Parking enforcement near Dennis Cove Trailhead fails to pass Commission

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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A measure seeking to install no parking signs along a road leading to a popular hiking trail failed to pass the Carter County Commission Monday evening as some members expressed concerns with the possible negative impact on tourism.
A resolution to prohibit parking on Dennis Cove Road in the vicinity of the Dennis Cove Road Trailhead was brought before the full Commission by recommendation of the group’s Highway Committee.
During the Highway Committee’s August meeting, Keith Kelley and Alice Cohen with the U.S. Forestry Service asked the committee to place no parking signs in the area. After studying the request, the Committee voted to approve the placing of the signs and asked the matter be presented to the full Commission by a resolution.
The resolution states the Committee determined that vehicles parking on the side of Dennis Cove Road in the area of the trailhead “poses a danger to the citizens and unduly interferes with the free movement of traffic in that vicinity.” The resolution would have granted authority to the Highway Department to post the no parking signs and also give the Carter County Sheriff’s Office the responsibility of enforcing the no parking designation.
When the resolution came before the Commission on Monday, it was not as well received as the proposal had been in committee.
Several members of the Commission spoke against the resolution fearing it would hinder efforts underway to promote and increase tourism to the area. Without places to park, many feared potential tourists would simply drive away and leave the area. Some pointed fingers at the U.S. Forestry Service for not having adequate parking for the recreation area and for trying to limit access by limiting parking availability.
Commissioner Randall Jenkins, whose district includes the Dennis Cove area, noted there was once an open area that had been used for overflow parking but was since closed off by the U.S. Forestry Service.
“They spent $10,000, probably more, putting up a really nice fence to block off a parking area,” Jenkins said.
Putting up signs would cost the county money not only for the installation of the signs by also for enforcement of the no parking regulation, Jenkins told his fellow commissioners.
“It’s a waste of time and a waste of county money if you ask me,” Jenkins said.
Commissioner John Lewis also voiced his opposition to the resolution.
“I’m opposed to this because it’s in my district and I talk to a lot of people,” Lewis said. “The Forest Service is trying to get us in the middle of this. If they want to do the citizens wrong they ought to do it and not drag us into it.”
Commissioner Charles VonCannon said the matter is really an issue of insufficient parking for those wishing to hike the trails and take advantage of the recreation opportunities.
“People park there and then they hike down to the falls,” VonCannon said. According to VonCannon, the same insufficient parking issue exists at the other end of the trail with the parking area just off of Highway 321 in Hampton.
Commissioner Mike Hill, who serves as Chairman of the Highway Committee, defended the resolution saying it’s about more than simply a tourism and recreation issue.
“This is to protect the residents in that area from encroachment by the tourists,” Hill said, adding cars are being parked along the sides of roads and in some cases on private property.
Hill explained to his fellow commissioners that the area which Jenkins referenced the Forestry Service fencing off had drainage issues and had been deemed unsuitable for parking.
“There are also certain regulations the Forestry Service has to follow to maintain that area as a Wilderness Experience,” Hill said.
Commissioner Isaiah Grindstaff asked his colleagues to look at the matter from another perspective.
“It’s dangerous to park on the side of the road,” Grindstaff said. “I urge you to keep in mind the safety issue. This might save someone’s life.”
Some commissioners asked to have the Forestry Service present their request to the full Commission so they can better understand the matter while others suggested working with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe to get the parking matter sorted out.
Following the debate on resolution, the matter ultimately failed on a vote of 6-17 with VonCannon abstaining from the vote.

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