Chattanooga Times Free Press: Senators propose protecting 19,000 acres

Posted on June 10, 2010

Tennessee's U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, introduced a bill Wednesday to designate 19,556 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness.

The proposed territory would include areas in Monroe, Polk, Washington, Unicoi, Carter and Johnson counties.

"This preserves the wilderness but it does so in a way that allows hikers, hunters and campers to use the national forest," Sen. Alexander said in a conference call and news release.

"I thank Senator Alexander for his lifelong commitment to protecting scenic wilderness areas and am proud to join him in this effort to preserve Cherokee National Forest for future generations of Tennesseans and Americans to enjoy," Sen. Corker said in the news release.

This would be the first expansion of wilderness area within the Cherokee National Forest since 1986. Ten percent of the forest, about 66,000 acres, already is designated as wilderness, which is defined in the Wilderness Act of 1965 as land "where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

"It's impossible to understate the importance of wilderness to our business," said Sutton Bacon, CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center. "Protecting these natural areas (is) part of our responsibility as Americans to leave wilderness spaces for our children to enjoy."

TENNESSEE WILDERNESS ACT

* Creates the 9,038-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness (Monroe County)

* Adds 348 acres to the Big Frog Wilderness (Polk County)

* Adds 966 acres to the Little Frog Wilderness (Polk County)

* Adds 2,922 acres to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness (Washington and Unicoi counties)

* Adds 4,446 acres to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness (Carter and Johnson counties)

* Adds 1,836 acres to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (Monroe County)

Sen. Alexander said the government isn't buying any new lan but is enveloping areas recommended for wilderness status by the U.S. Forest Service in its comprehensive 2004 forest plan.

"It's been managed as wilderness by the Forest Service since 2004," he said. "No roads are going to be closed; no facilities are going to be affected. ... I thought it was a logical proposal."

Sen. Alexander said he hopes the bill will motivate East Tennessee families to be more involved in nature.

An entire generation has grown up in front of TV and computer screens, he said.

"The best way to get every child outdoors is to get mom and dad outdoors," the senator said.

Robin Gottfried, executive director of the Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, said Christianity teaches that people encounter God through nature in a unique way.

"In a time of growing populations and shrinking natural areas, wilderness areas such as these represent an increasingly critical spiritual resource," she said.