“Rocky Fork State Park: Linking Natural and Economic Resources through Oral Histories and Community Engagement”

Situated in Southern Appalachia, Rocky Fork State Park (Unicoi County) became Tennessee’s newest State Park in October 2012. Rocky Fork’s trail system connection to the Appalachian Trail and unique biological merits as an Appalachian Cove Forest situates the park as an asset for Unicoi County by way of cultural heritage tourism and ecotourism. In 2017, East Tennessee State University’s Appalachian Teaching Project graduate students collaborated with Rocky Fork park rangers to document the community importance of the Rocky Fork area, including perspectives on land use, recreation, logging, and conservation. Utilizing oral histories and community-based fieldwork, this project examines the relationship between the community and the park. By using the history of the park as a centering point for development, the park can tailor a visitor experience that is unique to this particular location. Furthermore, the interplay between the community and park helps to establish Rocky Fork as a feature that supports the sustainable economic development of Unicoi County and the town of Erwin. By integrating the park as a feature of the community, this collaboration fosters a symbiotic understanding, where both the town and the park benefit, each from the success of the other. In so doing, this project seeks to increase awareness of natural resources management, cultural heritage, diversity in development planning, and enhance ecotourism development through oral history. Outcomes of the project will serve as a baseline for appropriating resources for development planning by all stakeholders interested in conservation and preservation of the ecological system and community economic development.