Commissioner of Tourist Development Mark Ezell was joined by Mayor Jenny Brock, developer Grant Summers and leaders from the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau for an early look at the network of mountain bike trails and asphalt pump track.
“I love the partnership around this new bike park to create yet another asset that Johnson City can capitalize on, especially with young people today wanting these kinds of adventure sports,” said Ezell, who was visiting Johnson City for the first time since being appointed to Gov. Bill Lee’s cabinet in December.
“To take advantage of this terrain is a brilliant idea.”
Ezell called the Tannery Knobs project unique because of its close proximity to both downtown Johnson City and Interstate 26.
“To get facilities like this, normally you’ve got to go so far away from those restaurants, and that culture and community of great culinary and hospitality options. It’s so smart that you have the ability to use something so close to all your assets,” Ezell said.
Brock, a leading advocate for the park’s construction, said the city’s decision to put more emphasis on the outdoors through marketing efforts and capital investment will attract more businesses and people to the city.
“I think Commissioner Ezell really is looking at the business side of tourism. That’s certainly something we think here in East Tennessee, now that we’ve been putting so much emphasis on the outdoors, is going to help us attract businesses and attract young people to come up here,” Brock said.
“So having him here to see this and see what the state tourism department might be able to help us with, that’s all good.”
Summers, who spearheaded the project from the beginning, said Ezell validated what he and many city leaders hope will be a successful strategy to grow visitation rates and tourism revenues.
“It was interesting to me, he kept commenting on how he thought that our strategy and the City Commission’s funding, in terms of outdoor recreation and mountain biking, is a smart strategy that we can actually implement, (and) that we can actually succeed at, given our natural resources,” Summers said.
“He was just like, ‘Yeah, this is exactly what you all should be doing.’ That’s always nice to have validation from somebody who looks over the whole state that it’s a good strategy.”
Despite not yet being open, Tannery Knobs has already gained plenty of attention, both from a state and national standpoint.
Abraham McIntyre, chairman of the Tannery Knobs task force, credits some of the attention to the park’s designers and builders, VeloSolutions USA and IMBA Trail Solutions.
“We’ve literally had the best-in-the-world designers and builders come out here and put their fingerprints on this place,” McIntyre said. “And that brings attention. Just in the world of social media. I mean they’re out here posting pictures of (Tannery Knobs) and that makes a big difference.”
During a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, last summer for a mountain bike conference, Brock said many enthusiasts already knew about Tannery Knobs.
Discussions about the park commenced in late 2016 when Summers pitched the idea to city leaders and offered to donate his own land atop Tannery Knobs to the city in exchange for a $300,000 investment into the park’s development.
Since December, mountain bike enthusiasts from across the region have anxiously awaited the official opening of Tannery Knobs. For months, the city has been working on the legal paperwork necessary to transfer the property from Summers and open the park to the public.
On May 15, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association will host its 2019 Southern Mountain Bike Summit in Johnson City, and Brock said she is hopeful the park will be open by then.
Tannery Knobs spans more than 40 acres, with several miles of beginner-, intermediate- and expert-level trails, as well as a roughly 7,000-square-foot asphalt pump track.