HARTFORD, Tenn. (WATE) – Cocke County will construct over 50 miles of mountain bike trails to help spur tourism in the area thanks to a $6 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

An official release said between 50-75 miles of mountain bike trails in Cherokee National Forest will help encourage more of the 12+ million annual visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to visit Cocke County.

“The great outdoors are one of Tennessee’s largest drivers of economic growth and draw millions of visitors every year. Thanks to this significant grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Cocke County will attract even more visitors and the economic activity they bring,” Governor Lee said. “I’m grateful to the ARC and to Senator Alexander for his leadership in securing this welcome investment for Tennessee.”

State and local leaders, including Gov. Bill Lee and outgoing Senator Lamar Alexander, gathered in Cocke County on Monday for the official announcement of the multi-million-dollar grant.

“This is a huge investment from ARC. Cocke County is one of the most economically distressed counties in Tennessee and this investment will help increase the tourism industry in Cocke County by bringing more of the 12 million visitors who come to Smokies each year and the 3 million visitors who come to the Cherokee National Forest each year to the area. This is a result of a three year effort to make better use of the Foothills Parkway right-of-way in Sevier and Cocke counties. The focus was about mountain bikes, and the best land for that in Cocke County turned out to be in the Cherokee National Forest instead of the Foothills Parkway. So, I’m thrilled about the 50-75 miles of new mountain bike trails in Cocke County in the Cherokee National Forest. I’m also glad we’re also moving ahead with mountain bike trails on the Foothills Parkway right-of-way in Sevier County. These new bike trails will help even more Tennesseans enjoy the outdoors.”

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

With Cocke County already home to both state and national forests as well as whitewater rafting attractions, local leaders are hopeful the grant will help bring a spotlight to the entire area.

“This project means so much to all of our citizens. It will literally change the face of the County and its economic picture,” said Lucas Graham, president of the Cocke County Partnership. “The potential of tourism activities associated with the success of this project is staggering. This will affect our economic outlook for decades to come. We believe in Cocke County and feel this is just the impetus we need to showcase all of our natural opportunities.

“We are very excited for this opportunity,” Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger said. “The tourism and economic possibilities this project presents for Cocke County are immeasurable.  We are very grateful to Senator Alexander, ARC and all those who have come together to help make this vision a reality.