Raven Society forum focuses on land preservation
By J.J. Kindred | (email@example.com)
Celebrating conservation in Blount County to focus on open spaces was the theme of the Raven Society meeting at the Blount County Public Library Sunday afternoon.
A panel discussion took place during the meeting, which included Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor, State Rep. Bob Ramsey, Bill Clabough, executive director of the Foothills Land Conservancy, and Blount County Commissioner Jim Folts.
Created in 2000 by a group of county residents concerned about the county’s future, the Raven Society lists its goal as to preserve the quality of life by protecting the county’s natural and historic features.
Billy Minser, a member of the Raven Society’s Lanier District, moderated the discussion and shared that the quality of life for county and statewide citizens depends on a healthy environment, well-functioned land and water systems supporting healthy forests, vibrant fish and wildlife populations, giving recreational opportunities in parks and natural areas.
“Outdoor recreation in Tennessee stimulates the economy by an estimated $4 billion per year,” Minser said during his opening remarks. “Tourism is the second largest industry in Tennessee, employing 184,000 Tennesseans contributing $14.2 billion to our economy and $1.1 billion in local and state tax revenues, with natural beauty and recreational being important attractions for tourism.
“Privately-owned rural open spaces provide food and fiber and make up the majority of Tennessee’s landscape,” Minser continued. “Along with parks, wildlife refuges and other natural areas, these wild land areas provide Tennesseans with abundant outdoor recreational opportunities.”
Folts was the first to speak, and said there was much debate about open spaces.
“We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Folts said. “When I look at the snow-capped mountains, I know what heaven must be like. I thank God every day for each day he allows me to live in this place.
“Protecting 25,000 acres in 25 years is quite an accomplishment,” Folts continued. “Planners must be tough enough to stand up to special interest groups. We need to clearly know if someone is going to conform to zoning regulations (that would influence open spaces). All of you need to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Ramsey admitted that land conservation and open spaces were not his expertise, but is aware that land conservation is important to the area’s natural beauty and tourism.
“Ninety-five percent of property is in private hands, and it puts stress on land architects,” Ramsey said. “There are 250,000 acres to maintain in the recreational areas. Gov. (Bill) Haslam is interested in promoting open spaces, and the General Assembly will try to support him on that.”
Clabough said that there were 35 conservation easements in Blount County alone, making it one of the largest, if not the largest county in the state to have that many.
“There are people in this room that talk the talk, and there are many that walk the walk by protecting their land,” Clabough said.
Taylor said that conservation would have a major impact in several counties besides Blount, and suggested having the PlanET as part of the Ravens Society’s cause.
PlanET (Plan East Tennessee) is described as a regional partnership of communities that focuses on protecting resources and addressing the challenges regarding the environment, health, jobs and transportation, creating long-term solutions for investments in the region.
“(PlanET) is a project that has money,” Taylor said. “Around $4.3 million has been administered over a five-county area.”
Minser added that the state was losing 80,000 acres per year of open spaces and forests, resulting in diminished farmlands and wildlife populations.
“If we do not take steps now to protect some of the best remaining landscapes in Blount County, they may be developed and will not be recoverable,” Minser said.
Meanwhile, Ravens Society Treasurer Booty Miller presented the organization’s Land Use Award to the Coning Family Farm, for excellence in land preservation for food protection. The farm, located in the Carpenters Community of Maryville, features a general store that sells wholesale produce. Also, Alex Durand and Laura Rigell, founders of the Tennessee Youth Environmental Network (TennYEN), introduced and promoted their organization, explaining its purpose and goals.