Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rocky Fork to become Tennessee’s 55th state park

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today joined members of the General Assembly, local elected officials and members of the community for a special ceremony announcing the future conveyance of more than 2,000 acres in the Rocky Fork area of Unicoi County, that will eventually become Tennessee’s 55th state park.

The property is part of the 10,000-acre tract acquired by The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service in 2008, and will be conveyed to the state of Tennessee in the coming months.

“Today’s announcement at Rocky Fork comes on the heels of a multi-year effort led by a coalition of both public and private partners,” Haslam said. “I want to extend my congratulations to the citizens of Northeast Tennessee who rallied in support to preserve this beautiful property and to personally thank both Sen. Alexander and The Conservation Fund for their ongoing efforts, passion and commitment to conserve this remarkable 10,000-acre tract, a part of which will eventually be home to Tennessee’s newest state park.”

Located along the Appalachian Trail corridor and the Tennessee-North Carolina border near Asheville, Rocky Fork is named after the cool waters that run down its center. The property is adjacent to more than 22,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service-designated wilderness, including Sampson and Bald mountains. Before Rocky Fork’s acquisition by The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service, it was one of the largest unprotected tracts in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The future development of Tennessee’s 55th state park has been made possible through the leadership of Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and through the very generous support of The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service. Federal funding for the Rocky Fork land acquisition was made possible through the extraordinary efforts of Sen. Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee Congressional Delegation to secure support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and through significant private contributions totaling more than $4 million. Other key partners include TWRA, Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Unicoi and Greene counties, and the Upper East Tennessee Region.

The entire Rocky Fork wilderness area provides a wide range of world-class recreational opportunities, including hiking the popular Appalachian Trail, fishing more than 16 miles of blue-ribbon trout streams, and hunting bear, turkey, deer and grouse. The area is also home to both state and federally endangered species, including the Peregrine falcon.

The 2,000 acres to be conveyed by The Conservation fund offer a low-impact, financially feasible proposal for a new state park, which would also serve as a catalyst for economic activity in Unicoi County and surrounding areas. While discussions are under way regarding the proposed park’s development, budgeting and appropriations will first need to be reviewed and approved by Gov. Haslam and Tennessee’s General Assembly. However, preliminary plans for this “park in progress” include an access road, ranger station, primitive campground, picnic areas and trails, in addition to interpretive efforts to share the historic Revolutionary War-era battles site.

Hiking in the Smokies

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