Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Governor visits Doe Mountain; possible ATV trail talks continue

State and Local officials are continuing discussions for acquiring more than 8,600 acres of Doe Mountain in the heart of Johnson County. During his recent trip to the county, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam visited the mountain to get an idea of what the state would be dealing with. Although nothing is yet final, the next scheduled sale for the property is on January 31st.
The large tract of land was originally acquired by a development firm that had plans to subdivide and sell house sites in a project that also included access to Watauga Lake. Unfortunately with the tumultuous economic climate of the past few years and the untimely death of one of the lead developers, the plans never went through. The property was soon in danger of foreclosure and the banks and investors began looking for potential buyers.
This left a big problem for Johnson County as at least two large logging companies began to seriously consider taking control of the property. With every indicator of clear cutting the entire boundary and then selling off the land for whatever price could be attained, Johnson County would be left with an unsightly and potentially dangerous situation. Doe Mountain sits in the center of the county and runs much of its length. Clear cutting would not only have left an environmental disaster, displacing a multitude of wildlife, but would also create erosion hazards and increased potential for flooding.
With the threat of these issues becoming reality, local officials such as County Mayor Larry Potter began looking at possible ways to turn the sale of the property into a positive opportunity. Potter began looking at other areas where rugged mountain landscape had been used for multiuse trails, such as the highly successful Hatfield -McCoy trail system in West Virginia and the nearby Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus. Although the issue has only been discussed at this stage, Potter hopes that if a deal could be worked out for the state to gain control of the mountain Johnson County would become home to a set of new multi-use off highway vehicle (OHV) trails that could be used by hikers, ATV riders, and horseback riders.
Maintenance of the trails and facilities could be mitigated by developing use fees, but the real value to the county could be from the amount of tourism and interest the mountain brings in from the outside. The attraction would improve the county’s economic situation not only through generating new businesses, such as bike shops, rental cabins, and restaurants, but also by boosting current businesses such as local stores and hotels.
Other, similar types of projects have been a blessing to nearby areas, particularly in the case of the Virginia Creeper Trail. In a 2004 study it was estimated that 130,172 people used the trail with 53% coming in from outside the region. More importantly, the study showed that the total estimated economic impact for the state of Virginia was more than $2.5 million dollars, 1.5 of which was spent in Washington and Grayson Counties.
Outdoor recreation is one of the biggest driving forces for development in the state right now and, recognizing that fact, state officials just passed a new bill allowing for the creation of Adventure Tourism districts, areas and businesses that use and develop outdoor recreational opportunities, potentially including Doe Mountain. Within these districts outdoor recreation businesses would be eligible for an annual tax credit of $4,500 for up to three years. Along with other such legislation designed to aid this type of outdoor tourism, Potter hopes that Johnson County will be able to take advantage of these changes in the near future.
The main concern, and one that officials such as Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey have been trying to address, is the preservation of the mountain. According to Ramsey, “We have to see what we can do to take advantage of Mountain City’s natural beauty, and I think this is something that can happen. I do believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Other areas of the county have been clear cut in the past and there are even such logging operations currently underway in places like Stone Mountain, but nothing on such a large scale. Even putting aside the environmental impact, there would be much missed potential in not preserving the abundant natural beauty of the land. With majestic views of Watauga Lake and the surrounding Appalachian Mountains, Doe Mountain could soon become one of the defining features of Johnson County’s future.