The new Watoga River boat ramp opens “lightly” on Thursday. | local news

ELIZABESON – A new boat ramp on the Watoga River opened under Chief Sergeant Jefferson Donald Davis’ bridge Thursday morning and many fishermen were using the completely new facility.

The new ramp was proposed four years ago when members of the IDEA group attended in front of Elizabethton City Council. Chris Little talked about the idea during that meeting. He was accompanied by Danny Ward and Karen Hitchcock.

It took four years for the idea to become a reality, and required a great deal of coordination among local, state and federal organizations, but Little said the combined effort was better than his group imagined.

His first request was to the City Council, but as the idea came to light, Little also submitted the idea to the Carter County Commission and the Carter County Highway Administration to pave the ramp. It was also necessary to get the state involved, because the land under the bridge, which carries Tennessee Route 400, is owned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Little said he traveled to Knoxville to discuss the idea with TDOT. He was accompanied by Carter County Commissioner Robert Ackoff, Elizabethton City Councilor Kim Birchfield and Elizabeth Parks, and Recreation Director Mike Mains.

When they arrived at the TDOT office, Little said he was surprised that the TDOT invited representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to join the meeting. Both agencies will become very useful in continuing the project, but in making it even better than originally envisioned.

TDOT secured the project by agreeing to lease the property under the bridge to the city of Elizabethton for $1. TDOT will also grade the land and haul 400 tons of rock, lay a riprap around the shore and put an attractive rock boundary between the parking lot and Lovers Lane, which provides cliff access. TDOT also transported asphalt for paving works. The Carter County Highway Administration cleared the area. Few said that if a commercial company had done the project, the job might have been done with 3 inches of asphalt. Instead, the Highway Administration paved it with 5 inches of asphalt. The efforts of TDOT and CCHD made it a much better project than the original request.

Subscribe to Johnson City Press today!

The most important stories, delivered straight to your inbox.

TWRA was happy to promote trout fishing in Watauga. Little said the agency provided engineering and manpower for the project.

Donations to start the project came from Trout Unlimited’s Overmountain Branch, Modern Wooden Insurance, and the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce. More money was needed when it was decided that a larger parking lot was needed to accommodate vehicles with boat trailers. This problem was resolved when the Tennessee Valley Authority stepped in with a large donation from a $45,000 grant to the project. The management of Elizabethton Parks and Recreation is committed to preserving the land.

With the ramp opening, Little said the property will once again provide easy access to the Watoga River. While this was important for local entertainment, he said, it also encourages the growth of an important economic asset to the community. He said there are about 25 to 30 boats in Watoga every day, seven days a week, where fishing guides take two people from neighboring countries to catch trout. He said that this economic activity amounts to about $25,000 to $30,000 per day. He said customers pay about $550 a day to fish in Watoga. Little said the trout guide makes sure that the caught trout are released without any harm to the fish. In addition to the money spent on guides, these tourists often stay at Bee Cliff or Meredith Cabins and usually start each day by buying food and drinks at the grocery store. Many will end their day dining at a Carter County diner. They also pay for a 3-day out-of-state fishing license, which costs $40 and a trout seal $15. Many will end their trip by buying souvenirs from the area.

Sure, easier access to the river could encourage more fishing. Another way to encourage more fishing, Little said, is to get unique sections of the Watoga River, one for the upstream section below Wilbur Dam, then another day fishing in the lower sections. One way to encourage fishing in the lower section is to ensure that plans for the new Smalling Bridge include a ramp to provide access to a quality trout fishing area. Little said TWRA has special regulations for this area, which prohibit possession of any bait or food. This makes the bottom a natural gap, Little said, encouraging extra days in the river.

Little hope that the project will be done. After all, he has a proven track record of success when it comes to downhills. He first promoted slope construction at Rat Branch in Lake Watauga as well as Green Bridge Landing on the River Doe in Hampton.

Try the Johnson City Press app today. Download here from Google Play and the App Store.

Recommended videos

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: