By Katie Lamb,
“It looks like a tornado came through here,” said Brenda Rowlette, Backbone Rock Camp Hostess when asked her thoughts on recently downed vegetation lining Shady Avenue through Cherokee National Forest.
Backbone Rock Campground is a small campground situated along the beautiful Beaver Dam Creek at an elevation of 2,100 feet in northern Johnson County. The campground is popular with those visiting Backbone Rock, a tunnel originally blasted through the rock ridge for the railway. The creek side location with popular swim area and lush forest surroundings make Backbone Rock Campground particularly desirable during hot summer months.
Rowlette said Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) was responsible for the mess. “Splinters were flying everywhere,” she adds.
Various Johnson County roads and highways have been massively littered with severed plant life including trees, trunks, stumps, and debris. A representative from Johnson County TDOT, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Rowlette in saying, “Yep, that was us. That’s what the machine does. There’s nothing else we can do.”
While trying to improve roadways and shoulders adjacent to roads, TDOT has created an aesthetic monstrosity. A pleasurable, peaceful drive through National Forest, and other parts of the county have become an experience that makes visitors and residents gasp.
Mike Taylor, Johnson County Mayor, said, “They have done the same thing around Watauga Lake, chopping down beautiful Red Buds. It looks awful. I think they will regret that.”
Local resident, Matthew Newman expressed, “It looks like a bomb went off.” Brian Zier, a local and frequent motorist through Backbone Rock, says, “It is horrific. It’s like a natural disaster came through here. If I were responsible, I would be embarrassed.”
When asked if the devastating eyesore were to be cleaned up, the unidentified TDOT representative said, “No. We are leaving it there to go back to nature.”
Brian Ramsey, TDOT District Supervisor said he was unaware of the situation at Backbone Rock and stated, “For safety issues, we remove encroaching vegetation near highways.” Ramsey is now looking into the matter.
Information about Backbone Rock campground for retreats and other events, go to www.recreation.gov.