President’s FY2000 Land Acquisition Request
to the Congress for USDA Forest Service
|Priority #19 “Tennessee Mountains”
Region/Forest: Southern Region 8, Cherokee National Forest
Congressional District: District #1 (Rep. William L. Jenkins)
FY 2000 Presidential Request: $3,500,000
Location: See Map of Gulf Tract
The Cherokee National Forest borders the Tennessee state line and shares a common border with Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. The Forest is typically Appalachian in character with a diversity of plants, animals, and geographic features. Bordering the forest and located exactly in the middle, is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States, with almost 10 million visitors last year. Visitation to the Forest, likewise, is very high, and is steadily increasing due to easy access and proximity to large metropolitan areas.
About The Gulf Tract
The Gulf Tract, owned by Champion International, consists of 6,800 acres in one solid block of land that is almost totally surrounded by National Forest lands along the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. The tract emcompasses the west slope of Max Patch Mountain (4629′), a breathtaking mountaintop high grassy meadow bald offering 360-degree sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The tract includes the entire upper watershed of the Gulf Fork of Big Creek, a high quality native trout fishery. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which crosses Max Patch, follows the south boundary of the property along the state line ridgetop for approximatedly six miles. The Harmen Den Bear Sanctuary in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina lies to the south.
Interstate 40 is three miles from the tract by road, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is less than four miles away. Knoxville, Tennessee, within a Metropolitan Statistical Area of 655,000 people, is a one-hour drive away.
Approximately one-half of the tract would provide additional protection for the Appalachian Trail. Public ownership of the property would protect a large and very scenic viewshed as seen from Max Patch and the trail. Scenic views from trails within the Great Smokies would also be protected with this purchase. Within the property, access is good along a road that crosses the tract.
The Gulf Fork of Big Creek and its tributaries provide about 20 miles of excellent native trout habitat. This tract is currently under intensive management by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and it provides the large contiguous ownership necessary for black bear. The forest cover consists of young mixed hardwoods over most of the tract.
Partners in the effort to acquire this tract include the Appalachian Trail Conference, environmental and conservation organizations, and local citizens interested in assuring that traditional land uses continue on this property. Petitions to bring this land into public ownership have been signed by local citizens in Cocke County, Tennessee, including a resolution passed by the Cocke County Legislative Body, signed by county executives. The Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, a group of 17 organizations promoting conservation of the southern mountains, is actively pushing for public acquisition of the tract as an addition to the National Forest System.
The Current Status
Champion now has the property for sale, and the U.S. Forest Service is currently negotiating for its purchase.
The total cost for the 6,800 acres is currently estimated at $5.5 million. The President’s request to Congress was for $3.5 million for Fiscal Year 2000. Hence, an additional $2 in funding will have to be requested by the Administration in their Fiscal Year 2001 budget for the remainder, if $3.5 million is appropriated this coming fiscal year.
The President’s budget was submitted to Congress in February with a $3.5 million request for the Tennessee Mountains (Gulf Tract), this tract being the Administration’s 19th priority out of 36 land acquisition projects nationwide for which funding was sought for the Forest Service. Since that time the Senate recommended $500,000 be provided for the purchase of this land, while the House recommended no funding for this acquisition.
In September, it is expected that a Conference Committee made up of key House and Senate members of the Appropriations Committees will meet to decide exactly how much money will be made available for this proposed acquisition in the final compromise budget.
The Gulf Tract is one of the largest remaining unsubdivided properties in the entire southern Appalachians. There are very few large tracts left in this area of the country. Its acquisition is desirable because:• The southern Appalachian are currently undergoing intensive development pressures. If this land is not brought into federal ownership now, the opportunity to do so will most assuredly be permanently lost, as it is predictable that this property will quickly be purchased by developers and subdivided. This a real threat, as anyone familiar with the area knows. Being located in such close proximity to the Great Smokies and Interstate 40, it could quickly be developed for second homes. Presently when one looks toward the Smokies one sees only forested mountains. If subdivided and sold off for recreational housing, the view will be negatively impacted.
• This tract forms an extremely large inholding within the Cherokee National Forest, which surrounds it on three sides.
•The Gulf Tract forms the viewshed from Max Patch Mountain as seen looking south toward Snowbird Mountain, Davenport Gap, and Mt. Cammerer lying within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Its acquisition would not only protect this important view, but also protect the views from various points in the Great Smokies looking toward Max Patch Mountain. Max Patch is one of the hiking public’s premier mountain peaks in the lower southern Appalachians.
• The acquisition of the Gulf Tract would protect an entire watershed; a high quality native trout stream; and provide habitat for black bear, whitetail deer, wild turkey, many species of birds, and a variety of plants.
• The acquisition of this tract would add protection to 6 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail which forms one of its boundaries on the ridgetop, which is the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. In FY1999 Congress generously provided adequate funding to complete the protection of the Appalachian Trail Corridor, and should be highly commended for doing so.
• While acquisition of the Gulf Tract would enhance corridor protection, more importantly it would provide many additional public benefits above and beyond those to the AT, including the protection of an entire ecosystem, and long-term recreational opportunities for the public at large such as fishing, hunting, camping, and hiking.
What is needed from Congress
The total needed to protect this property is $5.5 million. At a minimum, $3.5 million is needed this coming year in the Fiscal Year 2000 budget.
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|More details …
This from a background information letter sent to the Center for AT Studies:”The Lamb Gulf (aka, Gulf Tract) is a large forested mountain valley along the main Appalachian Mountain chain on the Tennessee-North Carolina border just to the north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I-40. This approximately 6,800 acre (total) tract of timber land lies mainly in Cocke County, Tennessee; approximately 200 contiguous acres of this tract lie just over the state line in Haywood County, North Carolina.
The Gulf lies entirely within the drainage of the Gulf Fork of Big Creek, which joins with the Trail Fork and flows into the French Broad River at Del Rio, Tennessee. The elevations on the property, which is surrounded by mountain ridges on all sides, range from about 4,000 feet to 2,500 feet. It is joined to the east by Pisgah National Forest and to the west by Cherokee National Forest on much of its boundary.
The USGS quadrangle maps for NC/TN: Waterville (172-SE) and Lemon Gap (182-SW) show the Gulf area.
The Appalachian Trail skirts the property along the TN/NC state line for six to nine miles. Most of the Gulf, which runs roughly SSW to NNE from top to bottom, is in the viewshed of the Trail. Just to the east of the tract is Max Patch, a popular “bald” managed as a recreation area by Pisgah National Forest. A good view of the property can be had from the Max Patch peak (elev. 4,650 feet).NC State Road 1182, Max Patch Road, accessible from I-40 Exit 7 in North Carolina, Harmon Den, is on the top or south end of the Gulf. The Gulf can also be reached from Cold Springs Creek Road at the Harmon Den exit via USFS Road 148. At the bottom or north end of the tract, it can be reached via the Gulf Fork Rd. in Cocke Co., accessible from I-40 Exit 451 in Tennessee, Hartford. Extensive unimproved roads run throughout the Gulf tract; the main roads do not normally require a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Champion International Corp. (which owns a large paper mill in nearby Canton, North Carolina) has owned the property since 1933, managing it as commercial forest but allowing public access. The property was offered for sale in January 1999 along with 4,500 acres of forest lands in Western North Carolina owned by Champion International, as well as the Canton mill itself and other regional properties.
The initial public offering in January this year noted ‘a variety of harvesting techniques including clear cuts from 1 to 20 years old.’ Most if not all of the virgin forest has been harvested. There are still extensive forest resources in many parts of the vast tract, including valuable stands of most varieties of hardwoods and coniferous trees native to the Smoky Mountain region.
Champion International Corp. allows the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to manage the property for public recreation. The Gulf is regularly used by hunters for bear, grouse, turkey, and deer. Its streams are fished extensively for trout. Horseback riders also use the area regularly.
In December 1998, Champion International agreed to sell 300,000 acres of forest lands in three northeastern states to The Conservation Fund through competitive bid for ‘its fair market value’ of $76.2 million. Champion spokesmen Jeffrey Webber said in January that the Gulf Tract sale willl follow the same guidelines.
Champion is reportedly asking $5.5 million for the 6,800-acre Gulf Tract. The State of Tennessee initially expressed interest in the sale; regional developers, including Z. Buda, a major property owner in the Pigeon Forge area of Sevier County and now backing developments in Cocke County, have toured the property.
The Clinton Administration has requested $3.5 million toward the purchase from the FY 2000 budget. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Sub-Committee on Interior and Related Affairs, of which Rep. Zach Wamp (R, Tenn) is a member has not yet approved any funding; the corresponding Senate sub-committee has approved $500,000 toward the USFS purchase. Rep. Bill Jenkins (R, Tenn) from the Congressional District including Cocke County, favors the sale, as does the Cocke County Commission and the County Executive, Charles L. Moore.
Several interested organizations—The Appalachian Trail Conference, The Foothills Land Conservancy, and the Center for Applachian Trail Studies—are seeking support for the USFS purchase.”