Wolf Creek Stewardship Project

Nolichucky/Unaka Ranger District, Cherokee National Forest
Terry Bowerman, Nolichucky/Unaka District Ranger
July 7, 2004

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Terry Bowerman, Nolichucky/Unaka District Ranger

Collaborating with the public during project planning on the Wolf Creek Stewardship project was an evolving process. I accepted the opportunity to have a stewardship pilot project in 1999, not knowing fully what a stewardship pilot project was. The project was originally proposed as a golden-winged warbler habitat and handicap hunter/wildlife viewer access project.

One thing I need to say before I go on any further is this: I thought that collaboration started after project planning was completed. I thought I would gather the collaboration partners together and they would help us look at the implementation process. I learned during the process that collaboration begins prior to implementation. It begins at the time of planning with a blank flip chart generating concepts of what the agency and the public want to accomplish on the ground.

Early in the planning process, the handicap hunter/wildlife viewer component of the project merged with the building of golden-wing warbler habitat component. This resulted in a partnership with Buckmasters, Ruffed Grouse Society, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

When the District started planning the project, I asked that we start with an ecosystem assessment of the watershed. In this process, we gathered existing and non-existing data on all elements of the watershed in a classic watershed evaluation manner. One of the elements that needed to be gathered was the human/social element of the watershed. Wolf Creek is one of only three high elevation Southern Appalachian human settlements that remain relatively intact. The Wolf Creek Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) gathered the human/social element data by gathering old land ownership records, maps, FS inventory data from the early 1900's, and old aerial photos.

The IDT held a public meeting in the town of Del Rio, Tennessee, which is located, near the Wolf Creek watershed. We invited local residents and relatives of residents who lived in the watershed before the Forest Service acquired the land. We also asked people to bring old photos of people associated with the watershed and community of WASP (the name of the community located in the bottom of the Wolf Creek watershed). The IDT asked the public that attended the meeting how they would like to see the watershed managed.

Some of the people responded that they desired to see the history of the WASP community preserved and interpreted. We conducted interviews of people that lived in the WASP community or relatives of the residents. The project started to change to accommodate the public desire.

The project continued to evolve through the planning process. The north zone of the Cherokee National Forest was working on a strategic trails process. In that process, we engaged the public in two public meetings to identify and prioritize trail building needs on the two northern Districts of the Forest. The Wolf Creek watershed was identified as a place where there was a need for more multiple use trails. As a result, a horseback riding club was formed to work with us on planning, building, and maintaining trails on the northern Districts of the Forest.

Recently, we planned a meeting of old residents and relatives of residents in the Wolf Creek watershed. We called the meeting "The Wolf Creek Gathering" We invited these folks to a picnic. We talked with them about the history of WASP and what it was like to live there. We also videotaped some of the interviews.

We will continue to partner with the above groups and individuals to implement the different parts of the project, which includes restoring approximately 80 acres of old agricultural fields, golden-winged warbler habitat, building multiple use trails, handicap hunter/wildlife viewer opportunities, and interpreting the old WASP community. We look forward to working with these partners in our monitoring.

On the up side, we were able to work with the public to develop a shared vision. On the down side, we were delayed in finishing the planning for several years due to multiple lawsuits on the forest and in the region. I finally signed the project decision last fall.

For further information about our collaboration, contact Terry Bowerman, Nolichucky/Unaka District Ranger, Cherokee National Forest at (423) 638-4109.