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Adventure tourism committee holds first meeting

HUNTSVILLE, Tenn. — The newly-appointed Scott County Adventure Tourism Committee held its first meeting Monday afternoon at the Scott County Mayor's Office to begin preliminary steps towards proposing an adventure tourism district or districts within Scott County.

Under the Adventure Tourism & Rural Development Act of 2011, adventure tourism zones can be established to give municipal and/or county governments more control over state regulations and to encourage new tourism-related businesses and job growth through tax incentives, while also taking advantage of the Tennessee Department of Tourism's networking and promotion arm to help promote tourism opportunities locally.

Authored by state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, the Adventure Tourism Act was written partially with Scott County in mind. With the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area and the 145,000-acre North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area falling partially into Scott County, along with privately-owned recreation areas, Scott County is becoming a mecca for many types of adventure-based tourism, including ATV riding, mountain biking, horseback riding, whitewater paddling and more.

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development (ECD) handed down guidance to local governments interested in establishing adventure tourism districts, opening the door for the creation of such districts.

In response, Mayor Jeff Tibbals — with approval from county commissioners — formed a 9-person adventure tourism committee to consider the state's requirements and Scott County's adventure tourism zones before ultimately making recommendations back to Scott County Commission.

The state has imposed an April 15 deadline for adventure tourism district applications. Local governments missing that deadline must wait until April 15, 2015, to be considered. Mayor Tibbals has petitioned the state for an extension until June 30, calling the 6-week window between the issuance of application guidance and the application deadline too short a timeframe to meet the state's requirements.

At Monday's meeting, ECD representative Gary Human met with the tourism committee to answer questions and offer advice. Mr. Human recommended starting small in an effort to meet this year's deadline and add to it next year.

Ultimately, Scott County plans to consider the areas surrounding and adjacent to the North Cumberland WMA and privately-owned Brimstone Recreation (ATV riding), those adjacent to the Big South Fork NRRA (many types of adventure tourism), West Oneida (road biking, BSF support) and east of Winfield for adventure tourism districts.

Mayor Tibbals pointed out at Monday's meeting that adventure tourism was not just about ATVs or about allowing ATVs to drive on any street in Scott County. The list of adventure tourism activities under the state's definition is lengthy, the mayor added, and encompasses many forms of recreation available in Scott County, especially in the Big South Fork.

The adventure tourism committee, which will meet weekly through the April 15 deadline and regularly thereafter, includes representation from county government, major tourism businesses, the Scott County Chamber of Commerce and the Big South Fork NRRA.

Committee members include Mayor Tibbals, Chamber of Commerce executive director Stacey Kidd, Chamber of Commerce tourism committee president Brandon Hughett, Brimstone Recreation's Erika Schmelter, Trails End Campground's Marla Howard, Cabins of Elk Run owner Cheryl Cribbet, Winfield alderman Melvin King, Big South Fork NRRA superintendent Nikki Nicholas, and Ben Garrett.

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