July 22, 2014 - 03:19
Fleischmann talks Forest Service during visit
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The recent decision by the Forest Service to close and remove infrastructure from local camping areas was the predominant topic during a recent visit to Polk County by Congressman Chuck Fleischmann.

The recent decision by the Forest Service to close and remove infrastructure from local camping areas was the predominant topic during a recent visit to Polk County by Congressman Chuck Fleischmann. Fleischmann visited with the Forest Service before coming to Polk County.

Fleischmann said he likes to meet with representatives in all counties to see what the people think, but usually there is not something specific to talk about. His visit to Polk County happened to come on the heels of a controversial decision by the Forest Service to eliminate services at Tumbling Creek, Jack’s River, Sylco, Spring Creek, and Quinn Springs. He said he received multiple calls about the issue and couldn’t believe was he was hearing.

“The Forest Service shutting things down came as a complete surprise to the county and to me,” Fleischmann said.

Fleischmann said he met with Forest Supervisor JaSal Morris, Mike Wright, and Terry McDonald to gather information and demand answers. Fleischmann said he was told the Forest Service budget was low; it has not increased or decreased, but expenses have gone up. He said they admitted putting boulders in to block vehicles, but said people who wanted to camp could still get in.

According to Fleischmann, the Forest Service wanted to convey an apology to the citizens. He said their intent was not to shock and surprise people, and they were open to working with the community to address concerns. Fleischman said they mentioned having a dialog with Third District Commissioner Daren Waters about developing a community partnership and wanted Polk County to come up with a committee of people to go over the issues and possible solutions with them.

Fleischmann said he was “hot” when he talked with the Forest Service. “I’m not pleased with this, in fact I am furious, but they have been responsive,” Fleischmann said. He said he thought their responsiveness was a major step in the right direction, adding he was not going to let it lay.

“I hope we would all address it and not play politics,” Fleischmann said, adding, “Let’s get good, solid citizens to sit down and come up with solutions.” He pointed out that Polk County was not singled out, and the Forest Services was taking these measures all over the region.

Steve Gaddis asked how big the committee should be. Fleischmann said it shouldn’t be too small, and suggested 5-6 people who could work together and focus on the issue.

First District Commissioner James Woody said that because the Forest Service owned over 50% of the county, “a lot of times we feel like they’ve got us over a barrel.”

County Executive Hoyt Firestone said Polk County depended more on recreation and tourism than other areas. “Our economy is not as diverse,” he said. Firestone said there could also be problems with people thinking all the areas have been closed down. He said once the rumors get out that campgrounds are closed, visitors might decide not to come at all because they think none of the camping areas are open.

Bradley County Commissioner Adam Lowe said he was concerned about access being cut off for people with a pop-up or other type of camper. He said it was not reasonable to assure people they could still camp unless they open up the access.

As governing body, the County Commission will be responsible for appointing the committee to talk to the Forest Service.

Firestone also asked Fleischmann about progress with Corridor K. He said they were hoping for an environmental impact statement in 2016 and pointed out there were eleven critical sites along Hwy. 64.

“If there is a project any greater than that, I am not aware of it,” Firestone said.

Fleischmann said people from surrounding counties as well as Polk County had a vested interest in seeing Corridor K come to fruition. He said the lack of a safe highway cut travel off and pointed out there was access on all other sides.

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