Ijams to consider private boats on Mead’s Quarry Lake
Travis Dorman , firstname.lastname@example.org 5:42 p.m. EST December 14, 2016
Mead’s Quarry Lake
(Photo: Travis Dorman)
Ijams Nature Center’s Board of Directors will discuss Thursday whether to allow private boats on Mead’s Quarry Lake and how to proceed in reopening the park’s climbing crag.
The issues will be discussed at a board meeting at noon, interim Executive Director Bo Townsend said.
The decision to re-examine the boating rule comes after Knoxville resident John Quillen repeatedly asked Ijams’ administrators this question: Why should taxpayers have to pay a for-profit company to access a lake on Knox County property?
Quillen, who is board president of the nonprofit group Southern Forest Watch, met with the Ijams’ management team on Dec. 8. Quillen said he believes taxpayers should be able to access Mead’s Quarry Lake without having to pay $12 an hour to rent a boat from River Sports Outfitters, as is park policy.
In 2013, Southern Forest Watch sued the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the park’s implementation of $4-per-person, per-night fees to access the backcountry. The nonprofit lost the lawsuit. Now, Quillen has taken issue with a sign posted outside the Mead’s Quarry Lake at Ijams, which forbids access to the water “except for paid boat rentals” from River Sports.
Mead’s Quarry Lake notice
Mead’s Quarry Lake notice (Photo: Travis Dorman)
“No private boats. No swimming. No diving. No horseplay. … Violators subject to $100 fine under City Ordinance #19-161,” the sign reads.
While the majority of Ijams is on city property, Mead’s Quarry Lake is on Knox County land. The city has a contract with Ijams for ownership of the land, and the county leases the quarry to Ijams for $15 a year. The lease, which does not mention concessionaires, requires the park to maintain “personal injury liability insurance covering the premises.”
Townsend said he was unaware of the sign’s existence until Quillen mentioned it to Ijams’ management team. Townsend is relatively new to the post — he was named interim director on Oct. 3 after Paul James, the director for 12 years, retired. Townsend previously served as executive director for 10 years before leaving the park in 1999.
Townsend said he’s “not sure where the sign originated” and doesn’t “understand why it’s there,” but said he intends to find out. He also said he assumes a city ordinance cannot be used to enforce fines on county property.
“The sign is a little vague I think,” he said. ” … I don’t know if that’s exactly the message we want to convey.”
Private boats are forbidden on Mead’s Quarry Lake to prevent overcrowding, Townsend said.
Ijams’ website says private boats are forbidden because “Ijams’ current liability insurance does not authorize private boat use.”
Bo Townsend, Ijams interim director.Buy Photo
Bo Townsend, Ijams interim director. (Photo: Steve Ahillen/News Sentinel)
“With a limited resource such as the quarry, we have to have something in place to manage the usage,” Townsend said. “And having the vendor there is one way to control access, because we can’t just open it up to anybody and everybody. There’s also safety concerns, and as with any resource, it has to be managed appropriately. That’s one way for us to control that.”
When asked if Ijams can restrict access to a lake on county property, Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said Monday that the lease “speaks for its space.” He said it’s a question of policy, not of legality, and that the Law Director’s Office provides legal advice to the county and elected officials – “I don’t provide legal advice to the News Sentinel,” he said.
Regarding Ijams’ citation of a city ordinance to forbid access to county property, Armstrong said he doesn’t “know what the intent of (the sign) really means,” and referred further questions to Knoxville Law Director Charlie Swanson.
Swanson said Tuesday that Ijams can cite a city ordinance on Mead’s Quarry Lake if the lake falls within Knoxville’s city limits. The park is in city limits: it falls just west of Knoxville’s eastern boundary. Swanson declined to comment on Ijams’ decision to charge patrons to access the waters, saying it is a county issue.
At a Sept. 26 Knox County Commission meeting, a quitclaim deed, which would give Ijams ownership of Mead’s Quarry Lake, was taken off the agenda after Commissioner Brad Anders “brought up some points” to then-director Paul James, Anders said. Under the provisions of the quitclaim deed, Ijams would not be able to charge people to access the lake, according to Anders.
“They couldn’t live by that quitclaim deed if they were charging people to float,” he said.
Anders, who acknowledged that he has spent “zero days in law school,” said he believes since the county is leasing Mead’s Quarry Lake to Ijams, the park has complete control over the property and can choose to forbid access to private boats.
“It’s like you leasing an apartment or house,” he said.
Four weeks after Townsend said Ijams’ climbing crag, Knoxville’s only outdoor climbing location, would be reopened “any day now,” the crag remains closed as the park waits on its insurance provider to cover unsupervised climbing. The crag was closed on Sept. 19, much to the shock and dismay of the volunteers who spent countless hours preparing it for public use.
Robert Blackwell tests his skills on the climbing routeBuy Photo
Robert Blackwell tests his skills on the climbing route called the Roof at the Crag on March 28, 2015, at Ijams Nature Center. Benjy Darnell belays him from below. (Photo: Paul Efird/News Sentinel)
The insurance company estimated crag coverage would cost between $10,000 to 15,000, Townsend said.
Some advocates have critiqued Ijams’ decision to purchase insurance as unnecessary under the Tennessee Recreational Use Statute, which states “the landowner … or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for such recreational activities as hunting, fishing, trapping … rock climbing.” But the crag is on city property, and the city’s contract with Ijams requires the park to have liability insurance “with a limit of not less than $2,000,000 each occurrence for bodily injury, personal injury, property damage, and products and completed operations.”
Quillen says the park could avoid purchasing insurance by giving the land back to the city.
“The easiest solution there would be to carve out that piece of property, give it back to the city, and it would be covered under the Rec. Use Statute quite clearly.”
Townsend said Ijams is “probably going to have to pursue other options” aside from the current insurance provider, which he declined to name.
“We’re just as anxious as everybody,” he said. “We’re in agreement with everybody else … We’re looking at every option. We and the city are trying to figure out the best possible solution to this problem. At this point in time, the best solution is to get insurance.”
River Sports owner Ed McAllister has not returned requests for comment.