More than a year after announcing construction on an access road and visitors center for the park would begin in 2019, officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are returning to Erwin for a pair of planning meetings with local “stakeholders.”
Scheduled for Thursday evening and Friday morning at Erwin Town Hall, the two Tennessee State Parks planning sessions are being conducted by invitation only to solicit input for a park master plan from a variety of “regional stakeholders”
Marie Rice, president of the Friends of Rocky Fork group that will be participating in the meetings, said a series of similar meetings with the group and various other outdoor recreation organizations were conducted in 2014 and 2015, years ahead of the state’s Nov. 9, 2018, presentation of its initial plans for development of the park.
Rice said the state will conduct additional input meetings with the public at a later date, possibly in April or May. “Basically, they are starting the whole process over,” she said.
A notice posted on Facebook by the nonprofit Cherokee Forest Voices group said that has also been invited to take part in this week’s meetings. The notice states the goal is “to solicit input from a variety of regional stakeholders through a ‘mapping charrette’ that can be used in the creation of a park master plan for Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.”
State offices were closed on Monday for President’s Day and TDEC officials could not be reached for comment on the meetings or the status of plans for the park’s development.
According to Rice, the state’s delay in the development of the park and abandonment of the state’s original plans occurred in response to opposition to construction of visitors center near the park entrance and an access that would have extended to the top of Flint Mountain.
Several of the estimated 100 people who attended the state’s 2018 presentation of Rocky Fork development plans spoke in opposition to those and other specific aspects of the plans that they said would be a detriment to conservation of the park’s unique natural resources.
The state continued to gather public comments on the plans during a public input period that extended through mid-December 2018. Debate between those who support and those who opposed the state’s initial plans for park have continued since then in various media outlets, including the Johnson City Press.
News that this week’s meetings will not be open to the public has also generated negative feedback from those who feel those meetings should be public.
Connie Deegan, a park naturalist for the city of Johnson City, said the issues to be discussed are important to everyone and as many people as possible should be involved.