Former Gov. Winfield Dunn joined environmentalists Tuesday in pressuring state legislators to stop emptying the funds for preserving scenic land in Tennessee.
The environmentalists said they have formed a coalition of 28 civic, conservation and sportsmen’s organizations to help with their lobbying. They warned that some of the state’s most ecologically important land could be spoiled by development if the legislature refuses to restore the funds.
“You can’t save it all but you can save the best Tennessee has to offer in our Tennessee state parks, our wildlife areas and in our local parks,” Dunn told a news conference at the Capitol. “It’s wrong to raid these funds that help us keep pace with development. Plus our big tourist attractions in Tennessee are parks. They fuel our economy.”
The legislature started the funds in 1991 by adding to the state’s real estate transfer fees and dedicating the money to land conservation. The $16 million in annual revenue was diverted two years ago to help balance the state budget. Gov. Phil Bredesen has recommended restoring the funds in the next budget.
“The governor’s committed. I’m committed. We’re going to do everything we can do to make sure these funds stay in the budget,” said Jim Fyke, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Among other uses, the funds have bought state parkland, which Fyke said generate $700 million a year for Tennessee’s economy. “They are the economic engine in most all of these rural counties and sometimes the largest employer,” he said.
Candi Rawlins of the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association said: “Think about that park that you grew up in, that place where you played or you visit now, and imagine Tennessee without it. Without these funds, those parks won’t exist. We ask you to think about the future generations and let’s put these funds back where they belong.”