Have you ever given much thought to how public land (your land) is used in your county or state? Unless you are an avid hiker, there is a safe bet that you couldn't name more than three state parks in the entire state of Tennessee. I live in a county that has over 30,000 acres of state park affiliated land. I will go so far as say that probably less than 15% of our county's population uses any portion of that land open to the public. We get visitors who hike the excellent trails, but they rarely stop in one of the local hamlets that dot the landscape around the trailheads. Most out-of-town hiking visitors will stop at the interstate town of Monteagle if they stop at all. Some will make it to auxiliary towns like Sewanee or Tracy City or down the mountain to one of the surrounding valley communities like Cowan.
So really, what does "public land" mean then if the majority of the "public" doesn't use it? Seriously, think about it. What is the purpose of public land? Okay, let's go a step further, let's just say that you have a county government that wants to step up to the plate and go after a better economy for their people. A strategic plan takes place with citizen input at its center. During this process you realize that your natural assets have been completely untapped and your unique and eclectic history lends itself to a bountiful niche market of outdoor and cultural enthusiasts. Does the public land in that county still serve the public with "best use"? Who decides?
The issue thickens considerably when you get to federal public land use. Anyone who has ever dealt with the federal government on ANYTHING knows that NOTHING happens fast except for tax collection. If a county needed a counter-productive rule or regulation changed for federal land use in their county, you better add that to your successor's long-range plan because that baby wasn't going to happen in you own lifetime.
So what do you do when the federal government wants to buy a great deal more land in your county or your immediate area?
On Tuesday, February 5th, The US Fish and Wildlife Service is having an open house and public discussion about a proposed 25,000 acre wildlife refuge in southern Frankln County, Tennessee. On the outside looking in, the idea sounds really warm and fuzzy. Who doesn't want more land for the animals to prosper in? But then the curiosity sets in, what exactly does that federal land purchase mean? Do we get to use the "public land" or is it set aside, locked away from the public? Does the local county government have any input once it becomes federal land? Does the state?
At this stage in our history, this writer is not very comfortable with anything that strays too far from local control, no matter how warm and fuzzy it sounds. For grins and giggles I am going to the Franklin County Public Library Tuesday Feb. 5th 3pm to 7:30pm. Care to join me?