By Jonathan Pleasant
A special presentation was held on the courthouse steps last week, as Tennessee Department of Environment and Education (TDEC) deputy commissioner Brock Hill formally announced that the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) had received approval on their Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant application. At nearly $200,000 the funding will go a long way toward trail building and maintenance as the project draws reaches its first official opening this fall.
Local county and state leaders were on hand as well as many members of the DMRA board of directors to officially accept the check. Commissioner Hill, who is also a member of the board, was doubly excited about the decision and the impact it could have on the mountain. Hill explained that RTP money is appropriated to the various states from the federal government. A particular department is then chosen to further distribute the funding locally. In Tennessees case, the actual decision about which projects to support is made by TDEC through a very stringent grading process and assistance from the Department of Transportation.
We have a lot of quality applications and there are a lot of really good projects we have to say no to because we dont have enough money to do them all, Hill said. One of the things we look at is the opportunity to make an investment in a local community that has an impact on that local economy. While it will be a wonderful project for the folks that live here in Mountain City and Johnson County, its going to be a much bigger project than that. Its going to have a ripple effect all over this region. In time it will be a major destination. People will want to come here and utilize all the various trail activities associated with Doe Mountain. You have some fantastic local leadership here, particularly with County Mayor Larry Potter, but you also have some superior leadership in Nashville that have helped make this happen.
The application process is very lengthy and includes considerable research and incredibly detailed requirements. Barely making the deadline for this years grant cycle, the DMRA was very fortunate to have the voluntary services of Dr. Tina Delahunty, a county resident who also works at Texas Tech. With the DMRAs full blessing Delahunty took most of the responsibility for completing the application, doing a superb job of working her way through the documents many minute details. In all, it took several months of preparation to submit the final copy, meeting the deadline by just a matter of hours.
Since then, officials from TDEC have done site visits to the property and have evaluated the projects need and uses for the funding. One of the major responsibilities that comes with accepting the monies involves a 20 percent match, which in this case would be nearly $20,000. Fortunately, the match can be mitigated through in-kind labor and work done on the mountain, a fact that the DMRA is hoping to take advantage of. Currently the project is only looking at bringing existing trails up to standard, but with the success of this first application now behind them, the DMRA will likely look for future grants to help with expansion of the project.
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who was instrumental in securing the property, was also at the ceremony. Noting the repeated delays over the past few months in setting a potential soft opening date, Ramsey cautioned that a little more patience would likely pay off in the end. This is a huge project, Ramsey said. Mayor Potter and I talk often about this, how important it is to do it right the first time. When we have this opening lets make sure its right. At times we get impatient, at times we think why wasnt this open months ago, but keep in mind were really just six or eight months into this. I know people get impatient, but there is a process that we go through, and we only get one shot of opening this up. We want to make sure it is right when it happens. If we can get this open within a year of the first meeting then that is just fantastic.
Ramsey went on to show his appreciation to the various state officials that have been involved with Doe Mountain so far. I spoke with the governor on the way up here to thank him for this project because in the end hes the one who has to approve all these, Ramsey said. I also want to thank Brock Hill and Commissioner Martineau with TDEC for helping us get this money, because this is a down payment at least on what were going to need to make this a really, really successful project. This is much bigger than just ATVs. This is a destination spot for Mountain City and in the end I think it could become the biggest economic development project thats ever happened in Johnson County.
State Representative Timothy Hill was the last to speak about the announcement, reiterating that while he is relatively new to the development, he is also eager to become involved any way he can. It is an absolute honor to be a part of the process, Rep. Hill stated, but there is a lot of credit that is due to the Lt. Governor in his efforts to make certain that Doe Mountain was a project that took place. As Mayor Potter, Brock, and everybody that is on the board have been a part of it, its evident that as it continues to grow this thing is going to be huge. Its great that TDEC has been there on the trails side of it and its just going to keep going and snowball from there. Im excited to see what is going on the mountain but also for what its about ready to do for Johnson County.
By Jonathan Pleasant