Press Release from the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, June 2, 2011:
Conservationists Hail Senators Alexander and Corker Commitment to Land Protection
Chattanooga, TN – Tennessee Wild, a broad coalition of conservation organizations, applauded Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker for reintroducing legislation to designate new wilderness areas on the Cherokee National Forest. This measure could result in the first new wilderness for Tennessee in 25 years.
“We are thrilled with the Senators’ continued commitment to see our special wild places protected,” said Jeff Hunter Tennessee Wild campaign coordinator. “The Cherokee National Forest is popular with locals and tourists alike. It helps sustain local economies here in east Tennessee as well as provide clean drinking water and important wildlife habitat.”
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011, introduced May 24,will protect nearly 20,000 acres of public land, expanding five existing wilderness areas and creating the new Upper Bald River Wilderness Area. All of these areas were recommended for wilderness designation in the US Forest Service’s 2004 management plan.
Widespread support for additional wilderness in the Cherokee forest includes hikers, hunters, business owners, local lawmakers, members of the faith community, and others who endorse the bill.
“Wilderness is not only important for providing a place where you can explore nature at its finest, but it is vital to new business,” said Ed Mcalister, owner of River Sports in Knoxville. “As companies look to locate, one factor they rank highly is opportunities for their employees and families to recreate in the great outdoors. Wilderness ensures that these areas will stay protected for the future.”
Hiking is a top activity in the proposed wilderness areas, which contain sections of the nationally popular Appalachian and Benton MacKaye trails.
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy continues to believe that wilderness is the best protection available for the A.T.,” said Morgan Sommerville, regional director of the organization that protects the A.T. “We endorse new wilderness designations along the A.T. as long as enough volunteers are available to help maintain the trail. Happily, regarding the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness and Extension in the Cherokee National Forest, new volunteers are rising to the challenge.”
The proposed wilderness additions are also havens for sportsmen and sportswomen. Mike Campbell, a Chattanooga-based attorney, expressed support for wilderness: “As a hunter and horseman, I believe it is imperative to go and be where there are no vehicles, no roads, just trails and the quiet forest.”
Senators Alexander and Corker first introduced the bill last year. “Time ran out last Congress for this bill,” added Hunter. “We hope the legislation moves quickly this Congress to provide the safeguards these lands to richly deserve.”
Tennessee Wild is dedicated to protecting wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. We aim to educate the public about the benefits of wilderness and promote volunteerism and the sound stewardship of Tennessee’s wild place.