No hunting on Doe Mountain for now due to insurance issues
By Jonathan PleasantAs the November deadline for posting the official rules governing the project gets closer, discussions at the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority’s (DMRA) monthly meetings have increasingly turned to preparations for the frustratingly elusive “soft” opening. Not surprisingly, the center of focus for October was much the same, with board members including Chairman Larry Potter trying to hash out the last few bugs that could prevent or delay the current target date of November 9th.
The primary ongoing issue is insurance coverage. After months of contact with the State Attorney General, DMRA attorney Mona Alderson explained that because Doe Mountain is a uniquely new type of entity for Tennessee, it doesn’t quite fall into any typical category in the state government. In some facets the DMRA operates as a sort of miniature department of its own, equivalent to much larger entities like the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency or the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. In other regards, Doe Mountain is also similar to a local government such as a county or city, and therefore responsible for its own operations.
This hybrid status that was put in place through the project’s original enabling legislation has left numerous questions and few answers. Yet the biggest problem so far, especially in regard to the mountain’s first opening, deals with insurance coverage, a very poignant topic considering the public nature of the project. Alderson explained a couple of months ago that unlike the TWRA or TDEC, Doe Mountain is not protected through the state’s claims service, and therefore would require private insurance.
Since then the board has been busy looking at what coverage is available and the associated costs. Early proposals looked at the possibility of selling enough user passes ahead of the opening to pay for the insurance costs. Mayor Potter announced this month that another company had been identified which has a very strong track record especially dealing with motor sports and outdoor recreation. Potter also indicated that the DMRA already has enough money from grants through Yamaha and Can-am, as well as recent fundraisers at the Johnson County Chamber Park.
The only real issue that several board members brought up was the fact that most private insurances will not cover hunting as an activity. Although largely disappointed, a decision was eventually reached to not allow hunting at this time although the use will certainly play a role in the future. Ultimately it is hoped that local legislators like Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey will be able to introduce changes to the DMRA legislation that will allow the mountain to be brought under the state claims umbrella, but although Ramsey has already indicated his support, it will be well into next year before an amendment can be introduced in session.
With a company selected and most major problems resolved, the board is now simply waiting for the insurance to finalize. User passes have already been printed and there are high hopes that this final step can be accomplished with no delay to the proposed November 9th opening date. In an effort to accommodate the mountain’s first visitors, Potter also explained that yearly passes will be extended through the rest of this year and all of 2014 as well. Currently 30-35 miles of former logging roads and existing trails have been improved for initial use and work is ongoing to develop at least two more entrances to the property.
Potter indicated that most of the current trails are multi-use and will allow ATVs and OHV. Work is ongoing to develop specific trials for mountain biking as well as equestrian uses, and the mountain’s trail network is expected to dramatically grow over the next couple of years, especially following the completion of the project’s master plan. However, because so much is in flux users should be aware that there may be changes made between the soft opening and November and the official Grand Opening that is planned in the future.
That precaution aside, excitement is still high to gain the first real access to the property. In anticipation, Sam White with the Mountain Trail Riders Association made a presentation to the board where the organization officially set aside money to purchase the first 50 user passes. Once the insurance is fully in place, passes will be sold through the county Mayor’s office at the courthouse as well as at Mountain City Cycle and East Tennessee ATV in Elizabethton.
To facilitate the initial public access, the board also identified several of its members as official managers, primarily to establish points of contact for questions that might arise during day-to-day operation. Undoubtedly there will problems to work out but the board is very hopeful that the soft opening and the consequential interaction from the public will be very beneficial in pointing out exactly what changes need to be made.
Mayor Potter also gave an update to the board concerning his recent trip to Nashville with fellow board member Gabby Lynch to answer questions before a required sunset hearing. Potter confirmed that the hearing went well and the only real problems identified by the state involved a noted lack of diversity on the DMRA’s board itself.
Mike Farmer updated the board concerning one of the projects alternate entrances at the end of Pedro Shouns Road in Doe Valley. Having received permission from the county commission, parking access is available on property owned by Johnson County. However, both Farmer and Mayor Potter have been busy over the past few weekends trying to identify the best route to gain access to the existing trail network at the top of the mountain. Ideally the grade of this new trail will be less than 10 percent, and although several potential routes have been identified, there will likely be substantial construction necessary before any route could be made viable. The hope is that a second entrance on the Doe Valley side of the mountain would reduce traffic and pressure on the project’s only current entrance located at Harbin Hill.
The board also began the process of establishing their first real budget. For the first few months of the project there were no real funds to appropriate, but with the eventual acquirement of several grants, including substantial federal RTP funds through TDEC, the board is now beginning the budgetary process.
The last update of the evening involved new information concerning the Doe Mountain “Design Charrette.” Essentially a public input workshop, the Charrette will be held the week of November 4th through 8th in downtown Mountain City. Several specific workshops and presentations have been identified, but the public is encouraged to drop by anytime with their particular concerns or ideas for the mountain. This information will be gathered by the board’s planning firm, Farmer Morgan, and will ultimately be incorporated into the Doe Mountain Master Plan.
With just one meeting between now and the scheduled soft opening, the DMRA board members will undoubtedly be very busy over the coming weeks. If all goes well and insurance is finally secured for Doe Mountain, an official announcement concerning the soft opening will be coming soon. Having met for just one year, the DMRA board may soon be able to taste the first fruits of their labor, and with any luck those first visitors will leave wanting to come back for more.