The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of two designations in Appalachia, was the country’s most-visited National Park in 2020. The Smokies’ 12.1 million visitors more than tripled the #2 most-visited destination, Yellowstone National Park. Though surrounding communities like Sevierville benefit greatly from this natural asset, one of the park’s three counties, Cocke, is still considered economically distressed. In fact, the county lacks recreational trails despite its proximity to one of the country’s top outdoor destinations. To help the county expand its outdoor recreation capacity, ARC is partnering with the state of Tennessee to launch the Green Mountain Biking Trail Construction Project.
For the first phase of the project, Cocke County Partnership is using ARC support to conduct market analysis, generate a design concept, solicit community input, complete an environmental review, precisely map the trail, and train locals in Cocke County for the development of a 50-75 mile recreational bike trail. To adequately plan construction, Cocke County Partnership has built several important relationships with the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the International Mountain Biking Association, city and county governments, and many others. They also made sure to connect this project with the area’s small businesses, exploring how trail construction would also benefit the area’s entrepreneurs and existing economy.
In 2021, construction of the bike trail officially began in the Hartford area of Cocke County. Plans developed during the first phase are helping project administrators utilize the most cost-effective and beneficial methods for completing the trail. Once completed, the trail will target hiking and biking enthusiasts and are expected to attract 200,000 more visitors to the area. The project is expected to create 200 jobs and an additional $30 million in tourism revenue – a big boost for nearby shops, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and more. This will be critically important for Cocke County, as the local economy and employment of many residents (who travel to nearby Sevierville for work) have felt the downturn in tourism during COVID-19.
Helping communities leverage their natural and cultural assets is one of ARC’s five current investment priorities. This economic development strategy is critical given Cocke County’s prime location in the Smoky Mountains and proximity to tourism centers like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The Green Mountain Biking Trail will soon be a destination in its own right, offering adventure and generating opportunity for this community.