“I think (Buffalo Mountain) could be huge (to unlocking Johnson City’s economic potential),” said Bill Forrester, economic development manager for the First Tennessee Development District. “If you take Buffalo Mountain together with Tannery Knobs, it could just be a huge economic boon for the area.
“I think it could be something tremendous for this region,” Forrester said.
And Forrester wasn’t alone.
Dozens of people gathered Wednesday night to discuss outdoor recreation as a tool for economic development at one of several outdoor recreation workshops hosted by the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership this week.
“There hasn’t really, in our region, been a cohesive, organized strategic plan for how to leverage outdoor recreation as a form of economic development,” said Kayla Carter, NeTREP’s outdoor recreation manager. “We are taking a lot of information from some ideas that came in the past, but we’re really trying to focus specifically on outdoor recreation and what that means.
“It’s really been a vision of NeTREP’s,” Carter added.
During the roughly three-hour long event, attendees split into smaller groups to focus on different aspects of outdoor development, with each developing its own look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — or SWOT plan — in its specific zone. Wednesday’s meeting focused on Buffalo Mountain
“It’s always good to invite people from the community to the table and have their input because they’re going to think of things that we may not have thought of,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of things that go into that outdoor recreation ecosystem and it can touch every aspect of our lives.”
Washington County Commissioner Jodi Jones also attended the meeting, with hopes of learning how the county’s residents feel about how the land should be used and developed.
“I’m really in knowing what the wide range of interests are in how this land should be used,” Jones said. “I feel strongly that the city, county and other (land managers) should work toward a master plan that includes the interests of all constituents before developing a feature or aspect that’s specific to one group.”
Carter said the goal of the meetings is to develop a long-term plan for the region that includes a series of recommendations, priorities and initiatives based on public input, which will then be passed onto officials with the power to enact those plans.
“We can’t really make decisions, but what we can do is get those ideas to the right decision makers to consider in their own planning,” Carter said.
On Thursday, there will be one more meeting on the French Broad River and Bald Mountain from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Greeneville Recreation Center, 456 E. Bernard Ave. After that, Carter said NeTREP will begin sending out surveys to gather more public input before finalizing their recommendations.