UNICOI — Although the when and where has not yet been determined, the U.S. Forest Service’s Watauga Ranger District office located here will eventually be moved.
Terry McDonald, public affairs officer with the Cherokee National Forest, said the office’s move has been a topic of discussion for several years. For more than a decade, the Forest Service has leased the property where the office is located on Unicoi Drive. McDonald said agency officials began looking at federally owned locations for the office’s relocation.
“We’re not looking to go into a lease again or we wouldn’t move,” McDonald said. “We’re looking at getting our own (property) to reduce that lease, the annual lease costs, whatever those are.”
In 2007, the Forest Service identified the Rat Branch area on Watauga Lake in Carter County as a central location for both a work center and the relocated ranger station. Around a year ago, a Forest Service work center was constructed near Rat Branch. As part of that same proposal, the Watauga Ranger District office also was to be constructed there, McDonald said.
But construction of a new ranger station has been put on hold. McDonald said when JaSal Morris was named forest supervisor of the Cherokee National Forest last fall, Morris wanted to examine other locations to see if Rat Branch would still be the best destination for the district office.
McDonald said this assessment of other federally owned properties, which will also look at the property where the Cherokee Hotshots work center is located in Unicoi, is still ongoing.
Even if the Watauga Ranger District office is moved out of Unicoi, McDonald said the Hotshots work center will remain in the area and the relocated ranger district office would still be zoned to cover Unicoi County.
“When that’s going to happen, we don’t know,” McDonald said of the office’s move. “We haven’t received funding for it yet. It could be later this year in ’13, it could be ’14.”