Photo By Rick Harris
Chris Schuettler, Former State Representative Ralph Cole, County Mayor Dale Fair along with other state and county officials break ground on the new county park in Roan Mountain.

Land devastated by flood to be used as county's first park

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   An area which was once devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Carter County will soon become the home of the county's first community park.
   A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday afternoon in Roan Mountain near the intersection of U.S. Highway 19E and Highway 91 for what will become the Roan Mountain Community Park.
   The land which was purchased by the county for the creation of the park was part of the land in the Roan Mountain community which was decimated in January 1998 with heavy flooding. The flood ravaged Carter County, especially the Roan Mountain community, and caused more than $20 million in damage and claimed the lives of seven county residents.
   The flood of 1998 hit Carter County with little warning, riding in on the back of a blizzard that left the county vulnerable. Unseasonably warm temperatures melted snow and ice from the blizzard in Roan Mountain. The melted snow then coupled with steady rain, causing the Watauga and Doe rivers to rise and water levels to reach as high as 5 feet in some portions of the county.
   "A little over five years ago there was a disaster here in our county and this community took the brunt of it," County Mayor Dale Fair told those in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony. "There were a lot of losses -- losses of property and losses of life. Those losses can never be recovered but hopefully we can put a silver lining on this disaster."
   Plans for the new park include picnic sheds, a community flower garden, a baseball/softball field and a walking trail, part of which will front the Doe River.
   Creation of the park and purchase of the 15-acre tract of land it will sit on was made possible by a grant from the state, according to County Planning Manager Chris Schuettler. The grant, which was for $177,500, was a park and recreation grant through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
   Several residents of Roan Mountain turned out for the afternoon groundbreaking and stated their pleasure that construction of the park was finally beginning.
   "This right here has been a long time in the making," said R.L. Miller, a lifetime Roan Mountain resident and former county commissioner. "Most people don't know how much time and effort has gone into it, but it's finally here now."
   Miller and another community resident and former county commissioner, Ralph Watson, both saw their property damaged during the flood. According to Miller, he was fortunate in that some of his business property sustained some damage, but Watson lost his home to the flood.
   Watson's former residence was located near where the ball field for the planned park will make its home. "Everything down through here was destroyed," Watson said as he surveyed the land which will be home to the park and recalled how homes which had been located there were destroyed.
   According to Fair, construction will begin immediately on the park and some of the labor will be provided by inmate crews from the Northeast Correctional Center and the Carter County Jail.