ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL)- Leaders in Elizabethton and Carter County are capitalizing on the region’s beauty to make it a destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

You just can’t go out and buy a river,” said Mike Mains, the Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Elizabethton. “Those projects mean a lot to local communities because it’s just a revenue draw to our area as far as tourism dollars go.”

Walking, hiking, biking, rafting– their plans also include plenty to please the local community, too. So, the county and city are capitalizing on their natural resources.

“We are competing for folks to stay here and live here and in a world where a lot of folks can really work from wherever they choose- you can have everything you’re looking for,” said Daniel Estes, the City Manager for Elizabethton. “So, if you want the outdoor recreation amenities, we’re going to offer that and have that community quality of life that you may not have in a major city somewhere else.”

Right now the Doe and Watauga rivers are undergoing an engineering study for the anticipated ‘Surf Betsy’ project.

“The idea is to build some outdoor water features in the river so those who want to kayak or boat can enjoy an interesting location to get out and play in the river,” said Estes. “The city has done a phase one- really engineering review to try and get some preliminary cost estimates and to cast that vision for what it would look like.”

The study is moving into phase two, which will hopefully firm up the location, costs and timeline.

Speaking of water– that’s actually how the Hampton Bike Trail came to be when the City of Elizabethton purchased the watershed there.

“The city purchased it to protect a spring where we produce water but since the mountainside was there we were able to make that an additional venue for outdoor mountain biking,” Estes explained.

Right now– about 6 miles of single-track trails are developed for the 11-mile plan. It’s a city-county partnership with the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. It’s set to undergo two more phases of enhancements- adding single-track trails and a pump track.

“We already have those things in place and how we develop recreational play along those can be a great contribution from an economic standpoint to your city,” Mains said.

The trail currently ends near the State Line Drive-In but the old railroad cuts through miles of additional terrain.

A four-mile extension along a rugged section of the Doe River would take people past the site of the original Valley Forge through an old tunnel into Hampton.

“In due time we would love to recreate the forge and have that there as just maybe a little destination with a picnic table because it’s right on the river, said Carter Co. Mayor, Patty Woodby. “It’s gorgeous. I mean that is a hidden gem back in there. It is absolutely beautiful.”

The Tweetsie Trail is set to be extended several more miles in Carter County, especially if a $1.7 million budget request is granted by the Governor.

“Getting this trail up and running would be a huge economic investment for Carter County,” Woodby said. “You’re going to have people commute in, spend money, enjoy our streams our rivers, and our lakes and also enjoy riding the trail whether it be coming from Johnson City all the way into Carter County.”

The investments are already showing a benefit.

“We saw tourism bring over $50 million to Carter County in 2021 and we’ve seen that grow every year,” said Luke Freeman, the Director of Tourism for the Elizabethton/Carter Co. Chamber of Commerce. “I think we saw people from 30 different states here in our visitors’ center last year. We also see people just from around the region- Virginia and North Carolina coming for day trips to enjoy everything that carter co. has to offer.”

And if it’s fishing you enjoy, Elizabethton and Carter County have you covered too.

Watauga Lake has fishing legend Bill Dance’s stamp of approval and the Watauga River is nationally known for its trophy rainbow and brown trout fishing.

Another fun fact from the outdoors file – Wilbur Dam was one of the first major hydroelectric projects in Tennessee and remains one of the oldest dams in the TVA system. It’s located three miles downstream of the Watauga Dam.