ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – On Thursday night, the Elizabethton City Council unanimously voted to retake possession of the lot at the end of Cherokee Park Drive along the Watauga River.
The land was sold to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) in 2009. The TWRA wanted to use the land to develop a fish hatchery to supply fish to state waterways.
However, the TWRA could not get state support to fund the project, so the land sat unused.
Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mains said the land could be a possible location for the whitewater project Surf Betsy.
“We’re not sure where that project is going at this time,” said Mains. “We continue to do engineering and design, work on it and do the research that’s needed for a whitewater park.”
City Councilman Mike Simerly says the city is looking at both the Doe River and Watauga River for locations for Surf Betsy.
“It’s basically like boulders and things in the river that will make a little white water, make the water a little bit more rougher so people can get out with their kayaks, have performances, have events,” said Simerly.
Simerly said this acquired land could be used for events along the river for Surf Betsy.
“We’re looking to have that as maybe like a seating area or like a little small mini park,” said Simerly. “And we’re looking to remove all the buildings that are down there, level that out, put seating in.”
He says the city is trying to work quickly on development.
“I understand maybe even July, August will have the ownership of the property and hopefully soon thereafter or sometime as quick as we can get funding to start work on the property,” said Simerly.
Mains said Surf Betsy will still take some time to get completed.
“We’re looking at probably several years,” said Mains. “It takes a lot to work with different state agencies, especially with a facility like this with a whitewater park. So, of course, we would be working with TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) then also TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) and some state agencies to make sure everything is good to go and we have the proper permits in place.”
Although the location is just a possibility for Surf Betsy, Simerly and Mains believe the development of the land will be a good boost for tourism in the region.
“We have a lot of whitewater rafting currently in the area, but Surf Betsy will just add to that and bring a lot of tourism into the area with that,” said Simerly.
“God’s given us some beautiful landscapes and rivers and streams, and we really want to take that and look at it and see how it can benefit not only our citizens, but then bring people in from outside of this region to enjoy everything we have here to offer,” said Mains.