A DAY AWAY
By Mike Steely
There’s a large new park in the Tennessee State Park systems and it is in East Tennessee in rural Unicoi County. As I’ve written before, my wife and I have visited every state park in Tennessee except this one and we’re planning a summer trip there.
“You can’t get there from here” isn’t actually true but it seems like it. Rocky Fork State Park is more than 2,000 acres and 30 miles from Johnson City or Asheville, N.C., and 10 miles from Erwin, Tennessee. Access to the park is provided by a narrow one-lane road with pull offs here and there. Parking within the park is said to be limited and the state is suggesting car-pooling into the park.
One of the interesting historic notes is that John Sevier successfully attacked a Chicka-mauga Cherokee camp there by surprising the Native Americans. The victory earned Sevier the nickname “Nolichucky Jack” and the battle took part on Flint Creek.
The park is promoted as the home of wildflowers, streams, waterfalls, large trees, wildlife management, and isolation. Part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail passes through the park. Being planned are a visitor center and gift shop, improved parking, a ranger station, campground, biking and horseback trails.
A side trip to Erwin, Unicoi County’s county seat and a little mountain valley town of about 5,000 residents, would be interesting. Founded by D.J.N. Ervin, who donated land there in 1879, the town was named “Erwin” due to a spelling mistake that was accepted and remains yet today.
Erwin is probably best known in state history for an incident in 1916 when a circus was in town and an elephant got loose and trampled some people. The citizens captured the elephant and hung it to death by enlisting a railway train to hoist it high enough to be effective.
The nearest community to the entrance to Rock Fork is Flag Pond, Tennessee, an unincorporated settlement with a post office. The easiest way to get to the park is by taking Interstate 81 to I-26 through Johnson City, past Erwin, and on to Flag Pond on Highway 352, also known as Old Asheville Highway. Follow 352 to Rock Fork Road and go east. Eventually you’ll get there.
All streams in the park drain into the South Indian Creek which flows into the Nolichucky River. The park and the surrounding Cherokee National Forest have many abandoned logging roads. Hickory, beech, oak, pine, hemlock and rhododendron are just a few of the variety of trees in the park.
You can find the park on the internet or call for information by dialing 423-271-1233. You can also Google Friends of Rocky Fork State Park to get an update on the park, events, etc.
Among the wildlife in the park are Peregrine Falcons, jumping mice and bears.