CARTHAGE, Tenn. — With the sharp scissor cut of a ribbon today, dignitaries officially opened up the Cordell Hull Lake Visitor’s Center and Resource Manager’s Office for business during a commencement ceremony.
Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, joined Cordell Hull Lake Resource Manager Mark Herd, State Sen. Mae Beavers, State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, and Smith County Commissioner Bill Woodard in opening the newly constructed facility, which replaces the previous building destroyed by an electrical fire, Sept. 24, 2008.
“If I had been here four years ago staring at the ashes with Mark (Herd) after the fire, I would imagine it would be easy to be discouraged as well and see that as one of the low points,” DeLapp said. “After the fire, they pretty much lost everything. We not only lost the Visitor’s Center but we lost all the displays, all of the automation equipment, and it was a big loss for the team.”
DeLapp said the staff at Cordell Hull Lake quickly set up operations in temporary facilities after the fire, and he praised the park rangers and employees for quickly getting back to work managing the natural resources at the lake.
“I commend them for their selfless service and for doing whatever it took to ensure visitors to the lake, recreation areas and campgrounds had the very best experience despite the inconveniences the staff faced by the loss of their office,” DeLapp added.
Herd recalled the day when flames engulfed the office and several volunteer fire districts were on scene attempting to extinguish the fire.
“They were fighting diligently,” Herd said. “But unfortunately the building was a total loss. The following morning, as I was standing here looking over the ashes and the rubble and the smoke was still rising, it was probably one of the lowest points in my 24 years with the Corps of Engineers. But that was fairly short lived.”
Herd explained that his Corps family picked him up, like any family would, and supported his team as it recovered from the fire. He said his staff quickly moved and set up shop in an old warehouse where they would be based until such time that a new facility could be funded and constructed to support operations and provide for the needs of lake visitors.
Beavers, Tennessee senator for District 17, recognized the Cordell Hull Lake staff and the Nashville District for their work locally and at Old Hickory Lake and Center Hill Lake, which are also in her district.
The senator said the mission of the Corps has greatly expanded since the projects were first built from flood control to other purposes such as navigation, hydropower, recreation, water quality, water storage, and management of natural resources. “I realize the importance of the Corps of Engineers,” Beavers said.
Weaver, Tennessee representative for District 40, said she values the good relationship she has with the Corps of Engineers, and stressed that the Corps and the public have a responsibility to be great stewards of the facilities and natural resources.
“I really commend you for doing that because we have a responsibility, and that is to protect what we have so that my grandbabies can enjoy those same resources,” Weaver said.
Commissioner Woodard also thanked the Corps employees in attendance for preserving and protecting the natural resources available to the public in Smith County.
“We truly appreciate the work that you do and the job that you do here in Smith County… not only here but in the region. Because if it weren’t for you we wouldn’t have the things that we have that help in so many ways… it is an honor to stand here today and to be able to tell you that we appreciate what you do from the official portion of the county as a commissioner and also from a personal standpoint,” Woodard said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the dignitaries cut the ribbon at the front of the building, which officially opened the new Visitor’s Center to the public. The public also enjoyed a reception and an open house tour following the ceremony.
Although the new Visitor’s Center is now open to the public for those seeking information, many of the displays lost in the fire of 2008 will be replaced in the future as resources become available.
The new building meets the criteria for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design Silver Certification and complies with U.S. Green Building Council standards. The 8,359 square foot LEED building incorporates many energy efficient and sustainable features and amenities not found in the building that burned down.
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