Senator Thompson believes that we must be good stewards of our natural resources, beginning in our own backyards.
In 1998, he founded the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Congressional Caucus to raise the profile of the park within Congress and the National Park Service. "Tennessee and North Carolina are blessed to share one of the most beautiful natural resources in the world--the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," Thompson said. When Senator Thompson saw firsthand the many challenges faced by park officials, he immediately set to work on helping the park meet those challenges. "That's why I decided that those of us who have a direct interest in and responsibility for it should band together and coordinate our efforts on its behalf. We need to help protect this natural resources so it can be enjoyed for generations to come."
Senator Thompson invited his colleagues from Tennessee and North Carolina to join the Smokies Caucus, which has met several times to discuss the park's funding needs and the growing air quality problems in the park. Park Service officials, Friends of the Smokies Executive Director Charles Maynard, and officials from TVA, EPA, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy have testified before the caucus.
The Smokies Caucus has been successful at achieving a number of accomplishments for the park. In 1999, Senator Thompson helped to secure $450,000 for the design and study of a new science building to hold the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's natural history and specimen collections. This lab will support the exciting Discover Life in America project, which was created to coordinate the inventory of the 100,000 species of plants and animals living tin the Smokies. Information learned from this valuable effort will be available to scientific, educational and government entities around the world.
In 2000, Senator Thompson is working to secure $500,000 to protect and maintain back country resources in the Smokies, $500,000 to improve campgrounds and roads, and $97,000 for air quality monitoring efforts in the park.
Members of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Congressional Caucus include Senator Thompson, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), Senator John Edwards (D-NC), Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Congressman Bill Jenkins (R-TN), Congressman Zach Wamp (R-TN), Congressman Cass Ballenger (R-NC) and Congressman Charles Taylor (R-NC).
Since he was elected to the Senate, Senator Thompson has also successfully fought for funding to halt erosion at Shiloh National Military Park in Jackson. The park is bordered by the Tennessee River, and severe erosion along the river banks has threatened to destroy ancient Indian burial mounds and Civil War graves. "I'm glad Shiloh is finally getting the attention it deserves," said Thompson. In 1999, Senator Thompson secured $1.5 million in federal funding to stabilize the most critical areas in the park. This year he is working to obtain an additional $1 million to ensure completion of the erosion construction project in Shiloh.
In further efforts to preserve Tennessee's natural resources, Senator Thompson secured $3.5 million for the purchase of the Gulf Tract in the Cherokee National Forest in 1999. The Gulf Tract is located in the head waters of the Gulf Fork of Big Creek in upper East Tennessee. Federal ownership of this additional acreage will ensure that the natural beauty of this area is preserved. In 2000, Senator Thompson is working to obtain $1,000,000 for improvements to the Flatwoods Road Recreation Access Road in the Cherokee National Forest. The Flatwoods Road provides the primary access for the highly desirable Little Oak campground on the South Holston Lake.
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