The airpark has an equestrian center with Paso Fino horses for residents to ride on 200 miles of horse trails lacing the Big South Fork Recreational Area.
Big South Fork Airpark (BSFA) in Onieda, Tenn., hosted P&P during our recent field evaluations of a trio of candidate aircraft for the title of Best Residential Airpark Airplane (RAA): the twin-engine Piper Seneca V [March 2013], Daher-Socata’s turboprop single TBM 850 Elite, and Tecnam’s P2010 light-sport aircraft. Of course, labeling an airplane or airpark as ideal is a subjective judgment, given the range of needs people have for both habitation and transportation. Fortunately, with more than 625 runway-anchored communities listed on the registry of the Living With Your Plane organization and a variety of aircraft well suited to almost any GA pilot’s mission, there are no shortage of choices in either department.
BSFA, which began selling lots in 2008, has several attributes that many pilots and homeowners would likely agree put it in the ideal category. It borders the Big South Fork National Recreation Area, a 125,000-acre playground atop the scenic Cumberland Plateau. The 450-acre airpark’s home sites are large and richly forested, ensuring privacy, and residents enjoy through-the-fence access to Scott County Municipal Airport’s (KSCX) 5,500-foot runway, repair station and some of the lowest avgas prices in the region.
“Our vision has always been in developing an environment where you can come and relax in the wilderness, enjoy the nature and outdoor activities, have access to the world-class airport we have, and not feel like you’re living in an airpark,” said Bill “B.A.” Armstrong, one of the developers.
Some three-dozen current and future homeowners have bought into the vision thus far. “Demographic-wise, I like to call them ‘soon to be retired,'” said Armstrong. “They’re in their mid-to-late 50s, and they’re putting the dream together now—buying the land, putting away for a home. They’re not retired yet, but they like to use their homes on the weekend while they slowly transition into full retirement.”
Over the course of a week at BSFA, we got to meet several property owners, soliciting their expert opinion on both airpark living and RAAs. Meeting them wasn’t hard. Residents are friendly and sociable, and we were ensconced in the baronial welcome center, a large timber home that serves as the community’s social center. Residents and prospective property buyers come and go throughout the day, and at night, they gather around a roaring fire in the large outdoor fireplace to chat and swap stories. Moreover, we were there during the weekend of the Scott County Airport’s annual air show, an event that draws property owners from far and wide. Keith Petrie flew down with Becky Burris in his Beechcraft Bonanza from Sioux City, Iowa.
|The 450-acre airpark borders 125,000 acres of the Big South Fork National Recreation Area. Most home sites are set on hillsides and built with wood, stone and other natural materials. More than 30 homeowners have purchased lots, which begin at $90,000.|
“I had been researching airparks for a couple of years,” Petrie told me. He was looking for a location somewhere between Tennessee and Georgia, “where I could get to in my airplane on one tank of fuel.” He also wanted to avoid being near a large city with Class B or Class C airspace. BSFA “had everything I was looking for,” the fast-food franchise owner said. “Oneida had a movie theater, a McDonald’s and a Wal-Mart, and quite honestly, at my age that’s all I need.”
Jeff Laughrey, a software consultant from Hixon, Tenn., hadn’t planned on buying a home site when he first flew down with his 10-year-old daughter Alex to experience one of BSFA’s Adventure Weekends. “I came just to do the fun four-wheeling thing and look at the property, and I said, ‘This place is cool, these people are cool, and I’ve got an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something. I asked what kind of deal they could offer, and they threw out a number that I thought was reasonable.” (Lots start at about $90,000.)
The land BSFA occupies is part of a vast tract long owned by the Swain family, who has used it for logging and timbering, previously donating some of it for the airport’s expansion. In 2006, eager to develop a portion of the land for housing—but concerned about its desirability given its proximity to the airport—they approached Armstrong and partners Gary Gallagher and Tom Donald, who they knew were passionate about aviation. “We know a lot of airplane people who would love to live near an airport,” Armstrong and his partners told the Swains. The following year, the developers designed the property and began installing roads and utilities, and they began selling lots in ’08. Thus far, about $7 to $8 million has been spent on the infrastructure, Armstrong estimates. Among those who have since come to check out the development: the FAA. BSFA was one of the locations the agency inspected before approving grandfathered through-the-fence airport access arrangements for residential airparks.
An interesting fillip: Because of the rolling topography, few hangar home sites are available; most lots are set on hillsides and airplanes are kept in a row of hangars just outside the airport gate, an arrangement many property owners seem to prefer. There’s currently one long row of hangars, now housing an eclectic fleet ranging from a J-3 Cub and experimental Velocity to Piper Matrix and a King Air C-90.
“I never was one to want an airplane sitting next to my house all the time,” said Lamar Parker, an ob-gyn, from Winston-Salem, N.C. He and his wife Marilyn fly in regularly in their twin-engine Cessna 414. “I can walk to my house from (the) hangar,” Parker said.
Becky Burris, considering the aesthetics of airpark homes, noted, “It’s kind of hard to blend a big hangar to the house.”
BSFA’s houses are big but not ostentatious, and very well constructed, built of wood, stone and other natural materials. Buyers are free to choose the contractor to build their homes, but so far, the majority of property owners have chosen the BSFA team to handle construction.
Airplanes are kept in a row of hangars just outside the airport gate.
Cliff and Krystal Morris of Orange County, Calif., had come in that weekend in part to discuss construction plans with Armstrong and his partners. “We’ve got to sit down and talk about what we can get it built for,” said Krystal.
The couple had been looking to leave California for years, but a residential airpark wasn’t necessarily part of the plans, said Cliff, who plans to rebuild a Mooney 201 he owns once they’re established here. “Sitting around one evening, I think it was an AOPA email that had a Big South Fork Airpark spread. I said, ‘Look, this is beautiful!’ She said, ‘Yeah, it is—let’s look into it.'”
“We came out here and met some of the other owners, and saw the beauty of the place, and then the airport here is much more capable than most places you find in an airpark setting,” Krystal said.
While all the owners are bound by their passion for aviation, once here, they all seem to develop—or perhaps merely cultivate—a love of hiking, four-wheeling, fishing and horseback riding in the national recreational area next door. BSFA has an equestrian center with Paso Fino horses, noted for their fine, steady gait, available for to residents ride. They simply call the barn, and saddled horses are brought to their home for a ride on some of the 200 miles of horse trails lacing the Big South Fork Recreational Area. They also can use the facility’s competition-size arena to practice for equestrian events.
“Jean really enjoys the horses,” said Fred Huppert, a Liberty XL owner from Worcester, Ohio, of his wife. One of several BSFA property owners relatively new to aviation, Huppert earned his license at age 55. But the Hupperts don’t simply enjoy the wilderness here. They’ve toured Knoxville, went to an Irish Festival in Crossville, they take in community theater in the area and look forward to exploring Civil War battlefields. “In a short time, we’ll be retiring and spending more time down here, visiting more of the state,” said Huppert.
Not that one has to go into the recreation area to experience wilderness, as I found after encountering a bear lumbering along the side of the gravel road after taking a wrong turn one afternoon, or coming upon a family of deer crossing the road as I headed to the hangars one morning.
Meanwhile, BSFA hosts events for aviation groups to give them a chance to enjoy the area. The Mooniacs from Atlanta’s Peachtree DeKalb Airport recently visited, and the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tenn., organized a fly-out to BSFA during their annual October Fly In. The airpark also arranges monthly activities for property owners, such as group motorcycle rides, four-wheeler excursions and a tennis tournament.
Could residential airpark living be the lifestyle for you? If you’re not sure, why not find out. Many such communities are happy to host visitors interested in learning more about the property. “We encourage people to come and experience our beautiful surroundings,” said Armstrong. “Let us provide a place in the Welcome Center. All you have to do is say, ‘Can we spend the night?'”
As for that ideal RAA, we’re still trying to make our minds up, and eager to put more aircraft to the test. If you have any candidates to suggest, we know just the place to put the airplane through its paces. Visit www.bsfairpark.com for more information.