By Jonathan Pleasant
After months of anticipation, the full board of the Doe Mountain Authority finally met recently at the First Tennessee Development District in Johnson City. The last few appointments to the 15-member body were made just days before the meeting, but things ultimately fell into place and the board was able to accomplish a great deal of preliminary work by the end of the day. Starting at 9:30 in the morning and not wrapping up until 2:30 pm, the first meeting was lengthy. This was another big accomplishment for Doe Mountain, said Johnson Countys mayor, Larry Potter.
Designed by special legislation drafted specifically for this particular project, the board is made up of several appointees from various backgrounds and official capacities. Both Mayor Potter and City Mayor Lawrence Keeble were directly asked to hold positions representing the county and Mountain City, while Jerry Grindstaff was nominated as the representative from the County Commission. From the State of Tennessee, Ed Carter represents the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, while the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation chose Assistant Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill. Susan Whittaker, the State Commissioner of Tourism, and Alicia Summers with the Department of Economic Community Development rounded out the names coming from Nashville.
From Johnson County, the Chamber of Commerce nominated Frank Arnold, while Governor Haslam appointed Circuit Court Clerk Carolyn Wilson Hawkins, Gabby Lynch with the Nature Conservancy, Terry Maughon, the founder of Doe River Gorge, and Doctor Richard Strang, a conservationist with Eastman Chemical Corporation. The last appointees included Roby Phillipi, who retired from the United States Forest Service, Mike Farmer with the Mountain Trail Riders Association, and Ray Stout, a local citizen appointed through Tennessees Speaker of the House, Beth Harwell.
The meeting kicked off with an overview of the history of the mountains acquisition by Mayor Potter, who then turned the floor over to Tom Lee, an attorney representing the Nature Conservancy. Lee went on to explain the economic role that Doe Mountain could play for Johnson County and the state by identifying some of its many potential uses, ranging from simply hiking up to All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) riding. Lee concluded with a discussion of the actual legislation that was passed to govern the mountain.
Following the guidelines of the law, the board set out to establish Doe Mountains charter, which will ultimately be filed in Johnson Countys Register of Deeds office, as well as an official seal. The board also went on to elect its own officers. Both Dr. Richard Strang and Mayor Potter were nominated as chairmen, and after leaving the room to conduct a vote, it was determined that Potter would hold the position. Strang took the slot for vice-chairman, and Gabby Lynch was appointed secretary.
Lynch went on to make her own presentation concerning job creation through the project, which concluded with a discussion about establishing a master plan for the mountain. Mayor Potter confirmed that the board would be seeking a firm to create the plan and conduct the necessary research. The project will be put out to bid, but the board already has $100,000 secured for this purpose.
Potter also explained that the board has been very fortunate to have a certified Geographic Information Systems instructor living part time in the county. Tina Delahunty, a professor in the Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech University, has confirmed that her classes have already been working on establishing maps detailing slope, soils, hydrology, existing trails, and 3D topography of the mountain. This service is normally one of the most expensive parts of establishing a master plan for a project this size and Potter expressed his gratitude for Delahuntys work. He is hopeful that Delahunty will be able to make an official presentation of the material, which could significantly help this phase of the work on Doe Mountain. Even with the maps, however, the process of establishing a formal plan will still take months, leaving Potter concerned about a potential opening date for the trail network.
The meeting also confirmed that some preliminary work on preexisting trails has been underway for the past few months, and while the official opening of the mountain might not be until approximately spring of 2014, there may be the potential for a soft opening sometime next year. The board also briefly discussed usage fees, and is currently looking at a potential cost of $65 for an annual pass for OHV use. This figure may change, however, as more information becomes available. Aside from the yearly pass, there is also the potential for daily, weekly, or monthly usage fees, but there was no word on how much each of these might cost.
During the meeting Potter informed the board that there are also several grants already pending for trail building materials, equipment, and maintenance. The first grant, secured through the Mountain Trail Riders association, came through Yamaha in the amount of $20,000. The county itself applied for an additional $29,800 grant, which Potter is hopeful will come through sometime later in the year. Along with the office and property that the county purchased to serve as an entry point for the trail system off of Harbin Hill Road, Doe Mountain is well on its way.
One of the last discussions of the meeting concerned the establishment of subcommittees. Each committee will focus on a particular usage, such as mountain biking, or horseback riding, and will bring in experts from each of these fields. While ATV and OHV are likely going to be one of the more popular uses, the board is also dedicated to giving each use its fair share and equal representation on the mountain. With more than 8,600 acres, there should be more than enough room to do so.
With many of the board members traveling several hours away, the First Tennessee Development District seemed like a more suitable medium, but Potter did note that there would be meetings held in the county at some point. The next official meeting will be at the Development District on December 18, but after some discussion it was decided that later meetings will follow on the fourth Tuesday of each month. The Doe Mountain legislation requires at least one meeting each month for the first year and every two months thereafter.
While the first meeting of the board of authority covered a wide berth of topics, the real nuts and bolts of the project will likely begin over the coming months. With a phenomenally varied background encompassing different ideals and focus, there will certainly be obstacles along the way, but with the momentum already high and the groundwork soon to be laid, Doe Mountain is off to a strong start.
By Jonathan Pleasant