In a visit to Flag Pond early Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the state park in Unicoi County “will hereto after be known as Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.”
On hand for the unveiling of the new sign on Old Asheville Highway directing visitors to the park entrance, Alexander described Rocky Fork as “a national treasure.” And he said its renaming was a “completely unexpected honor.”
“This is Upper East Tennessee’s gateway to the Appalachian Trail and that will be a signature for this area,” Alexander said.
Just two weeks short of the end of Haslam’s tenure as governor, Alexander called Haslam’s “record and all he has accomplished with his wife Crissy” astounding. And he said he shared the governor’s wish that his wife could be there to share in Monday’s announcement
“It’s the same for me, Alexander said. “The (park) name would be very big if it included everyone who had a role.”
Reviewing Rocky Fork’s history and thanking groups and individuals that preserved the land and worked to make the park a reality, Alexander credited the Conservation Fund for doing “something the government could not do.”
“They spent $40 million to buy the property and over time you bought it back from them with mostly federal dollars,” he said.
But it was Haslam, he said, who “had the vision” to make 2,000 of the 10,000 preserved acres at Rocky Fork “a state park with an entrance to the Appalachian Trail and an economic benefit to Unicoi County.”
“I’m grateful and surprised,” he said. “It could not have happened in a nicer place.
“There is not a more beautiful spot in our country than right here.”
Also on hand for the announcement, Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said designs for the park’s visitors center and access road are both in the final phase and groundbreaking for the visitors center remains on track for later this year.
Asked about his possible 2020 run for the Senate seat being vacated with Alexander’s retirement, Haslam said his immediate plan after leaving office is for long vacation after which he and Crissy will give the Senate race a proper period of thought and prayer.
With two more years left in the Senate, Alexander said his top priorities will be on lowering health care costs and making education more affordable for everyone.
Asked about the ongoing government shutdown, Alexander said, “That needs to end. We need to make government work ... We need to act like adults, sit down with the president and congressional members and come to a decision.”
On the president’s consideration of a national emergency declaration that would allow use of military funding to build a wall on the southern border, Alexander said he is willing to listen to the proposal and “if it is rational, I’ll support it.”
“If we act like adults, all of this could come to an end in 24 hours,” Alexander said.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]press.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised from its original version to state Rocky Fork was preserved by its purchase by The Conservation Fund, a national conservation organization, rather than the federal Land and Water Fund, a federal fund at work since the 1960s.