Mark Love is oh so comfortable in his personal boardroom. No drop-down white boards to be found. The window shades don’t automatically adjust, and the chairs just might be a little muddy.
But Love has plenty of room in his boardroom, which covers more than 20,000 acres in the Appalachia region of eastern Tennessee. Even better, Love prefers to keep his boardroom open to off-road aficionados of all types, from ATV and side-by-side riders to bird watchers and hunters. If you love the outdoors, you’ll love Love’s boardroom, known as Brimstone Recreation, LLC, which manages and operates the 300-mile OHV trail system that winds through the lookouts of the Cumberland Mountains in Huntsville, Tenn. Love serves as founder and president of Brimstone.
Just a short drive from Knoxville, Brimstone and eastern Tennessee are billing the area as adventure tourism mecca. Over Memorial Day weekend, Brimstone Recreation attracted tens of thousands of riders and visitors to the town of 1,000 for its White Knuckle Event that brings in a host of country music stars to perform for the off-road riders. Dirt Wheels magazine calls it the “Woodstock of ATVs.” Polaris brought its Camp RZR — already a hit in places such as Glamis and Dubai — to Brimstone last year, and will be back again for a Sept. 18-19 event that features country artist Jake Owen. And it’s a jewel of a location for OEMs to launch their off-road vehicles. Yamaha granted select media members a chance to ride the thrilling trails of Brimstone as part of the OEM’s 2016 Wolverine R-Spec debut earlier this year. Yamaha also serves as a year-round Brimstone sponsor and partner.
Brimstone’s appeal had me seeking out Love, whom I stopped — after a couple of helpings of some of the best BBQ I had eaten since growing up in Georgia — following the aforementioned exhilarating 2016 Wolverine R-Spec drive.
“Adventure tourism is a big part of what we do here. With the exodus of manufacturing from the rural areas, what do you have to offer? It’s really just the backwoods and nature. That’s the economic development opportunity for rural America — having places for people to come and visit as a destination and provide something different.”
The terrain provides opportunities for riders and outdoor lovers all types. Love often gets inquiries from visitors about the impressive mountainous landscape.
“They’ll ask if it’s the [Great Smoky Mountains National Park]. No, that’s southeast of here, but it’s our version of the Smokys.”
Riders can traverse the 300 miles of trails that lead to places like Round Mountain, Griffy Mountain, Sheep Rock Mountain and Joe Dyer Mountain. Trails have familiar difficulty ratings, allowing for technical climbs over rocks and creeks to everyday trail riding.
“Just like a river meanders a little bit, we tend to meander with our trails to create new experiences out there,” Love said. “We see a particular element in an area that we want to accentuate, and we just go out on foot to scope it out and look at it. Sometimes we’ll take a quad out and run it through the woods just looking, and we’ll build the trail by hand. Then the great experience is to build one, and turn around, run the trail and name it. All our trails are named with a reason. For instance, what’s the best way to describe what we just built? And ‘Rebel Yell’ is it.
“We also use the local history to name some of the trails, like homesteads or families that had homestead in an area. There’s a lot of culture out there. We do have some people that do some rides out in the property that talk about old times and the history of it, for a cultural expedition. One of the families had a two-room house back in the mountains, and one of the rooms was for the family, and the other room was for the ox, because the ox made the living for the family.”
Fortunately for the off-road community, the 20,000 acres of land — privately owned in an investment fund — remains available to ride for a nominal fee ($22 for a one-day permit for adults; $88 annually).
“I grew up here and rode the mountains ever since I was about 12 or 13 years old,” Love recalled. “The private properties were open for a number of years. But it’s just been within the past 10 years or so that we’ve seen more of a no trespassing-type situation, primarily because of the large landowners. They took their land out of the public sector, and it became private, and they leased it. There were less and less places to ride or recreate because of the parcelization of the large land tracts in Tennessee, and the Southeast in particular.”
Love, then, figured he was onto something when he put his vision into action.
“Basically we saw an opportunity to take it to a fee-based riding area, where we can actually take the revenue stream and utilize it to build trails and make it so that people can enjoy the outdoors, whether you want a challenging experience or just a viewscape experience.”
Love has had several successful business ventures, including a stint as owner of a single-line Honda dealership in nearby La Follette, Tenn. In the early 2000s, a family business that began in 1976 with a “JCPenney drill press” was sold to a Fortune 500 company shortly before 9/11 in 2001. Yes, manufacturing those wood reels that the wire, cable and hose industries rely on created some serious bank. Love also once owned a camouflage company and a hydrographics business, as well as an additional wood company.
But since opening Brimstone Recreation to trail riders in 2005, Love has found an ideal business setting.
“I had a vision once when I was looking through a magazine. It showed a boardroom with suits and ties in an outdoor setting in a mountain range, and I had this vision that I always wanted to do something with the outdoors.”
And if you ever make it to Brimstone, bring your fishing gear. The bridge over the New River on the property there is known for its smallmouth, walleye, and yes, trophy musky.
Dave McMahon is editor in chief of Powersports Business. Contact him at 763/383-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.