Roan Mountain park wants to improve cabins, finish horseback riding, bike trails

Published 8:14 am Thursday, December 4, 2014

Photo by Abby Morris-Frye Ranger Jacob Young, park manager for Roan Mountain State Park, at left, speaks to Gerri and Bob Melton at a public hearing held Monday for the park’s proposed business and management plan.

Photo by Abby Morris-Frye
Ranger Jacob Young, park manager for Roan Mountain State Park, at left, speaks to Gerri and Bob Melton at a public hearing held Monday for the park’s proposed business and management plan.

To build on success, Roan Mountain State Park is looking to the future.
State Parks officials presented the business and management plan for Roan Mountain State Park at a public hearing Monday at the park’s conference center.
“We’ve got a great park, we’ve got great facilities and we’ve got a great staff, but there is always room for improvement,” Park Manager Ranger Jacob Young said.
The business and management plan allows park officials to look at ways to improve park programs, services and facilities while also looking at ways to operate more efficiently and increase revenue, Young said.
Three major projects Young said he would like to see completed in the near future are completion of the park’s aviary exhibit, finishing the equestrian trail at the Miller Farmstead and completing much-needed work to preserve the historic farmstead.
“One of the first projects is at the farmstead,” Young said. “It is too close to the ground, and it’s drawing in moisture.”
The house at the farmstead needs to be raised and the foundation improved, he said. The Miller Farmstead was added to the National Registry of Historic Places this year, and Young said that will help the park in obtaining funding to preserve the site.
Site work has been done for the aviary, so construction can begin on that project.
“That is a big draw for the park,” Young said. “Kids love it and schools love it, and it is a great interpretive opportunity for the park as well.
“We’re hoping to complete that soon. We are waiting on the weather.”
Horseback riding is a popular activity, Young said, and the park hopes to take advantage of that by providing the trail. Park officials have been working with the state on the trail project for about a year. When completed, the trail will lead riders from the Miller Farmstead through part of the park before connecting to existing trails on U.S. Forestry Service land.
The state park experienced growth this year and would like to continue that trend, Young said.
“This past year, we came up about 20 percent in visitation and revenues,” he said.
During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the park recorded 591,460 visitors. For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, that number climbed to 775,164.
Park staff’s other recommendations:
• Improve cabins, replacing lighting with more energy-efficient fixtures and bulbs;
• Complete a bicycle trail;
• Replace HVAC units with newer, more energy-efficient ones;
• Buy new furniture for the cabins;
• Create vacation packages to attract visitors;
• Convert a vacant ranger residence and the old restaurant into group lodges; and
• Make better use of social media to advertise park activities and services.
As the park contemplates changes, one park visitor advised officials to “be careful” in how they change the park to make sure they are not doing away with the very thing that draws in visitors.
Gerri Melton of Ashland City said she and her husband, Bob, regularly visit Roan Mountain State Park, driving six hours from their hometown west of Nashville.
“We’ve been coming here for over 15 years,” she said. “This is one of the best state parks, and we visit a lot of them.”
Part of the park’s charm is its rustic facilities, Melton said, cautioning against changing the cabins too much and losing that part of the park’s draw.
When looking at ways to increase park revenue, park officials should carefully consider the potential impact of rasing rates for the cabins and camping, Melton said. Other state parks saw revenues drop after raising rates because the number of rentals declined, she said.
“People can’t come if they can’t afford it,” she said. “They out-priced themselves for the common, everyday person.”
Roan Mountain resident Jo Buchanan praised the park and its staff for the “respectful” and “kind” ways they support the local community. A member of the Roan Mountain Citizen’s Club, Buchanan said the club works alongside the state park in many ways to help improve the community.
One such joint effort, Buchanan said, is the Junior Ranger Program, which the park holds every summer. As junior rangers, children learn a variety of wilderness skills, including shelter building, fire starting and how to identify edible and medicinal plants.
“My recommendation is we support Roan Mountain by supporting Roan Mountain State Park, because it is such an integral part of our community,” she said.

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