A two-year odyssey to convert Doe Mountain in Johnson County to a recreation area for public use celebrated a major milestone last weekend. Elected officials from across East Tennessee, along with local individuals who have advocated for preserving the land for public use, gathered Saturday to celebrate their accomplishments.
A special celebration was held Saturday night at Chamber Park in Johnson County. Officials from across East Tennessee, including mayors from neighboring counties, were invited to help Johnson County recognize the efforts of many individuals involved in the two-year project.
“It was a long process to get to this point,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who represents Johnson County. “We had obstacle after obstacle placed in our way. We had a bankruptcy in the middle of it. The man who owned the mountain actually died right in the middle of the process. We stayed vigilant and worked with the governor to make sure we received the appropriations. That really was the easy part. Now we have to set up the authority to oversee the management of the mountain.”
Running a distance of more than 20 miles, Doe Mountain provides views of Mountain City, Watauga Lake and the mountains of North Carolina. A fire tower at the pinnacle of the mountain stands more than 3,800 feet above sea level.
Since the idea for transforming Doe Mountain to a recreation area was first considered in 2010, proponents have been working to move the project forward. Mike Farmer and Sam White of the Mountain Trail Riders Association have been strong supporters of the effort to convert Doe Mountain to a recreation area. Boasting a membership of over 500 members in East Tennessee, Mountain Trail Riders has been working to put a positive face on those who use ATV/OHV (off-highway vehicles).
Farmer and White pointed to the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail system in West Virginia as a prime example of the economic impact created by this type of project. “(West Virginia) has brought in nearly $9 million this year in trail passes alone. That’s not counting what people spend on fuel, food and other tourism dollars,” said White. “In tourism dollars, there was $4.3 billion spent in tourism on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. Developing something similar to that here could be a huge impact on the economy of Johnson County.”
Farmer said if the State of Tennessee would support a system of trails throughout the region, it could have a much greater impact than that of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in West Virginia. He noted that East Tennessee has a well-developed infrastructure already in place, including Interstates 81, 26, 40 and 75. He believes East Tennessee’s road system would foster ATV enthusiasts to drive to the area and use a trail system.
Both Ramsey and Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter both see Doe Mountain as an excellent opportunity to foster economic development for the county and East Tennessee, as a whole. Once the necessary steps have been taken to complete the work to convert Doe Mountain into a recreational area, Ramsey said the 8,600 acres of land will be utilized for a wide variety of outdoor activities. “We’re going to have everything from four-wheeler trails to horseback riding to mountain biking. One of our ultimate goals is to connect it to the Creeper Trail in Damascus, Va. The uses are unlimited,” he said.
A board of authority for Doe Mountain, comprising a total of 15 members, is expected to be appointed in the near future. Officials commented that the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority is scheduled to be officially appointed within the next week.
Mayor Potter expressed optimism Saturday about the future of the project and its potential impact upon the citizens of Johnson County. “This project is Christmas in July. It’s a win-win for the citizens of Tennessee, especially the citizens of Johnson County. We can preserve Doe Mountain and open it up to recreational opportunities,” said Potter.
Initial figures on Doe Mountain Recreation Area have placed estimates at an annual impact of $4.2 million and more than 100 permanent full-time jobs.