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Tennessee Wilderness Act: Protecting a State Resource

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For the eighth time, Congress is considering legislation to increase federal protection for land in Tennesee's Cherokee National Forest. (John W. Iwanski/Flickr)
For the eighth time, Congress is considering legislation to increase federal protection for land in Tennesee's Cherokee National Forest. (John W. Iwanski/Flickr)
June 20, 2016

ERWIN, Tenn. - This weekend, thousands of Tennesseans and visitors packed up and hiked into thousands of acres of public lands in the state. But many of those untouched lands are unprotected from development and the effort continues to change that.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act has been introduced in Congress for the last eight years, and now a new bill by Congressman Phil Roe gives hope to people like Laura Johnson, a native of Monroe County.

"I want to see it protected, and I want see it left untouched for my children and future generations," says Johnson. "I just think it's very important we bank away some of this precious land that's disappearing, and this is one way to do it."

The Tennessee Wilderness Act would expand the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, Big Frog, Little Frog Mountain, Big Laurel Branch, and Sampson Mountain Wilderness Areas in the Cherokee National Forest of northeastern Tennessee.

Maggie Martin was one of dozens of people who traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to encourage Congress to pass the Tennessee Wilderness Act.

"I moved to Tennessee because of the natural beauty, and that's how my family and I spend our time," she says. "When we have days off of work, we hop in the car and take an adventure into the mountains. We go hiking, swimming, checking out the waterfalls."

Johnson believes the beautiful vistas and pristine land of northeast Tennessee needs protection, because once it is developed, there's no going back.

"That type of land is disappearing at a pretty alarming rate, so we've got to act," she says. "We have to think in decades and centuries ahead, we can't just think for right now."

The Outdoor Industry Association says outdoor recreation generates more than $8 billion annually and supports 83,000 jobs in Tennessee.

The current legislation would preserve watersheds for brook trout, black bears, bobcats, gray foxes, and white-tail deer, in addition to recreation benefits.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN