Sinkhole opened up at James White's Fort

Published: May. 26, 2016 at 6:12 PM EDT
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Sinkholes are everywhere in East Tennessee, even in downtown Knoxville. One opened up in one of the most historic parts of town.

"Tread lightly," said Sam Maynard, Executive Director of James White's Fort. "They're all over Knoxville. They're out in the counties."

Sinkholes are everywhere. Luckily, Sam Maynard caught this one early.

"One of your partners says do you know you have a sinkhole in the parking lot and right where the sink hole is, is where a person with a new Maxima parks," said Maynard. "So we caught it in time."

On the outside, it might not look like much. It is about 18 inches across and seven feet deep. Knoxville Utilities Board told the director this one could get as deep as 50 feet.

Maynard spray paints x-marks around the sinkhole to show the direction it is spreading.

"So people can see," said Maynard. "I hope they don't walk in this area because this area is getting hollow underneath and it could collapse on you even if you walk on it."

A geologist and former professor at the University of Tennessee said sinkholes happen when water wears down soft rock, like limestone, and forms cavern and underground caves.

"When the roof of that cave or cavern gets so small, by the enlargement of the cave, then the top is gonna cave in," said Don Byerly, Geologist and former professor at the University of Tennessee.

"This whole area is nothing but caverns and a lot of limestone," said Maynard.

Byerly showed a map of Knox County. The blue represents limestone and it is everywhere.

"I think James White's Fort is located in a Knox dolomite, which is one of those formations where you can have sink holes, but it can be repaired," said Byerly.

Maynard said this needs to get fixed, especially because this fort is where Knoxville has it's roots.

They also have sinkhole insurance. This isn't the first sinkhole. The director said another one opened up 20 years ago and it was 100 feet from the new one.