Brimstone Recreation: A terrific opportunity
March 9, 2006
By BEN GARRETT
Independent Herald editor
HUNTSVILLE — Nearly every week for the past several months, a group of individuals dedicated to preserving local outdoors heritage have been meeting at the White Rock Baptist Church Fellowship Hall here.
Their vision is a privately-owned, privately-operated recreation area that will allow usage groups of all sorts — from hunters to hikers — access to the property.
Brimstone Recreation, LLC, was formed after a small group of individuals first began discussing the possibility of local access to the Brimstone mountains being lost. That possibility came about when the previous owners, Brimstone Land Company, sold the surface rights to all of its 45,000 acres to GMO, a corporation with land holdings across the United States.
Two-and-a-half years later, what has resulted from those discussions is a recreation area that could be the first of its kind in the U.S.
According to Mark Love, one of the individuals who spearheaded the effort, the 45,000-acre recreation area managed by Brimstone Recreation — which is equal to one-sixth of the total land mass of Scott County — will be the third-largest such recreation area in the country. The only such recreation area east of the Mississippi River that compares is the largely popular Windrock, situated along the same chain of Cumberland Mountains in Roane County. The next-largest recreation area east of the Mississippi — a 4,600-acre recreation area in Florida — pales in comparison.
On Monday evening, some 35 people gathered at White Rock Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, where the committees formed to govern recreation on the Brimstone Recreation-managed property have been meeting since December. Some were committee members — a 10-person committee has been formed to govern ATV regulations on the property, while another 10-person committee has been formed to govern hunting regulations on the property — while others were outdoorsmen and women from the community interested in hearing Brimstone Recreation’s plans for the future of the Brimstone mountains.
“The interest has been remarkable,” Love said. “Every week, there is someone new here. We appreciate the enthusiasm we see each and every Monday night. It makes me really proud to be from Scott County.”
While Brimstone Recreation’s initial emphasis on the property is ATV riding and hunting, the property will eventually serve a wide range of outdoors recreation uses, with horseback riding, mountain climbing, hiking and birdwatching being among those mentioned at Monday’s meeting.
The goal of the effort, Love said, is to benefit the community.
“It’s tremendous how many job opportunities this will bring into the area,” he said. “Whether it’s restaurants, renting ATVs, from all different aspects it is going to be a tremendous impact.”
As the recreation area prepares to begin operations — ATV permits will begin to be sold on March 15 at Brimstone Recreation’s office on Baker Highway — Love said local outdoors-oriented residents will see the biggest benefit.
“Had we not taken over this property, it would’ve been subleased,” he said. “There’s a tremendous interest from people outside the community who want to sublease this property. Just look at Gobey (in Morgan County). In six-to-nine months it would have been out of our control. By doing this, it can be beneficial to the community.
“Our intentions are to preserve the land,” he added, “so that we can enjoy it for generations to come. We have a real opportunity here to make it work.”
Love said that the need for such a recreation area is especially crucial, given the impact that the loss of land to subleases is having across the country.
“With what’s happening, there is less and less land available to hunt, fish and ride,” he said. “Part of that is the leasing of land that started out in West Tennessee and is coming this way. It’s a big thing throughout the United States. Forty-five thousand acres in the state of Tennessee . . . that represents a very big opportunity for us.”
Mayfield Brown, who heads up Brimstone Recreation’s ATV committee, broke down the fee structure that will be used for ATV riding on the property. All riders, regardless of whether they’re in a truck or other vehicle or on an ATV, will be required to purchase a permit. The cost will be $10 per year for adults who reside in Scott County, and $5 per year for youth aged 17 and under who live in Scott County. For all out-of-county residents, the permit cost will be $50 per year. Out-of-county weekly permits will be $25, while out-of-county daily permits will be $15.
ATVs will be limited to marked trails, Brown said. Though there is no final estimate on how many miles of trails will be available on the 45,000 acres, Larry Crowley, who is helping map the trails, said that some 120 miles of trails have currently been identified, “and we’re nowhere close to half.”
The future of hunting on the property isn’t clear, but for the immediate future, the property will be open for turkey hunting this spring — the season begins on April 1 — on a permit basis.
According to Tony Williams, who heads up Brimstone Recreation’s hunting committee, permits to hunt the property during turkey season will cost $25 for adults who live in Scott County and $2 for youth who live in Scott County. Permits for out-of-county hunters will be $50.
By June, the future of hunting on the property will be more definite. While Love said there has been interest both in conducting hunting by permit, as turkey season will be done, there has also been tremendous interest in leasing the property. The final decision, he said, will rest with the hunting committee, and so far their vote has been to lease the property.
Were that to become reality in June, according to Williams, the property would be leased in tracts ranging from 800 acres to 1,200 acres, with Scott County residents having first option on the leases.
“We’ll lease it out to residents until we run out of property to lease or run out of people to lease to,” he said.
Small game hunters — including coon hunters — would then be able to hunt the property with the permission of the lease holders and a $25 small game permit.
Regardless of which direction hunting on the property takes, Love said the goal is to preserve and enhance the property for wildlife.
“We have a partnership program that will be put together with TVA by taking their right-of-ways where we can and putting in food plots.”
A similar program in Georgia, Love said, has resulted in several thousand acres of food plots.
“With a lot of the things going on with private property, whether it is logging or whatever, there’s less and less for wildlife to eat,” Love said. “This will certainly help us with the wildlife.”
Love added that a shooting range is also a possibility for the property, saying that “a large gun manufacturer” has expressed interest in helping to fund a range.
“There are plenty of opportunities for us to build off the foundation that we’ve started,” he said.
Love said that Brimstone Recreation will work closely with GMO and the forestry team that manages the property’s forests for GMO.
“They’re good people and they’re interested in what we’re doing with the property,” he said. He added that clear-cutting will continue, albeit on a less-aggressive basis.
“Hopefully, they’ll see enough of an interest in what we’re doing and enough of a success in what we’re doing that they’ll eventually take note that recreation is a very important part, and a viable resource for generating cash flows and suddenly they’ll see it as more of a primary than a secondary,” he said.
Love said that Brimstone Recreation’s plan will face some adjustments before it is perfected.
“By no means is this a perfect plan,” he said. “It will be adjusted based on what doesn’t work.”
But, he said, the bottom line is preserving the land and recreation opportunities.
“We’re doing this for the community,” he said. “For so many years, the land was deep-mined or strip-mined . . . there has always been something taken away. What we want to do is make it better than what it is today.”
More information on Brimstone Recreation can be found on the organization’s Website, brimstonerecreation.com. Permits for ATV riding and turkey hunting can be purchased at the organization’s office, located at the old Texaco building on Baker Highway in Huntsville.
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