The Union County commission is looking at how to preserve the past while still serving drivers in a very rural area

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Imagine living by a body of water and having only one convenient way of crossing it-- by ferry boat. Now, this rare ride is in need of repairs.

The Helms Ferry is in a rural part of Sharps Chapel in Union County. It connects an isolated community on one side of Norris Lake with the rest of the county.

Now county leaders are looking at how to preserve what could be East Tennessee's only ferry boat. Before they budget for upgrades, commissioners say they want to make sure the ferry is still needed.

This isn't the first ferry Norris Lake has used.

"The other one is right out there in the lake," said Union County resident Dean Stiner.

To prevent another sunken ship, the county is looking to clean up. One of the areas of concern is the area where the boat meets the ramp. They want to add concrete, but that alone could cost around $20,000.

Another big area of concern is the boat itself.

"The tugboat needs a bottom on it. It's getting so rusty that what little I know about it, it's got holes in it," said Stiner.

Donald Sharp has manned the helm of Helms Ferry since 2001. He has to shut it down occasionally because of its condition and sometimes even because of the weather.

"If it gets real bad and windy, you can't drive it. Like yesterday, I had to shut down," said Sharp.

Debra Brown lives across the lake from her parents and she's their caregiver. If the ferry wasn't there, it would take her another hour to get to them.

"Whatever people can do to help keep it running with the upkeep and maintenance it would definitely help the whole area. Especially the people on the other side who have to come over here for court. That's a long journey," said Brown.

It's a short trip and an important ride for Union County neighbors. For now it will run, but the future could bring a new look to the piece of Union County history.

Union County road superintendent David Cox brought this up in front of the county commission at their last meeting. He is bringing quotes for the cement ramps, hoping to get the ball rolling on that. Cox expects the fixes to the tug boat to take much longer.

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