MOUNTAIN CITY — After weeks of negotiations, Doe Mountain now belongs to the people of Tennessee and Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter said the purchase of the undeveloped 8,600-acre mountain in the middle of his county “is a win, win, win situation.”
“It is just great, we get to preserve it, we get to use it and we can create new jobs,” Potter said.
The purchase will preserve one of the largest remaining blocks of Southern Appalachian forest in private hands. Part of the mountain is to be used for outdoor recreation, such as allterrain vehicle trails, mountain biking and horseback riding. The mountain already has many miles of existing roads and trails.
Potter hopes the many new outdoor recreational opportunities will result in economic development on properties adjoining the mountain, creating lodges and cabins for riders from out of the area, as well as shops catering to the recreational enthusiasts.
The property was acquired through a joint effort of the Nature Conservancy and the state of Tennessee. The cost was $8.8 million.
“The state now officially owns the mountain,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said. Johnson County is a part of his senatorial district. While he was confident the deal was going through, he said, “I have been working in real estate too long to take it for granted. I have seen too many deals fall apart at the last minute.”
He said it was a two-year process and the Nature Conservancy played a big role in the acquisition.
It was an easy partnership between the state and conservancy. “Our vision for Doe Mountain involves engaging the state’s land managers and the local community in developing a multi-use plan for outdoor recreation there,” said Gina Hancock, state director of the Nature Conservancy. “Working with the state and county officials, we will 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 pre- serve water quality and maintain an intact forest cover.”
Ramsey used some on-thescene persuasion to get the state involved in the project. Gov. Bill Haslam has been extremely conservative in his spending requests as the state continues to recover from the national recession.
“We got the governor up here four-wheeling,” Ramsey said. The experienced Realtor used the mountain’s assets to sell it to the governor.
Haslam was convinced. “Doe Mountain offers a great opportunity for outdoor recreation and the benefits that come with opening up space for people to enjoy, such as healthier communities and new jobs from tourism,” Haslam said. “I’m pleased we as a state could contribute to this lasting legacy for all Tennesseans, and I appreciate all of the hard work that has made this happen.”
Instead of simply placing the new acquisition in the state park system, Ramsey said there was a need for a more flexible organization. The state Legislature passed a law in April that set up a new organization to oversee recreational opportunities on the mountain.TheDoeMountainRecreation Authority includes 15 members.
The members, or their designees, include the mayor of Johnson County, the mayor of Mountain City, the director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the commissioner of the Department of Tourism and nine other appointees.
“Doe Mountain is a fantastic opportunity to do something that’s never been done in Tennessee,” Ramsey said, “and that’s to make clear that economic development and good stewardship go hand in hand. We need both, and we’re going to do both in Johnson County.”
The unusually large tract of land was available because it had been planned for development several years ago, but the project went into bankruptcy. The Nature Conservancy worked with the owners and the financial institution to acquire the land for the state.
Before that, Doe Mountain had been leased for 15 years by the state as a Wildlife Management Area that allowed hunting until it was closed to the public by the previous owners around 2005.
While Potter saw the acquisition as a win, win, win for Johnson County, Ramsey saw a fourth winning point. “The county is getting a windfall in back taxes,” Ramsey said.