(WBIR - Fentress County) If you're searching for somewhere to make it through any number of doomsday scenarios, some prominent members of the survivalist "prepper" movement say look no further than right here in East Tennessee.
That sentiment has preppers flocking to Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau for property. Country Places realty says it has received so many calls from preppers, the company is now specifically marketing much of its Plateau property to those who are preparing for the worst.
"It's very noticeable how many calls we get and how many people we're showing land on a daily basis," said Don Busby, general manager of Country Places. "A few years ago, at that time I never heard of a 'prepper' or the 'doomsday movement.' But over the last year there is a much greater intensity. I get the calls daily from people all over the United States who are looking for land. Usually, a minute or two into the call it is pretty obvious that they have a prepper mentality. They've got to have a place that is safe where they can grow food, raise animals, and have things stockpiled."
As for what the preppers are afraid of, Busby says the concerns span a wide variety of apocalyptic topics.
"Some people are pretty cautious when they call, but others will come right out and tell you their fears. They'll tell you they are worried about an economic collapse or they're worried about a time when there's no electricity or not being able to get food. You have people who are afraid of nuclear attacks. Others are concerned about ENPs, the devices that destroy electricity. A lot of people say they're worried if the government collapses, they don't want to be in the city because that's where there will be a shortage of food and you'll have angry mobs," said Busby.
As for why preppers are setting their sights on Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau, one contributing factor is a book by a survivalist author who declares the area a prime piece of real estate to survive a societal meltdown. In the book Strategic Relocation, author Joel M. Skousen states, "I consider the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau the 'redoubt of the East,' and it is my highest rated area for retreats near the East Coast."
But why the Plateau? Basically, the prepper rationale is that when a natural disaster, a government collapse, the zombie apocalypse, or any other number of doomsday scenarios hits, the highly populated cities on the East Coast will fall into disarray. The Appalachian Mountains act as a buffer between the East Coast and the Plateau. Those refugees who make it over the Appalachians will prefer the Valley of East Tennessee rather than making another steep 1,000 foot climb to the top of the Plateau where there is less civilization and it is more difficult to grow food. The Plateau is also ideal because it has physical barriers between it and Oak Ridge, which would be a nuclear target during war.
Whether you believe this scenario is plausible or you think preppers are a bunch of psychologically damaged extremists, the impact on the real estate market in the Plateau is very real.
"Customers have specifically said, 'We understand the Cumberland Plateau is supposed to be one of the safest places. What kind of land have you got in that area?' We get those calls all the time," said Busby. "You know, rural and secluded locations with dead end roads back in a hollow. People like that seclusion and privacy," said Busby. And a lot of preppers are buying land just as a weekend getaway, but also want a place for the 'what if.' Then we've got other folks who want to be entirely 'off the grid' immediately. There's a whole range of people."
Country Places has started equipping much of its property for sale with large steel shipping containers that can be used for safe storage or shelter during a disaster.
"These containers have very heavy doors. You can bury it and have an underground bunker. You can convert it into an apartment. It can be your safety deposit box in the woods. It sure would be a nice place to weather a storm or an angry mob that might be coming to take your stuff," said Busby.
Country Places says another reason it is suddenly swamped with survivalists is the company provides its own financing. Those who fear an economic collapse may not been keen on utilizing a traditional bank.
"Our niche being the owner finance part of it definitely appeals to that crowd," said Busby. "We've even went to conventions, prepper and survivalist conventions, and kind of displayed our land and what we're doing."
The owner of Country Places says preppers are a relatively recent phenomenon, but the selling points are very much the same as other customers during the company's 30-year existence.
"People like the thought of having a place of their own to get away. People like being self-sufficient and being able to make it on their own and live off the land. That is something that appeals to a lot of people," said owner Brian Nelson. "I don't think there's anything negative about being a 'prepper' and being prepared for bad times. If bad times ever come, the people who own a little dirt are going to be in a lot better situation than someone who just lives in a condo and doesn't know how to operate anything except an iPhone."