ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has completed its purchase of a large undeveloped tract of land in the Appalachians.
The tract, known as Rocky Fork, is nearly 10,000 acres and lies in Unicoi and Greene counties in East Tennessee. The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/WvsG15) reported $5 million in funding from the USDA helped it finalized the purchase of 1,200 acres — the last section that was privately owned.
Preserving as much of Rocky Fork as possible became a priority of the U.S. Forest Service when it acquired the first parcel of it in 2008 as the land went up for sale.
In all, the Forest Service has spent $40 million to keep 7,667 acres open for public use. The Conservation Fund owns about 2,000 acres of the tract.
“This final Forest Service acquisition is huge, not only in the number of acres, but in potential economic impacts,” District Ranger Terry Bowerman said in a statement about the purchase. “It will also help conserve and protect many outstanding natural and scenic resources. This is truly a dream come true for many people.”
He noted that several local, state and federal agencies and lawmakers worked together to make the purchase possible.
“Tennesseans are enthusiastic protectors of the great outdoors, and I am pleased that the efforts at Rocky Fork will preserve this remarkable place for future generations,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said.
Bowerman said that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency leased the land from property owners for several years in order to keep it open for activities such as hunting, camping and fishing. However, property owners decided to sell and instead of potentially having the land developed, the U.S. Forest Service decided to purchase it.
Ralph Knoll, a spokesman for the Conservation Fund, said that organization is working with state and federal officials in an effort to open its acreage to the public and for economic development opportunities.
He called the purchase significant for the region.
“You call Rocky Fork a special place because of the unwavering dedication and determination of so many individuals and groups to preserve its natural heritage,” he said. “We are especially grateful for the support of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, who have been instrumental throughout this landscape-scale conservation effort.”