By Jonathan Pleasant
The Doe Mountain Recreation Board of Authority continued to move closer toward an elusive soft opening last week, formally adopting the organizations bylaws and completing one of the final requirements to have the 8,600 acre mountain transferred to their full control. Attorney Mona Alderson was present at the meeting to explain her recent work with the board, which included reviewing the final document to file with the state.
Acknowledging that as much as 70 percent of the information came straight from the states legislation governing Doe Mountain, including the guidelines for forming the DMRA board, Alderson felt very strongly that the bylaws would meet all the necessary criteria. Having already given the bylaws to the administration committee for their consideration as well, a motion was quickly made and unanimously confirmed to approve the document and formally give secretary Gabby Lynch authority to submit it to the state.
Because the actions of the board up to this point were technically authorized but not officially, Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble made a motion to retroactively approve those decisions made over the past few months. While Alderson explained that this was not a required action, she also admitted that it wouldnt be a bad idea. As a result, Keebles motion was seconded and also approved across the board.
Tying up some of the ongoing business for the authority, secretary Lynch announced that a logo design had been selected and approved from among the various submissions made by local students. Choosing the black and white outline of a does head in front of a chain of mountains, the newly adopted logo will be featured on the DMRAs website as well as for official business. The remaining entries from the contest will be posted at the Doe Mountain Visitors Center on Harbin Hill. Discussing the original rules of the contest, Mountain Trail Riders Mike Farmer reiterated the clubs commitment to fund the winners prize money, which also goes to help that particular art class.
With these formalities behind them, the board spent much of the rest of the meeting discussing a potential set of emergency rules to adopt for use as the project approaches an opening date in the coming months. Separate from the emergency rules, there was also lengthy discussion concerning the implementation of a temporary user agreement, which will act as an early permit to access the mountain.
Adapting a general set of guidelines used in state parks by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the boards biggest concern was a prohibition on carrying firearms and hunting on the property. While most were in agreement that hunting should not be allowed at this early stage, there was also a very strong sentiment that it would play an essential role in the future.
Because the user agreement will likely be the first set of guidelines for visitors to the mountain, there was a back and forth debate over what would be the best way to approach the issue. Hunting will most likely be allowed at certain times of the year and in certain locations on the property, but without the master plan being completed right now there are more questions than answers. As a result, the board wrangled over the appropriate wording, finally settling on a notice that hunting is closed at this time.
With that issue aside, the board turned to a discussion of the proposed emergency rules. Also adapted directly from TDEC regulations, Mike Farmer questioned whether it would be more appropriate to look at the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agencys rules as well. Because TWRA does have certain management areas that allow recreational off highway vehicle (OHV) use, Farmer felt a hybrid of both agencies might fit better, at least initially, for Doe Mountain.
Several questions came up about specific options, including whether or not a helmet for OHV and ATV riders would be a requirement. There was also discussion of hours for the park and whether to limit use of the mountain from daylight until dark or throughout the night as well. This brought up questions about camping, which in turn brought up questions about daily fees on the permits.
Other concerns included questions about liability, and how to assess permits for riders who do not bring their own OHV but choose to ride with someone else. Currently the permits will be issued by the vehicle, and passengers would not be charged full rate. Different uses, ranging from hiking through horseback riding and OHV have different daily rates but are also all inclusive, meaning the cost of the highest permit also allows access for all other uses.
With so many questions still to be answered, a motion was made to allow the administration committee to take a closer look at the emergency rules using both TDEC and TWRA as a foundation. While this means another month must pass before the soft opening can be set, a final transfer of the property from TDECs control will likely take that long anyway, giving the board more time to review and strengthen their approach.
Moving to other items of concern, Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter announced that he had been in touch with Jason Mumpower in the states comptrollers office to discuss the accounting and financial management of the board. While the DMRA has no funding currently, grants down the road as well as the sale of permits will create the need for an accounting system. Eventually a finance director will need to be hired and a separate budget created, but at this early stage the board has opted to work with the countys accounts and budget department so that the DMRA can follow state auditing procedures. Suggested by the state auditors themselves, many members of the board agreed that this would be the best option and unanimously approved a motion to draw up a contract with the county.
The last updates of the evening came from the boards various committees. The roads and trails committee was particularly detailed, with chairman Mike Farmer explaining that community leaders among several different user groups have stepped forward to share their interest in the mountain. Mountain biking and equestrian experts have both been working with the committee to begin identifying potential locations for their specific interests, while other organizations have been looking at specific projects including the creation of a gently sloping health and rehabilitation-walking trail near the Harbin Hill entrance.
During the master planning committee update, Gabby Lynch confirmed that the authoritys request for proposals is ready and will be issued to the public very soon, giving interested firms the potential to put in their bid to create a master plan for the mountain. With money already set aside for this particular project through the Nature Conservancy, Lynch is expecting a strong turnout of proposals, beginning a lengthy selection process.
One of the last points of the night was to set the time and date for the next meeting. Because there have not been any local board meetings to date, a suggestion was made to have the May gathering take place at the visitors center on Harbin Hill. Because the county owned building has not yet had a set designation, the board also went on to officially rename it the Doe Mountain Visitors Center. With the name issue settled, a motion was made to hold the meeting on May 7th at 10:00 a.m.
Gaining momentum every month, the DMRA has made an amazing amount of progress since first formally coming together early this winter. Since then experts like GIS professor Tina Delahunty, Webmaster Tim Horne, and most recently, attorney Mona Alderson have stepped up to lend their extensive abilities to getting this massive project off the ground. Many hopes and expectations are being carried along across the county and region, and some have begun to pressure for results. While huge undertakings like Doe Mountain dont happen over night, the wheels are rolling, moving Johnson County steadily toward a brighter future.
By Jonathan Pleasant