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Rocky Fork celebration

The pieces are in place for Rocky Fork State Park to become Tennessee’s “most popular park,” according to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander.
Alexander, along with other members of the federal, state and local governments, celebrated the acquisition of the 100 acres of the Rocky Fork tract with a ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at the Clear Branch Visitors Center in Flag Pond.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) helped secure acquisition of the final pieces of the property needed at the park for its full protection. The acquisition ensures the protection of wildlife habitat, water quality, recreational access and economic opportunities for Unicoi County and the surrounding community.
“The state that sells nearly 900,000 hunting and fishing licenses every year should lead the country in taking advantage of enjoyment of the Great American Outdoors,” Alexander said during the celebration. “This is a big opportunity for Unicoi County and northeast Tennessee leaders to turn a state park and its easy access to millions of Americans looking for an outdoor experience, into an economic advantage the way Blount and Sevier counties have.”
Joining Alexander during the event was U.S. Representative Dr. Phil Roe.
“I am glad that Rocky Fork is officially part of the Cherokee National Forest after years of hard work,” Roe said. “The Conservation Fund, (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) and the U.S. Forest Service have worked tirelessly to build partnerships and secure the resources necessary to create Rocky Fork State Park. I am proud of their leadership and that Tennesseans will be able to enjoy the beauty of Rocky Fork for years to come.”
The state park received the green light as Tennessee’s 55th state park in 2012 from Gov. Bill Haslam. Since that time, state and local officials have worked to put the pieces in place to have the park operational. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) hosted a ceremony in the summer to “officially” open the park to the public. In May, state officials named Jesse Germeraad as the park ranger and Tim Pharis as the ranger.
“Rocky Fork State Park’s 2,000 acres offer a wide variety of high mountain outdoor adventures to the local community and visitors to Tennessee,” said Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Parks and Conservation Brock Hill. “Guests will experience hiking, camping, horseback riding, trout fishing, hunting, mountain biking, historic sites, wildlife viewing, spring wildflowers and fantastic fall foliage.
“It also will be the only Tennessee State Park containing the world famous Appalachian Trail,” Hill continued. “Tennessee State Parks and TDEC appreciate the efforts of senators Alexander and (Bob) Corker and Representative Roe for their support of the Rocky Fork project through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This LWCF investment will pay big dividends in tourism development and job creation for years to come.”
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch spoke about the history of the project during the celebration.
“When I became Mayor nine years ago, the Rocky Fork project was already controversial in the county,” he said. “Some folks wanted to see the land developed, while others were just as interested in the land being conserved. But today, our citizens look at this public land as an asset thanks in part to the Conservation Leadership Network. The workshops hosted by The Conservation Fund helped us develop and advance a successful sustainable tourism plan for the county which has helped the local economy thrive and made us a popular destination for outdoor lovers. Rocky Fork is now a place of pride for us, and I’m thrilled it is completely protected for generations.”
Also taking time to speak during the event was R. Michael Leonard, chairman of The Conservation Fund, adding that his time hiking the Appalachian Trail helped influence him to support preserving the tract.
“Forty years ago I hiked the Appalachian Trail where it crosses the Rocky Fork tract and personally know the importance of protecting this mountain land,” Leonard said. “This is also a great example of how The Conservation Fund makes conservation work for America by tying places like Rocky Fork into the economic vitality of nearby communities, such as Unicoi County and Erwin. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical to protecting such majestic places throughout our country, and we thank senators Alexander and Corker and Representative Roe for their support of this essential program.”
The end product is what can occur when partnerships are maintained, according to U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Tony Tooke
“The Rocky Fork property exemplifies what we can accomplish through partnerships to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of our national forests,” Tooke said.