KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)–Bays Mountain Park visitors could watch otters playing at the Kingsport nature park as soon as next year.

Tuesday, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen took the next step towards funding a brand new otter habitat and new animals.

The city began work on a planned improvement to the park in 2019, when Eastman offered $500,000, which the city would match, to build a new amphitheater at the park.

Photo: WJHL

After COVID delays, the city finally called for bids late last year. They got back estimates of over $2 million, leaving them with a nearly $1 million shortfall in the planned project budget.

Rather than abandoning the project entirely or raising more money, the city opted to build a new otter enclosure instead.

“Eastman agreed that there was no “otter” choice. We had to change, we had to go down the path and we’re going to get otters back at Bays Mountain,” Alderwoman Colette George told News Channel 11.

City leaders said the decision to build a new otter habitat, to replace the original enclosure built when the park opened in 1987, was made, in part, due to data about what visitors enjoy most at Bays Mountain.

“It really all pointed to investing in the animals, and specifically the otters, as well as the history we have at Bays Mountain Park with having otters from 1987 through 2019,” said Assistant City Manager Michael Borders.

The city’s last otter, Otto, died in 2019. Now they hope to have one to two more otters at Bays Mountain within the next 14 to 22 months.

Simultaneously the city is taking on a long-term study into how to improve the park.

The first step will be a topographical study, said Borders, which will help leaders decide where to build the new habitat.

“In doing this it’s going to open up some areas so we’ve got great opportunities to get some additional animals,” George added.

City officials said they’re also looking for community feedback to help them design the park improvement plan. The city launched a survey last week.

“We really encourage people to go out, be involved and let us know what you want to see at Bays Mountain Park and give us your feedback,” said Borders.