Working to establish ATV trails

Published 1:20 pm Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tourism Director Jon Grace touched on a proposed ATV trail system during a recent Bell County Tourism meeting on Tuesday. Grace said they have basically finished the work on the system.

“We still to this day…probably get more calls about that specifically than anything,” said Grace.

The tourism director said there has been a cooperative effort between the Bell County Fiscal Court and Bell County Tourism in trying to establish the new off-road trails in Bell County. Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park shut down in 2016 to make room for the future Appalachian Wildlife Center.

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“Since then, we have been looking to establish a new trail system because tens of thousands of people from all over the nation came to Bell County each year to ride,” said Grace.

The proposed trail system is a 47,000-acre tract surrounding Middlesboro with a smaller tract located in Knox County near Kayjay. That land is currently owned by a timber investment company based out of Mississippi.

“This quest to establish the premier ATV park in the nation has been many years in the making,” said Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock. “At times it seemed so unlikely to happen, there was a better chance at locating Big Foot or getting to ride a unicorn. But, this latest proposal is by far the closet we have ever been in 11 years of trying.”

During the meeting, Grace said there have been negotiations for a year regarding the property. There has been a formal proposal submitted.

“We’re trying to sell a company on this idea even though it’s outside their wheelhouse. We did over a year of research on permit model systems, revenue projections using data from other trail systems, etc,” said Grace. “We had multiple meetings with the landowners and addressed a ton of issues —from projected revenue, to hunting seasons, current industry on the property and how the trail system would interact with them, to potential trail regulations.

“After listening to the landowners needs and concerns, we feel we’ve made a good offer. Even though this project holds huge potential, we want to make sure to be realistic with what we can do for them.”

The proposed system would stretch from Parker’s Gap all the way around to Cannon Creek Lake. Grace said there are a lot of aspects that would make this trail system far superior to Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park.

“First, it’s over five times larger. The quality of trails on the proposed parcel are also much better in regards to what types of trails riders want,” said Grace. “But, maybe the biggest thing is that it would instantly connect into the North Cumberland Unit (four OHV legal wildlife management areas managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency) — which is 200,000-plus acres. It would legally allow a rider to leave from Middlesboro and ride all the way to Huntsville, Tennessee.

“That’d be huge. There’d be nothing on the east coast like it. It’s a big time thing. It’s worth the time we’ve invested trying to get it.”

Grace said now they are just waiting for the proposal to be reviewed. There are hopes to have an answer sometime over the summer.

“I want to thank Judge Brock and the fiscal court for his time and effort towards this project. His leadership in trying to make this project a reality has been crucial,” said Grace. “Now we wait to hear back, which is the hardest part.”