By Jonathan Pleasant
The Doe Mountain Recreation Authority Board was back in Mountain City this month in the conference room of the Johnson County Health Department. Breaking from their typical meetings at the First Tennessee Development District in Johnson City, the board opted to have this months gathering at home because of a special public rules hearing concerning user fees on the mountain. Although there were no actual public comments made, the board itself did discuss some minor alterations primarily centered around a policy for allowing discounts or fee waivers in certain situations, such as when research is being conducted. The board also determined that it would be appropriate to allow children five and under access to the property free of charge.
Those few points aside, the hearing was relatively quick and without serious issue. Much of the regular meeting was focused on the future expansion of operations on the mountain, a subject that took center stage as Randy Morgan of the Farmer Morgan Planning Firm reviewed the latest draft of the Doe Mountain Master Plan. Clarifying that specific details about daily operations would eventually come from a separate Business Plan, Morgan still promoted the idea that the Master Plan when finally adopted is intended to provide the overall road map for Doe Mountains future.
Utilizing studies that were conducted by the Nature Conservancy and well as information gathered over the past year, Morgan made several projections about the parks capacity and projected economic impact. Divided into alternative scenarios based on expected numbers, Morgan explained that Doe Mountains base capacity for local users is 14,000 per year. Accounting for an average $45 daily expenditure per user on services such as food, gas, repairs, and equipment sales, at base capacity the mountain should generate more than $630,000 in total economic activity.
To get to this level the plan would require several more miles of trails to be built for a variety of users, focusing primarily on OHV, Mountain Biking, Equestrian, and Hiking. As the number of trails and amenities increase so does the mountains capacity, allowing consideration for users coming in from farther away and requiring extra services such as lodging. This scenario framed the details for the plans second alternative, which predicts a potential to handle an additional 24,000 annual outside visitors to the site once the total mileage approaches 75 miles of trails.
Adding in the extra costs of staying several days in the county, expected daily expenditures rises as well with a total possible impact of $3.8 million. To reach those staggering numbers would require at least 300 units for lodging in and around the county but while all of these figures are simply educated estimates, all indicators point to a huge economic shot in the arm as long as the DMRA board can keep the mountain growing.
Already the board has sold nearly $30,000 in passes just for OHV with mountain biking and the other uses expected to come on board after the DMRA finally falls under the states claims commission on July 1st. The biggest factor right now is expanding the mountains trail network but there are already some developments underway that could significantly help the situation. One of the most exciting possibilities is a potential $100,000 grant being applied for by SORBA Tricities and the Northwest, NC MTB Alliance.
Both organizations are large regional supporters of mountain biking and are hoping to build one of the few flow trail systems on the East Coast. Designed to maintain speed and control while minimizing pedaling, the flow trail would use gravity devices such as dips and berms to essentially create a sort of roller coaster for bikes that even beginners can enjoy.
The grant monies which are being put up by Bell Helmets is actually a contest dependent on voting. Supporters can go to bellhelmets.com/bellbuilt to vote for their favorite among the four potential projects that are eligible to receive the funding. Local leaders are hoping for a good turnout, as the unique trail could greatly help promote the growth of Doe Mountain. Voting will close on May 18th, making the timing for participating very short.
The board also recently received a $500 grant to help with essential repairs to the Kettlefoot Fire Tower located at the top of the mountain. Added to several smaller donations that have already been made, roads and trails committee chairman Mike Farmer felt that that there might be enough funding to cover most of the essential rehab work on the structure.
Farmer also presented the board with a trail map highlighting the first phase of new trail additions that need to be done. Moving to begin preliminary biological studies at the various sites, the board is hopeful that construction of the new trails will develop swiftly. Accessing several new and interesting locations on both the northern and southern sections of the mountain the extensions are likely just the first of many to come.
Discussing the states disappointing Adventure Tourism Bill, the board was given a little hope for future improvements when the TWRAs John Gregory explained that he been present at a meeting where several local officials including a member of the state senate voiced their desire to see the law become friendlier to smaller rural economies. Currently requiring numerous full time employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars of economic impact, the law would have little applicability in areas like Johnson County and Mountain City.
The board also discussed an upcoming fundraising event to be held at the Chamber Park in Doe Valley. Featuring competitive OHV events, trail rides, and food ranging from hotdogs to beef brisket the fundraiser will be held on May 31st from 10 until 6. Speaking of events, Mayor Larry Potter offered a suggestion that the board might want to look at hosting a free day for county residents to promote local support and give an idea of exactly what is developing.
The board agreed that this would be a good idea and turned authority for setting up a time and date to the roads and trails committee. Extra OHVs will likely be available to take visitors on a tour of the mountain and specific details will be worked out at a later date. With Doe Mountains first summer season fast approaching and new developments occurring almost daily, excitement is once again picking up and the first fruits of this monumental ongoing project are just now starting to ripen. Next months meeting will return to Johnson City and will be held on June 3rd at 1:00
By Jonathan Pleasant