Thursday, February 11, 2016
A coalition of outdoorsmen, business owners, faith leaders, and conservationists Thursday praised a new bill introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) that would safeguard roughly 7,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee for future generations.
The legislation would add to the existing Sampson Mountain and Big Laurel Branch wilderness areas in northeast Tennessee. The U.S. Forest Service recommended these lands for wilderness status in a 2004 forest management plan for the Cherokee. Similar legislation, S. 755, to protect a larger number of acres in the Cherokee has been introduced four times over the past eight years by Tennessee’s two senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
Wilderness status would not change public access to this land, which would remain open to hunting, hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and other non-mechanized recreation. No roads would be closed as a result of the wilderness designation. Logging, mining, or road building would not be allowed.
“I have been fly fishing since I was a kid, and there is no place like the Cherokee National Forest,” said Chad Williams, fishing guide for The Smoky Mountain Angler in Sevier County. “Passing the Tennessee Wilderness Act will preserve hunters’ and anglers’ time-tested traditions for generations to come. I want to thank Congressman Roe, along with Senators Alexander and Corker, for doing what’s best for Tennessee’s natural and cultural heritage.”
The proposal is popular in the state, with 74 percent of Tennesseans supporting designation of additional Cherokee National Forest land as wilderness. Only a small portion – 10 percent – of the Cherokee is protected as wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
“It is our responsibility to leave a better world to our children and grandchildren,” said Rev. Jeff Wadley, a local United Methodist camp director. “People from all walks of life and religious backgrounds go into nature when they need to find solace. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing retreat right in East Tennessee.”
The legislation proposed by Rep. Roe and Senators Alexander and Corker would result in the first new wilderness for Tennessee in over 25 years, preserving wildlife habitat, land and water recreational opportunities, and clean drinking water to nearby communities. The Cherokee National Forest has long been popular with hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, horseback riders, paddlers, swimmers, and rafters. All of these activities will continue upon the passage of the Tennessee Wilderness Act.
Dawson Wheeler, owner of Rock/Creek Outfitters said, “The Cherokee National Forest is our natural capital, and protecting Tennessee’s big back yard makes economic sense. My livelihood depends on the Cherokee National Forest being wild. I hope that Congress follows Rep. Roe, and Senators Alexander and Corker’s leads and passes this important bill.”
Outdoor recreation generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending each year and supports 83,000 direct jobs across the state.