Scott County crowd doesn't want recreation designation

By JENAY TATE, Coalfield Progress Editor and Publisher

March 04, 2003

FORT BLACKMORE, TN- Led by concerned Scott County supervisors, riled-up residents made it clear Friday night they don't want High Knob designated a national recreation area.
They cheered supervisors Dorothy Hicks and Sarge Reed, who serve on an advisory committee studying whether such designation makes sense for High Knob. Both Hicks and Reed now oppose making High Knob a national recreation area, saying it is not in the long-term best interest of Scott County landowners, hunters, the timber industry, recreation and the forest.

They booed Scott County resident Dick Austin, who wanted to speak to the position of the Clinch Coalition, which has put forth a proposal for a national recreation and conservation area. Hicks stepped in front of the microphone in the Fort Blackmore High School gym and refused to let Austin speak.

Afterward, Austin said the coalition supports diversified use, forest management to make it a creative attraction and no condemnation of private land.

A group of about 100 people listened intently to Wise County resident Randy Rigg as he criticized the process underway for looking at the national recreation area question. Rigg, an outdoorsman and member of the Wise County Planning Commission, says the process limits public involvement and rushes a decision that requires more thought.

Austin agrees that the process deserves more time for study and reflection.

The crowd seemed intrigued by the remarks of Sam Bennett, a Knoxville forester invited to share his research on the mission and motives of a collection of environmental groups. Bennett, with, claims that an effort called The Wildlands Project is designed to turn half of North America into roadless wilderness set aside primarily for animals and few humans.


The High Knob area has more potential than any area of Scott County, Reed told his constituents, and "I don't think we need an NRA to utilize this." County supervisors, the U.S. Forest Service and local leaders in economic development are best equipped to develop that potential, he said. Reed was greeted with the first of many rounds of applause.

Reed said he is for recreation, for extracting minerals, for conservation, for protecting wildlife and for hunters. There's room on High Knob for horse back riding, all-terrain vehicle trails, timbering and mineral use. "I don't want to shut it down," he said.

"I believe it can all be done. We can have our cake and eat it, too. . . . We're going to do everything in our area to make sure all the things that can happen do happen. I think that's what the people want. Am I right?" he asked.

He got another round of applause as his answer.

As Reed began to speak, he noted that he had been handed a letter assuring that any national recreation area legislation would not allow for condemnation of private property and would not impair the ability of private mineral owners to recover their natural resources.

The letter came from Ninth District Rep. Rick Boucher, who convened the advisory committee. Reed, however, was not persuaded.

A national recreation area "is the first step," Reed warned the group. It may take a while, he said, but "eventually coming down the pike I see the train." In his experience, Reed said, the federal government gets this and that and doesn't stop. "It seems like that once you get your foot in the door, you craft legislation to get other things you supposedly need," he said.

Reed talked about what government regulations have required or sacrificed in order to protect fish and wildlife in other endeavors he's been involved in.

"We sometimes get to the point we start letting the tail wag the dog," he said. "I'm not going to let the tail wag the dog. I'm going to stand up for the interest of the people of Scott County."

Representation of Scott County on the advisory committee was one of the sticking points for Reed, who noted that roughly 75 percent of the area being considered for inclusion in a national recreation area is in Scott County. Scott accounts for only three of 18 people on that committee, he complained.

The problem with flooding on little Stony Creek can't be blamed on logging, he said, but the fact that the creek is filled with rock.

"I'm not a hydrologist," Reed said, but "common sense tells me when a stream bed gets full of rock and water comes down, where's the water going to go? Looks to me like it needs to be cleaned out.

"This look you see on my face is ugly, not stupid," he said. The crowd roared with applause.


Rigg said he decided to educate himself about a national recreation area and the groups pushing for one after hearing what the Clinch Coalition had to say to Wise County supervisors.

Rigg spoke against the proposal, saying it would have a negative effect on wildlife, the forest and the total economy.

Rigg asked if the vision of the Clinch Coalition was the vision of folks of Scott County. Material from the coalition indicated that the proposal comes up from the people, Rigg said, but that doesn't appear to be the case. It's coming from the top down, he said.

When he heard about Boucher's committee, Rigg said, he was outraged to find there would be no public comment and that the makeup of the committee was stacked with environmental groups with no representatives for oil, gas and turkey and deer hunters.

"I'm sure there were other groups that would have liked to have input," he said.

Rigg said he was in disbelief that Boucher wanted a recommendation in eight weeks when the U.S. Forest Service had been working 10 years on its forest management plan.

Rigg said it was obvious to him that environmental groups had not been completely honest about their intent so he decided to educate himself about their mission and goals. That's when he heard about Mark Bennett, who works for a hardwood lumber company and is a member of, what he called a free-market environmental organization.

Bennett said it was up to the people to decide whether a national recreation area made sense for High Knob. His purpose was to share information, he said, "because we make the best possible decision when we've got the most information."

Bennett said a variety of environmental groups work together loosely but deliberately on The Wildlands Project. The goal of this effort is to set aside 50 percent of North America just for wilderness.

A lot of people said it was crazy and would never work but "the more I found out, the more I thought, 'This thing really could work,'" he said.

Maps and publications from various environmental groups reveal a system of set-aside areas, corridors and buffers with varying degrees of human contact. The idea is to tie wildlands from Maine to wildlands in Florida to wildlands in the Pacific Northwest, he said. Wildlife would have migration routes so it could move unimpeded from one end of the country to another, he said.

Austin, a Clinch Coalition member, said after the meeting that his organization is not part of the deep ecology movement and values humankind on the earth.

What they don't want is commercial logging running the forest, he said, and, in fact, are opposed to commercial timbering on public lands.

Most of the forest service's management is hurting the forest not helping it, he said. He said the forest has more value than just to be hauled away on logging trucks.


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