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John "Thunder" Thornton, founder and owner of the high-end Jasper Highlands development in Jasper, Tenn., left, announces the formation of an all-volunteer fire department at his mountain-top community on Thursday, March 17, in Jasper. Thornton purchased three fire trucks for the department, which is made up of 14 volunteers from the community, including Thornton himself. Dane Bradshaw, Jasper Highlands president, is also pictured.
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John "Thunder" Thornton, founder and owner of the high-end Jasper Highlands development in Jasper, Tenn., left, announces the formation of an all-volunteer fire department at his mountain-top community on Thursday, March 17, in Jasper. Thornton purchased three fire trucks for the department, which is made up of 14 volunteers from the community, including Thornton himself. Dane Bradshaw, Jasper Highlands president, is also pictured.

Name the truck

› Jasper Highlands unveiled its new volunteer fire department on Thursday, and also announced a competition open to elementary school students in Marion, Sequatchie and Grundy counties to name the trucks.

› Submissions will be accepted through Wednesday, March 23, at www.livejasper.com/vote.

› Starting Thursday, March 24, the public is asked to vote on the submissions, and winners will be announced Wednesday, March 30.

› The first-place winner will receive $10,000 for his or her school. Second place will win $7,500 and third place will win $2,500.

› Winners will be invited to a picnic on Saturday, April 2, at Pat’s Summit pavilion at Jasper Highlands.

 

KIMBALL, Tenn. — These are John "Thunder" Thornton's nickels — in the $6 million mountain road leading up to the 9,000-acre Jasper Highlands residential development on top of Jasper Mountain. And in the water tank and residential lines serving the community.

And now, in the volunteer fire department formed to serve the mountaintop development.

Thornton and other Jasper Highlands officials on Thursday officially unveiled the new department, equipped with three used trucks — including one military-grade, University of Tennessee orange-and-white rig — and manned by 14 resident-volunteers, and Thornton himself.

"I didn't think I was going to be in volunteer firefighter training classes at the ripe old age of 62," Thornton joked on Thursday.

Forming a Jasper Highlands volunteer fire department was always in the community's development plan, but it was accelerated last fall after a car owned by a Jasper Highlands resident caught fire and burned, and no local fire agency showed up to help.

Prior to November, Thornton says he believed the Foster Falls Volunteer Fire Department would serve Jasper Highlands. Foster Falls officials said later they had voted months earlier to not serve Jasper Highlands with fire protection.

"We had fire protection, and then we found out we didn't have it, very abruptly," Thornton said on Thursday.

He estimated that all aspects of the development considered at this point, Jasper Highlands now represents an investment that's "in the tens of millions."

And that ultimately, "it'll be a billion dollars that will be invested here by the time this project is matured," Thornton said.

The developer said the project is currently profitable, despite all the private investment that's gone into it and the more expensive financing routes he's been forced to take because of the still-sheepish banking market.

Jasper Highlands does have critics. Some local Marion County residents believe Jasper Mountain should never have been developed. Thornton said 3,000 acres of the land he owns on the mountain will be forever set aside for conservation.

There are now 26 homes in the developed portions of Jasper Highlands, meanwhile, and 35 residents living on the mountain full-time.

In 2015, Thornton said Jasper Highland sold 200 lots, tripling its 2014 lot sales (66). He believes Jasper Highlands can sell 300 lots this year.

"It is consumer confidence," he said. "Not in the overall economy, but in our development."

And on the 300-lot goal, "I think we'd be happy with that."

New homes are going up now, and about 80 percent of new construction in the development is being handled by Thunder Development Inc. Thornton's construction company.

"The home division is something that's pretty new to us, but that made a lot of sense for us to do," said Dane Bradshaw, president of Thunder Enterprises.

Jasper Highlands officials are also building four new cabins near the entrance of the neighborhood on top of Jasper Mountain for potential buyers, to give them a place to stay while they're in town, and to provide the actual mountain experience at the same time.

A new Jasper Highlands sales and design office is scheduled to open within a month, just off Exit 152A in Kimball. The new office is four times the size of the existing building, off Battle Creek Road. The existing office will remain in place for Jasper Highlands use.

Also in the works are a small marketplace and a pedestrian swinging bridge near the top of the mountain at the entrance to the residential portion of the development.

Thornton said he and company officials will continue to chip away at developing Jasper Highlands for years, and he expects the community to grow for the next generation or more.

"People will be building homes here 30, 40 years from now," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

 

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