It’s time for Kingsport to develop its assets

Editorial Board • May 2, 2019 at 1:37 PM

Kingsport’s major assets are its history and that it boasts one of the nation’s largest city-owned parks. Each offers significant economic return, yet neither has been developed to its full potential.

It is well past time to set a path forward for development.

Significant historical sites abound in this region, but none more so than the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail, which began at Long Island of the Holston in Kingsport, near the site of the Netherland Inn, the nation’s only registered historical site which was both a stagecoach stop and a boatyard. Boone and his group of ax men met on Long Island March 10, 1775, to blaze the trail through 200 miles of Virginia wilderness and the Cumberland Gap.

With the Netherland Inn, Exchange Place and other historical assets, Kingsport could be the hub where visitors stay as they explore the rich history to be found in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. It would be a boon to the city and the region, potentially drawing in thousands of tourists.

A starting point for this process might be a regional historical museum in the area of the Netherland Inn focusing on the Wilderness Road.

Bays Mountain Park has been beckoning residents to an experience not available in many of the nation’s larger cities for just shy of 50 years. In all that time, the park has changed little from the initial design, which included a nature center and planetarium, animal habitats, and other outdoor experiences such as miles of trails.

The city has continued to make improvements and spent millions of dollars on upgrades, including recently expanding parking. About 200,000 people visit the park annually, and that’s a revenue stream that could be greatly expanded by taking the park from a passthrough to a destination experience. Even spending an entire day at Bays Mountain requires bringing a lunch.

Imagine the park with an expanded nature center — perhaps even a zoo — with worldclass exhibits, anchored by a classic log cabin lodge and suites and associated outdoor amenities.

There are 3,600 acres of property included in Bays Mountain Park, but very little of it has been developed to expand the park’s potential. Most of the park remains in a natural, forested condition, and frankly it should by and large remain in such a state. But the footprint has plenty of room for modest development that could mean serious income for the park itself as well as the city of Kingsport through visitor revenue.

A new strategic master plan for Bays Mountain Park would be time well spent.

The park — and the city’s historical potential — should be explored for not only the hard income to be realized, but also the soft dollars that would benefit the entire region.

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