Generations of visitors from across the country flock to Rocky Fork for its world-class recreational opportunities, boosting the local economy. About 1.5 miles of the popular Appalachian Trail crosses through Rocky Fork, and about half of the property can be seen from the trail. Sixteen miles of pristine blue-ribbon trout streams harbor exceptional populations of native brook trout. Rocky Fork also boasts habitat for game animals such as bear, turkey, deer and grouse.

In 2008, the timber company that owned Rocky Fork put the property up for sale, and The Conservation Fund, along with the U.S. Forest Service, set out to save the largest unprotected tract of land in the Southern Appalachians.

Rocky-Fork-Map-Aug-2015 finalHow Rocky Fork Was Saved

The five-year, $40 million project first started in December 2008 when the Fund purchased 7,460 acres and the Forest Service simultaneously acquired another 2,237 acres. Over the following years, the Forest Service began acquiring additional acreage from the Fund’s portion of Rocky Fork as funding became available. More than $30 million in funding for Rocky Fork’s protection came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal land protection program that receives funds from the development of federally-owned offshore oil and gas resources. In September 2012, the final phase was completed. The Forest Service now manages 7,677 acres. The Conservation Fund holds the remaining acreage, which has been protected with state and private funds.

Along the way, our Conservation Leadership Network® worked with leaders from across the community to highlight how Rocky Fork’s natural assets, community character and quality of life could be emphasized to grow sustainable tourism. You can read about this effort here. With its focus on the community, the Fund has partnered with local leaders to seek diverse economic benefits in conserving Rocky Fork, including a possible land exchange with the Forest Service and increasing Rocky Fork’s and the region’s importance as a top nature-based recreation and tourism destination.

In October 2012, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau came together to propose designating 2,000 acres of Rocky Fork as a new state park. Preliminary plans include an access road, ranger station, primitive campground, picnic areas and trails, in addition to interpretive efforts to share the historic Revolutionary War-era battles site.

Why This Project Matters

Community-driven change takes time, and we invest for the long-term. Working together with dedicated partners and multiple funders, we saved this one-of-a-kind place in a way that met the needs of the community.

A Bright Future for Rocky Fork