by Danny Wade
A new wildlife recreation area is set to open this spring. The Middle Fork Bottoms Recreation Area is located south of Three Way, Tenn. with a small section actually inside the city limits.
West Tennessee River Basin Authority located in Humboldt will oversee the project. Executive Director David Blackwood and Executive Assistant Paige Keith talked about the project last week.
“The Middle Fork Bottoms Recreation Area is 850 acres, roughly the size of Central Park in New York City,” Blackwood said. “The River Basin Authority owns another 300 acres adjacent that is not part of the recreation area.”
Blackwood said the 300 acres will have flood control work but is not part of the recreation area.
The MFBRA will offer a wide variety of activities. There are five fishing lakes on the property ranging from two to 10 acres. TWRA will stock the large lake with commons species of fish, while the other lakes will eventually fill themselves with fish. The oxbow channel has been constructed that mimics the original meandering river channel and connects to the Forked Deer River. Blackwood said the lakes and oxbow have already alleviated some of the flooding that typically happens three or four times a year on the property.
“No motor boats are allowed,” Keith added. “The lakes and channel can be used for kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding.”
In all, there are approximately 40 acres of water in the recreation area. One of the smaller lakes will be specifically used to train retriever dogs.
“Phase 1 of the project is about 99-percent complete,” Blackwood said of the three phases of construction. “The lakes are in and filling up (with water).”
Phase 1 also includes five miles of paved walking trail that stretch throughout the park. Trails are 10-feet wide and can be used for walking, running and biking. There are look-out points located at various places along the trail as well as bridges spanning water channels, creek beds and a larger bridge that spans across the river giving access to the southern portion of the recreation area. Phase 1 comes with a price tag of $5.8 million.
Once Phase 1 is completed, Blackwood and Keith said Phase 2 should begin. Phase 2 is a much smaller scale project with a projected cost of $500,000. Funding has already been approved for Phase 2.
Phase 2 includes restroom facilities, trailhead, an overlook and signage. This summer, engineering should begin with construction to follow. Blackwood said Phase 2 should be a 2-year project.
Phase 3 will be the most costly, basically the same as phases one and two combined with an expected cost of $6.8 million.
Phase 3 will have a welcome center with paved parking area, board walk around the large fishing lake and a loop through the wetlands, forest and prairie areas.
“The welcome center will have a conference room large enough to accommodate 150 people,” Keith said. “There will be retail space for a gift shop, possibly food or a restaurant and a science center for educational information about the recreation area.”
Blackwood said Phase 3 is not yet funded and would need a public/private partnership. They are looking at options to get the private sector involved with a variety of funding opportunities.
The project began in 2016 when the National Disaster Resiliency Competition awarded money for flood risk management. Blackwood said there were components for funding such as having a community recreational aspect, community involvement and an environmental component. The Middle Forked Deer River, right next to the Hwy 45 Bypass had all of these components. The property floods regularly as the environmental component, Jackson and Three Way border the property as the community component, and creating fishing lakes and canoe channel as well as the nature aspect brings in the recreational component.
In the early 1900s, West Tennessee rivers were channelized. Every river except the Hatchie was dredged into straight channels to create more agricultural land. But with regular flooding, levies were destroyed.
“The people farming the land basically threw their hands up after the 2010 floods on being able to keep their levees,” stated Blackwood. “The land wasn’t great for farming anymore, but is in a flood zone, which presented the question of what to do with it.”
Blackwood said the heart of the recreation area is flood resiliency. But it also brings the opportunity for family adventures, nature walks, fishing, bird watching and so many other nature friendly activities. With the area’s wide variety of landscape, visitors can see all types of wildlife, flowers, grasses, trees and more. Deer, turkey, ducks, geese, raccoons, beaver, turtles and other wildlife can be seen along with some you may not want to see such as snakes and coyotes. All of these animals are prevalent throughout West Tennessee but in a protected natural area, the prospect to see some of these species is likely.
Keith believes the Middle Fork Bottoms Recreation Area could spur potential retail opportunities as well such as canoe/kayak rentals, bait and tackle shops, restaurants, hotels, shopping and more. Both Blackwood and Keith believe the nature area will draw visitors from miles around.