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Doe Mountain project meets with early conflict

By Jonathan Pleasant

The Doe Mountain Recreation Board of Authority recently held their second monthly meeting at the First Tennessee Development District in Johnson City. Even at this early stage, conflict and controversy have already become an issue. Addressing the board at the very beginning of the meeting residents in the area, Stanton Dockins and Elaine Robertson, both openly voiced their opinions about the project, especially concerning the proposed opening on Harbin Hill Road where the county has already purchased the former offices of the failed Daniels Trace development.
Dockins spoke first, informing the board that he lives on Harbin Hill and is very concerned about traffic and noise issues coming from using this entrance for the mountain. Dockins related that he has opposed the use of Harbin Hill Road from the outset and has already seen abuse by ATVs, which he claims have been using the existing trails already. Although the mountain is not currently open to the public, Dockins went on to say that he had already called the sheriff’s department several times about ATVs using the road and that he felt the current signage was not adequate to keep people from going onto the property.
Dockins even went so far as to pass out a petition opposing entry to the Doe Mountain area from Harbin Hill Road. The page-long document expressed that before the board ever formed, the Harbin Hill entrance had been used, new trails were cut and work performed on the mountain. As a result, the petition says that traffic has increased significantly creating excessive noise and fire potential. The document concludes by saying this would become a nuisance as well as diminishing livability and home values.
In the same vein of thought, Robertson explained to the board that the project would be a disaster for the community, which she particularly noted was made up of very nice, high-end housing with well-manicured lawns and should not be considered on the same level as “just some trailer park.” Both Dockins and Robertson went on to point out several other perceived issues including the fact that the board doesn’t yet have a website and has not yet filed their charter, leaving Dockins to conclude that the board doesn’t currently have any authority at all, judging by the Tennessee Code Annotated which he read from.
Tensions were high as various board members answered these accusations. Secretary Gabby Lynch announced that the charter had been filed from last month but that issues with the state concerning the board’s address forced the issue to be postponed to this month. Lynch also noted that the website issue was also on the agenda for this month’s meeting. Voicing his opinion, Doctor Richard Strang explained to Dockins and Robertson that since this is only the second time that the entire board had actually met, there would have to be time allotted to get everything established.
Seconding this idea, Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff stated that the whole purpose of these meetings was to get the project underway, and that he most definitely disagreed with Ms. Robertson that Doe Mountain would do anything but destroy the county. Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter was one of the last to speak on the issue, noting that yes, there would be bumps along the way, but that the board would work diligently to resolve any problems. Potter concluded by inviting Dockins to come by his office and speak with him in more detail at a later date.
Following Dockins and Robertson, Mayor Potter officially introduced a special guest presentation to the board. Tina Delahunty is a professor at Texas Tech University who calls the Mining Town Community in Neva her home. Teaching Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and interested in the Doe Mountain project, Delahunty recently used the site as the basis for one of her classes. Taking the best information available, Delahunty’s group of graduate students, all of whom are about to receive their Masters or Doctoral level degrees, put together an assortment of detailed maps for the mountain.
Looking at everything from the types of soils and how susceptible to erosion they are, to where water is located and how steep the topography is, Delahunty’s research was compiled into an extensive set of data that could save the board a significant amount of money in their master plan for the project. Displayed in layers of maps, the program is fully updateable, allowing it to be changed as the board makes decisions. Impressing many of the board members with her knowledge and work, Delahunty was asked to be an advisory member of several of the project’s proposed committees.
Establishing the various committees was actually one of the big tasks that the board undertook at the meeting. Working from information last month, Gabby Lynch presented a proposed sheet of six major committees to delegate and better manage specific areas for the board. The first of these committees was listed as administration, which was intended to handle legal procedures, the Doe Mountain charter, working procedures and bylaws.
The second committee was determined to work on the master management plan and issues associated with it, such as looking at an appropriate contractor and guidelines, while the marketing and outreach committee’s intent was to help give Doe Mountain a brand and work within the community to develop support.
The last three committees were potentially the most important, the first dealing with Natural Resources and ensuring the preservation of the mountain, while the others dealt with the business side of the project and specifically establishing an Adventure Tourism District. The most popular of all was the Roads and Trails Committee, which looks at all the various uses for the mountain including OHV, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.
Various members of the board were nominated or volunteered to hold a position on one or more of the committees, with the mindset that each of the six needed at least one board member on the roster. Experts from the field, including from state offices such as the Departments of Tourism, Environment and Conservancy, and Wildlife Resources, will fill in other positions. While many of the committees already have a lot of work to get underway, the Roads and Trails groups will likely be the most pushed for time as they will try to work out a set of rules to operate the mountain after a proposed “soft” opening on March 30th.
An early attempt to get things going with the mountain’s already existing trails, the committee will spend the next few months looking at what rules need to be in place and enforced to allow the first user permits to be sold. While the mountain cannot be officially and fully opened until the master plan for the project has been accepted and put into place, many members of the board agreed that allowing limited use would be a good way to start regulating the property and identifying potential issues and changes that must be made in the future.
With three months to get ready for the opening, the Roads and Trails committee will particularly be looking at requirements on ATV and OHV use, one of the more controversial and potentially damaging groups if not handled correctly. Safety precautions will have to be considered, limitations on where riders can access, and an assortment of other problems accounted for before the board can actually give the go ahead. Although many of the members seemed to agree that an early opening would be a good thing, there was also concern to allow the public to know that things would likely change during the course of getting the complete master plan into effect.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.