Tag Archives: TDEC

Rocky Fork’s Brand New Plan

Under the new leadership of David Salyers at Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Jim Bryson at the Bureau of Parks and Conservation, the plans for development of Rocky Fork State Park are being re-visited.

At two planning meetings last week—facilitated by Robert Reedy of Reedy and Sykes Architectural Consultants who have designed numerous facilities in Tennessee State Parks—input from many stakeholders was gathered to help guide new plans for the park. TDEC staff stated that the road up Flint Mountain is no longer being considered and announced other changes under consideration, such as moving the location of the visitor center to a site outside the park on the area’s main road.

The meetings were structured as charrettes with small focus groups discussing various topics including preservation of natural and cultural sites, types and locations of facilities, means of access to the park, recreational opportunities and development to support them, land management on park and surrounding forest service lands, and opportunities for economic development as a result of the park. These “roundtable” groups were facilitated by staff from TDEC, US Forest Service, Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, and area park managers and rangers.

After the sessions, facilitators reported to attendees the predominant consensus of input for each group. These reports revealed the overall desire to preserve the park’s wild and pristine nature by limiting development and locating facilities outside the park. The input showed a preference for low-impact hiking, nature study, historic site interpretation, and overall protection and preservation of the ecology of Rocky Fork. There was widespread consensus that roads, buildings, and developed campgrounds are not appropriate in the park.

Images by Joye Ardyn Durham

These meetings mark the return of a Planning Office for State Parks, which has been absent in recent years, now brought back under the leadership of Anne Marshall, Senior Advisor to Jim Bryson. Rocky Fork stands to benefit as the first subject of an improved planning process now in the works.

Next, Reedy and Sykes will compile the input gathered last week into a report to present to TDEC in about one month. Then additional input will be sought if needed, and by April or May TDEC hopes to have a draft plan available for release to the public. When that happens there may be public meetings or there may simply be a public comment period, so be alert for your chance to provide your own input. TDEC hopes to have a final plan in place by July.

Seven attend public meeting

Thursday, January 10, 2019, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, State Parks Division held a public meeting to discuss a proposal to acquire the Morrill Electric property within sight of the park entrance and apply for a grant from the EPA to clean up the contaminated site and redevelop it for the park’s use. Due to the fact that notice of this meeting was not released to the public until the day before the meeting, only five citizens participated along with one reporter from the Erwin Record and the park manager.

TDEC Grants Consultant Ryan Ray presented a proposal to apply for an EPA grant of $500,000 to clean up the site, projected to actually cost $618,000, the difference to be paid by TDEC. Although notice of this meeting alluded to the site being redeveloped into an equestrian trailhead, Ray confirmed that the grant is for cleaning up the site once TDEC acquires it and does not pertain to the precise purpose for which the site is then redeveloped.

Ray presented to the group of seven present some options for additional grants that would be pursued for funds to redevelop the site after cleanup and acknowledged that future use of the site was a separate issue and would be addressed at future public meetings and comment periods.

Although the small group seemed to all support the acquisition and clean up of the site, several questioned the future use as an equestrian trailhead and voiced opinions that the site would better serve the park as the visitor center location.

Ray reconfirmed that future use of the site is not dictated by the grant being applied for and that the various uses suggested other than as an equestrian trailhead could be considered by TDEC and discussed with the public at future meetings.

As for using the site as an equestrian trailhead, the park manager confirmed that TDEC has been working on a plan for a new horse trail into the park, which would start across the road from the site on property TDEC is working to acquire but does not yet own. One might wonder, if the park acquired land that would accommodate a new horse trail into the Flint Mountain area of the park, the same area as the proposed campground, perhaps auto access to the campground could be through that same property, thereby avoiding a great deal of environmental damage from construction of the currently proposed road to the campground area.

As for the reason for such short notice of this meeting, Ray said TDEC did not want to address the public on the topic until they were at least very close to a deal to acquire the property, and the grant sought has a deadline for application of January 31 so a very small window was available and the best he could do was a posting in the Erwin Record one day prior.

The acquisition and cleanup of this site seems to be a worthwhile project and very beneficial to the area and Unicoi County, which is currently stuck with an unusable contaminated site and could come away with a nicely redeveloped facility.

However, this will run into the millions of dollars and the future use of the site does create many questions that need to be addressed with further public input.