Public park development soon to be a reality for mountain hamlet

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A multi-use public park planned for Roan Mountain will begin to take shape later this fall.
   The park will be located on property purchased by the county two years ago as part of the flood buyout program Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
   "It will be developed as a diversified type of park," said Chris Schuettler, county director of Planning and chairman of the county Parks and Recreation Committee. "We will hopefully start breaking ground for construction in October."
   When completed, the public park will have extensive walking trails, two picnic areas, a baseball field, a swinging bridge over the Doe River, a horseshoe pit, and fishing facilities.
   The property will also include a helicopter pad accessible for Wings and other air rescue and emergency units.
   The county received funding for the park's development through the state Local Park and Recreation (LPR) grant program, said Schuettler.
   "This was the fourth grant we had sent in and I'm very happy we got it," said Schuettler.
   The county purchased 23 parcels of private property located in the flood plain area of Roan Mountain in 2000 through FEMA. Most property owners who decided to sell had witnessed flood waters damage or destroy their property in the 1998 county flood.
   The property allotted for the park extends south of Highway 19E behind Carter Street and the Roan Mountain Post Office. The property stretches southeast to Highway 143 near the entrance to Roan Mountain State Park.
   The property purchased by the county totals in size approximately 37 acres, said Watson.
   As a publicly-owned development, the park's amenities will be free and open to the entire county.
   First District county commissioners Wayne Holtsclaw, R.L. Miller, and Ralph Watson representing the Roan Mountain area saw the project's genesis grow from an idea two years ago to the planning stages.
   Roan Mountain citizens submitted their ideas to the park's development before the grant application was submitted. The grant money must be spent on the FEMA specifications outlined in the park development plan.
   "To the best of our knowledge, everything that was incorporated into this park that was brought up at those meetings," said Miller.
   The LPR grant provided $175,000 from the state and requires a level of matching funds from the county that have been fulfilled by the county, said Miller.
   "We have one year to spend the grant money," said Watson. "This is one of the best things that has happened in Roan Mountain in quite a while."
   "The county commission, Sheriff (John) Henson and David A. Sexton of the Carter County Work Camp made major contributions to make this happen," said Schuettler. "Rep. (Ralph) Cole also really prodded this along in Nashville for us."
   Schuettler and the commissioners also credited the Roan Mountain Recreation Foundation for bringing together community residents and supporting the project.
   Citizens who wish to use the park to hold events or gatherings may reserve their events through the county parks and recreation subcommittee, said Miller.
   "The T-ball field is 90 percent compete," he said. "That was done with local donations and local work."
   Miller added the park property would have water service provided by the Roan Mountain utility district.
   The new park will be the only such major recreation site in the Roan Mountain area. The public park's recreation and gathering opportunities could also provide a much-needed boost to the community's economy.
   "This is a park for everyone in the county," said Miller.
   Roan Mountain bore a major brunt of the 1998 flood as dozens of families in the community saw their homes destroyed or badly damaged. While the bad memories of that tragic night in January will always remain, the public park will be the second new development in the community in the past two years.
   The new Cloudland Elementary School was completed last year, bringing the community's students back to a state-of-the-art school. For Schuettler and the First District's commissioners, the park's ultimate completion will represent the fruits of the community's labor and a long process of securing government support.
   "It is a needed service for the community," said Schuettler. "What better way to utilize flood plain property than with a park and recreation?"