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New manager greets community

Rocky Fork State Park took another big step in its growth on Friday, May 15.
Unicoi County residents, along with local and state government officials, were on hand to welcome the new park manager, Jesse Germeraad, during a ‘Meet the Manager’ event hosted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation at the I-26 welcome center near Flag Pond.
“We’re proud of the park,” Senator Rusty Crowe said during the opening of the event. “This welcome center is named after Zane Whitson. I know everybody here terribly misses him, but I know that he would be proud of this moment.”
Brock Hill, the state’s deputy commissioner for parks and conservation, led the event and recognized everyone in attendance before introducing Germeraad.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Hill said. “Every time we have an event down here associated with the park, everybody just shows up. Folks just love this park and they understand the impact of this park for future economic growth for the community.”
Hill stated that the main focus of finding a manager is someone fluent in natural resource protection, safety, recreational management, as well as in interpretative and educational services.
And Germeraad fit the mold.
“East Tennessee is one of the most beautiful places and I’m excited about living here,” Germeraad said. “As a child, I grew up in the Smokies, so it’s like returning home for me. Rocky Fork is a special resource and our number one goal for the park is to protect and conserve it.”
Germeraad, a Lipscomb University graduate, joins Rocky Fork after being with Tennessee State Parks since 2008. Germeraad recently served as the park ranger at Radnor Lake State Natural Area in Nashville.
Along with the park experience, the new Rocky Fork manager offers a broad background in resource management and is certified as an advanced emergency medical technician, interpretive guide and wildlands firefighter.
Germeraad said he’s ready to hit the ground running for the future of the park.
“We had a great showing today,” he added. “All the different people from the towns of Unicoi, Erwin and Unicoi County … we’re excited about the support we’ve received. We got to meet a lot of people here that enjoy Rocky Fork and its resources, so we’re looking forward to them coming out to continue to build this great park to be enjoyed by people in the future.”
Germeraad also introduced Rocky Fork’s newest park ranger, Tim Pharis, who is a familiar face to regional park goers. He is coming to the area after serving with Warriors State Park.
“I’m just excited to be here,” Pharis said. “I’ve been around Rocky Fork the past 10 years working with ETSU. We want to protect it forever.”
Pharis is a 2009 graduate of ETSU with a degree in park management and Appalachian Studies.
While the individuals are in place, different forms of construction are underway, according to Hill. A roadway inside the park is in its early stages and will be designed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and will be completed two to three years from now. Also on the agenda is an eight-foot wide, ADA biking and walking trail to provide different ways to visit different sections of the park.
TDOT has also agreed to grade and create a parking lot near the entrance of the park, Hill said, and directional signs have been ordered and will be installed in the near future.
Rocky Fork will also have a pair of hikes to celebrate National Trails Day on June 6.
The Whitehouse Rocks Overlook Hike will be going on from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the Buzzard Rock Loop Hike will be underway from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with both hikes beginning at the entrance of Rocky Fork.
For more information, contact Ranger Marty Silver at [email protected] or call 239-6786.