By Jonathan Pleasant
Less than a week from the target date of November 9th, it appears that an initial soft opening for Doe Mountain will now become a reality. For months the DMRA board has been diligently working with an entirely volunteer force of supporters to get the roughly 30 miles of existing trails up and ready for use. The big issue hindering the whole effort has been a lack of insurance, a necessity considering the nature of the project.
Fortunately County Mayor Larry Potter was able to finalize the last of the paperwork Monday evening, allowing the first user passes to be sold. The property will officially open to the public Saturday, but even though the insurance issue has been cleared visitors will likely find very limited access and facilities at this early stage. Initially it was hoped that more trails would be up and running for multiple uses, but much like hunting, the actual scope of the soft opening has been unfortunately restricted by the insurance coverage.
At this time only OHV and hiking will be allowed on the mountain although work is still rapidly underway to prepare trails for equestrian and mountain biking as well. Those expansions will hopefully be up and running sometime next year, giving the board an opportunity to work with the Tennessee General Assembly to resolve the insurance issue altogether.
The major problem has been that the DMRA is not currently covered under the states claims commission. However, DMRA attorney Mona Alderson has been busy working with the board to write up new legislation that would correct the problem and bring the DMRA under the Tennessees umbrella. Pending support and sponsorship from state leaders, the earliest it would be possible to submit the legislation would be spring of next year, although there are still many questions to be answered before then.
With little alternative, the DMRA board has been forced to comply with the insurance companys wishes, including the limited uses and temporary rules and regulations. First and foremost, all riders using an ATV or OHV must wear a helmet without exception. Additionally, all vehicles must have a spark arrestor and be at or below the 96 decibel level to help limit noise pollution and respect adjacent property owners, especially near the main Harbin Hill entrance.
Doe Mountain is expected to be a very family oriented attraction, and as such the board has been very keen to establish a strong set of working rules. Visitors are required to sign a user agreement that lists these various regulations and serves as a required user pass. Thankfully the DMRAs website, www.doemountain.org, has also just recently gone live and those interested in visiting can find a wealth of information concerning what is or is not allowed.
Facilities will also be initially limited. Portable restrooms will be onsite at the Harbin Hill entrance but the visitors center itself will not be open to the public. The board has also been busy training trail ambassadors whose primary purpose is to promote goodwill on the mountain and help everyone have a safe and fun experience while also handling rules enforcement and providing information.
Passes can be purchased at several locations including Mountain City Cycle, East Tennessee ATV in Elizabethton, the Johnson County Mayors office, and at the Visitors Center itself. Annual passes for ATV use cost $60 and are good through the end of 2014, while day passes are $18. Those who intend to ride in an ATV or OHV but do not plan on actually driving the vehicle must still purchase either a $3 daily hiker pass or an annual $25 pass.
Although they wont be allowed currently, mountain biking and equestrian enthusiasts have been very busy planning and creating new trails for their respective uses. Representatives from large organizations including the International Mountain Bicycling Association have become actively involved in the project insuring that although delayed, the multifaceted vision for Doe Mountain will eventually become a complete reality.
Ultimately the main reason for the soft opening is to help identify and work out the early issues that are bound to arise. Even more challenging is the fact that all of the developments that have gone underway so far have been strictly done by volunteers, with very limited funds. With that in mind, those first users to visit the site should bear in mind that many changes will be coming down the road, especially considering the massive potential for expansion on the propertys 8,600 acres.
Even now the DMRAs planning firm, Farmer-Morgan, is busy working on the Doe Mountain Master plan which is due to be completed by the middle of 2014. Working out of a vacant downtown shop in Mountain City, the planning staff has been very active with a week long public input session known as a design charette, featuring several important informational workshops and an open door policy for anyone interested in sharing their ideas for the mountain.
In essence the soft opening is just the first toe in the water of what this project will inevitably grow into, but it is still a tremendous move in the right direction. Undoubtedly there will be things that will need to be changed or corrected but with any luck the board will be able to use a combination of both trial and error and proactive planning to help shape and grow the mountain to its full potential.
By Jonathan Pleasant