By Bethany Anderson
Tourism in Johnson County once again took center stage during this month’s commission meeting led by Mayor, Mike Taylor, who is attempting to make Johnson County an Adventure Tourism destination.
Taylor’s plans include welcoming ATV traffic on certain parts of major highways as well as around town in Mountain City.
To help give his idea some extra merit and to answer any questions that the Board of Commissioners may have, Mayor Taylor invited Andy Wallace, Deputy County Mayor of Campbell County and James Jeffries, LaFollette City Administrator. They both gave a presentation in which they spoke of how the move towards Adventure Tourism helped Campbell County’s economy.
The presentation included copies of the State of Tennessee’s Public Chapter Number 172, Senate Bill Number 811, and House Bill Number 743 which all show the legal process that Campbell County and the City of LaFollette went through to designate their county as an adventure tourism destination. He also provided Campbell County’s Adventure Tourism District Business Plan Proposal.
According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, “Adventure tourism has been defined as any trip containing the following three main elements for the traveler: physical activity, a connection to nature and the environment, and an immersive cultural experience.” The ATTA classifies 34 different types of activities considered as forms of adventure tourism, of which many can be found in Johnson County.
Some of these qualifying activities that can be found locally include hiking, horseback riding, hunting, camping, fishing, bird watching, backpacking, attending local festivals/fairs, climbing, walking tours, and visiting historical sites.
Taylor noted that Johnson County is currently considered a “Tier 4 County” which according to the State of Tennessee’s guidelines means that the county is a “high risk” or “economically depressed” county.
Taylor hopes that this move toward adventure tourism would help to change that by injecting some much-needed tourism capital into the region.
Wallace and Jeffries went on to share that some of their successes in the three years since this plan has been in place include a successful Downtown ATV Festival, which occurs each October. The festival boasts over 90 vendors, live entertainment, food vendors, and activities such as guided ATV rides with expert riders and an EMT provided for each riding group. As Wallace stated, they are proud to offer a “Family Atmosphere” with no alcohol allowed.
It was made clear by the representatives from Campbell County that a good portion of their new tourists, and therefore new tourism dollars, is from the fact that they have made Campbell County’s town of LaFollette open to ATV riders and their machines. But the fact that some of the roads and even major thoroughfares and highways of Johnson County would, therefore, have to be opened up to ATV traffic, was a bit of contention for many of the Commissioners.
The issue of ATVs on the roadway has caused some back and forth with many questions and concerns addressed.
After much debate, over which parts (if any) of Highways 67 and 421 would be open to ATV traffic, Taylor gave an impassioned statement to the Board of Commissioners. “If my choice as County Mayor is there, then my choice is that having the ‘heartburn’ of having the traffic along the highways is worth it.” Taylor continued with, “I agree, there’s going to be road congestion, but that, I think, would be worth it.”
A question on the table was what ATV traffic would mean in connection with the requirements of the vehicle to be “street legal” as well as an intense question and answer session over the subjects.
Taylor also noted that he has been consulting with resident and owner/operator of Doe Mountain Recreation Area, Tate Davis about his ideas for adventure tourism.
“I am extremely proud of our Johnson County Commissioners for their part in moving this forward,” Davis said after the meeting. “For Doe Mountain Recreation Area this is huge. It’s something that we’ve been working towards for a long time now. I think any change this brings for locals will be positive. The Mayor is a very driven individual, and he’s driven to improve our community.”
Davis went on to add that he has been working with Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor as an unofficial consultant on the matter in the sense that he is there to answer any logistical questions and to “bounce ideas off of.”
As to whether or not to continue to seek more information to move forward with the purpose of establishing Johnson County as an Adventure Tourism Destination was met with caution by the Board of Commissioners.
Skepticism was noticeable on the part of Commissioners Megan McEwen (District 5) and Gina Meade (District 7), both of whom voted “No” on the motion with all others voting “Yes.”
Campbell County Deputy Mayor Wallace gave a final word of caution to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners that if they move forward with this, they should “Be aware of a few things.” One of those being that he strongly advises “including all interested parties, especially law enforcement and any relevant city councils during the planning phase.”
Next steps in the process are up to the State level as the matter goes before Representative Timothy Hill for further evaluation.
It is safe to say that Hill will have many questions for Taylor as well as the County Commissioners, City Council, and Sheriff Tester.