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Local and state officials present updates on Doe Mountain project

By Jonathan Pleasant
Tom Lee, an attorney representing the Nature Conservancy, made the trip from Nashville last week to give an update on the ongoing Doe Mountain project. The meeting kicked off with a power point presentation that County Mayor Potter brought in from neighboring Avery County, North Carolina, highlighting the impact that tourism has had on that area. The information, collected by the University of Tennessee, noted that Avery County has created over 1000 jobs just through tourism, and brings in more than $14,000 each day in additional revenue.
Potter went on to say that the biggest challenge that the county now faces to make Doe Mountain successful is a lack of services. He is hopeful that as interest and popularity grows once the mountain is open to the public there will be a number of local entrepreneurs step up to help build rental cabins, restaurants, and supplemental services such as bike shops to fill the need. Potter noted that already some businesses are seeing increased sales even before work has really begun on the project, primarily Mountain City Cycles that has sold numerous side by sides and ATVs since anticipation started to build.
Lee began his speech following an introduction from Mayor Potter. Stakeholders from around the county, ranging from property owners to members of the Chamber of Commerce and local government officials were in attendance. Lee basically gave a brief history of the project, ultimately resulting in the 8.8 million dollar purchase by the state, but also emphasized the role that the Nature Conservancy played. A little over a year ago the future of the mountain still looked fairly grim. The original development was in foreclosure, several large logging operations had their sights set on the property, and talks with the state were not initially going well.
Mayor Potter was persistent and kept at it, and after getting in touch with the Nature Conservancy and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, helped forge a plan where the Conservancy would buy the mountain itself and hold it until the state could gather the funds. Lee went on to say that as an attorney he had never spent such time in bankruptcy court, fighting in South Carolina to save the mountain.
A recent economic analysis was conducted for the property which addressed job creation predictions based on the mountain’s ultimate use. The study found that if Conservancy or the state had retained the property and left it in its natural state it would have created only eight jobs total. There would have been a few hunters and the occasional hiker, but largely the mountain would have done nothing for the county.
The second option looked at was to use Doe as a premier mountain biking site, and with Appalachian State University and East Tennessee State University, along with the many other smaller community colleges, sporting more than 30,000 students altogether, there would have been a strong likelihood of its success. Mountain biking alone was only projected to create 80 jobs.
The third use, and the one that has been most talked about, was to use the mountain for off highway vehicles (OHV). With the increasing popularity of ATVs, dirt bikes, and other motorized recreational vehicles, this seemed like a natural choice for Doe, and also created a projected 60 jobs. However, Lee went on to indicate that the study found mixed-use was the best alternative of all, creating hundreds of jobs by combining OHV, biking, hiking, horseback riding, and hunting.
Although this type of project would require massive amounts of land to fully separate and balance the various uses, Doe Mountain is fortunate enough to have more than 8,600 acres at its disposal. Lee did caution about the need for a strong governing body to ensure that the project works effectively, using Etna Mountain in Chattanooga as an example of what can go wrong if the mountain is not monitored. Etna has been so devastated by OHV that now only those types of vehicles are the only ones that can even access it through the mud bogs and ravines carved out of mishandled trails.
When the state decided to buy Doe Mountain, they began a process that has been unprecedented in Tennessee, creating a law and establishing a board that governs Doe Mountain independently. The Doe Mountain Board of Authority is a 15-member organization that will have be the primary oversight in governing the property and guiding its future. The board includes both the city and county mayors, representatives from Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee State Department of Economic Development, and the Tennessee State Department of Tourism, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, county commission, and the Nature Conservancy, along with various other organizations and departments, and even one person from the public at large.
All but the very last members coming from Nashville have been appointed and will soon hold their initial meeting. Lee was exceptionally pleased with the makeup of the board, citing his belief that pulling people together from various backgrounds, expertise, and experience will help create a more balanced approach to the mountain. Following the presentation, Lee also displayed a power point with pictures of the failed Etna Mountain project, reiterating the important role that preservation also plays in making Doe successful.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.