ERWIN — The Rocky Fork project is one step closer to completion following a deal last week between the The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Conservation Fund conveyed an approximately 1,400-acre parcel of Rocky Fork property to the Forest Service in a deal closed last Thursday. The Forest Service used $6 million in funding from the Land & Water Conservation Program — a program that gets its revenue from offshore energy development — to complete the conveyance.
Since the first property conveyance in 2008, the Forest Service has acquired around 6,500 acres in Rocky Fork property using a little more than $25 million from the federal Land & Water Conversation Fund. The state of Tennessee, through the Conservation Heritage Trust Fund, has also provided a $6 million grant and $3 million has come from private sources to allow most of the Rocky Fork area to be protected.
The goal of the Forest Service is to acquire as much of the Rocky Fork area as possible for preservation. Terry McDonald, public affairs officer with the Cherokee National Forest, previously said the Rocky Fork area is the largest undeveloped property in the southern Appalachians.
Ralph Knoll, field representative with The Conservation Fund, said all but around 19 acres of land conveyed in last week’s deal is located in Greene County, with the small remainder located in Unicoi County.
Knoll said with the deal, only about 1,200 acres of the approximately 10,000-acre Rocky Fork area remains unprotected. However, Knoll said President Barack Obama has $5 million for the Land & Water Conservation Program in his 2012 fiscal year budget proposal. If this budget proposal is passed by Congress, Knoll said it could allow for the complete conveyance of Rocky Fork property to take place next year.
“Rocky Fork is a project that’s been ongoing and we’re near the end of the project, and last week’s conveyance was clearly a step in that direction,” Knoll said. “We hope we’re successful in the FY12 federal budget so we can complete Rocky Fork some time next year.”
Lands acquired by the Forest Service will become part of the Cherokee National Forest and a land management plan will eventually be developed for these area, Knoll said.
Completion of the Rocky Fork project would not only include the conveyance of most of the remaining unprotected area to the Forest Service, but also a portion to the state of Tennessee. Knoll said if The Conservation Fund’s work with the state is successful, it could lead to the construction of a new state park at Rocky Fork.
“We feel that not only does the resource lend itself well toward a state park of some sort, it clearly would also help in the local economic development arena as well,” Knoll said.