"The Land and Water Conservation Fund protects special places that people want to visit, like the Skagit River here in Washington. We make a living helping people experience these places. And visitors benefit local economies. I support full funding for the LWCF for the sake of rural communities, the tourists they draw and the nature around them."

- Rod Amundson
Owner,
Wildwater River Tours, Inc.

 
 

 

 

Knoxvillenews.com 

Unicoi acquisition celebrated as state's newest park

Haslam: Many helped effort succeed

By Morgan Simmons

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Tennessee state parks, and the year-long celebration is going out with a bang.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander joined members of the General Assembly and elected officials from Unicoi County to celebrate the future conveyance of more than 2,000 acres in the Rocky Fork tract as Tennessee's 55th state park.

Located approximately 30 miles from Johnson City in northeastern Tennessee, the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork tract has for years ranked at the top of the U.S. Forest Service's priorities for land acquisition. Thanks to a campaign led by The Conservation Fund, the U.S. Forest Service recently was able to purchase 8,000 acres of Rocky Fork to be managed as national forest, leaving 2,000 acres to eventually become Tennessee's newest state park.

Rocky Fork is surrounded by national forest and contains a section of the Appalachian Trail. Throughout much of its history the property was privately owned but leased for public hunting by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The Conservation Fund became involved in 2007 after the property owners began marketing the land for ridgetop development.

The overall project cost approximately $40 million. Of that, $30 million came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that draws revenue from offshore drilling, while the state of Tennessee committed $6 million from the state's Heritage Conservation Trust Fund. An additional $4 million came from private contributors.

Haslam said it took a sustained and cooperative effort from private citizens, conservation organizations and government agencies to make Rocky Fork a reality.

"Ten thousand acres cost a lot of money," Haslam said. "Land is no longer cheap just because it's rural and undeveloped. The value of property like this has gone up, and it takes the loyal support of a lot of people to make these projects come together."

The 2,000 acres to be conveyed by The Conservation Fund would be developed as a low-impact, financially feasible state park that would help boost economic activity in Unicoi County, where over half the land base is in national forest and out of the county's tax base. Preliminarily, plans for the "park in progress" include an access road, ranger station, primitive campground, picnic area, and trails, state officials said.

Partners in the deal include TWRA, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Unicoi and Greene counties, and the Upper East Tennessee Region.

Rocky Fork protects more than 16 miles of blue-ribbon trout streams and is a popular hunting area for black bear, turkey, deer and grouse. The area also is home to both state and federally endangered species, including the peregrine falcon.

"If you like the Smokies, you'll like Rocky Fork," Alexander said. "And like the Smokies, I believe it will have real economic value. Gov. Haslam's decision to create a new state park is an important step. It's one thing to acquire land; it's another to turn it into something people will love."