Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and state Department of Transportation reviewed the current plan for the park’s development Monday night at a public input meeting.
About 100 people in attendance at the meeting were the first to get a look at the latest version of what are still preliminary designs for the park’s first infrastructure, including a paved road from the entrance on Rocky Fork Fork Road to the top of the mountain.
Brock Hill, TDEC’s deputy commissioner of for parks and conservation, said because people enjoy driving their cars through their mountain parks, the department feels the road will be a key asset to the new park. “I cannot imagine what the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be without its road,” he said.
David Benton, director of facilities management for Tennessee State Parks, emphasized that the road to the top of the top of the mountain is “proposed” and the state is continuing to look at other options.
According to Benton, the preliminary plans also include a 3,000-square-foot visitors center, two picnic pavilions, two primitive campsites and one RV campsite — all located fairly close to the entrance to limit the impact the structures and the guests who visit them will have on the park’s natural features.
A third primitive campsite for tent and popup campers only is also planned for location at the end of the paved road near the top of the mountain, he said.
Asked about the state’s timeline for construction, Benton said completion of the designs is still “about six months out” and another three months is anticipated to get the the construction work contracted.
Dexter Justis, a project specialits for TDOT, said the department typically puts its projects our for bid in spring, which could potentially allow construction of the park’s access road to begin this summer.
Hill said after several years of consultations between multiple government agencies and many scouting missions “to get a feel for what is there before the first shovel hits the ground” at Rocky Fork, the state is optimistic about the impact the park will have on the surrounding community.
“We anticipate we will be able to fulfill the vision of many that if this becomes a state park, the community will be able grow,” he said.
“This is still a great opportunity, we believe, to build tourism. It’s a clean industry, that provides assistance and state and local impact on a community. Industries come and go, but this will always be there.”
A public comment period on the park management plan will continue through Dec. 12. Those who wish may submit comments and suggestions online at stateoftennessee.formstack.com/forms/tspbusiness_plans_comment.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.
Corrections: This story has been revised to correct the spelling of David Benton’s name and the route of the access road to the top of the mountain. A story published on Nov. 13 incorrectly stated the road would end at White House Bluffs.