John "Thunder" Thornton talks about expansion of Jasper Highlands in Marion County.
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John "Thunder" Thornton oversees the phase three property now being cleared for development at Jasper Highlands.

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One of Tennessee's biggest mountaintop residential communities is adding another 250 home sites this fall and will add a cafe, general store and community park next year.

Jasper Highlands, the 9,000-acre development taking shape atop Jasper Mountain in Marion County, is growing to 700 platted lots with the opening of the third phase of the development this month. With 40 homes already built or nearly finished and a dozen more homes starting to be built, developer John "Thunder" Thornton said he also is planning some more amenities to the top of the Cumberland Plateau in the next year to bring modern conveniences and recreation closer to those living in the gated community.

"We're creating a full-service community on Jasper Mountain with the installation of our own water system, roadways, volunteer fire department and high-speed fiber internet, and now we're offering a range of family-friendly conveniences that will enhance our residents' way of life that much more," Thornton said.

Although Thornton has plotted out less than half of the mountaintop lots he hopes to eventually develop at Jasper Highlands, the development has already attracted home buyers from 37 states. Once fully developed, the mountain near Kimball, Tenn., should house more than $500 million worth of homes built along and around 21 miles of bluff-top properties.

"Marion County, Tenn., is becoming a hotbed retirement destination," said Dane Bradshaw, president of Thunder Enterprises.

Thornton, a Chattanooga developer who has previously built high-end residential developments in Wyoming, Hawaii, Utah and other parts of East Tennessee, bought most of Jasper Mountain more than a decade ago when the land was used for logging by Bowater and others.

To access the mountain and provide utility service to those who move there, Thornton's company has had to take on many of the functions normally done by local governments or utilities in order to bring services up the 2,000-foot-high mountain.

Over the past five years, Thornton has invested millions to build new roads, establish a volunteer fire department, drill wells and install water tanks for water service and extend fiber optic lines to bring high-speed broadband to Jasper Highlands. As a result, there are not visible wires or telephone poles, and residents have access to gigabit-per-second internet service not available even in most major cities in the United States.

To entice more people to visit and enjoy the growing community, Thornton has built three rental cottages near the entrance of the gated community, which he will begin renting out this month.

"If we can get people to come and experience what we are developing here, then we can usually get them to buy because we have such a fabulous location," Thornton said.

Work also has begun on a 6-acre community park on top of the mountain in what Thornton calls Inspiration Park. The new park will eventually include a swimming pool, rock climbing park, dog park, pickleball courts and a giant 3-story gazebo.

Just outside the entrance to Jasper Highlands, The Village is planned with an 8,000-square-foot wellness center, a bakery and cafe and a general store.

Thornton plans to connect one of the community parks on the mountain at Pat's Summit to The Village with a new pedestrian bridge built over the entrance road. Jasper Highlands already includes 50 miles of trails, which are being developed for both bikes and walking by outdoor enthusiast Cody Averbeck.

"The next set of improvements are focused on the amenities and lifestyle front," Bradshaw said. "People are beginning to move in to our development and we want to meet the needs of those living here and those who come and visit them, especially many of the grandchildren of the residents here."

At its new office in Kimball at the foot of the mountain, Thunder Enterprises employs 45 workers who continue to develop lots, trails and other amenities in the development, along with a homebuilding and design business that is planning and building most of the homes now being built in Jasper Highlands.

The new lots being added to the development this month are priced from $59,900 for interior lots up to $199,900 for brow lots. In the already developed portions of Jasper Highlands, some prime lots along the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River are priced from $399,900 up to $500,000.

Thornton said those who bought into the project early have enjoyed property appreciation averaging more than 20 percent a year.

"It's really enticing for people to move here from across the country to enjoy these spectacular views, the four-season climate and the lower cost of living we have here compared to where many of our buyers are coming from," Thornton said. "On a comparable-priced home on the mountain, property taxes are typically only one-sixth of what our buyers were used to paying where they live now."

The minimum home size is 1,450 square feet for a single-story home and 1,850 for a two-story home. Other homes are as large as 9,100 square feet. Homeowner association dues are $300 a year.

Jasper Highlands already has boosted residential building permits in Marion County by 30 percent, although most of those who have bought lots so far have yet to start building their homes on the property. Thornton says most are buying now as they approach retirement and plan to build later.

Thornton said tax information released by Marion County shows more than $250,000 of annual property taxes already can be attributed to Jasper Highlands.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.