Rocky Fork State Park rangers unveil the new sign at the renamed Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. U.S. Senator Alexander, pictured above left, received this honor thanks to Governor Bill Haslam, pictured above right. The sign was unveiled during a ceremony held on Monday, Jan. 7. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Jan. 7, Rocky Fork State Park officially became Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. The official unveiling took place in front of roughly 100 people who came to see the new sign.

Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely of Unicoi County, Mayor Doris Hensley of the Town of Erwin, and Mayor Johnny Lynch of the Town of Unicoi were on hand to welcome Congressman Phil Roe, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Lamar Alexander to the event.

Excitement has spread across the county for the future of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, according to local officials.

“It’s going to be a great boom to the area,” Evely told The Erwin Record. “I can’t wait for the visitor’s center to be built up here.”

Evely wasn’t the only official that saw the importance of this day.

“I’m so excited for this,” Hensley said of the unveiling.

The excitement even spread to the north end of Unicoi County as Lynch sees an opportunity for tourism to grow.

“It’s a big day,” Johnny Lynch said of the naming of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said she is also looking forward to the future of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

“I’m just excited about the economic aspect and that the park is preserved,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Roe, who is an avid hiker, acknowledged that Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park is one his favorite spots to hike.

“A hundred years from now, when no one knows we had this meeting, people are going to be able to take in the natural beauty of this area,” Roe said of the efforts of those that fought to save Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Roe also acknowledged the efforts of David Ramsey and the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park for their hard work to save the park.

Haslam surprised Alexander with Rocky Fork State Park taking on his namesake.

“Certain people are instrumental in making things happen, that’s why we are standing here today, and I want to take the opportunity to announce that Rocky Fork State Park will for hereafter be known as Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park,” Haslam said to the crowd.

Alexander said he was humbled by the announcement.

“This is a natural treasure and is one of the most beautiful spots in our country,” Alexander said of the park.

Alexander also sees a bright future for the park.

“This is Upper East Tennessee’s gateway to the Appalachian Trail and will be a signature for this area,” Alexander said.

He also thanked those that worked hard to make this day happen.

“I want to acknowledge former (Unicoi County) Mayor Greg Lynch, Marie Rice, Mayor Johnny Lynch, Mayor Bubba Evely, Mayor Doris Hensley, Dave Ramsey and all of you that have been involved with this,” Alexander said.

Alexander acknowledged that he was amazed by what those involved were able to do with the land.

“The Conservation Fund bought the property, that was $40 million, nobody else was going to do that, the government couldn’t do that, and they bought it so the people of this country can enjoy it,” Alexander said in thanking the Conservation Fund.

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Switching gears, Alexander and Roe addressed concerns about the current government shutdown on Monday.

“That needs to end, I wasn’t for a shutdown under President Obama, I’m not for a shutdown under President Trump,” Alexander said. “We weren’t elected to shut the government down.”

Alexander went on further to address what needs to happen to resolve the shutdown.

“What we need to do is act like adults, and the president should sit down with the Congressional leaders and they should come to a conclusion,” Alexander stated. “There is no courage or skill in taking a position; there is courage and skill in getting a result and it’s time to show some of that.”

Roe spoke about what the furloughed government employees can expect.

“Those folks are going to get paid,” Roe said. “It’s not their fault the government shut down, it’s our fault.”

Roe went on to acknowledge the need for a speedy resolution.

“In the short term for those that are living paycheck to paycheck it’s bad, so the sooner we can get this resolved amicably, we should,” Roe said of the urgency to end the shutdown.

When asked about the possibility that President Trump will declare a state of emergency to fund the border wall, Alexander was quick to respond by calling for unity.

“If there is a priority that is legitimate, the Democratic leaders should bend over backwards to complete it, and the president should be in return reasonable, reliable and specific and if they could all sit down and show themselves to be experienced negotiators, this could end in 24 hours,” Alexander stated.

Governor Haslam would not rule out a future run for the U.S. Senate. Haslam is finishing up his term of Governor for Tennessee. Governor-elect Bill Lee will officially take Haslam’s office on Jan. 19.

“Chrissy and I are going to take time to think about it and to pray on it, it’s too important of a role to not give serious consideration to,” Haslam stated that he would decide soon on whether or not he will run.

Alexander has announced that he will be retiring at the end of his current term in 2020 and will not seek reelection.