New horse trail proposals upset some Stoney Creek property owners

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   The Carter County Planning Commission has worked with the Cherokee National Forest to see additional horseback riding trails added to the region. A list of 19 horse trail proposals for Carter and surrounding counties has been compiled but is meeting with some resistance. A few Stoney Creek home and land owners are up in arms about the riding trails that run close to their homes.
   The North End of the Cherokee National Forest consists of 384 miles of trail. The area welcomes hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes. Apart from these trails there are about 500 miles of forest that have the potential to be turned into additional horseback riding trails.
   Local home and land owners worry that they will lose their privacy when the trails come through. The issue of developing a parking head for riders to park their vehicles and horse trailers has met with a great deal of contention from citizens who share the land with the U.S. Forest Service. Property owners are also worried that they will not be able to develop their land because of the trails that may be coming through in the near future.
   If citizens are in opposition to the trail projects, why is the issue continuing to be pursued? The community's demand for the trails may simply outweigh a few homeowners' concerns. Anne Zimmerman, Cherokee National Forest Supervisor, believes the trails are what the public wants. "We have a tremendous amount of use and demand for trails. Our District Rangers knew it was time to take a look at the trail system to determine what kind of use we are getting and what we could do to meet the needs of users," Zimmerman said. "We believed we needed to take a strategic look at the situation and plan accordingly."
   The Carter County Planning Commission became involved in the trail projects back in 1994 and have been trying to increase the number of nonmotorized trails in the county ever since. The forest service has been cooperating with the commission to develop additional trails which the commission hopes will provide tourist attractions for the county.
   Bob Hughes is the chairman of the Carter County Planning Commission and feels that the trails are very important for the county. "Carter County has a great opportunity in these trails due to the fact that people are very interested in biking and horseback riding in this area," Hughes said. "The entire Planning staff is interested in benefiting the people of Carter County and we hope to do so by increasing tourism."
   The northern portion of the Cherokee National Forest was divided into six different areas for evaluation and field study purposes for the trails. The trail proposals include the creation of loops, corridors, links and converting existing trails in to multipurpose trails.
   Trail proposals have been made for Cocke, Greene, Unicoi, Washington, Sullivan, Johnson and Carter counties. The projects vary in involvement and the length of time needed to complete. Seven of the 19 proposals are for Carter County.
   "The purpose of the project is to obtain and maintain more trails and to keep existing ones from closing," said Mike McCelland, Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation. McCelland is also the president of the Back Country Horsemen of East Tennessee. As of the end of last year the chapter had approximately 367 members that used the trails in the Cherokee National Forest.
   The nonmotorized trail proposals could be a glimpse into Carter County's future. "Because of the increasing demand for trails we felt it was time to take a look at what we have, whit is needed and where we would like to be in the future," said Candace Allen, Watauga District Ranger. "We had two workshops with a variety of trail users who were interested in hiking, biking, and horse use. These sessions were very productive and we learned quite a bit about current use and potential opportunities to enhance our trails."
   Allen plans to assess the projects to determine which are the most appropriate for the area. The projects could get under way within the next three years. Although the forest may be able to move forward with some of the proposals, others may take several years depending on funding available, environmental analysis, and workload priorities.