By Jonathan Pleasant
The board of the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) was forced to accept what is hopefully going to be one of the last delays in seeing an actual soft opening after failing to receive any positive confirmation concerning insurance and liability for the mountain. Last month Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble made the narrowly successful motion to set a tentative opening date of August 31, pending the fact that these issues would be resolved. County Mayor Larry Potter had to break the bad news this month that the board will not likely be able to gain state liability protection until the DMRAs rules governing the property had been posted on the Tennessee Secretary of States website for at least 90 days.
Several members who voted against the motion last month, including TDEC commissioner Brock Hill, explained that the lack of information was one of their primary reasons for their initial opposition. The risk was greater than the reward, Hill said. From my perspective it was irresponsible. However, Hill did go on to express his belief that project is still moving forward at an unprecedented rate compared to most state projects.
While begrudging yet another delay, Mayor Potter also agreed that the board has come a long way over the last year and noted that the 90-day clock is already ticking. Mona Alderson, the boards attorney, indicated that the state has already approved the rules following the public hearing a couple months ago and that Doe Mountain should have no problem falling within the states liability claims process once the required waiting period is up.
Several of the more local members of the board expressed their regret about having to wait the extra time, especially as it affects this years hunting season. Hunting cannot be allowed on the mountain until the DMRA is in a position to begin selling user passes. However, TWRAs John Gregory was keen to point out that even if the board does have to wait until early November when the final requirements are met, much of the regular deer and bear seasons will still be open.
Once again specifics of the hunting issue led to an in depth discussion among the board. Mayor Keeble, who also made the motion to open the mountain to hunting last month, was particularly interested, eventually volunteering to chair a new sub-committee in the interim. The board was in agreement with Keebles suggestion leading others including Gregory, Roby Phillipi, Frank Arnold, and Ray Stout to volunteer as well. According to Gregory, hunting on Doe Mountain will likely follow basic state guidelines with local TWRA representatives covering enforcement. Understandably there are more complex issues, such as whether to restrict such uses to a specific part of the property, leaving this new group much to work out before the new target opening this fall.
Keeble also expressed his interest in eventually developing a shooting range on the property, which seemed to have considerable support. Eventually board member Mike Farmer stated his agreement with Keebles idea and suggested it be included as part of the hunting sub-committee. Hoping to gauge community support for the idea as well, Keeble agreed to the inclusion, consequently leading Farmer to volunteer his time on the committee as well.
With these problems resolved and the board largely in agreement, a call was made for a motion to reflect the boards decision in the minutes. After debating how to word the hunting issue, the board simply decided that no hunting would be allowed at this time. Likewise, a second motion was made to postpone the soft opening until the 90-day requirement is complete and the insurance issues resolved. With no opening now planned until this fall, passes cannot be sold yet either but there was some suggestion that because of the late start, the first passes could cover the end of this year and next year as well. Support for this idea seemed strong and will likely be discussed in more depth in the down time.
Although disappointment about the delay was very visible, Dr. Richard Strang, the chairman of the Administration Committee, did make a special point to review the many accomplishments that the DMRA currently has under their belt. Over the past nine months the board of authority has adopted a seal and by-laws, established six working committees, registered a charter, selected a home office, accepted title to the property, created a website, held a rule making public hearing, adopted a set of rules, established a schedule of user fees, a user agreement, and a liability waiver, worked with the Nature Conservancy to establish a master plan, engaged the services of an attorney, submitted an application for grant funding through the Recreation Trails Program, and applied for a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant, among many other notable decisions and actions.
Although many in the county are anxious to see the mountain finally open, Mike Farmer was also keen to point out that numerous other trail projects on a similar scale have taken years just to get as far as the DMRA is now, much less to be talking about an upcoming opening date. Farmer specifically pointed out the Spearhead Trail System near St. Paul in Southwest Virginia and the ongoing development of the Hatfield McCoy Trail System. The Spearhead System is just now preparing to open after seven years of preparation, leading Farmer to conclude that Doe Mountain is traveling at light speed by comparison.
Other issues discussed at the meeting included an update on the DMRA website which should be moving from the under construction phase to a full-fledged launch in the coming weeks. Already the board regularly has announcements about meetings and posts past minutes, but when fully completed the site will become the leading source of information to the public. Put together by local Webmaster Tim Horne, the site is found at www.doemountain.org
There was also an announcement that Appalachian State University is interested in becoming involved with the project, hoping to include the property as one of their conservation research sites. Already ETSU and Texas Tech University have a presence on the mountain primarily through Dr. Frosty Levy and Dr. Tina Delahunty, who continues to be instrumental as the boards GIS and mapping expert.
One of the last reports of the evening came from the Roads and Trails Committee who indicated that their last meeting included professional representatives from most of the user groups expected to have a presence on the mountain. Particularly interesting was the interest in eventually establishing new mountain biking trails. According to Committee Chairman Mike Farmer, the mountain may be meeting with representatives of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), one of the largest and most successful groups in the country. Farmer went on to explain that involvement from IMBA could be extremely beneficial for building high quality trails and even potential grant access in the future.
Although insurance issues have set the project back for a few more months, the DMRA will certainly be busy making the final preparation for an eventual soft opening. Hopefully the time will be used well, helping to make what is almost inevitably going to be a successful project that much more polished.