SBY KEN LITTLE
The Tennessee Conservation Fund (TCF) should formally convey a property that is part of a 10,000-acre land tract that will become Rocky Fork park to the state by late winter or early spring, a state spokeswoman said Wednesday.
"In terms of where things stand now, the land survey is complete, and the title work that goes along with the pending conveyance is under review by the Department of General Services.
"Once the final deed is approved by the Attorney General's office, a closing date will be set, and the property will officially transfer from TCF to the State of Tennessee," said Meg Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), in an e-mail response to questions from The Greeneville Sun.
The property is part of the 10,000-acre tract acquired by The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service in 2008.
At a news conference held in Erwin in late October, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the future conveyance of 2,036 acres in Unicoi County that will eventually become part of the Rocky Fork park. U.S. Forest Service lands previously purchased since 2008 total 7,677 acres.
The 2,036 acres in Unicoi County is the property that should be conveyed to the state by late winter or early spring.
About 4,000 acres of the 10,000-acres planned for Rocky Fork park are in Greene County, and the remainder is in Unicoi County. All this acreage in both counties will eventually be part of Rocky Fork State Park.
STATE'S 55TH PARK
The land is envisioned as the 55th state park in Tennessee.
"It is my understanding that the final review of the paperwork is ongoing," Lockhart said.
Other planning activities for the park are under way, she said.
"A feasibility study was conducted to see what amenities could be built on-site, and tentative plans include a ranger station and visitors center, trails, picnic areas and shelters, restrooms and campsites," Lockhart said.
"The park and its visitors would also benefit from an interpretation of the Flint Creek Battle site."
"Rocky Fork will not only provide historical educational opportunities; there are 16 miles of trout streams, access to the Appalachian Trail, hiking" and other attractions, Lockhart said.
PLANS FOR THE PARK
"These are all items we are discussing in terms of what our 55th state park might look like, what it could offer to our visitors, and how it will enhance the surrounding communities," Lockhart said.
"Access is also very important, and TDEC is currently working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to conceptualize a design for a park road that would serve as a connector from the entrance to the proposed facilities."
Lockhart said the ideas "are all very conceptual at this time."
Rocky Fork is located along the Appalachian Trail corridor and the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
The property is adjacent to more than 22,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service-designated wilderness, including Sampson and Bald mountains.
Prior to Rocky Fork's acquisition by The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service, it was one of the largest unprotected tracts in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Rocky Fork is named for a stream that runs through the property. Greene and Unicoi counties were covered in snow on Wednesday, but passion for the creation of the Rocky Fork Park has heated up over the years.
Haslam said in October that the acquisition of the land "comes on the heels of a multi-year effort led by a coalition of both public and private partners."
"In Tennessee, we want to protect those things that make Tennessee special. This is an incredible story of how things can and should work," he said.
The park will not only serve as a "gateway" to the Appalachian Trail; it will also draw people to Unicoi and Greene counties, Haslam said.
"This is a special place," he said. "We have 54 state parks in Tennessee, and it is my pleasure to announce it will be the 55th state park."
MANY HELPED IT HAPPEN
The future development of Rocky Fork was made possible through a coalition of groups and individuals, including Haslam, TDEC, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and through the support of The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service.
Lockhart said federal funding for the Rocky Fork land acquisition was made possible through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and rest of 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 the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Unicoi and Greene counties, and the Upper East Tennessee Region.
"A Tennessee State Park in the Rocky Fork area will attract anyone who enjoys the Great American Outdoors to come to beautiful Unicoi County, have a good time, and spend some money to build up the tax base," Alexander said at the October ceremony in Erwin.