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Couple Turns Rundown Site into Top Horse Park

April 4, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

A scene at Timber Ridge Horse Campground

Two years ago, in what can only be described as a leap of faith, Lee and Denise Stevens bought the Timber Ridge Horse Campground in Tennessee.

The location could hardly have been better. The campground, barns, and corrals sat at the doorstep of the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, one of the most equestrian-friendly national parks in the U.S., the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported

But the place was a mess. A tree had fallen on the office, the buildings were in disrepair and the lawn had not been mowed in months. The Stevenses went to a local bank that had repossessed the campground and applied for a loan. In a classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” their request was approved.

“We signed the papers and looked at each other and said, ‘Now what do we do?’ ” recalled Lee.

As evidence of the campground’s turnaround, look no farther than an online poll conducted last year by HorseTrailDirectory.com that rated the facility the top horse campground in the U.S. for 2010.

Immediately after purchasing Timber Ridge Horse Campground, Lee and Denise went to work. They closed on the property in late March, and their goal was to open on April 1 so they could begin making payments on their loan. Fortunately, they had a little help from their friends.

Timber Ridge Horse Campground is located off Darrow Ridge Road, which hugs the southwest border of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, about eight miles east of Jamestown, Tenn. Nearby is Ridgetop Acres, an equestrian community whose residents turned out in force to help the Stevenses overhaul their new investment.

“We had 15 men and eight women show up out of the blue,” Lee said. “They worked all day, and that night we had a cookout. It’s nice to know there’re still people in communities that will help you out of the goodness of their heart.”

Timber Ridge Horse Campground features 25 sites with electricity and water, as well as cabin rentals, two barns and turnout corrals. The campground has access to 25 miles of private trails, and just across the road is the Big South Fork, a multiple-use recreation area. Of the park’s 400 miles of developed trails, more than 200 miles are open to horseback riders, and about 180 miles of trail are reserved for hikers.

Last summer a coalition of volunteers including the Timber Ridge Horse Campground, local landowners, The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation and the Gernt family of Fentress County pitched in to build a new section of horse trail inside the Big South Fork. The trail – called the Darrow Ridge Horse Trail – roughly parallels Darrow Ridge Road. At three miles long, it links to the Darrow Ridge Multiple Use Trail and the O&W Trail and provides improved equestrian access to the interior of the park.

The National Park Service marked the route and set construction guidelines for proper drainage, but the labor and much of the funding came from volunteers.

Timber Ridge Horse Campground attracts trail riders from as far off as Canada and New Mexico. The nearest neighbors are a quarter-mile away, and at night, campers fall asleep to the call of coyotes and whip-poor-wills.

“I never owned a campground before in my life, and I’m not even much of a horseback rider,” Lee said. “The important thing in this business is to be friendly and go the extra mile to treat people right.

“We’ve made more friends in the two years we’ve had this campground than we made in the last 20 years.”

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