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Finding alternatives to Rocky Fork development
This letter is in response to David Ramsey’s excellent article (June 2).
Mr. Ramsey correctly points out that the opponents of the current development project “should invest just as much passion, energy and strategy in identifying alternatives for meeting the state's commitment to the community as they have in opposing the current project.”
I can whole-heartedly assure Mr. Ramsey and the residents of Unicoi County that “identifying alternatives” is exactly what the “opponents” are trying to do and have been desperately trying to do since TDEC finally unveiled their plans at the Nov. 12, 2018, public meeting for Rocky Fork State Park. The vast majority of the “opponents” of the current development plan are not opposed to limited development of the park. They are simply opposed to development in the wrong places.
A great example of an alternative site for building a visitor center and primitive campground is on the adjacent 88-acre property known as the “Sparks Tract.” This tract joins the parklands just above the “blue hole” along the entrance road and continues down to State Highway 352. The currently proposed site for building the visitor center is smack-dab in the middle of the breeding grounds for the rare “synchronous” and “blue ghost” fireflies whose amazing June light shows brings thousands of visitors to the park every year. The “Sparks Tract” property could provide an ideal alternative site for the visitor center that would protect the fireflies, and also provide an alternative site for a campground with much easier access than the proposed site up on Flint Mountain. The good news is the state has recently acquired this tract so this is a real alternative.
Let’s develop Rocky Fork without destroying the very things that make it so special.
TDEC, keep your promises
In an article titled “Up in Rocky Fork,” David Ramsey spoke eloquently about the history of Rocky Fork State Park. He also criticized opponents of the current road development plan, calling on us to propose alternatives that better serve the needs of Unicoi County. What we’re asking for is a meaningful opportunity for everyone to do just that — to offer ideas and consider other options, before the state rushes into a plan that sacrifices the park’s most special features.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation initially made two promises: that Rocky Fork would support economic development and that it’d remain wild. Winning support for the park was contingent on TDEC fulfilling both commitments. So, it was disheartening to read Mr. Ramsey’s piece, which implied that locals must choose between rare salamanders and fireflies or economic development and tourism. We were promised both, and we should expect nothing less. With TDEC’s current plan, we’ll get neither. As just one example, the proposed visitor center development would impinge upon accessible synchronous firefly habitat, likely ruining a major tourism attraction.
We agree that, if the state’s plan is flawed, locals “deserve the chance to say so.” That’s why several conservation groups, with local support, wrote TDEC leaders, expressing concern over the failure to include the public in the process. We encouraged TDEC to “reopen the conversation with local users.”
The time is ripe for transparent dialogue. The recent acquisition of 88 acres, with room for a campground, visitor center and trailhead, means we could develop amenities, without having to bulldoze the heart of the park.
Let’s work together to fulfill the promises made to Unicoi County. We’re asking TDEC to start that conversation immediately. Anything less would dishonor the effort already devoted to establishing what is one of Tennessee’s most valuable parks.