A place of refuge for both wildlife and people, 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, Rocky-Fork-Map-Aug-2015 finaland 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 2006, 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 conserve this significant landscape for generations to come.

How Rocky Fork Was Saved

The seven-year, $40 million project first started in December 2008 when the Fund purchased 7,577 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 2015, the final phase was completed. The Forest Service now manages nearly 7,700 acres as part of Cherokee National Forest, and the State of Tennessee took ownership of more than 2,000 acres and established Rocky Fork State Park. In January 2019, Gov. Bill Haslam renamed the park the Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, honoring Tennessee’s U.S Senator for his record of service and commitment to preservation.

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.

Plans for sustainable, long-term recreation and infrastructure at the State’s 55th park are in the development and design stages. They include a future visitors center and gift shop, improved parking and accessibility, a ranger station, a campground, mountain biking and horseback riding trails, a hiking trail system with access to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, 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.

For more information on the history of Rocky Fork and the efforts to conserve it, check out Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild by David Arthur Ramsey.