Handicap-accessible fishing pier coming to Elizabethton residents

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency broke ground Sunday on a new project in Elizabethton, bringing a handicap-accessible fishing pier to local residents along the Watauga River.

Jay McClellan of the TWRA’s engineering division in Nashville said the project has been in the works for about two and a half years.

“We are excited,” McClellan said. “Everything has been in place for about two or three months.”

The fishing pier will stand off Blevins Road, just off Elizabethton Highway. Part of the pier’s unique set of challenges is making sure everything about the ramp is ADA-compliant.

“It has a unique design,” he said.

In order to be compliant, the ramp leading up to the pier cannot slope more than five degrees and cannot bend more than two degrees to either side.

“If the entrance is more than 30 feet away, you have to have a resting area,” McClellan said.

This means the ramp has to turn at 90-degree angles with a flat square for people to rest the wheelchair on.

Another challenge comes from the handrail TWRA has to install. If they cannot get the pier under 30 inches above the ground, they have to install roughly 34 inch-high handrails, the bottom of which need to be roughly 25 inches above the ground.

This is a challenge, he said, because the bottom of the river is not a constant depth.

“The river floods every year,” McClellan said. “There are times where the platform will be underwater, and there will be times where the platform is far away from the river.”

He said attempting to correct this is virtually impossible, though they are designing the platform so that it can be raised in case it ends up being too low to the ground.

The project has received mostly positive response from the local residents, but Jim McGee said not enough attention is being paid to the road next to the pier.

“You cannot pass two vehicles on that road,” McGee said.

He also said he is concerned about the lack of parking at the future pier, currently a boat ramp, saying it currently forces people to park on the grass on a typical weekend. Adding another attraction like this without resolving that issue will escalate the problem.

The current blueprints have a three-inch “bump” on the floor of the pier to keep wheelchairs from falling off into the river in addition to the handrail. McGee said that should be at least 18 inches.

McClellan said he needs to do more research into what ADA regulations say before giving out more details about that aspect of the design.

The project itself has no official completion date, though McClellan said they should get it done in a timely manner.

“We hope to be done with the original design in about six weeks,” he said.

He said they will notify the community when they will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the project’s completion.

Those looking for more information can contact McClellan at 615-781-6546.

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