ERWIN (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Tuesday that about 2,000 acres of the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork tract in upper East Tennessee will become a new state park.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the property is surrounded by national forest and contains a section of the Appalachian Trail. It has more than 16 miles of blue-ribbon trout streams and is a popular hunting area for black bear, turkey, deer and grouse. It also is home to endangered species such as the peregrine falcon.
The property was privately owned but had been leased for public hunting by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. For years it had been at the top of the U.S. Forest Service’s priorities for land acquisition.
When the owners began marketing the land for development, The Conservation Fund led an effort that allowed the Forest Service to buy almost 8,000 acres, leaving the remaining 2,000 acres to become Tennessee’s 55th state park.
The overall project cost approximately $40 million, with $30 million coming from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Another $6 million is from Tennessee’s Heritage Conservation Trust Fund and $4 million came from private contributors.
“Ten thousand acres cost a lot of money,” Haslam said at the announcement. “Land is no longer cheap just because it’s rural and undeveloped. The value of property like this has gone up, and it takes the loyal support of a lot of people to make these projects come together.”
Current plans for the 2,000 acres to be conveyed to the state by The Conservation Fund include an access road, ranger station, primitive campground, picnic area and trails.
“If you like the Smokies, you’ll like Rocky Fork,” Alexander said. “And like the Smokies, I believe it will have real economic value. Gov. Haslam’s decision to create a new state park is an important step. It’s one thing to acquire land; it’s another to turn it into something people will love.”