Johnson County Mayor, second from the left, joins community and business leaders at Watuaga Lake in Butler TN. Photo by Teresa Crowder
By Teresa Crowder
The conference room in the Johnson County Public Library was bustling with ideas and anticipation last Tuesday morning as Mayor Mike Taylor, along with Dennis Tumlin, state Department of Tourist Development representative, met with local officials to discuss the new Bill Dance Signature Lakes program.
This initiative was announced in December by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, covering 18 lakes in the state.
Before the meeting, local officials began surveying certain areas for possible future development around Watauga Lake as details of how the initiative would look for Johnson County were still forthcoming.
Tennessee and TWRA have allocated $15 million to cover the project slated to begin in 2022 and be completed in 2024. It is a legacy program honoring Tennessean Bill Dance, not a profit generator for Dance.
This new initiative focused on improved access to fishing and boating and increased stocking, habitat, and fisheries management. Tumlin explained that considerable below and above water work improvements will take place at various access points to Watauga Lake.
“The southernmost range for lake trout in the United States is Watauga Lake,” Tumlin said. “This provides opportunities for visitors and tourism promotion.
Watauga Lake is also known for its Walleye Fishing. The state is not only planning to designate money for the program, but many of the partners are also offering to fund projects. The 18 lakes are divided into two divisions, Tumlin said. Nine are smaller lakes in state parks and other family-friendly fishing lakes.
The other nine, including Watauga, are large reservoirs. Other lakes in the eastern end of the state are Douglas, Norris, and Chickamauga. The others are Dale Hollow, Fall Creek Falls, Tims Ford, Old Hickory, Lake Acorn, and Woodhaven. In West Tennessee, there is Kentucky Lake, Pin Oak, Pickwick, Browns Creek Lake, 1,000 Acre Lake, Travis McNatt Lake, Reelfoot, and Herb Parsons Lake.
“This is an important initiative honoring the legacy of Bill Dance and having something cool for your community. The Bill Dance Signature Lakes Program will promote the area by improving Watauga Lake. Promoting the area will be displayed on interstate signage, denoting where the Signature Lakes are located for motorists to explore. The Bill Dance Foundation will be formed to further and solidify this initiative to continue this program for years to come.
TWRA reported during covid, there was a 17 percent increase in fishing licenses sold in Tennessee. Roughly there are a total of 700,000 Tennesseans who have fishing licenses. There were 100,000 first-time fishing license holders. If you combined all the season pass holders of the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee Volunteers, there would still be more having a sportsman license.” says Tumlin.
Mayor Mike Taylor also presented to the group. There is a proposed plan to look into the Bayview area in Butler, Tennessee. “We would like to propose the Johnson County access point to Watauga Lake at this area to make a drive-thru area off highway 67”, says Taylor. The group discussed the possibilities and adjourned to travel and do a walk-through of the area.
Also on hand on Tuesday were Johnson County Road Superintendent Jeff Wagner, Purchasing Agent, Dustin Shearin, Assessor of Property, Matthew Lewis, County Commissioners Tommy Poore, and Jimmy Lowe, Owner of Pioneer Landing Campground and Marina, Dan Livosi and Dave Jones, East Tennessee Division Manager TN Tourism. To learn more about this initiative and its impact on local areas, visit www.billdancesignaturelakes.com.