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Sink Mountain Road repair funding approved

A gate blocks entrance to a Watauga Lake boat ramp on Sink Mountain Launch Road, in Johnson County TN.  Access to the public ramp has been closed since February 2019 after an earth slide a few yards away. County officials are pleased with funding now available to repair the road for those who want access to Watauga Lake.   Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Sink Mountain Road in Johnson County, leading to a public boat ramp has been closed on and off for the past year and currently remains inaccessible But, there is now some good news on the horizon. Funding is said to have been granted to repair the road and reopen it for those who want access to Watauga Lake.

“A storm event in February 2019 caused an earth slide,” explained said Terry McDonald, Cherokee National Forest Public Affairs Staff Officer, “which resulted in a 300-foot section of the road slumping off approximately 12 inches.” According to McDonald, an assessment was completed shortly after that, and a determination was made that it had stabilized. “A temporary repair was made,” said McDonald, “which included hauling in loads of rock and soil that made the road passable.” The effort allowed the road, NFSR No. 298, to reopen; however, over the next 14 months, as Forest Service staff made periodic checks of the road, additional deterioration was observed. “The road slumped an additional three feet from March to September 2019,” said McDonald, “and from October 2019 to April 2020, it moved an additional six inches.”

The road remained open during this time, but heavy rains in May caused the slide to move, even more, some 12 to 14 inches. “We determined that this additional movement posed a significant and immediate risk to public safety,” said McDonald. “The uncertainty of when or if this could occur, left us with no choice but to close the road due to public safety concerns.”

The road, which meanders along the shores of Watauga Lake and leads to the only national forest public boat ramp in Johnson County, still remains gated and closed the road to public use. A damage request was submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) funding for the Sink Mountain Road, and McDonald advises it was approved. “FHWA will be doing the environmental analysis, design, and construction work,” he explained. “At this point, we do not know the timeline for all of that.”

For the time being, boaters can utilize the boat ramp at Bayview Campground in Butler. “Johnson County has a public boat ramp that is accessible to anyone,” said Megan McEwen, Johnson County Commissioner, who represents the fifth district. Located in Butler, the campground is privately owned, but you can put your boat in the water there. According to McEwen, swimming is not allowed at the ramp. 

For more information about these sites visit or or call the Watauga Ranger Station at (423) 735-1500.