History, picture book, love story, Rocky Fork book a conservationists saga for the ages

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 13, 2019 at 8:12 PM

Carefully crafted and beautifully illustrated, outdoors photographer/writer David Ramsey's recently released book, “Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild,” presents the history of the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork watershed and the thousands of people who came together to preserve it.

In its 119 pages, readers will find more than 50 stunning, color photographs of Rocky Fork’s rugged mountain ridges, forests, streams and wildlife, making the work a lovely coffee-table piece as well as a history. As Ramsey’s passion for the area comes through in the writing, it becomes apparent the book is also very much a love story.

On its back cover, Ramsey writes, “In this book, I’ve aimed to capture in words and images, along with fellow photographer Jerry Greer, the remarkable story of this 10,000-acre region. It is the story of how thousands of people who love these ancient mountains, including hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, fishers, horsemen and many elected leaders of the region, found common ground and worked hard to save this treasured place for the common good.”

And in the book’s introduction he shares, “My wish in producing this book is for it to not only provide an intimate look at that corner of creation we call Rocky Fork, but also to affirm the incalculable value and importance of our greater Appalachian creation. I hope it will convey what can happen when people unite over common values and concerns, transfer those to common action and ultimately bring about an important outcome for the common good.”

While many in Northeast Tennessee fondly refer to Ramsey as “the man who saved Rocky Fork,” he humbly and staunchly defers the distinction to the thousands of conservationists, political leaders and outdoor enthusiasts of all ilks who he said “stood shoulder to shoulder to get the land protected.”

As for his role in the effort, Ramsey said it was his friend Frank Gentry Jr. who first alerted him that, after many decades of ownership by various commercial interests that had all left Rocky Fork open for public use, the area was going up for sale to developers.

The late Ed E. Williams III, a lawyer an avid fly fisherman with a special fondness for the miles of streams in Rocky Fork, was already working to secure the federal funding that would be needed to preserve the area. And Ramsey said he immediately became “one of the many people behind the scenes who spread the word.”

His employment at Mahoney’s Sportsman’s Paradise, the popular Johnson City outfitters where Ramsey said “everyone who hikes, hunts or fishes” eventually shows up, gave him an excellent platform to make others aware. He began speaking about the threat to Rocky Fork to clubs and other organizations with a stake in the the region’s natural areas. And he made calls  to “sound the alarm” to regional and national conservationists, including the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

In a recent letter to the SAHC, Ramsey wrote, “What happened next, in my view, is one of the great stories of the last half-century about the coming together of diverse people and groups to fight for the protection of a true Appalachian and American treasure.”

In an interview last week with the Johnson City Press, he said, “To me, that shows what can happen when people, sometimes of very different values and ideologies, come together over a common cause and work together to get something really big accomplished.

“I think the story of saving Rocky Fork is the kind of story we really need a lot more of. ... The bear hunters, the trout fishers, the mountain bike riders, the conservationists and a lot of other people of all kinds all stood shoulder to shoulder and told the state of Tennessee that place is worth saving.”

Self-published by D.A. Ramsey Photography, the book is $19.95 in paperback and available online at www.ramseyphotos.com, at Mahoney’s Outfitters in Johnson City and at the Unicoi Tourist Information and Visitors Center located just off Exit 32 of Interstate 26.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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