Those of you who sent a penny for parks to the governor and others in the grass roots campaign to get 14 Tennessee state parks reopened last year, listen up.
The birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, the hills and waterfalls are calling your name. Once again they need your help, because the State Parks Land Acquisition Fund--so important in saving Tennessee's great natural treasures--has become an endangered species. Even as this is written, the fund's fate is being decided in the state legislature.
Cuts proposed by Gov. Phil Bredesen include the complete and permanent diversion of the fund's lifeblood. Money from the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) would go henceforth to the general fund, as part of Senate Bill 1991 and House Bill 2073, both awaiting action.
Bear with me if you care about Tennessee's wildlife and natural beauty. This real estate tax was passed in 1986 for the purpose of preserving wetlands, but thanks to hard work by Tennessee nature lovers generally, it was expanded in 1991 to become a powerful force in saving a great variety of natural treasures.
The fund has done more to preserve wild and scenic Tennessee lands and rivers, as well as to build ballparks, swing-sets, footbridges and trails in communities across the state than most of us realize. You don't have to go far to feast your eyes, your soul, on what's been preserved.
The view from Buzzard's Roost, one of the most photographed vistas in the southeastern United States was preserved at Fall Creek Falls State Park in 1992. The crown of Black Mountain, a wonderland of woods, bluffs and scenic vistas at Crab Orchard was saved with seed money from this fund. Add 75,000 acres in Anderson County, 9,000 acres at Scott's Gulf; add the Cumberland Trails State Park, a 220-mile wilderness maze stretching from Virginia to Georgia, and you begin to see the impact this fund has had.
It's brought millions of dollars to Tennessee in federal and private matching grants and has bolstered our tourism economy, while enhancing property values, recreational opportunities, scenery, and the quality of our air and water all over the state. By providing habitat for migrating songbirds, its influence is felt across the western hemisphere.
Now comes word the fund will be sacrificed to help balance the state budget. None of the 30 or so conservation and environmental groups who oppose this move say the fund should be immune from budget cuts. These are tough economic times for the state, and conservationists are willing to do our part for the benefit of all.
But to kill the fund would not only be tragic, it would be unfair. Why not trim the fund by 9 percent or so, in keeping with proposed cuts in budgets of most other programs, including the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Once gone, the land fund will be difficult, if not impossible, to restore. It took lobbyists, legislators, bureaucrats and ordinary people working together to make it a reality. Resurrecting it will not be easy. If we lose this fund--a tiny percent of the Tennessee budget--this state will set aside no more natural treasures any time soon. Mountains, waterfalls, songbirds and the other natural wonders we share the planet with will be lost, maybe for all time.
At a recent meeting with key environmentalists--including my sister Kathleen Williams, who worked hard lobbying legislators to pass the real estate transfer tax in 1991--Gov. Bredesen pledged to make things right someday. His record as a conservationist has been sterling until now. Still, the governor and state legislators need reminding that the grandeur and wildlife of Tennessee are fragile and elegant things. Time is not their friend. They disappear daily before our eyes as real estate prices soar. The time to save them is now. If you'd like to help, ask your governor and legislators to protect the conservation funds threatened by Senate Bill 1991 and House Bill 2073. Contacting elected officials is easy and most important. The address for all state senators and representatives is Nashville, TN 37243. LP means Legislative Plaza. WMB stands for War Memorial Building. So, if you'd like to help, phone, write or send a penny to:
- Gov. Phil Bredesen, State Capitol, Nashville TN 37243; phone 615-741-2001.
Senate Finance Committee Members include:
- Sen. Douglas Henry, Finance Chair, 11 LP, Nashville, 37243-0021; ph. 615-741-3291.
- Sen. James Kyle, Vice-Chair, 10 LP, Nashville, 37243-0028; ph. 615-741-4167.
- Sen. Ben Atchley, 303 WMB, Nashville, 37243-0206; ph. 615-741-3791.
- Tim Burchett, 310A WMB, Nashville, 37243-0207; ph. 615-741-1766.
House Finance Committee Members include:
- Rep. Tommy Head, Chair, 33 LP, Nashville, 37243-0168; ph. 615-741-4441.
- Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Vice-Chair, 33 LP, Nashville, 37243-0182; ph. 615-741-2134.
- Rep. Joe Armstrong, 25 LP, Nashville, 37243-0115; ph. 615-741-0768.
- Rep. Doug Overby, 110 WMB, Nashville, 37243-0120; ph. 615-741-0981.
To find out your state legislators' names and addresses visit the official Tennessee website at www.legislature.state.tn.us. It is a user-friendly page.