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   This story appeared in The Times & Free Press on Tuesday, April 6, 1999.

Moccasin Bend Golf Course Poses Hazard for Park

Staff Writer

Advocates of a national park at Moccasin Bend are still waiting for their dream to become reality, so giving the golf course there one last multi-year reprieve before closing isn't a problem, says one leader in the effort.

"This community has waited a century," Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park Vice President Jay Mills said Monday. "A national park is forever.

"When you're talking about a few years over (the course of) forever, the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park would be very patient."

The final report of the National Park Service team that studied the feasibility of a national park at Moccasin Bend has been released and it agrees with an earlier draft report that recommended the Park Service include all 956 acres of Moccasin Bend in the proposed park.

It proposes that "existing incompatible uses," including keeping open the golf course and the state's Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, should be eliminated.

The course would cease to operate when the current lease -- held by the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County -- expires in 2005. The hospital would stop operating in 2009.

John Chambliss is leading an effort among Moccasin Bend golfers who want the golf course to continue to operate forever, instead of extending its life for a set period of years.

He rejected the proposed compromise by Mr. Mills that would allow the golf course to continue operating beyond expiration of its current lease.

What Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park have in mind, Mr. Chambliss said between nines of a Monday round at Moccasin Bend Golf Club, is to "sit on their heels until people like me are dead ... (then) they want to take the course over."

But legislation must be filed in Congress by U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp before the proposed national park could become a reality.

Rep. Wamp, R-Tenn., examined an advance copy of the final report last week and said that he'd prefer to see the hospital operate until 2019. By that time, the physical plant would need enough work to justify its relocation, he said.

As for the golf course, Rep. Wamp said he'd seen no evidence that the course includes Native American burial grounds that are "absolutely essential to the park proper."

Rep. Wamp said he would simply submit a bill for an 800-acre park, excluding the 150 on which the golf course sits, if the Park Service is adamant that the course close.

Congressman Wamp has not said if he supports keeping the golf course open forever or for another 25 to 30 years, as is being proposed by Wes Brown, course vice president. Congressman Wamp is on vacation during the current congressional recess and could not be reached for comment. His spokesman was not immediately available to clarify his position.

However, Mr. Mills said Monday that discussions certainly could include extending the life of the course well beyond the end of the current lease, which expires in 2005.

He said the "conflict arising over the park" involves setting a "specific timetable" to close the golf course.

He said it's not inconceivable that the Park Service might return to having golf courses in its parks. "It did around the turn of the century, but has moved away since.

"With further discussion, Congress, especially Congressman Wamp, and the National Park Service could come to more open-ended terms rather than to exclude it (the golf-course acreage)," Mr. Mills said.

Mr. Chambliss called Mr. Mills' assessment a "travesty."

He said Moccasin Bend is one of three municipally owned or operated public courses, the other two being Brainerd and Brown Acres. (Numerous other golf courses under private ownership are open to public play.)

"The course is here for the betterment of the city. And the community -- including 5,000 of us who signed a petition -- wants it here when our grandchildren are playing golf," Mr. Chambliss said.

The Park Service report states that the only alternative to having a 956-acre national park at Moccasin Bend would be to do nothing, to leave everything in its current condition. Five other alternatives -- a tribal park, a national reserve, a federal commission, a state historic site and a land trust -- were rejected by the Park Service.

Reasons for the rejections, according to the report, included "the absence of an effective management entity, uncertainty of sufficient financial and human resources to develop and operate a park unit and extremely limited support expressed in the extensive public participation process held during the winter and spring of 1998."

According to Park Service personnel, the report should soon be on its website at http://www.nps.gov/planning/index.html. Copies are also available for review at the Lookout Mountain visitor center and the Chickamauga Battlefield headquarters.

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