US Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest say a four year effort with The Conservation Fund to protect the Rocky Fork property is complete with the recent purchase of nearly 1,200 acres of the tract. Click here for map.
For years a broad-based coalition of local, state and federal leaders worked together to save Rocky Fork. They did this because of the property’s natural resources, economic values and importance to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
In December 2008 The Conservation Fund purchased 7,476 acres of the nearly 10,000 acre tract, while the Forest Service acquired another 2,237 acres. Since that time the Forest Service has acquired a total of 7,677 acres with more than $30 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal land protection program that receives funds from the development of federally-owned offshore oil and gas resources. $5 million of those LWCF funds was appropriated by Congress in Fiscal Year 2012 for this final acquisition, and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, through Walmart’s 2012 Acres for America program, also enabled the completion of this phase. The remaining 2,036 acres are protected with previous state and private funds and will be held by The Conservation Fund. The total cost of the Rocky Fork property was $40 million.
The Rocky Fork property is located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border in Unicoi and Greene counties. Rocky Fork, named after the cool waters of the creek that runs down its center, lies within Cherokee National Forest and abuts Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, creating a vast unfragmented haven for wildlife and protecting water quality for neighboring communities. Rocky Fork’s many resources provide a range of unique recreational opportunities – hiking the popular Appalachian Trail; camping in a secluded mountain area; fishing the more than 16 miles of pristine blue-ribbon trout streams; and hunting game animals such as turkey, deer and grouse. These recreational activities have been attracting visitors from across the country for generations, bringing revenue to the local economy.
Unaka District Ranger, Terry Bowerman said, “This final Forest Service acquisition is huge, not only in the number of acres, but in potential economic impacts. It will also help conserve and protect many outstanding natural and scenic resources. This is truly a dream come true for many people. Thanks to the foresight and support of a host of public - private partners and local, state and federal elected officials, such as Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Bob Corker, and U.S. Representative Phil Roe, public ownership of Rocky Fork is a reality.”
“Tennesseans are enthusiastic protectors of the great outdoors, and I am pleased that the efforts at Rocky Fork will preserve this remarkable place for future generations,” said Senator Lamar Alexander.
“You can tell that Rocky Fork is a special place because of the unwavering dedication and determination of so many individuals and groups to preserve its natural heritage,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee state representative for The Conservation Fund. “We are especially grateful for the support of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, who have been instrumental throughout this landscape-scale conservation effort.”
Rocky Fork is home to an array of rare wildlife such as the peregrine falcon, eastern hellbender and the Yonahlossee salamander. At least 10 species of greatest conservation need have been recorded on the property. Rocky Fork is part of the Unicoi Bear Reserve and contains prime bear breeding habitat. “Conserving Rocky Fork also protects the water quality in neighboring communities,” said Ranger Bowerman. “We will continue to manage this area in an appropriate manner to maintain its natural character.”
Economic development is important to counties containing National Forest System land. Ranger Bowerman explained that, “We recognize the importance of providing economic opportunities to the counties. In Unicoi County alone the Forest Service has recently done a number of things to help, including: Reconstructed, for adaptive use, the Pinnacle Fire Tower as a public observation site; Constructed a trail from Unicoi County property, near I-26, to the Pinnacle tower; Rehabilitated the Buffalo Mountain ATV Trail; Improved the parking area at Limestone Cove; Converted the trail at Limestone Cove from hiking only to hiking and horseback riding; Made improvements at Limestone Cove day use area; Rehabilitated part of the Unaka Mountain Overlook. All of these improvements, especially the Pinnacle Lookout Tower and trail have been well received and are enhancing local economies.”