Have you ever been to Cove Lake State Park? I am willing to bet the answer is yes. If so did you notice how well maintained it was? Also betting that answer is yes. This is because of a dedicated team of individuals that keep the park up and running and well maintained. The leader of this team was a fellow named Howard Riggs. Sadly Howard left his earthly home this week to go to his eternal one.
Howard was not a public figure. Even if you saw him at the park he was probably hard at work doing the things he did best to keep the place pristine. For 45 years he worked at our park. During that time he moved into the position of Maintenance Supervisor. This position is one of the most important in the park as it is nearly 700 acres for the public to enjoy. To say he did his job well was an understatement,
I first went to work at Cove Lake in 1991 at the boat dock and later the campground. Howard wa one of the first people I met upon reporting to work (granted I knew Howard already but not in a professional capacity). I knew immediately any time I had a problem with anything that he was a phone or radio call away. Lord knows I used him and his staff. Honestly many of the issues were due to some manner of shenanigans myself and my fellow seasonals pulled off. And fortunately for us Howard was always there to fix them.
Many years later I was often going to the park for a peaceful and distraction free place to write. During that time I often still saw Howard and crew hard at work. One moment that stuck out to me was what turned out to be a water main break. The staff was looking for what I assume was a cut off valve buried underground. They had spent several minutes searching, Howard pulled in walked right up to a spot in the ground and stuck a screwdriver in it. The fellows came over and dug in that spot and, low and behold, there was exactly what they were looking for.
Park Manager Casey Hatmaker echoed that about Howard when we spoke about his passing. “One of the many things that we lost when we lost Howard was his amazing knowledge of Cove Lake. We recently did a scrapbook of the park and had some old pictures. Pictures that were taken well before any of the rangers or office staff were in the book. Howard could look at those pictures and tell you the people in them, what was going on, and when they were taken.”
Hatmaker continued, “Howard worked hard every day to make sure the park was in the best shape it could be. To say how badly we will miss him is hard to put into words. He was also the man who made sure our Christmas decorations were on point. The flagpole tree that everyone loves was Howard’s doing. We will always have that tree up in Howard’s honor and memory”
Kim Moore, Hatmakers predecessor as manager of Cove Lake, also spoke fondly of Howard. “I was at Cove Lake for thirty years as a ranger and then the manager and worked with Howard that entire time. He worked hard to give the park the aesthetics to make the visitors have their best experience. For the most part he and his staff did it in a way that the visitors did not even notice how much work they were really putting in.”
I have often called Cove Lake the Crown Jewel of Caryville, I could argue that it is the Crown Jewel of Campbell County. Howard was the man in charge of polishing that jewel. It always shined brightly under his care. I have no doubt that it will continue to be polished and to shine like the brightest star in the sky. But at the same time it will always have a little less brilliance about it knowing that Howard is gone. On the upside I know Howard was a man of faith, a good man, a family man. I know that there will be a new shine on Cove Lake and that shine will be Howard smiling down upon it from his Heavenly home.