Unicoi County, Tenn., is home to Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, renamed in January to honor the Tennessee senator. But now, many of the conservation advocates involved in the wild and rustic park’s 2015 creation are speaking out against the state’s plans for development.
In November 2018, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced plans to build a two-lane access road to an overlook and campground, a bridge and a visitor’s center with a parking lot. Critics argue that these projects would harm vulnerable wildlife and destroy the characteristics that make Rocky Fork unique.
Conservation advocates argue that building a visitor center and parking lot at the proposed site would destroy habitat for synchronous and blue ghost fireflies, as well as the star-nosed mole, a species of special concern in Tennessee. Construction of the steep, two-lane road and associated retainer walls would cause sediment pollution in Rocky Fork Creek, according to architect and rural resources planner Taylor Barnhill.
In May, an engineering firm began clearing land to survey the proposed road site, a process that involves bulldozer work and cutting trees. In an email, local conservation proponent John Beaudet wrote that he was alarmed to see these impacts occurring because staff at TDEC and Tennessee State Parks had recently told him and other advocates that there would be more meetings and public input opportunities before any work might begin.
“Should the state realize their mistake and re-design or abandon the project to build the road (which has not been able to acquire permits yet) this damage would be all for nothing,” he wrote.
Beaudet and other conservation advocates want to see a comprehensive planning process for the park — with plenty of public input — that would allow for a conversation about alternatives. Learn more at rockyforkjournal.com. — By Molly Moore