Boards associated with Doe Mountain continue discuss best use of facilities
By Jonathan PleasantWith the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) falling under the state’s claims commission after July 1st, the DMRA board of directors welcomed the next major user group to the mountain at this month’s meeting in Johnson City. Although the board’s private insurance would only allow hiking and OHV initially, mountain biking enthusiasts have been very busy over the past year and are now eagerly preparing for their first real debut. Anthony Duncan with SORBA Tri-Cities, one of the larger mountain biking associations in the area, was present at the meeting and indicated that trail building is already well underway.
In addition to the dedicated mountain biking trails that groups like SORBA and the Northwest, North Carolina MTB Alliance have been planning and creating, there are already numerous existing multi-use trails that can be accessed, providing bikers a lot of ground to explore as the July deadline approaches. With several other user groups, including hunting and equestrian also approaching enough organizational infrastructure to allow access, the board did spend much time debating exactly when and how the next users would come on board.
In an effort to hash out the final few issues, a special meeting of the Doe Mountain Hunting and Shooting Committee was called by Mayor Lawrence Keeble to be held on June 17th at 5:00 in the Harbin Hill Visitor’s Center, while Roads and Trails Committee Chair Mike Farmer indicated that he would be trying to bring in as many equestrian specialists as possible for his committee’s next meeting. Most of the big remaining issues, especially where horses are concerned, involved access points for the mountain.
With both hunting and equestrian groups hoping to provide updates at next month’s meeting, the board entertained a motion to add mountain biking as an approved user group beginning July 1st. Passing unanimously, the motion signaled the next big step toward making Doe Mountain a truly multi-use destination, but is just one of what should be many advances to come.
There was also a huge update from Matt Garland with ECD concerning the status of Tennessee’s new Adventure Tourism Legislation. Providing substantial tax incentives for qualifying businesses, the board was dismayed a few months ago by the many initial restrictions and limitations associated with the law, particularly in creating an Adventure Tourism district. Apparently leaders in Johnson County weren’t the only ones disappointed by how the program was implemented, causing the state’s ECD department to take a closer look at the legislation itself to see if there could be a more lenient interpretation.
With Garland’s update this month, many of the limitations have disappeared altogether. Formerly the city or county was very restricted on exactly where they could declare an adventure tourism district and exactly what kind of businesses could locate there without negating the entire program. Now, according to Garland, the district can be basically all inclusive, overlaying the entire county if the local government so chooses. Businesses locating within the district will now also be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see if they qualify for the tax breaks.
Garland did emphasize that requirements for having at least $500,000 in capital investment and more than a dozen full time employees still stand, but also pointed out that the law in its current form seems to be geared more toward hotels and restaurants rather than actual outdoor recreation facilities, something that could change in the future. Regardless, the information did renew hope of some benefit coming from an Adventure Tourism designation.
The board also looked at some final details with their ongoing master-planning project. Having gone through several drafts and also having been disseminated to the public for review and comments, the board is approaching the final stages of approving the completed document. One of the key requirements of the legislation creating the DMRA, many board members are hopeful the plan will provide a clear direction and set of goals for the ultimate development of the mountain.
Produced by the Farmer Morgan Planning Firm and paid for through funding from the Nature Conservancy as well as a grant from the USDA, the Doe Mountain Master Plan has been a long process but also very eye opening along the way. As the final draft approaches, the DMRA Administration Committee looked to cleaning up a few oversights that have occurred, including the approval of a formal contract with Farmer Morgan to disperse the grant funds provided by the USDA.
A formality to complete the grant, the board approved authority for the Administration Committee to work through the contract and to ratify any payments already made. The administration committee also pointed out that five members of the board are facing expiring terms this November, two of which were appointed by the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House respectively. Additionally the board will need to look at electing officers, as those are also in need of renewal.
Frank Arnold with the Marketing and Outreach Committee gave an update on the DMRA’s website and indicated that the board is very close to being able to offer online user pass sales. The last big hurdle is to look at card security fees and how they should be assessed. The fees are an unavoidable part of credit or debit card transactions and are set by the payment card industry or PCI. Once the board determines the best way to handle the fee problem, the DMRA will be able to utilize the services of a payment system such as PayPal.
Having held a public hearing last month regarding user fees in general, the board also made a successful motion to go ahead and allow children five and under free access to the mountain rather than wait for the full process to be completed. Turnout, especially on the weekends, has been steadily increasing and with so many families bringing children to ride and see the mountain many board members were eager to get the change in place.
The last business of the evening was an update from TDEC’s Bob Richardson concerning the status of Doe Mountain’s ongoing requirements surrounding the large but complex Regional Trails Program Grant. Having worked its way through many of Tennessee’s procedures, Richardson indicated that the contract now sits with the Federal Highway Administration as a final stop before work should be able to begin sometime in the next few weeks.