Financial and legislative pieces are coming together for the state of Tennessee and The Nature Conservancy to buy and develop Johnson County’s Doe Mountain into a multi-use tourist attraction for all-terrain vehicles, biking, horseback riding and hiking.
Continuing a report by Hank Hayes::
“It’s looking good. … We should know something within a month or so where we are on this. … I’m trying to keep it low key … (but) I think everything will be fine,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the venture.
Last December, Ramsey said the Doe Mountain venture could have a similar economic impact as Southwest Virginia’s 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, which is open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. He envisioned spin-off businesses like campgrounds, restaurants and bike shops.
The 8,600-acre Doe Mountain property was a planned residential development that fell through, according to Ramsey.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has set aside $8.5 million in the state’s current budget, plus $300,000 in a supplemental appropriation to pay for the property, according to administration spokesman Dave Smith.
Smith noted the Doe Mountain acquisition is on the State Building Commission Executive Subcommittee’s agenda on Monday.
The Nature Conservancy State Director Gina Hancock said the plan is for The Nature Conservancy to buy the property and “hold it until the state buys it from us.”
The Tennessee Senate, meanwhile, has passed amended legislation creating a Doe Mountain Recreation Authority to manage the property.
The authority’s 15-member board includes appointments by the governor, legislature and local government to reflect conservation , outdoor recreation and economic development interests. The Nature Conservancy will also have a seat on the board.
The authority will have the power to develop the property and issue bonds if needed, according to the legislation, which awaits a floor vote in the House.
“There are still many more steps to take,” Hancock said in an e-mail. “The Nature Conservancy, Governor (Bill) Haslam and Lieutenant Governor Ramsey are committed to finding strategies for protecting Doe Mountain while also developing multirecreational opportunities for the public.
“The vision for Doe Mountain involves engaging the state’s land managers and the local community in developing a multi-use recreation approach that will include scenic touring by ATVs, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and other activities. Our goal will be to develop a management plan for the mountain that will set up the appropriate locations for different activities as well as build in protective management approaches that protect water quality and maintain a largely intact forest cover.
“We view this project as an opportunity to work with the state to develop conservation opportunities that also help promote tourism and help economic development.”
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Assistant Director Nat Johnson pointed out TWRA used to oversee Doe Mountain as a wildlife management area.
Johnson noted the authority’s board will be unique because TWRA will hold a seat as well as the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Department of Economic and Community Development.
“We have been on the side of developing that (authority) legislation,” Johnson said. “We will be part of the management authority developed to run it. We’re very excited about this new way of managing a piece of property where it can be managed for economic development and make sure the resources are saved. … This will make sure all the voices are heard in the best way possible.”