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John Beaudet has completed the Appalachian Trail four times and has done many other long distance hikes. He is best known for creating the hand-carved walking sticks that are presented each year to each of the inductees to the Appalachian Trail Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Road seemingly on hold for now

Good news from Rocky Fork: the wildflowers have been great, the fireflies are coming out, and the unofficial word from state officials is the Flint Mountain road project is “on hold.”

In spite of the fact that TDEC is officially still waiting for the permits required to begin building a road through Rocky Fork, and that road opponents were led to believe there would be additional discussion and public input, on May 6 we went into the park to discover a group of engineers preparing to “start clearing the road right-of-way.”

The firm had been awarded a $300,000 contract to perform geotechnical surveying in areas where road structures (like 750 feet of retaining walls up to 27 feet high holding back fill dirt up to 30 feet deep) would be located to determine if the designs are compatible with existing soil and geology. This work would require clearing trees and some dozer work to get a large drilling rig along the path of the road to drill core samples—in effect going ahead and starting to tear up the area we want to protect.

This was disconcerting to say the least, especially given the fact that a few weeks earlier, on April 16, Defenders of Wildlife, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning and several other area conservation organizations met with new TDEC Commissioner David Salyers to request that he reconsider plans for Rocky Fork State Park. Salyers said many letters had been received calling attention to the lack of support for the development plans and that he intends to look into the situation and seek additional public input before moving ahead with the project.

Salyers has appointed Jim Bryson as Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Conservation, a position that has been temporarily filled by Anne Marshall since the removal of Brock Hill earlier this year. So, with new leadership in place and the message of the need to review the plans for Rocky Fork delivered, it seems we will get another chance to provide public input.

Also, the park recently grew by 88 acres with the acquisition of the “Sparks Tract,” which joins the parklands just above the “blue hole” along the entrance road and continues down to state highway 352. This property could provide an alternative site for a campground with much easier access than the proposed site up on Flint Mountain.

So, for all of us who were disappointed with the Rocky Fork plans presented last November—and who are hoping the state will not repeat mistakes made in the past and not create a park similar to others but one that is singular in the area and showcases Rocky Fork’s unique characteristics as the wildest Tennessee state park—we now have the opportunity we have hoped for.

But we cannot just rest on our laurels. It’s now time to prepare for your chance to provide input, write down your ideas for alternatives to a road, look for examples from other parks around the world that illustrate the effectiveness of your ideas, talk to others and get them involved too, so that when the time comes we have our ideas ready to present.

And, go take a hike and see what you see. Send your pictures to ffigart@gmail.com and we can post them on the Rocky Fork Watershed Almanac.

Defenders of Wildlife Stands Up for Rocky Fork

When I was a kid growing up in the woods of East Texas, I joined Defenders of Wildlife and pored through the stories each month in their magazine—and that contributed to my growing love of nature. When they asked for volunteers to help capture the last Red Wolves, my dad and I went down and helped track the wolves and even got to see two of them loping along in the salt marsh.

The red wolf is still hanging on, but just barely, and at a recent event I met some folks with Defenders of Wildlife who are still at it, protecting our treasured wildlife. I was pleasantly surprised when one day I had a message waiting for me that Defenders had gotten word of the issue of development in Rocky Fork and the harm it would do to the wildlife and wanted to help me in my quest to protect the place and its natural wonders.

Defenders has dug into the issue and put together this blog to raise awareness and get Rocky Fork the protection it deserves: Read the blog Rocky Fork and its Wildlife Need Saving—Again.

Fact Sheet on the Rocky Fork Development Issue

The mission statement of Tennessee state parks reads in part “to protect and preserve the unique natural, cultural and historic resources of Tennessee.” The State Parks Act of 1937, which created the parks, reads in part “that every park under the provisions of this act shall be preserved in its natural condition, so far as to be consistent with its human use and safety, and all improvements shall be of such character as not to harm its inherent recreational values.”

The current development plans for Rocky Fork State Park are not consistent with these provisions and should be revised, with an abundance of public input, until they are. The following fact sheet was recently prepared by three conservation organizations to help raise awareness of the threat Rocky Fork faces. Please feel free to show it to friends or contacts who want or need to know more about what is going on. Feel free to email me if you cannot readily access the document or want a PDF or another format.

Other voices besides our own have begun to be raised and heard on the issue. We appreciate anything and everything you do to help Rocky Fork. Sharing information, even with a few people, goes a long way toward the overall goal of making everyone who loves this place aware of the situation. Thank you!



$23 million road to nowhere

Last November, after three years of relative silence, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation finally presented to the public their plans for the first stage of “improvements” in what was to be the “minimally developed” Rocky Fork State Park. Part of the plan is a 24-foot-wide, two-lane, paved road that begins with a bridge over Rocky Fork Creek and extends ¾ mile to a campground and scenic overlook on Flint Mountain.

The photo below shows the approximate route of the road, now estimated by TDOT to be a $23 million dollar project, designed so as to be able to accommodate RVs and 2,000 to 4,000 vehicles per day. Due to the rugged and steep terrain, extensive use of retaining walls, massive road cuts, and metal reinforcement bolted into rock on slopes above would be required, leaving an ugly scar on Rocky Fork. Also, take note of the fact that a future stage of this development would be to widen the existing Rocky Fork Road to similar standards, changing the “prettiest mile of road in Tennessee” forever.

If this isn’t what you want to see in Rocky Fork I suggest a letter to the new Commissioner of TDEC, David Slayers (David.Salyers@tn.gov) and/or the interim Deputy Commissioner of State Parks, Anne Marshall (Anne.Marshall@tn.gov), asking that these plans, developed by the previous administration, be re-visited and public input sought to arrive at a better plan that the public supports, before permanently damaging the natural beauty we worked so hard to protect.


Comments oppose development plan in Rocky Fork 60-2

Comment: Keep Rocky Fork primitive.

Comment: I am against making this park more developed.

Comment: Slow down, allow public input to help shape the plan for the park, and ensure that we “get it right” while we still have the chance.

Read all comments here.

In November, for the first time in three years, Tennessee State Parks staff came to Unicoi County and held a public meeting to discuss management of Rocky Fork State Park. State Park officials presented plans for a visitor center and an access road to a campground and a scenic overlook; these plans were presented in final form, only awaiting permits before construction would begin. 

The general feelings we heard from folks at the meeting included serious concerns about environmental damage as a result of the implementation of these plans, and discontent about the plans not being influenced at all by public input.  Evidence available seems to indicate that state parks staff are not very interested in the public’s opinion or input, but rather are simply satisfying a requirement to hold a public meeting and accept comments.

The public was invited to submit comments for the following 30 days. Later, I personally requested, twice, to review all comments submitted and did not receive a response, but, after the recent removal of Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill, asked again and did receive an incomplete collection of comments.

The comments are public information and are excerpted here for you to see what others think about the state’s plans, without identifying who provided each one. Roughly 60 comments vehemently oppose the plans presented with only two in favor. Contact us if you would like the unabridged versions.

Notably absent from the information provided by state parks were the comments submitted by a number of conservation organizations, all of whom opposed moving forward with the plans presented, including Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, MountainTrue, and Wild South. A number of our friends’ comments were also missing (we add some here) but it is clear that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the plans presented.

With this evidence that the public does not approve of the state’s plans, and the lack of public input to help shape those plans, we hope the new leaders will re-visit the issue before the heavy equipment moves in and changes Rocky Fork forever. We encourage you to send your letter to that effect to the new Commissioner of TDEC, David Salyers, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the acting Deputy Commissioner of State Parks, Anne Marshall (both at 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, Nashville, TN  37243). Letters to political leaders would be helpful as well including Governor Bill Lee, Senator Lamar Alexander, Congressman Phil Roe, and State Representative Rusty Crowe.

White House Cliffs Trail. Image by Van Hovey

Sample Letter to New TDEC Leader

State parks in Tennessee are managed by a division of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which, under new Governor Bill Lee, has a new commissioner: David Salyers. This change of leadership presents an excellent opportunity to write a letter asking for a review of the plans for Rocky Fork before any construction begins and permanent changes to the landscape are made. The letter I sent appears below. Feel free to use it as an example and write your own letter asking for proper care of this treasured place. If you need a little more background, here are the issues in a nutshell:

The mission of Tennessee State Parks begins with preserving and protecting the natural, cultural, and historic resources of the state. This mission goes on to include recreational use, but the intent is clear that such use shall not threaten those natural resources. 

Tennessee state parks are highly developed with inns, conference centers, restaurants, RV campgrounds, golf courses, swimming pools, rental cabins, marinas, etc. Rocky Fork State Park was promoted from the start as a “primitive, minimally developed” park, and because it is a small portion of the much larger Rocky Fork tract—10,000 acres protected for public use in 2008 at a cost of $40 million—the state should be obligated to live up to the original plan and not overdevelop the park to the detriment of the surrounding public lands.

Plans presented for the first step in developing the park include a two-lane paved road up Flint Mountain with an auto bridge over Rocky Fork Creek, a campground on the mountain (which will not include RVs “at this time”) a large visitor center where the current parking lot is, and widening of Rocky Fork Road. The state does not appear to be following the primitive, minimally developed philosophy we heard about early on.

John Sevier–Chickamauga Wars Massacre at Flint Creek

Within Rocky Fork lies a significant historic site, less than a mile from the parking area, near the confluence of Rocky Fork Creek and Flint Creek, where several old farm fields are now. In January of 1789, during the short-lived State of Franklin movement, John Sevier lead a militia to attack a group of Native Americans camped there for the winter. The camp was destroyed, 145 natives were killed and buried there, and the rest escaped or were taken captive in what was one of many military engagements between Sevier’s militia and natives in what we know as the Chickamauga Wars.

After moving to the area, I heard numerous versions of this story, most of which included an Indian village being wiped out by soldiers with a Gatling gun. The site was neither a village nor wiped out using a Gatling gun, which was not invented until the early 1860s. I have combed through history books and libraries attempting to learn the true story, and with the help of historians Lamar Marshall and Chuck Hamilton, give you here the best version I can.

Prior to the revolutionary war, an agreed-upon line existed basically running along the crest of the mountains, visible to the east from Rocky Fork. Settlers from the colonies to the east were not to cross the mountains into Indian territory. In the aftermath of the war the state of North Carolina was extended west all the way to the Mississippi River. These new lands of the state were wild, sparsely inhabited, and the long-time home of the Cherokee, Creek, and other Native American groups. The loyalty of these native groups was divided since the French, English, and Spanish had been present there, befriended the Indians through trade, and sought their help to check western expansion of the colonies. White settlers from the east now spread across the mountains into land only recently claimed by the new United States of America and the infrastructure of government and military protection did not yet exist.

The newly enlarged state of North Carolina, in an effort to rid itself of debt to the federal government due to the war effort, ceded the new lands back to the government to be used to form a new state, then rescinded the cession, and later ceded the lands again, for good. Amidst the confusion, the State of Franklin movement began, in which Sevier along with a number of others declared their own state and formed their own militia to protect themselves where North Carolina could not or would not. The State of Franklin movement only lasted four years. The state of North Carolina never recognized Franklin as legitimate and the movement dissolved; loyalty remained with North Carolina. The lands to the west first became The Territory South of the Ohio, and a few years later became the new state of Tennessee and Sevier its first governor.

The native groups were divided themselves with many realizing the futility in resisting the overwhelming surge of white settlers and choosing to move on or assimilate, and others wishing to stand and fight for their homelands despite the unlikeliness of success. Those continuing to resist followed leaders like Dragging Canoe, Bloody Fellow, Old Tassell, Kitegisky, Glass, Little Owl and John Watts, and early in the resistance camped on Chickamauga Creek near current day Chattanooga, TN. These resistance warriors became known as Chickamauga for the name of the creek and were not a separate tribe.

John Sevier was a notorious Indian fighter and the military leader of the State of Franklin attempting to make the area safe for settlers. Sevier fought many battles with the Indians and destroyed many Indian towns prior to the Flint Creek engagement. As part of the effort to rid the area of Indians, bounties were paid for Indian scalps, prisoners routinely taken for later exchange, and Indian towns looted for anything of value Sevier and his raiders could carry away.   

Following a big victory for the Indians at Lookout Mountain in 1788, a band led by John Watts split off from Dragging Canoe’s band and attacked Gillespie’s Station on the Holston River where they took 28 prisoners. The band then attacked White’s Fort and Houston’s Station and then camped on Flint Creek in the area we now know as Rocky Fork.

During this time Sevier was attacking Indian towns in retaliation and destroyed many. Those Indians not continuing to resist with leaders like Dragging Canoe and John Watts moved out of the area to the west and south. In January of 1789, Watts and his band were camped on Flint Creek and scouts had reported this to Sevier along with a report that the group intended to attack Sevier who quickly organized his militia to march on the camp. Sevier divided his troops to surround the camp and lead a surprise attack, which led to “a complete victory” which he described in a letter reporting the incident to his fellow officials of the State of Franklin. The letter is transcribed below and appeared in several newspapers in Charleston, SC, and Augusta, GA, a short time afterward. This was one of only two official reports made by Sevier of his 35 battles with the Indians:

“It is with the utmost pleasure I inform your honors, that the arms of Franklin gained a complete victory over the combined forces of the Creeks and Cherokees, on the 10th inst.  Since my last, I received information that the enemy were collecting in a considerable body near Flint Creek, within 25 miles of my headquarters, with an intention to attack me.  To improve this favorable opportunity, I immediately marched my corps towards the spot and arrived, after enduring much hardship by the immense quantities of snow and piercing cold.  On the morning of the 10th inst., we were within a mile of the enemy.  We soon discovered the situation of their encampment by the smoke of their fires, which we found extended along the foot of the Appalachian Mountain.  I called a council of war of all the officers, in which it was agreed to attack the enemy without loss of time; and in order to surround them, I ordered Gen. M’Carter, with the bloody rangers and the tomahawk-men, to take possession of the mountain, the only pass I knew that the Indians could retreat by, while I with the rest of the corps formed a line extending from the right to the left of their wings. The arrival of Gen. M’Carter on the mountain, and the signal for the attack was to be announced by the discharge of a grass-hopper, which was accordingly given and the attack begun. Our artillery soon roused the Indians from their huts; and, finding themselves pretty near surrounded on all sides, they only tried to save themselves by flight, from which they were prevented by our riflemen posted behind the trees. Their case being desperate, they made some resistance, and killed the people who were serving our artillery.  Our ammunition being much damaged by the snow on the march, and the enemy’s in good order, I found it necessary to abandon that mode of attack, and trust the event to the sword and the tomahawk; accordingly gave orders to that purpose. Col. Loid, with 100 horsemen, charged the Indians with sword in hand, and the rest of the corps followed with their tomahawks. The battle soon became general, by Gen. M’Carter’s coming down the mountain to our assistance; death presented itself on all sides in shocking scenes, and in less than half an hour, the enemy ceased making resistance, and left us in possession of the bloody field. The loss of the enemy in this battle is very considerable; we have buried 145 of their dead, and by the blood we have traced for miles all over the woods it is supposed the greatest part of them retreated with wounds. Our loss is very inconsiderable, it consists of five dead, and 16 wounded; amongst the latter is the brave Gen. M’Carter, who, while taking off the scalp of an Indian, was tomahawked by another whom he afterward killed with his own hand.  I am in hopes this brave and good man will survive. I have marched the army back to my former cantonment, at Buffalo Creek, where I must remain until I receive some supplies for the troops, which I hope will be sent soon. We suffer most for the want of whiskey.”

If you had been around in 1789, and in Augusta, GA, in May, you could have picked up the May 2 edition of the Augusta Chronicle, which contained Sevier’s letter announcing his triumph over the Indians. On the same page can be found an article announcing salaries which had been set for officers of the fledgling State of Franklin, with the top officials salary being 1,000 deer skins per year. Unlikely as it seems, the Library of Congress has a microfilm record of that paper and a photo is included here so you can read the news of the Flint Creek massacre just as folks in 1789 did.

John Brown in his 1938 Old Frontiers says “Flint Creek was the bloodiest of all fights in the Cherokee wars.” The State of Franklin movement would end one month later when Sevier pledged allegiance, once again, to North Carolina and thus this event, more a massacre than a battle, became known as “The Last Battle of Franklin.” In April, Sevier sent word to the Indians that he wished to make a deal and a prisoner exchange took place in which at least two prisoners taken at Flint Creek, a chief named Cotetoy and the daughter of Little Turkey, were exchanged for at least two members of the Brown family, Joseph and his sister Polly.

Although not the end of Indian hostilities, this was a devastating blow to the Chickamauga band, which scattered west and south and no longer posed a significant threat to settlers moving into the upper east Tennessee area.

Sources of information about the Flint Creek Massacre include:

The Overmountain Men by Pat Alderman, 1970

Old Frontiers by John P. Brown, 1938                                                     

History of the Lost State of Franklin by Samuel Cole Williams, 1889

If you had been around in 1789, and in Augusta, GA, in May, you could have picked up the May 2 edition of the Augusta Chronicle, which contained Sevier’s letter announcing his triumph over the Indians.
The letter from John Sevier begins in the first column on this page under the heading George-town.