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Newest park ‘catalyst for success,’ according to Unicoi County mayor

An assembly of state and local officials hiked through the snowy scenery of Rocky Fork to view the site for a future state park in Unicoi County on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The brisk hike came prior to the celebration announcing the project at the county’s I-26 Welcome Center, where even more individuals who were instrumental in the state park initiative gathered.
The main goal for committing to build a state park, said Gov. Bill Haslam, is conservation of Tennessee’s natural resources and to provide another venue for recreation to Tennesseans.
“It’s an honor today to get to announce that Rocky Fork will be the 55th state park,” Haslam said on Tuesday. “It’s an incredible piece of property and I think it could be something we can be proud of for a long time for preserving but also for giving an opportunity for people to enjoy the park but also an economic opportunity for this entire area.”
The future park at Rocky Fork, Haslam said, will have the highest elevation of all Tennessee state parks. Haslam said he is confident Rocky Fork’s unique qualities will impact Unicoi County positively with the addition of the park.
“We’ve seen in other state parks that that’s happened,” Haslam said. “People come to visit the park and the surrounding communities reap the economic benefit and I fully think that can happen.”
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the individuals who came to celebrate shows the park’s importance to everyone involved.
“I think this is going to be a great thing,” Lynch said. “It’s a great way to blend economic development and save our mountains.”
Lynch said although it is hard to predict or define success, he thinks the state park will make Unicoi County more successful.
“If nothing else, it is going to be a catalyst for success,” Lynch said. “We’ve got a lot of other venues and areas like this in Unicoi County.”
The state park announcement, Lynch said, blends well with all of the outdoor recreational tourism opportunities budding in the county like the Pinnacle Fire Tower and Linear Trail.
“All we have got to do is put it together and market it,” Lynch said. “Every dollar we bring in sales tax money takes a dollar off of the rolls for property tax; that’s what it’s all about.”
Lynch said the tourism market in Tennessee is something Unicoi County has been seeking to embrace.
“This is an industry,” Lynch said. “This is a big industry, really. It’s the second largest, I believe, in Tennessee. We’re glad to be a part of it.”
One of the next steps for the county, Lynch said, is partnering with the state to apply for grants to extend a water line to Rocky Fork.
“Actually this is going to help the south end (of the county),” Lynch said. “There are some water problems up in there. So this is going to take care of some of the residents who have water problems. It will really help to open up the south end here for city water.”
Lynch said the announcement was a way to celebrate the journey to building the state park at this juncture, but there is more to come.
“This is really a culmination of a whole lot of meetings, but I know we’ve got a whole lot more to do,” Lynch said. “This is not the answer, but it’s a big piece of the puzzle.”
Unicoi County resident David Ramsey, who was instrumental in the preservation of Rocky Fork, said he appreciates everyone involved in seeing the project through.
“It’s a real dream come true for me,” Ramsey said. “A lot of people have worked for a lot of years to make this day happen, I was just one of them.”
Ramsey said his passion for preserving the land comes from his heritage.
“I guess it’s always held a special meaning for me since my family is from the Rocky Fork area on my father’s side going back several generations,” Ramsey said. “That makes it even more special to me.”
Ramsey said with the state park announcement came the execution of a plan that benefits everyone.
“I’m glad that what we said we were going to do five or six years ago when we started the most recent effort to get that land saved,” Ramsey said. “What we said we were going to do is find a win-win situation.”
Ramsey said the idea was to save Rocky Fork, but to also create an economic stimulus in the county.
“A lot of people, and rightly so, were worried about losing that tax revenue,” Ramsey said. “We thought it would be much better to save such a special place from the standpoint of the watershed and resources, wildlife resources and habitat, the Appalachian Trail; all these things that make Rocky Fork special, we felt like those needed to be preserved.”
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Regional Director Morgan Sommerville said the state park will be a short distance from the trail.
“There are going to be side trails between the Appalachian Trail and state park,” he said. “The AT will become a part of the state park’s trail system. We are thrilled about that. I believe it’s the only state park in the South where that is the case.”

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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