Wilderness Bill Introduced To Preserve Tracts
Rocky Fork Area’s $6M Expansion Included In Budget
Tennessee’s two U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — introduced a bill Wednesday to designate 19,556 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as six different wilderness areas.
In a telephone conference call to Tennessee media, Sen. Alexander said that none of the areas are in Greene County, though one will extend the Sampson Mountain Wilderness Area.
About half of the existing Sampson Mountain Wilderness Area is in the eastern tip of Greene County.
The bill, called the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010, would not acquire any additional land, the senator said, but would add the protection of law to areas in the Cherokee National Forest that are already being maintained as wilderness.
ROCKY FORK: TOP PRIORITY
In addition, Alexander was quick to point out to The Greeneville Sun, the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork area, which adjoins the Sampson Mountain Wilderness Area, remains “the number one acquisition priority” for the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service has acquired about half of the Rocky Fork tract from the Conservation Fund, which bought it two years ago to prevent commercial development.
The Forest Service plans to acquire the entire tract, as funds become available.
Alexander said, “Another $6 million is in the president’s budget this year to continue to acquire that property for Rocky Fork.”
“Greene County is doing pretty well,” he said.
Terry Bowerman, Nolichucky-Unaka District Ranger for the Cherokee National Forest, based in Greeneville, said in a separate telephone interview that the proposed 2,922-acre addition to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness lies to the north of Sampson Mountain, while the Rocky Fork tract lies to its south.
Bowerman said motorists traveling from Greeneville toward Erwin on State Route 107 can see the proposed area on the right side of the highway where the Nolichucky River is on the left.
Much of the extension of the Sampson Mountain wilderness area is drained by Clarks Creek, Bowerman said. A turn to the right into the area can be made where Enon Baptist Church is on the left of the highway, just before the John Sevier historical marker, he said.
‘STEEP, ROUGH LAND’
The area is “really steep, rough land,” the district ranger said. Since it is already being maintained as a wilderness area, the two trails into it can only be maintained using hand tools, except in cases of fires or emergencies, he said.
All of the areas were recommended for wilderness status by the U.S. Forest Service in the development of its comprehensive 2004 forest plan and have been managed as Wilderness Study Areas since that time, Alexander said.
In a prepared statement, the senator said, “I grew up hiking in the mountains of East Tennessee and know firsthand that these beautiful landscapes should be preserved for generations to come.”
He said the bill is an important step in “conserving some of the most pristine areas in Tennessee and will strengthen the legacy of Tennessee’s natural heritage.”
Corker, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed.
“We are blessed in East Tennessee with God-given amenities and an unparalleled natural environment, and the Cherokee National Forest is a prime example,” Corker said.
He added, “I thank Sen. Alexander for his lifelong commitment to protecting scenic wilderness areas and am proud to join him in this effort to preserve Cherokee National Forest for future generations of Tennesseans and Americans to enjoy.”
Congress began protecting wilderness areas in the Cherokee National Forest in 1975, with additional wilderness areas being established by the Tennessee Wilderness Acts of 1984 and 1986.
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010 specifically creates one new wilderness area and expands the boundaries of five separate existing wilderness areas already within the Cherokee National Forest.
Since these areas are owned entirely by the U.S. Forest Service and are being managed as Wilderness Study Areas currently, this bill will have no effect on privately-owned lands and will cause no change in access for the public, Alexander said. “No roads will be closed,” he added.
WILL SKELTON COMMENTS
Joining Alexander on the call was Will Skelton, a retired Knoxville attorney and writer of “Guide to Hiking in the Cherokee National Forest,” published by UT Press.
Alexander praised Skelton for his work in helping draft Tennessee Wilderness Acts in 1975, 1984 and 1986.
The senator said a new group called Tennessee Wild was involved in the current bill, which is the first to designate any additional wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest since 1986.
Skelton said the earlier acts had to leave out “several desirable scenic areas” that the current bill will protect, and commended Alexander and Corker.
Skelton also said the area to be added to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness is “visible within eyesight from some of the hills near Greeneville.”
The other area in Northeast Tennessee, he said, is the addition to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness in Carter and Johnson counties, northeast of Elizabethton.
The “biggest and frankly best part” of the land that would be protected by the 2010 act, Skelton said, is a saucer-shaped area in Monroe County in southeast Tennessee, where the bill will create the Upper Bald River Wilderness.
“All of that area is protected, and will mean clean water flowing through that river for the rest of our lives,” Skelton said.
ADDED ACREAGE FIGURES
According to a news release, the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010:
* Adds 2,922 acres to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness (2,011 acres in Washington County and 911 acres in Unicoi County);
* Adds 4,446 acres to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness (Carter and Johnson County);
* Creates the 9,038-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness (Monroe County);
* Adds 348 acres to the Big Frog Wilderness (Polk County);
* Adds 966 acres to the Little Frog Wilderness (Polk County);
* Adds 1,836 acres to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (Monroe County).