Haslam names state park after Lamar Alexander

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville), left, and Gov. Bill Haslam attend an event at the state Capitol in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

 

Gov. Bill Haslam is renaming Rocky Fork State Park in Unicoi County after U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has announced he won’t seek another term in Congress in 2020.

Rocky Fork became Tennessee’s 55th state park when it opened in 2015. Alexander had been influential in securing more than $30 million in federal funding to buy the 15-square-mile tract to add it to the Cherokee National Forrest.

Here’s a release from Haslam’s office:

FLAG POND – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam by executive order has renamed Rocky Fork State Park in Unicoi County as Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, honoring Tennessee’s senior senator for his record of service and commitment to preservation.

“Senator Alexander has spent a lifetime serving Tennesseans and promoting Tennessee to the world,” Haslam said. “He loves the state from Memphis to Mountain City. His roots are in East Tennessee, and it is fitting that this special place in this special state bears his name. Tennessee’s state parks are indebted to him and his service both as governor and as senator, and visitors to this state park will be reminded of his work every time they visit.”

Alexander was influential in securing federal funding for the land as a United States senator. Rocky Fork is a 10,000-acre tract of mountainous land with elevations as high as 4,800 feet. Beginning in 2006, Alexander helped secure more than $30 million to purchase the tract and add it to the Cherokee National Forest so it would be permanently available for public use. In 2012, Haslam announced that more than 2,000 acres of the Rocky Fork tract would become Tennessee’s 55th state park. Alexander attended that announcement and the grand opening of the state park in September 2015.

“I am grateful for this unexpected and thoughtful gesture by Governor Haslam,” Alexander said. “Rocky Fork is a treasure in one of the most beautiful sections of our country. It is Upper East Tennessee’s ‘Gateway to the Appalachian Trail.’ Because of its natural beauty and high elevations, it should soon be one of our state’s most popular parks. Living in the foothills of the Smokies, I have seen how a popular park can provide outdoor experiences for Tennesseans and also attract tourism, jobs and tax dollars to adjacent counties.”

Environmental leaders also expressed appreciation for Alexander’s efforts and supported the renaming of the park.      

“Senator Alexander has been an indispensable champion in the multi-year endeavor to conserve this treasured mountain land, and his support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Tennessee was essential to the creation of this state park,” said Pat Noonan, chairman emeritus of The Conservation Fund, the organization that helped the state acquire the land. “The naming of the park in his honor is a wonderful legacy for the senator and a gesture of gratitude for all of his tireless work over the years with the partners, and federal, state and local entities to ensure that Rocky Fork and many other outdoor havens across Tennessee are protected for generations to come.”

“Senator Alexander has been tireless in championing for the preservation of Rocky Fork, recognizing its scenic and pristine beauty and the importance of the watershed,” said Morgan Sommerville, southern regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “The senator’s efforts enabled a wonderful improvement in the route of the Appalachian Trail, from a muddy road to a winding path through lush Tennessee hardwoods, adding to the senator’s legacy.”

Alexander has been noted for many preservation efforts. He was listed in 2016 as one of the 100 most influential people in the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by the Great Smoky Mountains Association. He sponsored the Tennessee Wilderness Act, which became law last year, and designated 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee as wilderness. In 2017, Alexander received the Bruce F. Vento Public Service Award from the National Park Trust in recognition of his extraordinary efforts to support national parks and public lands.

Alexander, a native of Maryville, has held his seat in the U.S. Senate since 2003. He served as governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987, served as president of the University of Tennessee from 1988-1991 and was U.S. Secretary of Education from 1991-1993.

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