Local outdoorsman helping to lead effort for National Recreation Area designation

Published 12:07 pm Sunday, August 28, 2016

Northeast Tennessee is full of natural beauty and recreation opportunities and now a regional partnership is hoping to capitalize on those resources to help draw more visitors, businesses and jobs to the area.
The new regional economic development partnership formed by Carter, Washington and Unicoi counties is in the earliest phase of seeking to have a portion of the area’s National Forest land designated as a “National Recreation Area.”
Just over a week ago, the Washington County Economic Development Council and its partners in Carter and Unicoi County entered into a 12-month contract with well-respected area outdoorsman David Ramsey, a Unicoi County native who has spearheaded several outdoor projects. Ramsey will collaborate with WCEDC representatives, other community leaders and members of the public in helping to develop a roadmap for the proposal.
“We’re very, very early in the game on this,” Ramsey said. “It’s not yet a plan, we’re not that far into it. It is a proposal to do something that would benefit the communities of Unicoi, Carter and Washington counties.”
“Everyone is really excited about the potential of this project,” he added.
According to the National Park Service, a National Recreation Area serves to preserve “significant historic resources and important natural areas in locations that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.”
“This is just a step below a National Park,” Ramsey said. “A National Recreation Area is much less restrictive than a National Park.”
The idea being proposed by the WCEDC would be to seek the National Recreation Area designation for existing National Forest Lands which already provide recreation opportunities.
“That will give our three counties and communities a more specific destination and location to market,” Ramsey said.
The designation would serve to not only attract visitors and tourists to the region to take part in outdoor activities, it would also draw in businesses that want to locate near such a recreation area.
According to WCEDC officials, the designation could also assist in recruiting new businesses and talent to the region.
“Increasingly, quality of life is a key factor in where people choose to live, and outdoor opportunities often play a large role in that,” said WCEDC Chairman Tommy Burleson, adding abundant high-quality outdoor opportunities can often be a game-changer in the decision making process when people and businesses are looking to relocate. “We know we have the assets here. We also know we need to make significant progress in showcasing them in a way that people can easily understand and make good use of.”
The process to get a National Recreation Area designation could take some time, Ramsey said.
“It’s a designation that has to come from Congress,” he said.
Before a proposal could be sent to Congress, the WCEDC along with the support of the three counties and its residents would need to develop a plan, including which portion of the National Forest Land to request the designation for.
“The Cherokee National Forest, especially the area we are focusing on, already has camping and trails already in place as well as a portion of the Appalachian Trail,” Ramsey said. “A lot of the infrastructure we would need for the designation is already in place.”
Because so many of the recreation opportunities are already available, Ramsey said the effort could come at a minimal cost for the counties involved.
Since the WCEDC announced just over a week ago its idea to seek the designation, Ramsey said some area residents have shared their concerns with him of how local recreation opportunities — particularly hunting — could be impacted by the designation. Ramsey said he hopes to help put those worries at ease.
“There isn’t any activity currently taking place on National Forest land that would be prohibited in a National Recreation Area,” Ramsey said. “Hunting is one of the main activities that are allowed in National Recreation Areas.” The only hunting restrictions that would be in effect in a National Recreation Area are those that are already in place in National Forest lands and mainly involve safety zones, Ramsey said.
According to Ramsey, part of his job over the next 12 months will be answering questions from the public, such as the concerns he’s heard about hunting, and working with local leaders to get public input and build support for the project.
“This thing really has to be driven from a grassroots level,” Ramsey said. “It has to be something the community gets behind and supports.
“My job is going to be making sure everyone understands there is virtually no downside to this designation,” he added. “I know that seems like a large claim to make, but I stand by it.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox