published Thursday, July 31st, 2014

John ‘Thunder’ Thornton finishes Jasper Highlands road, says development on-schedule

Thunder Enterprises built a new road allowing access to the Jasper Highlands subdivision atop Jasper Mountain in Marion County near Kimball, Tenn.
Thunder Enterprises built a new road allowing access to the Jasper Highlands subdivision atop Jasper Mountain in Marion County near Kimball, Tenn.
Photo by John Rawlston.
  • photo
    John "Thunder" Thornton is seen at Raulston Falls at the Jasper Highlands subdivision atop Jasper Mountain in Marion County near Kimball, Tenn.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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What: Jasper Highlands open house and sale day

When: Saturday, Aug. 2 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where: 210 Battlecreek Rd., Kimball, TN, 37380

Lot prices: Two-acre homesites for $29,900; three-acre bluff homesites for $99,900 and home and land packages starting at $235,000

KIMBALL, Tenn. — You can tell where the public road ends and John "Thunder" Thornton's Jasper Highlands road begins — four inches of asphalt on top of gravel and red clay, compacted under the knobby teeth of a sheepsfoot roller.

The former is sun-bleached and cracking. The latter is sleek and smooth.

"We're awfully proud of this road," Thornton said Wednesday.

The first phase of his 4,000-acre Jasper Mountain development is coming along. The first phase's 98 lots are completely sold and half of the 100 lots in the second phase of the gated community have been bought or are under contract. Houses are going up, rock-faced and rustic, here and there, at $250,000 a pop or more.

To get to the mountaintop paradise, Thornton had to build a $6 million road. The deep black road cutting up the mountain is only a 6-minute drive from Interstate 24.

Thornton loves the 23 miles of buildable mountain brow overlooking the Sequatchie Valley and Tennessee River Gorge that his Marion County development offers.

He loves that you can see probably four states from up here on a clear day.

He loves East Tennessee, his home.

And, dog gonnit, this road.

"We feel like it's the best mountain road in the region," said Dane Bradshaw, president of Thunder Enterprises.

Granted, Thornton didn't really want to pour four inches of asphalt. He says two inches on a solid, compacted base would have fine for neighborhood traffic.

But the Marion County government told him it had to be four inches, no exception.

So he did it, and paid for it himself: six miles of two-lane blacktop up the mountain, through dynamited ridges and all.

"At the end of the day, John did what he said he said he was going to do," said Bradshaw.

Because Thornton didn't want to be the next in a series of developers who made promises to Marion County residents then fell through on them.

Developers of the nearby Cumberlands at Sewanee and Rarity Club on Nickajack Lake both bankrupted during the Great Recession after selling some lots but not finishing all the roads in their respective developments.

"Marion County has had a tough time with developers here, just to be honest, and it's really unfortunate," said Thornton. "In business, you have to do what you say you're going to do."

As he cruised the new road on an unseasonably gorgeous late July afternoon Wednesday, Thornton stopped because a clear, plastic utility box lay unattended, out-of-place.

Thornton doesn't settle, says Jay Garrity, vice president of marketing for Jasper Highlands. And his attention to detail is uncanny.

Thornton determined the box must have been accidentally left behind by someone.

Of course, these days leading up to Saturday's open house are the days of the fine-tooth comb and white glove.

So far, sales at Jasper Highlands are right on track, if not better. Bradshaw thinks there will be upwards of 30 new homes under construction by the year's end.

But that's not an excuse to slack.

Bradshaw and Garrity on Thursday pointed out the guardrail going up along the Jasper Highlands entrance from Kimball.

A few days prior, Thornton had crews take up what they had installed and start over, because he said the guardrail was too close to the road.

But his demands mean the home buyers win, said Bradshaw.

A Life Force helipad. A laser-levelled soccer field. Tennis courts. A basketball court. Miles of walking trails, a dog park. Six- and seven-acre parks for Jasper Highlands residents perched on the prettiest overlooks, not for sale to any one person.

"You get all this," said Thornton.

It feels like he's left nothing to chance: the road maximized Jasper Highlands' marketability. So did the addition of city water service.

The parks maximize every resident's home value.

And Thornton hopes the extras maximize the return on his property and the 6-mile privately-funded road he just completed.

"This is 100 percent my nickels," he said, observing crews reinstalling the guardrail on Thursday.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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