Construction begins on The Christmas Train project at Doe River Gorge
Published 10:02 am Thursday, July 27, 2023
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BY ROBERT SORRELL
It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas at Doe River Gorge Ministries as the organization begins construction on The Christmas Train, a $5.8 million project that is expected to make a major economic and spiritual impact on the region.
The temperature may have been in the 80s on Wednesday morning, but officials in Hampton were discussing the cooler weather expected at the end of 2024 when the new train is expected to be operational.
Doe River Gorge Ministries plans to construct a nearly 2-mile-long train ride that will take visitors through the camp and share the “true story” of Christmas.
When completed, visitors from around the region and the country are expected to visit The Christmas Train from late November to Christmas each year. The campus of Doe River Gorge will be transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland to provide a spectacular night for families, according to a Doe River Gorge Ministries news release.
“With festive Christmas decorations, warm campfires, amazing food, singing carolers and various shops and attractions, there will never be a dull moment,” officials said in the news release.
Terry Maughon, president of Doe River Gorge Ministries, spoke about the project Wednesday and said camp officials have been working on ideas to bring in additional revenue during the off season. Officials learned about a Christmas train in Oklahoma and went to learn more about the project, which attracts about 60,000 people a year.
“We were mesmerized by our experience,” Maughon said. “We decided to put a Christmas train at Doe River Gorge.”
The organization has worked on the project over the past decade. A steam locomotive was purchased in 2014 and its renovations began.
In 2018, Doe River Gorge Ministries was presented with an opportunity to purchase the assets of The Dry Gulch Christmas Train for a fraction of its value. The organization purchased two steam locomotives, 11 passenger coaches, 1.7 miles of track, 43 artistically painted storyboards, 40 decorated Christmas trees, 210 decorated Christmas wreaths, .25 mile of decorated garland and more than 1,000 costumes.
Maughon said it took 57 tractor-trailer loads to haul the items to Hampton.
Doe River Gorge Ministries has also been raising funds for the project. The goal is to raise a total of $5.85 million. About $2 million is still needed, officials said Wednesday.
Local developer Mitch Cox of Mitch Cox Companies has donated $1 million for the project and surprised officials Wednesday, noting that he will match any additional donations up to $500,000.
“What an exciting project!” Cox said when announcing his plans to donate additional funds.
Neil Poland of Mullican Flooring said The Christmas Train will spread the truth of the gospel while also establishing a treasured family tradition in the region.
“We were moved by how the project is multi-faceted,” said Poland, referring to the project’s impact on the community, both economically and spiritually.
Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby said the project will have a significant economic impact on Carter County, along with ongoing projects on the nearby Tweetsie Trail and the Hampton Watershed Trails.
Maughon said the project is the largest single expansion in the nearly 30-year history of Doe River Gorge Ministries.
The excavation of the railroad track is being managed by Baker’s Construction and Excavation Company, and equipment for the construction is being donated by Chuck Meade at Meade Tractor, according to a Doe River Gorge Ministries news release.
For more information, visit doerivergorge.com/Christmas-train or call 423-725-4010.