The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday approved a $1-a-year lease for 115 mountainous acres at the center of plans for a multi-modal biking and hiking park developed with a planning grant from the International Mountain Bike Association.
Owned by Erwin Utilities, the property overlooks downtown Erwin near Unicoi County High School and adjoins the Cherokee National Forest.
Erwin Utilities President and CEO Lee Brown, who has been working on the project in partnership with the town and a task force of interested supporters, told the board Monday the plan was completed in March and put the cost of construction at a little more than $1.9 million.
Brown said the cost was more than anticipated and the task force will be seeking a power grant from Appalachian Regional Commission to cover a large portion of that cost.
“The great thing about the project is it will help retain and attract a great work force,” Brown said. “It will be a major tourist attraction for people who will visit here, stay overnight and spend money.”
“We are in a sweet spot between I-26 and 81,” and with other mountain biking parks located between Knoxville and Southwest Virginia, “there will be a lot of people who will visit this world-class park,” Brown said.
According to Brown, the park will provide something for mountain bikers and hikers of skill levels, including 10 miles of multi-use biking and hiking trails and trails for biking only, about 700 feet of elevation change and a “great view” of downtown Erwin and the neighboring Unaka Mountain and Martin Creeks areas.
Mayor Doris Henlsey said the park “absolutely will be an asset” and expressed certainty that the town will be able to get the remainder of the needed funding.
In other business on Monday, the board appointed Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson to serve as the town’s Emergency Management Director and Alderman Gary Chandler to replace former Alderman Gary Edwards as the town’s representative on the Erwin Utilities board of directors.
In a subsequent Monday evening meeting of the Erwin Beverage Board, the Beverage Board voted to recommend the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approve an emergency amendment to its alcohol sales ordinances in order to allow businesses to deliver alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic at a home order.
Alderman and Beverage Board member Michal Baker, who co-owns Union Street Taproom in downtown Erwin, abstained from the vote, but said the waiver was needed to provide a means to allow all business in Erwin selling alcohol for on- and off-premise consumption to resume doing business under the special COVID-19 restrictions.
The Beverage Board unanimously approved the recommendation and Hensley scheduled a special called meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to consider approval of the measure for Thursday, April 16.