Excerpts of public comments submitted in response to TDEC’s November 2018 announcement of its plan for a road and visitor center inside Rocky Fork State Park
Comment: Keep Rocky Fork primitive. There’s no need for road “improvements”, a frontcountry campground, or a visitor center. Please keep development of Rocky Fork to a respectful, responsible minimum. It is a unique resource which deserves to be preserved while enjoyed.
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. Please do not go ahead with the proposed changes without fully studying their impact and without getting public input. We all have a stake in this park.
Comment: I am against making this park more developed. If more funds are needed, how about looking at entrance fees or subscriptions. There aren’t many wild places left. Please keep It in a low impact state. We love it as a natural place. The fireflies here alone are unique.
Comment: I am distressed about the proposed development – particularly the steep, very expensive road – in Rocky Fork park. It appears to be both a fiscal and environmental disaster and will destroy the very things that are wonderful about the current park.
Comment: What makes Rocky fork unique is its sense of wildness the moment you pull into the parking area. Introducing more infrastructure would undoubtedly disturb the flora and river in ways that would not be reversible. Please strongly consider leaving the park exactly as it is.
Comment: Please consider a different approach to “developing” this park. We need parks in this state that can be used as they are for Eco Tourism sites. Building a giant road thru this park is not preserving or protection. Keep rocky fork wild and beautiful. It is a wonderful natural resource and should be preserved as such for future generations.
Comment: I have visited park recently. It is beautiful as is. Sad to think some want to put in a road to top, build a visitor center, large parking lot, RV campground. Should be left as natural as possible. At most, somewhat larger parking area. Rest not needed at all.
Comment: Do not trade our Peregrine falcons for rock climbers. Allowing access for rock climbing will surely eliminate the falcons from the cliffs in the park and we will have traded one of the natural wonders that made Rocky Fork desirable for preservation for recreation by a very small group. Bird watchers and nature lovers outnumber rock climbers greatly here.
Comment: Preserving the pristine waters is a must. I believe the new buildings should reflect the environment… either wood or stone just like the Visitor’s Center on I26.
Comment: Rocky Fork is beautiful in its wild, undeveloped way. It will be attractive to local businesses and counties for economic gains by interesting hikers and tourists to come to its undeveloped beauty. If it is spoiled with road development, RV campgrounds, large visitor center, it will not be attractive to hikers and lovers of the natural. Please do not destroy wetlands which are needed for the fireflies. Please do NOT overdevelop Rocky Fork State Park.
Comment: When Rocky Fork opened to the public nearly 10 years ago my wife and I lived in Elizabethton and we immediately started exploring the tract. So we can and do appreciate the footbridges and trail maintenance. However, further development, especially paved roads and an RV park, will destroy what makes Rocky Fork so special. Please don’t do it.
Comment: We would like to see Rocky Fork remain a rustic park with an emphasis on hiking, primitive camping, nature study, environmental education, and very sensitive development to provide minimal access. We feel strongly that this park is unsuitable for large RVs that demand hookups and wide roads. Please keep the park a refuge for plants, animals, fireflies, and other critters, and secondarily for humans that value the ecosystem.
Comment: Please keep Rocky Fork untamed and wild. I am an avid camper, but have concerns about trying to have a campground in the park. Ideally adjacent to the park in some way? I know at Grandfather Mountain profile trail they have a system where you sign up for back country camping. That would be an option that could work. Restroom would be nice , but not at the expense of interrupting natural landscape. The synchronized lighting bugs emerge right at the parking area.
Comment: Rocky Fork is a regional treasure and affords a unique opportunity to provide a different park experience. While other Tennessee state parks are developed with golf courses, swimming pools, and RV campgrounds, Rocky Fork’s best feature is its solitude, its adjacency to other protected land, and access to a backwoods recreation experience. We believe that with careful planning and promotion, this minimally developed park can become a cultural and economic driver for Unicoi County.
Comment: RFSP is unique among high conservation-value public lands in having the Flint Creek Battlefield and remnant settlement period homestead sites. These sites should be protected and carefully developed as cultural interpretive sites and promoted as such. Partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Cherokee Heritage Foundation should be established, to include low-impact interpretive programs.
Comment: Please don’t make the extensive Park improvements that you have planned. The park is beautiful just the way it is. The entrance to the park is one of the most beautiful spots and I can’t believe you are planning on building a visitor center there. The park isn’t that large are you sure it needs a visitor center. All you need is a place for people to park so they can access the beautiful Park. Shuttling to the park entrance is a great idea. Minimal development in the area would be the biggest asset to the park. Please reconsider and allow some time for community and park user input. Thank you
Comment: I am writing to express my concern for a high-infrastructure model for the development of Rocky Fork SP. I have visited the park and I am well-versed in the field of sustainable rural development through tourism. The Unicoi Co. area can benefit tremendously from a park that has minimal rustic amenities for visitors so that the park stands out as a pristine resource that attracts high-end tourists. This way, also, the surrounding communities will be able to develop tourism businesses catering to the park visitors – otherwise, the SP system will be competing with the local entrepreneurs.
Comment: I think Rocky Fork State Park is a treasure! I am concerned about plans for it to be developed. I am opposed to this. Rocky Fork is special in that it is truly a natural setting and should remain so. It is one of the few places I can hike without hearing the sound of cars. I do not want to see an RV campground as this would change the whole character of the park. We are fortunate to have this natural gem and we need to keep it so. There are so few unspoiled places left. Keep Rocky Fork natural and keep it simple. No more development.
Comment: Rocky Fork is a magical place. Your proposed additions will detract from the area’s natural wonders. Your proposed visitor center will destroy one of the areas few natural wetlands, synchronous firefly habitat and more. Clearly, there are alternatives to your proposed plan, such as the construction of a visitor center in Flag Pond that takes advantage of a sustainable shuttle service to and from the park. Once you’ve destroyed this habitat, you cannot bring it back. I urge you to work with concerned citizens to create a win-win solution.
Comment: I spend a lot of time in Rocky Fork for its unparalleled landscape, pristine waters, abundant wildlife and for the deep sense of spiritual peace that comes from spending time in unique wild areas like Rocky Fork. Development here would threaten the purity of the waters indefinitely and traumatize the wild creatures who make their homes here. The park is perfect as is. Please, there are much better ways to spend this money, such as improving parks that are already developed and make more sense to draw more tourist traffic to.
Comment: I have visited Rocky Fork State Park twice in the past year or two and both times I was enthralled by the natural beauty of Rocky Fork Creek and the biodiversity of plants in the park. Being able to hike along the creek and take part in a nature walk to identify plants gave me an appreciation of the need to preserve this treasured piece of God’s creation. I agree that parking could be improved and that the trails need to be better marked. There is really no space in this small park for a visitor center – even a small one. A better option is to build a visitor center outside the park with ample parking and run shuttles to the park. Rocky Fork is special because it is so undeveloped and it is one of the few places like it that are left.
Comment: Allowing camping in this park would destroy the untouched nature and disturb the plants and wildlife that inhabit it. Let’s keep this fragile place for study and reflection and allow camping and other amenities outside the park. I am opposed to the expanded visitor center and rv parking. This small place CANNOT possibly handle this level of development and protect the fireflies and biodiversity that make this a treasure. Please do not destroy this Tennessee treasure. As I understand the recommendations made from staff, NO ONE wanted this development. Please make preservation of this Tennessee park a priority.
Comment: Rocky Fork is a lovely new park with wonderful yet fragile diversity of plants and animals all packed in a small, narrow vulnerable area. Surely a more appropriate solution to honoring and preserving this unique place is to build facilities down in Flag Pond and perhaps shuttle (with electric or something innovative) visitors up to the creek, trails and firefly area instead of destroying the most beautiful wetland and vulnerable and rich areas by earthmoving and habitat destruction, which will forever change and impact the very area you want to showcase. Please consider less destructive options.
Comment: I come to Rocky Fork several times a year even though I live in Transylvania County NC, surrounded by Pisgah National Forest and several wonderful NC State Parks/Forests. Why do I drive more than 3 hours round-trip just to see another forest? Because Rocky Fork is a truly special place in the world. There are so many cookie-cutter parks with RV camping, gift shops, big paved roads… Please keep Rocky Fork natural and please keep as much adventure and back-country undeveloped experience as possible. Take care that development is appropriate, minimal, and meets the most stringent environmental standards.
Comment: The development of Rocky Fork State Park has the opportunity to, and should, provide a different experience from that found at other TN State Parks. Most other TN State Parks are highly developed. Rocky Fork has the opportunity to serve folks that value a long hike, solitude in the woods, and wild trout in the creeks. There are plenty of other State Parks that provide cabins, swimming pools, RV campgrounds, and lodges. The terrain at Rocky Fork is too rugged to develop such infrastructure. Development of more primitive infrastructure would better suit the land and the visitors of Rocky For by providing an experience different from other TN state parks.
Comment: I am a recently retired professor of ecology and ornithology at UNC-Asheville. I still live in Asheville and have enjoyed hiking at Rocky Fork State Park. This is a beautiful natural area and has great potential for bird habitat. Members of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, based in Asheville, are considering adding Rocky Fork to our areas where we do yearly bird counts, to keep track of populations of many increasingly rare birds such as the wood thrush. Maintaining the park in natural conditions is essential for providing habitat for nesting and migrating birds. I think that facilities like campgrounds should be kept outside the park. A small store in the campground with information about the park could be a source of revenue.
Comment: The proposed Flint Mountain Road, and the large concrete bridge over Rocky Fork Creek is ill-conceived and should not be built. Construction of the road is an engineering folly, an extreme waste of tax-payer money, and cannot avoid serious environmental damage. Sediment and debris run-off into Rocky Fork Creek, as experience has shown us, cannot be controlled under storm conditions. The steepness of this road, at 17% grade for much of the length, would be dangerous for any type of vehicle, especially RVs, which despite the statement that this road is not for an RV park “at this time”, the future intent is clear to those who have followed this planning process from the beginning.
Comment: I am very concerned about the water quality impacts in the proposed development of Rock Ford State Park. The facilities planned as described on your Park Website and the associated increase in park visitors due to the improved infrastructure will potentially have significant impact to the water quality of the streams/creeks in the watershed. Please send me technical information on the studies that have been completed on potential impacts to water quality from new infrastructure and the mitigation measures that are being proposed. I am a professional engineer with expertise in surface water quality and would like to review this information to ensure a complete evaluation has been done prior to any approvals from needed permit agencies.
Comment: Rocky Fork is pristine, steep mountain terrain with clear, rushing, trout streams, diverse flora and fauna and incredible mountain views. Road building, facility construction and other excavation should be kept at a minimum and done with great care to protect the natural beauty, scenic viewsheds, water quality and historic resources. To do otherwise would compromise the purposes for acquisition of the Rocky Fork watershed and State Park. The American public has made a tremendous investment in acquiring the Rocky Fork watershed. In the future, the level of public participation from the early stages to completion should be increased, well publicized and with the assistance of a public advisory committee every step of the way including revisions as needed over time.
Comment: Hold up on replacing Rocky Fork’s iconic natural entrance with a modern visitor center plus parking, an auto bridge across Rocky Fork Creek, and a 24-foot-wide, 17-percent-grade road cut into Flint Mountain, ostensibly for access to an overlook and “primitive campground.” But rumor has it that an RV campground will come later, facilitated by this large road, even though officials say there is no plan for RVs “at this time.” This would destroy the spirit of the place. Proposed placement of the visitor center would decimate one of the tract’s few natural wetlands-the habitat of synchronous fireflies, star-nosed moles and important plant species. This new “road to nowhere” would subject the creek to excessive runoff, flooding and sedimentation, degrading water quality for trout habitat and human users downstream. Stop — think and listen, please!!!!
Comment: I understand that there are a number of significant development projects being discussed for Rocky Fork that could harm pristine land. Please, please – we are destroying our planet at breakneck speed – and we do not know how to restore ecosystems fully once they are destroyed! According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people represent just 0.01% of all living things, yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants. We desperately need to keep remaining ecosystems intact far more than humans need more convenient ways to access what’s left! Please make nature your very top priority in any development plans. If even the smallest section of intact ecosystem will be harmed – please, please go back to the drawing board! If we manage to survive another 100 years, I honestly believe we will look back on this period of our existence in horror at the shortsighted reasons for destroying what we barely comprehend. All of the plants and animals above and below ground are relying on your careful and wise stewardship of their home.
Comment: It is my strongly held belief that all proposed development to the park- including expanded roadways, bridges, camping facilities, and other land altering development- will detract from the natural beauty and desirability of this pristine mountain park. Pollution and rubble from development activities could muddy the natural streams that flow through the park, which local fisherman and citizens often utilize for fishing and summertime swimming. One of the draws of Rocky Fork State Park is that it is never too crowded. While a popular destination for many people in western North Carolina and East Tennessee, the many pull offs and natural lay of the land lead to a feeling of seclusion in rural wild beauty. (Something that is becoming less and less available, as more development encroaches upon public lands and private as well.) Additionally, Rocky Fork boasts a massive array of rare native medicinal plants which must be protected and valued. I urge you to keep Rocky Fork State Park as wild, natural, and undeveloped as possible in support of the rich and diverse landscape and plant and animal life that calls this place home, and in service to the citizens, families, and outdoor-lovers who seek its unadulterated rolling waterfalls and moss covered enchantment each season.
Comment: While I understand this plan would make this section of park more accessible to some, I believe its vast environmental costs on the adjacent wetland habitat far outweigh any benefits to be gained. This plan would also sacrifice far too much of Rocky Fork’s natural beauty in the name of appealing to more visitors via car or RV. Natural spaces are appealing to traveling tourists and visitors for exactly the opposite reason: they remain wild and undeveloped. I beg TDEC to seriously reconsider the use of considerable public funds in order to implement this proposed development. Not a single member of the RFSP steering committee, comprised of a range of representative interests and authorities in this particular state park, has voiced support of this plan. All agreed a better use of these funds to spur economic development in the area would be to support private development in the adjacent areas through such amenities as restaurants, campgrounds, and B&Bs. Of special concern for me is the proposed Flint Mountain road. With its extreme grade and the disruption of the creek, I think it’s a bad idea overall.
Comment: My husband and I hiked in Rocky Fork State Park for the first time this summer… So, now, I learn that the Tennessee Park system has plans for transforming the park by putting in a large paved entry, parking lot, and visitor center, and opening the area to possible high use areas including RVs. I implore the state not to do this!!! I yearn for these small parks and jewels of nature that give me a sense of being totally in the woods, with nature and wildlife, water shushing down rocky rills, quiet, simplicity and the measure of peace I feel surrounded by quiet. Please, our parks and wilderness areas are already shrinking and being sold off to companies that seek only to profit from destruction of our irreplaceable natural wonders.
Comment: I would like to know how the public are supposed to believe TDEC will even consider our comments when I see from the road permit application, you requested to have permits in hand by September 26, several months before you presented that road plan to the public for comment. This is shameful and the project should be delayed long enough for public input to be incorporated into the plan. Better yet, delay long enough to prepare a full management plan for the park before bulldozing anything. Please refrain from developing this park! Pristine wilderness areas are disappearing from our mountains and they are so necessary for the people and animals who call the appeals home!
Comment: Please leave Rocky Fork as undeveloped as possible. The overdevelopment of land in this region is of grave concern to those who live here. Preservation of the State Park as is to maintain habitat for biodiversity… Habitat destruction’s effects of endangering wildlife, polluting waterways/air/soil, and decreasing opportunities for people to enjoy and appreciate wilderness perpetuate dismal, long-term consequences for our planet…please consider being part of the solution to over-development and natural resource loss. The climate is suffering enough and we are at a tipping point.
Comment: My wife and I are avid outdoorspeople and hikers, and have been regularly coming to Rocky Fork State Park for several years. However, we only recently learned of the state’s plans to develop the park, as I understand the public had not been included in the early discussions. This park is a true gem for the public, and the state. It has an ideal size and scale to provide true back country experiences, views, wildlife and accessibility. Its proximity to I26, Johnson City and Asheville means that the state can keep this park “wild” while still providing residents access to other, more “developed” alternatives such as the GSMNP, private RV campgrounds, etc. Our understanding is that the state has long range plans for Rocky Fork that potentially include the building of a substantial road and RV camping areas. In our opinion this type of development would be totally out of scale and character for a park this size. It would also be a waste of taxpayer funds, given the availability of these options nearby, as mentioned above. It’s also unfortunate that the public was only recently included in this discussion. Such an amazing resource should be nurtured through a partnership between the public and park service, so as not to squander the opportunity.
Comment: An article appear in the “Johnson City Press” today (Nov 13, 2018) indicating there are plan to build a road in the new Rocky Fork park to the top of the mountain. In my opinion this would ruin the park. The spokesman for the State compared this proposed road to the road through the Smoky Mountain park. That road may get a lot of traffic but it doesn’t improve that park. The spokesman also indicated that people like to drive their car through mountain parks. To see mountains from your car near Rocky Fork only takes a short drive over to I-26 where tons of mountain scenery can be viewed from a car. So this is NOT needed inside Rocky Fork. The main view to the East from the top of the mountains in Rocky Fork is looking down on I-26 so I don’t see a great benefit. I would prefer no road building on the interior of the Rocky Fork Park and minimal development at the entrance.
Comment: I attended the public meeting on November 12 regarding the future plans for Rocky Fork in Flag Pond. The “elephant in the room” was that it was a public meeting without ample time for the public to speak. It was so obvious that park decisions had already been made and it was a part of the process to show that the public was “involved”, however, as soon as the presentation was made, we were told, “We only have time for a few questions”. The presenters were quick to answer questions, and moved around the room like they needed to wrap things up. It was obvious that they were not there to hear what the public had to say at all, but to present what they thought the crowd wanted to hear, and it was quite a large crowd. We are not oblivious to this type of situation, and it is my hope that since it is our land, then we need to be heard. Many of us are very concerned about the RV park since it would disrupt the natural landscape. Please keep our wild areas as wild as they can be, since there are not many left in this world.
TDEC response to above comment: Currently there is no funding for an RV park, our current development priorities are for a visitor’s center and a new road to allow for easier access to the park.
Comment: I think it would be a real shame to see this special land spoiled in any way. Please take our voices into consideration. Tennessee State Parks set out in 1937 to preserve and protect natural, cultural and historic resources. What happened to that mission? If plans proceed, bulldozers will carve out just one more overdeveloped playground, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and squandering another of our few remaining wild places. I do not approve of the current plan for Rocky Fork that would permanently destroy habitat. Do not compare Rocky Fork to The Smokies, they are not the same and cannot be compared as if they were. Sometimes, you have to just STOP. STOP, and look around, and REALIZE that it is OK to leave things alone! It is OK to NOT have a visitors center. It is OK to not have a road. It is OK to not have a zillion people trampling the place. It is OK to be fiscally responsible for taxpayers money and not waste it! Stand up and say “STOP. We don’t HAVE to do this.” Save this magnificiant park the way it is.
Comment: My heritage is Tennessee! Born in Chattanooga, now living in the mountains of North Carolina 45 minutes from the exquisite, biodiverse land in the Appalachian Mountains, Rocky Fork (Preserve). In 2008 I was one of the thousands of contributors to our Land Protection organizations (Southern Appalachian Conservancy) to protect Rocky Fork from being “developed”, allowing it to remain a pristine, natural area where the Peregrine Falcons are known to breed and other rare species of animal and plant life flourish! My family and many friends who visit Asheville, coming from near and far have loved hiking in Rocky Fork with me and local families from Flag Pond and Erwin areas of Tennessee. Any disruption to the natural design via bulldozing for roads, large parking areas and visitor center have long range impact on the area: wildlife and plants will suffer decline by having their natural habitats disturbed. Many people flock to this area of our world BECAUSE of the NATURAL beauty and purity of the area. Please keep it this way. There is NO return once the land has been manipulated to incorporate the masses of RV’s, increased traffic, increased noise and destruction of natural resources.
Comment: Rocky Fork State Park is 10 minutes from me and I value what it offers, now: Hiking trails, Flint creek, White Oak Flats. I would hate to see this park destroyed with a 24 foot road up to Flint Mountain. This park should be set aside for Eco Tourism and not for high development. A 24 foot road would be an ugly gash in this pristine area. A Visitor area should be outside the Park, perhaps before entering Rocky Fork Road. I would prefer a modest structure with restrooms and information and a ranger station. Primitive camping with foot bridges to it is preferable to campers. The town Flag Pond is so close. It would give the town and area an economic boost to provide camping areas and there are some already in place up the road. Flag Pond could provide camp stores and supplies, a small grocery store, gas station. Make the area around Rocky Fork available for tourist without developing the park. I think of Max Patch on the NC/TN boarder, another pristine area with steep mountain sides. There are views but no developed roads. There are horse trails further down the mountain on undeveloped roads. Rocky Fork could be valued and used as these places. I fear large bridges and wide roads would be a folly for this park. Let’s keep this park for hikers and walkers.
Comment: This is a boondoggle for someone (your favorite contractor?), but not for the people who live there. Any road construction can create terrible access to jobs elsewhere for months and harm the people who live within 20 or more miles. Why can you not put the visitors center on the Interstate or incorporate it into the Visitors’ Center that’s within a couple or three miles?!! This is a terrible waste of taxpayer money; to my knowledge there’s never been an “overflow” crowd there waiting to get in. Get over the “if you build it, they will come” mythology. In the meantime, you have done irreparable damage to the amazing diversity that would be enjoyed for generations to come. And you’ve ruined one of the most beautiful rapidly flowing creeks and created rubble and possible flooding in an area that is doing very well without TDEC, thank you very much! As it is, hikers can enjoy a place of some solitude and nature as the Creator intended.
Comment: This idea merits serious re-consideration. Millions of taxpayer dollars would be directed towards an un-needed project and another “road to nowhere”, forever altering this beautiful park. Having just read about the plans to construct a ridiculous road in the Rocky Fork tract near Flag Pond – I had to write to ask that you change these plans. This access road will destroy the very nature and appeal of this special place, and possibly destroy the trout stream and displace wildlife. The cost is crazy too. I would like to know who bid on this project and who will be doing the work, especially if they will be private contractors paid by state funds. This seems a boondoggle if there ever was one. And surely money that could be put to better use. And it destroys the park rather than making it better. Let’s get this out there to more individuals and the media and do due diligence before anything is started. I am of the opinion that Rocky Fork State Park is one of the most important wild expanses we have. Many people from Tennessee and North Carolina go here all the time to enjoy nature. How can we do that if there’s construction of a completely unnecessary road underway. The ecological impacts of this project alone should automatically stop this.
Comment: The public and Unicoi County would be better served if the Visitor Center and proposed RV park were located outside the park on available land. The millions of dollars saved could be used to shuttle guests into the park. This approach would funnel tax dollars to Unicoi County, and be more conducive to growing the local economy. In addition to threats to endangered species, the synchronous firefly has been recently discovered along Rocky Fork Creek and the field where the proposed visitor center will be built. While not a protected species, these fireflies along with the Blue Ghost fireflies are wildly popular with the public. This habitat will be endangered under the current development plan. The Battle of Flint Creek occured very close to proposed construction. This is a historic site where over a hundred native americans are buried, and this is not mentioned in the permit. This needs to be addressed. The public has largely been left out of this plan. Completed plans were revealed in November that included very little public input. This is the people’s park, and if the Tennessee government cares to listen, I think that most would prefer to Keep Rocky Fork Wild, save taxpayers millions of dollars in the process, and generate revenue for Unicoi county. Now that people are finding out what this plan entails, you will find they are against it.
Comment: I am a former USFS employee and Natural Resources Specialist having served at the Southern Research Station: Bent Creek Experimental Forest. I live within a 10 minute drive of Rocky Fork State Park and often go with my family. The development that already exists is sufficient. The radical changes and cost proposed will change the park from the national treasure it is. The unique and ancient waterways, the delicate, threatened, and endangered herbaceous riparian forest species that are therein well-established will be jeopardized. These changes will all be upsetting to the local community that are the main visitors to the park. I do not believe the park will ever bring in enough additional revenue to justify the inordinate expense. Please reconsider your plans and redesign them to keep the park in a state of well managed wildness as it is and has been. Establishing a campground there, should it ever become a successful source of revenue, will ultimately decimate the delicate ecology of this most valuable natural resource and ecological regime.
Comment: Rocky Fork is a wonderful primitive destination for hiking, bicycling, fishing, and horseback riding, and an RV campground and road into the higher elevations seem to be overkill for a small park whose primary appeal is its relatively pristine character. I personally would love to see Rocky Fork remain a relatively unknown and undeveloped park, but I realize that is not realistic. However, I believe it can be developed with a small visitor center, restrooms, small picnic area, and perhaps a primitive tent campground without destroying too much of its wild character. I urge planners to reconsider overdeveloping Rocky Fork and trying to turn it into something it is not. There are already plenty of natural areas in the southern Appalachians that can accommodate RVs, have roads up to the ridge tops, and attract large crowds of casual visitors. Rocky Fork has the chance to keep its full natural appeal while remaining accessible to anyone willing to put forth a small amount of effort.
Comment: Watauga Group of the Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club request that prior to finalizing plans for the expansion and development of visitor facilities at Rocky Creek SP that an extensive survey of firefly habitat be conducted in the spring of 2019, May through June, during the mating season when these species are actively flashing/glowing. Two unique species of fireflies have been sighted in the Park, the Blue Ghost firefly, Phausis reticulata, and the Synchronous Flashing firefly, Photinus carolinus. These species are found in restricted areas in the Southern Appalachians in moist forests. NE TN may be unique in having both species in one of its already protected areas. We also support other conservation groups and concerned citizens in requesting that plans for road and facilities siting include restrictions that avoid, protect and enhance the unique, and sensitive habitats and ecosystems of the Park. These natural areas and phenomena should be conserved, not only because of their intrinsic value to the entire NE TN environment, but for the appreciation and richness of visitor experience in the Park.
Comment: I am a botanist/plant ecologist. I believe that Rocky Fork is too small to accommodate the development that has been described without permanent damage to the fragile ecosystems that are found there. If this development goes forward as planned, it will destroy the very nature of the park that was the impetus for its preservation in the first place. Please consider scaling back the development in order to maintain the biodiversity of this small, precious tract. The park does not need any improvements. $15,000,000 will devastate the parks natural beauty. I would rather be told not to go into the park than have the state come in and put infrastructure in just for humans and another way to bring in a quick buck. I am deeply concerned that the planned development of Rocky Fork will have a destructive impact on native species and specifically the firefly population. Having grown up in an area with a significant firefly population which over the last 40 years has dwindled to nothing, I strongly believe that paved roads and visitors centers that destroy and negatively impact native species are a very bad idea. Please look at Rocky Fork as a natural resource that may not need any development. Just preserving it for future generations may be the best use of the land.
Comment: Proposal for a Progressive Approach to Public Access at Rocky Fork State Park Rationale: As a newly formed primitive park, RFSP can lead the way for Tennessee State Parks and serve as a demonstration of low-impact, long-term sustainable use of park resources while saving state funds and spurring local economic development. Approach: Eliminate plans for a two-lane paved road and replace the plan for an open public road with a shuttle system similar to those in Yosemite and Zion National Parks. Rocky Fork State Park in unique among the Tennessee State Parks in that it contains almost no level land. Among the proposed developments within the park boundaries is a RV camping park. In order to construct this, a significant area within the park will need to be leveled and paved destroying a natural area along Rocky Fork. This development is contrary to the Tennessee State Parks Mission Statement which is… “To preserve and protect, in perpetuity, unique examples of natural, cultural, and scenic areas and provide a variety of safe, quality, outdoor experiences through a well-planned and professionally managed system of state parks.”
Comment: We are concerned RFSP natural resources will not be adequately protected without first developing a master plan. Within such comprehensive planning, we urge consideration of alternative sites and further consideration of public input. A master plan that includes future uses, stakeholder input and considers locating this currently proposed road and visitors center on property adjoining the current Park boundaries that the State has recently acquired. The proposed visitors center and 24-foot wide paved road up Flint Mountain appears to encourage future inappropriate development that would adversely impact RFSP natural resources that draw local visitors and tourism. It is ecologically wise to take a holistic approach to RFSP infrastructure and amenities by the completion of a comprehensive master plan documenting good-faith consideration of all options and concerns.
Comment: Rocky Fork is one of the most pristine and wild natural areas located in Tennessee. As such I was supportive of the State Parks acquisitioning the park thinking that would be the best possible way to maintain the pristine condition of the area. However the State’s current haphazard plans for the park demonstrate the very opposite. There has been no communication from State Parks regarding an all encompassing plan for the protection of the pristine condition of the park. The multi-million dollar road up Flint mountain (to nowhere) is apparently a pet project of the current governor. I was shocked to read the letter from State Parks to TN Environment requesting the environmental impact statement for the road with a special request to speed the process along because it is a project the governor wants to be completed quickly. Unbelievable! State Parks is not being protective of human health and safety to build a visitors center and road up Flint mountain that will increase traffic flow and accidents on the sub-standard road from the highway to the state park. I request that State Parks stop their plans to construct a road up Flint Mountain and direct those funds to upgrade the road from the highway to the entrance of Rocky Fork State Park. Additionally, I request State Parks delay construction of a visitors center until a comprehensive long-term plan that safeguards the pristine quality of the area is developed and is vetted with stake holders.
Comment: I don’t think any development should happen inside this park. No RV park, no road to nowhere, no visitor center, etc. This should remain a wild place. You are going to destroy many sensitive areas and permanently damage healthy streams. I’ve spent weeks backpacking in this beautiful park. Why would you destroy it just for RVs and cars to drive in to nowhere? Keep the diversity undisturbed please in your future planning! NO fancy visitor center and roads in this little gem. DO NOT try to spoil its beauty just to bring more people to it. Those who appreciate wild places will find it and tread lightly. Crowds will destroy it! Think hard about protecting this land for true nature enthusiasts rather than opening it up as a tourist attraction. Your plan for Rocky Fork is oversized and out of scope. You can have a visitors center that is AWAY from the park. You can have shuttles to take ECO TOURISTS to the park, from your visitors center, which could be a few miles away and not endanger this very important park. I know you can see that your current plan is not the right thing to do. DO THE RIGHT THING. Resize and relocate your plan, and be a hero, and not a villan.
Comment: I visited for the first time this spring and was struck by the beauty of my peaceful surroundings. When I heard from a friend who lives in TN that the state plans to build an on-site visitors center, a bridge across the creek and cut a road into Flint mountain, I was dismayed. In my opinions, this is gross overdevelopment and will destroy this beautiful habitat. My understanding is that the visitors center and parking lot will be built on what is currently the location of a synchronous firefly habitat. Why would you destroy what has the potential to be a huge draw for tourists? It seems to me that if the state is concerned about revenue, a better route would be to preserve this fragile ecosystem and attract ecotourists who are willing to pay a premium to experience an unspoiled wilderness area. Why not encourage accommodations, eateries, etc, outside the park and built an off-site visitors center from which guests can be shuttled to the park? I believe it is possible for both the natural habitat and the local economy to thrive with careful consideration and planning. Please don’t destroy this gem of a park.
Comment: Direct and indirect impacts of the visitor center and the proposed road and campground could potentially impact other species found in the park, including state listed species. It could also impact wetlands, stream water quality, and the primitive and natural characteristic of the park environment. There has been no information available to the public documenting what impacts would result from the proposal. The public does not have sufficient information to evaluate whether these impacts would be acceptable or not. It appears that TDEC also does not have sufficient information to evaluate impacts or evaluate whether these impacts are acceptable because they have been asked, and the information supplied so far has been inadequate to make these evaluations. Given that there is inadequate information to evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposed development, TDEC should start over with a new planning process for Rocky Fork. Rocky Fork is an invaluable natural resource that many members of the public invested countless hours and resources into guiding toward public acquisition so that these resources would be protected. Many of us saw the state park system and TDEC as an appropriate guardian to safeguard a portion of the Rocky Fork area. We expect TDEC to honor this trust.
Comment: I have read the descriptions of the proposed developments planned for these acres, and I know that what is being proposed will have an irreparable and devastating effect on a very special and relatively small landscape. I believe there are ways to maximize the use and enjoyment of these lands without choking them with unneeded structures and a presence of men that is wholly beyond wise use. Rocky Fork offers the citizens of Unicoi County, East Tennessee, and the entire region a great opportunity to preserve a jewel of both human and natural history, to develop it thoughtfully and carefully so as to maintain that pristine character, while at the same time maximizing its potential economic benefit at the local level. To develop it along the lines of the plans revealed at the November Open House would be to sentence it to ultimate destruction, quickly or slowly, but destruction nonetheless.
Comment: I visited Rocky Fork earlier this year and was struck by its beauty. Many state parks are cookie-cutter developments with large visitor’s centers, central parking facilities, RV and tent camping. The state of TN has an opportunity to avoid that mistake with Rocky Fork. All state parks do not need to be the same. Protect the biodiversity of Rocky Fork, particularly the synchronous fireflies, by protecting their habitat; protect the beauty of the creek by prohibiting major road development. Consider the fragility of the area by protecting the very resources that out of state visitors come to see. I walked the trails leading into Rocky Fork. I didn’t need to take my car up the road nor did I need to bring my RV and stay there. As an out-of-state visitor, I came to see the unique habitat that Unicoi County has in Rocky Fork. Please don’t destroy it by overdevelopment.
Comment: The 10,000-acre Rocky Fork Tract is known by scientists and conservation professionals as a high conservation-value Appalachian forest landscape. It is highly valued by thousands of visitors from both Unicoi County and the four-state region. Tennessee State Parks should rightfully celebrate the acquisition of the lower 2,037 acres of this watershed for the new Rocky Fork State Park and create a management plan that exemplifies the quality of the natural resource itself. These are public lands acquired with funds from citizens of the US, and now owned by the citizens of Tennessee. The State has an obligation, and an opportunity, to provide exemplary leadership in the management of this outstanding resource for generations to follow. To do less is to neglect public trust and knowingly allow the degradation of a rare natural treasure.
Comment: Rocky Fork is a fairly pristine tract and should only be minimally developed, the land and what’s there is the attraction and anything built there will only degrade it. The commissioner said at the meeting he couldn’t imagine the Smokies park without its road, this is ridiculous as the smokies is about 250 times the size of RFSP and with just 2000 acres it is hard to justify a 24 foot wide two lane road up the mountain for access to only an overlook and primitive campground. Locals have dubbed it the “road to nowhere” and don’t want to spend millions for it. We are not fooled though and figure a few years later you will widen Rocky Fork Road, doing a great deal of damage in the process, and then with two lanes into the park and up the mountain you will come back a few years later and add the dreaded RVs. This is not what the public want at all. The commissioner also said to the Friends group that TDEC got all the public input they needed from the Stakeholders meetings years ago, how disrespectful can you get, those meetings were not public and you basically admitted you have made your plans without the public’s input. TDEC has been very secretive about plans for the park because public input has not helped shape the plans and the public would not like them. Now you came saying you want comments but the plans are made and ready to begin construction soon, shame on you. TDEC wants to get the plans finalized before a new governor takes office and is rushing the process forward without the proper public scrutiny and participation and I feel the only way to end up with general public support would be to slow down, be transparent, take time to incorporate the comments you get into the plans and wait until everyone is happy about the plan before constructing anything. Rocky Fork doesn’t even have a management plan yet, it’s asking for trouble to begin construction without the full site and management plan finished.
Comment: I am one of three people who discovered that Blue Ghost and Synchronous Fireflies exist in Rocky Fork State Park, and shared this with park staff. Even if insects such as lightning bugs are not federally protected species, they do represent a charismatic draw for tourism and should therefore be protected. Their hatching and mating grounds are right along Rocky Fork’s narrow one-lane paved entry road-what locals refer to as “the prettiest mile of road in Tennessee”-which is tightly wedged between the gorgeous Rocky Fork Creek on one side and steep-sloping rock embankments on the other. These two species are also breeding and spawning in what is now a parking lot destined to be the visitor center, and in the woods behind that, destined to be the new parking area. If these areas that host the fireflies are destroyed, it will be yet another instance of development decimating what makes the park unique-and plowing under a bioluminescent miracle that could propel the park to national fame if handled and marketed properly. We the public, who own the lands and pay your salaries, are your greatest resource and deserve to be treated with respect. Please respond and work with us to implement our comments.
Comment: We both have degrees in Wildlife/Natural Resource Management and are former employees of the National Park Service. We are greatly concerned by the announced plan to build a 24-foot wide paved road over Rocky Fork Creek, extending up Flint Mountain for about 3/4 mile, ending in a few parking spaces. Cost estimates for the project range upward to $10 million. The road would include very steep sections with up to 17% grades. That is currently twice the gradient approved in TN state standards. Why would your management propose and promote such a plan, knowing how costly and potentially dangerous that road will be? We realize there was previous public discussion in 2015 of locating a 40- to 60-unit RV campground on Flint Mountain. Park officials at the recent meeting indicated that campground was not planned at this time, but why else would you build such a “road to nowhere?” Common sense should prevail. Neither this road nor the campground should be built in that location. We realize many TN state parks include lodges, but a very important reason not to disturb Rocky Fork with this type of development is to preserve the unique flora and fauna found in the streams and wetlands here. Synchronous fireflies rely on these habitats, as do many other wildflowers, small mammals, insects, birds, etc. that park visitors come to see and enjoy. Aldo Leopold, often called the father of wildlife management, warned, “Man always kills the things he loves.” In this case, the development you propose surely would have tremendous negative impacts on the fragile ecology of Rocky Fork State Park. The treasures of Rocky Fork include its pristine beauty, trout-hosting streams, uncrowded trails, and healthy ecosystems. So many natural areas have been forever altered by adding campgrounds, lodges, and concessions. Why not work with private citizens nearby, but outside the park, to offer these services? And it would be quite welcome at the next public meeting, if your representatives did not arrive with slick architectural plans that have already cost taxpayers considerable amounts, but instead came to LISTEN to what park neighbors and others in the area would like to see as we share this treasured natural area with the wider world. It behooves you to give the utmost priority to protecting this fragile area, including all of its flora and fauna, through green, low-impact visitation options.
Comment: Before and after its establishment, RFSP was envisioned as a “primitive state park”, one in which preserving the abundant natural and wild characteristics of the site would be paramount. It was to be a park that emphasized low impact recreational use that included hiking, nature study, mountain biking, and low impact (hike-in) camping. For approximately two years, I was a member of the RFSP steering committee, with meetings organized by the state and held approximately once every two months. This committee included representative from the state DEC, US Forest Service, Unicoi County Commission, Appalachian Trail Conference, Mountain Bikers, Upper East Tennessee Backcountry Riders, ETSU, and TDEC. Without exception, all supported the concept of a primitive, low development park. None were in favor of road development within the park. None favored RV sites. Instead, to spur economic development in the county, all favored private development in the surrounding area of campgrounds, B&Bs, food establishments, etc. The current development plan for RFSP is not in line with the primate state park goals. Most damaging to the environment, is the plan for a 24 foot wide road up Flint Mountain to a drive-in campground–one that could eventually accommodate RVs. The plan is for a road that will render the adjoining creek subject to excessive runoff and ensuing flooding, and to sedimentation and degradation of the main stem of Rocky Fork Creek. This will degrade water quality for trout habitat and for human users downstream. In one of the Steering Committee meetings in 2014, I presented a plan that would use electric vehicles to transport visitors to the battle site and to a campground. That plan would eliminate the need for wide paved roads and minimize environmental impacts while providing access to members of the public unable or disinclined to walk. The electric multi-person vehicles could be run as a privately operated concession whose cost, even with subsidies to a concessionaire, would dwarf that of the proposed 24′ wide road. That plan needs the serious consideration it never received.
TDEC Response to Above Comments: Any unavoidable impacts to streams or, to a lesser extent, wetlands that will occur as a result of park development will require mitigation for the specific resource type in accordance with state and federal rules protecting water quality. Neither degradation nor a net loss of resource value can occur as a result of permitted activities in accordance with state rules. Past logging and forestry practices have resulted in the modification and diversion of several streams from their original channels in the park area. These streams are Exceptional Tennessee Waters because they are within a state park and are naturally reproducing trout streams. TDEC and its contractor, in consultation with TDOT, are proposing to restore several of these streams. For every foot of stream impacted through stream crossings by the access road project, the mitigation plan is proposing to restore 1.5 feet of stream within the park
Comments unopposed to development:
Comment: Thank you for conducting a public meeting in our community with updates about Rocky Fork State Park. We appreciate all the work TDEC and TDOT is doing to improve the road and amenities in the Park. It is my sincere hope that everyone can enjoy this park and that goes for Veterans, handicapped and elderly folks having access to view Rocky Fork. The proposed plans for the road and visitor’s center only touch on the outer edges of over 2,000 acres. This way the interior and views of the water and mountains are preserved. In the presentations at the meeting it was clear that TDEC and TDOT has done extensive research to enhance Rocky Fork with as little impact as possible to the environment. We are all excited to see this park grow and be something everyone can enjoy for years to come! Thank You!
Comment: I would love to see the education programming continue at Rocky Fork. I also believe that this park would benefit from having a splash pad and disc golf course. The splash pad would be great for family campers and local community. The disc golf course could bring people from all over Southeast region plus the cost for an 18 hole course is less than $10,000. You could even charge a cost to play the course for maintenance, etc. I am a member of Lakefront Disc Golf Club which includes all NE Tennessee disc golf courses. Unicoi County is home to great outdoor recreation and this would be an asset to this park. I also believe Rocky Fork would benefit sales from having a license plate specifically for the park. Battlefield tours are an added bonus to this park. The Hikes are unbelievable. Glad to see the park being utilized even though campgrounds-facilities aren’t built yet.
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