Two of the expansions, totaling 1,314 acres in Polk County, are the Big Frog Wilderness (348 acres) and the Little Frog Wilderness (966 acres) areas.
Alexander announced the proposed legislation in a conference call to Tennessee news media representatives only minutes before taking the Senate floor. He said the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010 is the first expansion of East Tennessee’s wilderness areas in 24 years. Congress began protecting wilderness zones in the Cherokee National Forest in 1975. Additional wilderness areas were established in 1984 and 1986.
“I grew up hiking in the mountains of East Tennessee and know firsthand that these beautiful landscapes should be preserved for generations to come,” Alexander told reporters. “The bill we are introducing is an important step in conserving some of the most pristine areas in Tennessee and will strengthen the legacy of Tennessee’s natural heritage.”
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010 creates one new wilderness area and expands the boundaries of five existing areas already located within the Cherokee National Forest. These areas are owned by the U.S. Forest Service and are currently being managed as Wilderness Study Areas. For this reason, designating these areas as wilderness in the Alexander-Corker bill will have no effect on privately-owned lands and will cause no change in public access. Recreational uses like hiking, hunting, camping, fishing and horseback riding will continue.
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010:
- Creates the 9,038-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness in Monroe County.
- Adds 348 acres to the Big Frog Wilderness in Polk County.
- Adds 966 acres to the Little Frog Wilderness in Polk County.
- Adds 2,922 acres to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness in Washington and Unicoi counties.
- Adds 4,446 acres to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness in Carter and Johnson counties.
- Adds 1,836 acres to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness in Monroe County.
“We are blessed in East Tennessee with God-given amenities and an unparalleled natural environment, and the Cherokee National Forest is a prime example,” Corker said. “I thank Sen. Alexander for his lifelong commitment to protecting scenic wilderness areas and I am proud to join him in this effort to preserve Cherokee National Forest for future generations of Tennesseans and Americans to enjoy.”
Designation as a wilderness area is the highest former of protection for federally-owned public lands. It protects forests from logging, mining and road-building. A wilderness designation also safeguards wildlife habitat, ensures clean water supplies and helps to control air pollution.
Alexander said another benefit is it encourages family activities in the outdoors that provide invaluable social contact and physical exercise.
“One reason children don’t go outside as much as they used to is because parents don’t go outside,” the senator offered. “The best way to get every child outdoors is to get Mom and Dad outdoors. This is a good bill for the families of East Tennessee.”
He added, “We have so many visitors to our area and it’s good for them to have choices. This bill provides the wilderness experience, but it also allows hikers, hunters, campers and others to use it also.”
Some 66,000 acres, or approximately 10 percent, of the Cherokee National Forest are already designated wilderness areas.