safe.
“It has received erosion but the engineer told us it’s sitting on bedrock,” Young said.
$135K for stream bank erosion protection
Erosion on the trail has been an ongoing problem, but the flood this weekend carved out a deep trench into the path.
The USDA engineer reportedly recommended a project that would divert water into the creek, rather than flowing down the trail and continuing to cause damage.
County Facilities Manager Sarah Davis said the engineer had offered a rough estimate of $10,000 to repair the erosion. That would include using rock that’s left over from the earlier Holston River erosion project.
“This would address the erosion, the drainage issue, and the saturated issues on the trail,” Davis told the committee. “This $10,000 didn’t include any type of resurfacing.”
That would only be the main trail from the park to the waterfall, which is about 2 miles.
As for stream bank erosion prevention and repairs, the rough estimate is $135,000.
The committee also recommended building new bridges on the trail, including one at the waterfall, which is estimated to cost $75,000.
“If we don’t fix it, we’re going to lose that park”
The county commission will have to make a decision soon on whether it plans to move forward with those projects because the county’s state stream bank permit expires Dec. 17, 2022.
If the county initiates the process of fixing the stream bank, that deadline might be extended by the state, but if it expires, those permits are very difficult to acquire, Davis said.
“If we don’t fix it we’re going to lose that park,” said committee member Glenda Davis.
Sarah Davis said the USDA engineer can have plans available for these projects by early summer at no cost the county.
It’s not known yet if the $11.1 million Hawkins County is expected to receive in federal stimulus funding could be used for this project.
The proposal and funding request will be considered when the Budget Committee begins deliberations on the 2021-22 fiscal year budget.