PROPOSED LAND EXCHANGE 

THREATENS INTEGRITY 

OF GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

 

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Action Alert

PROPOSED LAND EXCHANGE THREATENS INTEGRITY OF GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
NATIONAL PARK AND FUTURE OF ENTIRE PARK SYSTEM
Your presence at public meetings to be held in TN and NC, February 12-14, 2002 as well as your written comments to NPS are critical.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) is our most visited national park and is recognized by people around the world as a natural treasure. GRSM has rightfully earned its designations as both an International Biosphere Reserve and a National Heritage Site.
Unfortunately, GRSM is facing a number of serious threats to the many treasures within its boundary. The National Park Service has been requested by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to exchange a 168-acre parcel within the boundary of GRSM, known as the Ravensford
tract. In turn, NPS would acquire an unspecified parcel of private property somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the state of North Carolina. Historically, the EBCI have sought the Ravensford tract since the early 1970s, their original proposal was to build a golf course on
the site. The EBCI is currently seeking the property to build a three-school complex. NPCA respects the sovereignty of the EBCI and applauds their commitment to modernize their school system. However, the Ravensford tract is not an appropriate place for development, and
removal of land from a national park in this way would set a dangerous legal and National Park Service policy precedent.

The National Park Service (NPS) is required by law to analyze the environmental impact of this proposed land exchange and is beginning that process with a series of public meetings to help them define the scope of that analysis. It is critical that NPS hear from people that both question whether NPS has the legal authority to conduct this land exchange, and are troubled about what this transaction would mean for the future of the entire park system. Please consider attending one (or all three) meeting(s) scheduled to run between 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at the following locations:
February 12, 2002 - Cherokee Elementary School, Highway 441 N., Cherokee, NC;
February 13, 2002 - Ellington Hall, University of Tennessee agricultural campus, 2431 Center Drive, Knoxville, TN;
February 14, 2002 - Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Arts Center, Milepost 382, Asheville, NC.

Your presences at these meetings, as well as your comments to NPS are a very important part of this process. Participants at the meeting will have 3-minutes to present their comments on the proposed land exchange.
NPS will accept written comments until February 28, 2002. Written comments may be submitted by email to [email protected] or by toll free fax, 888-820-3643. Written comments sent by US Mail should be addressed as follows:
National Park Service
Southeast Regional Office
Attn: Anita Jackson
Planning and Compliance Division
100 Alabama Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia  30303.
For more information, call toll free 888-820-3644 or email
[email protected].

According to John Yancy, Associate Regional Director for the National Park Service's Southeast Regional office, there are a series of approximately 22 studies that are being prepared as part of the environmental analysis of the proposed land swap. These studies focus on subjects ranging from specific groups of organisms, such as fungi and invertebrates, to archeological and cultural resources located on the Ravensford tract. Unfortunately, the NPS website and email are not functioning and so NPS cannot make these documents available online. NPS currently plans to make hard copies of these documents available for reproduction at a number of libraries in each meeting location as well as at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway headquarters.

The Ravensford tract is located near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, just inside the primary North Carolina entrance to the park. The tract is also adjacent to the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, by far the most visited unit of the national park system. Removing this parcel of land from GRSM would seriously degrade the visual beauty and the natural and cultural resources protected by this truly unique and wonderful place. It is vitally important that both key elected officials and members of the Bush Administration hear from the people of North Carolina, Tennessee, and around the country, explaining that the Ravensford land exchange would destroy the integrity of the GRSM and represent a very bad precedent for our national parks. Please write to:

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, U.S. Department of the
Interior, 1849 C. Street N.W., Washington, DC 20240
Director of the National Park Service Fran Mainella, National Park
Service, 1849 C. Street N.W., Washington, DC 20240
Senator John Edwards (D-NC), 301 Century Post Office, 300
Fayetteville St. Mall, Raleigh, NC 27601 or [email protected]
Representative Charles Taylor (R-11-NC), 22 South Pack Square, Suite
330, Asheville, NC 28801 or [email protected]
Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), Twelve Oaks Executive Park, Building One,
Suite 170, 5401 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919 or
[email protected]
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN), Howard H. Baker Jr. U.S. Courthouse,
800 Market St., Suite 112, Knoxville, TN 37902 or
[email protected]


KEY POINTS TO INCLUDE IN COMMENTS TO NPS AND ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND
INFORMATION

Key Points to Include in Written Comments Regarding the Ravensford Land Exchange

All of the units of our National Park System are set aside for specific reasons, one of which is to protect examples of our country's wonderful natural, cultural and historic resources. The federal
government has a legal duty "to conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." This responsibility is spelled out in the Organic Act of 1916 (16 U.S.C. 1), the law that created the National Park Service, and is reflected in National Park Service policy. Removing lands from any National Park Unit and providing that land to any private entity for development of any kind would represent a step down a very slippery slope.

NPS Management Policies 2001 1.4.5 prohibits impacts that would "harm the integrity of park resources or values, including the opportunities that otherwise would be present for the  enjoyment of those resources or values." In addition, NPS policy 3.5 states "before recommending the deletion of land from a park boundary, a finding would have to be made that the land did not include a significant resource, value, or opportunity for public enjoyment related to the purpose of the park." The Ravensford tract is valuable for a number of reasons and contains a great variety of important resources that would be negatively impacted:

1) The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) is the most visited national park with over 9 million visitors annually. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most used unit of the National Park System. The Ravensford tract sits at the junction of these two great national resources.

2) The beauty, natural history, and human history of the Ravensford tract make it of great educational value as a natural classroom.

3) The three-school complex that is planned for the site would include athletic fields and the attendant lights to allow night-games and practices. These lights would produce high levels of light pollution.

4) The proposed school complex would sit at the primary North Carolina entrance to the park as well as the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway creating traffic congestion at this highly used location.
5) The All Taxa Biodiversity Study (ATBI) has identified 29 species that are new to science on the tract.
6) An archeological survey conducted by the park turned up abundant prehistoric and historic artifacts throughout the tract. The discovery of these cultural resources supports the site's 1982 placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
7) Part of the tract is alluvial floodplain, a type of wetland important to the great biodiversity of the park and very rare within GRSM.
8) The Ravensford tract affords beautiful vistas, with a foreground of open fields from which hills and mountains rise abruptly. The topography of the park is such that vistas like these are extremely limited.
9) Development of this land would greatly reduce the areas in which a visitor can contemplate and visualize early life styles in the Smokies, including Indian cultures and early homesteads.
10) The Department of Interior viewshed analysis of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the vicinity of the Ravensford tract concluded that the existing viewshed integrity is very high, 13 out of a possible 18. The analysis concludes that if the site were developed the viewshed integrity would drop to 1.

It is clear from these facts that the Ravensford tract contains significant resources and many opportunities for public enjoyment. Therefore, this piece of property is unsuitable for exchange.

The Ravensford tract was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470) require that NPS consider and review the impacts of the proposed project on the Ravensford tract and seek comments from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The NPS does not have the legal authority to conduct this land exchange. The law that NPS is relying upon, 16 U.S.C. 460l-22(b), requires that the land to be acquired by the Department of the Interior (DOI) either be within the boundary of a national park or on land under the jurisdiction of DOI. The parcel of land that has been identified by EBCI does not meet either of these requirements. In addition, the law requires the Secretary of the Interior to deem the Ravensford tract suitable for exchange. Due to the incredible natural, cultural and aesthetic resources contained within the Ravensford tract it cannot be suitable for exchange.

Brief History

Since 1971, leaders of the EBCI have periodically approached the National Park Service (NPS) requesting that up to 200 acres of the Ravensford tract within GRSM be made available to the tribe. For many years EBCI requested the land to build an 18-hole golf course in order to generate revenue for the tribe. EBCI established a Harrah's Casino in Cherokee, NC, in the early 1990s. With this revenue stream, EBCI shifted its priority to improving its aging, over-crowded and inadequate school system. In 1994, the tribe requested a land transfer for the construction of new schools.

Until recently, NPS consistently rejected EBCI's request for a land exchange noting that construction of either a golf course or school complex is contrary to the purpose for which the land was placed within the park, namely to preserve its scenic, natural and cultural resources. Development of the property would require extensive clearing, grading, and planting of turf grasses where native forest now exists. The proposed uses would also disturb the cultural artifacts located within the site.

On June 14, 2000, Robert Stanton, Director of NPS under the Clinton Administration, entered into an agreement with the EBCI, to "create a framework within which the parties may explore the feasibility of a land exchange involving the Ravensford tract." It sites the Land and Water Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 460l-22(b), as providing NPS the legal authority to conduct the proposed land exchange. The agreement was signed by Director Stanton; Jerry Belson, Southeast Regional Director NPS; Leon Jones, Principal Chief EBCI; and, Dan McCoy, EBCI Tribal Council Chairman. It includes a list of responsibilities to be undertaken by the two parties to the agreement.

The EBCI agreed to:
1) provide NPS with a preliminary site plan for construction of the school complex - this plan has been completed;
2) provide the funds to pay for the various studies, surveys and appraisals required to satisfy NPS obligations under law - NPS is currently gearing up to begin its environmental assessment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), according to GRSM scoping may begin in early 2002;
3) provide NPS a land use analysis that evaluates other potential sites, both inside and outside the reservation but within a 15 minute commute of the boundary - this analysis concluded that the preferred site is the Ravensford tract; 4) prepare all final exchange documents.

The NPS agreed to:
1) conduct all the required studies and surveys as required by law including archeology and cultural resources survey, natural resources survey, hazardous material survey, visual impact analysis for BLRI, and land appraisals of both the Ravensford tract and sites that EBCI could potentially acquire and swap - the archeology, natural resources and visual impact studies all concluded that significant resources exist on the Ravensford tract;

2) ensure that all studies are conducted as economically as possible;

3) conduct, at NPS expense, all public hearings required by law;
4) identify privately owned lands within the acquisition boundaries of the seven NPS units within NC that could be purchased by EBCI and swapped for the Ravensford tract;
5) make a good faith determination about the appropriateness of the land exchange upon completion of the various studies.

Greg Kidd
Associate Director
Southeast Regional Office
National Parks Conservation Association
706 Walnut Street
Suite 200
Knoxville, TN  37902
tel. 865-329-2424
fax. 865-329-2422

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