Here’s what the state is doing in response to 2-year-old’s drowning at Cummins Falls

The drowning death of 2-year-old Steven Pierce has caused state officials to close off access to Cummins Falls. The boy was among dozens of people caught off guard by flooding at the park. Thirteen had to be rescued from the waters.

The death is the third at Cummins Falls in the past two years and has led to questions from a bipartisan group of state lawmakers about why the Department of Environment and Conservation had not yet followed through with plans to install a warning system at the park to alert visitors to rising water levels in the gorge.

Here is a memorandum prepared by Jim Bryson, the agency’s deputy commissioner, about plans moving forward.


TO: David W. Salyers, Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

FROM: Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

DATE: June 12, 2019

SUBJECT: Cummins Falls Update

Responding to the Cummins Falls incident remains a top priority. The falls and gorge area are currently closed and will remain closed until we can evaluate the incident and review and implement additional safety protocols. The department will provide further notifications and updates as available.

Ongoing actions:

  • The After Action Report will be completed to investigate and document park policies and actions before, during and after the incident. From this report, additional measures may be identified.
  • Parks and Conservation GIS team has identified the watershed area for the region. See attached map.
  • We are currently talking to the National Weather Service to clarify watershed area that needs to be monitored continually and to agree on a new protocol for warning of potentially dangerous situations.
  • Flash flood warning signs will be posted at trailheads leading to the gorge.
  • An emergency procurement authorization has been secured to purchase and install a water flow monitoring system as an early warning system. It will be installed with all possible speed.
  • Parks has a funded capital project for a Visitor Center which will have the facilities for¬†conducting safety programs. We are looking to implement a permit requirement that will help us manage the visitation and ensure visitors have attended the safety program before going down into the gorge.
  • The Visitors Center will be set up to have monitors for regular weather updates and the ability to receive notification from the flow meters that we are working with TTU to implement.

At a minimum, the falls and gorge area will remain closed until the department conducts a full assessment of the circumstances and considers and implements additional protocols to address rain events in the watershed area.

5 Responses to Here’s what the state is doing in response to 2-year-old’s drowning at Cummins Falls

  • Avatar
    Anita F Ray says:

    wonderful news…Require all to wear life jackets , many folks have no experience with areas like this and have no idea of dangers, especially with small children. A warning siren like the TVA dams would prove helpful. Thanks for your swift response. Now to work on sensible gun control.

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    ??? says:

    Closing it on days with lots of rain is great….But closing it all together is a bit much. You gotta use some common knowledge when around water just like as if on lake. Where there is water… their is always a liability with drowning.

    • Avatar
      Billy Dawes says:

      Please keep closed until safety measures are in place !!! This area is very unique in its dangers, for a very beautiful sunny day at the falls and a down pour miles upstream has proven disaster twice in 2 years.!

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    Michele paciunas says:

    Thank you! This is a beautiful, rugged place that has awesome rangers. Unfortunately the park was highlighted in many magazines (southern living!) without highlighting the dangers. I feel the park was simply overwhelmed with people before it was ready to handle it.
    Bless you all! That heartbreaking day changed many lives and I cannot imagine the sorrow and regret so many are dealing with.

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