Forest Service taking public ideas for LBL recreation plan

Jared Baker, U.S. director of Animal Tales, LLC, talks with community members about their experiences at Land Between the Lakes during a public session Tuesday at the Joe Creason Community Center in Benton.

EMILY WILLIAMS | The Sun

BENTON -- The U.S. Forest Service is gathering public input as it seeks to develop a sustainable recreation plan at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

In an effort to build the plan, Friends of Land Between the Lakes held a Forward to the Future public meeting Tuesday at the Joe Creason Community Center in Benton, one of two meetings in the LBL area.

The sessions were intended to give the public an opportunity to share their thoughts, experiences and ideas for Land Between the Lakes for the next 10 to 15 years.

"We are committed to a collaborative relationship with our stakeholders to develop a recreation plan that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable for present and future generations," said Jeff Laird, customer service manager at LBL.

Land Between the Lakes spokesman Chris Joyner said the best way to explain their Forward to the Future initiative is to look at the three-wheeler.

"If we were to ask people 18 years ago, we'd have a large population tell us that driving their three-wheeler at Land Between the Lakes was important to them," Joyner said. "We now have approximately two people each year that ride three-wheelers in the Turkey Bay OHV area."

Joyner said it would not be financially or socially sustainable to continue managing trails for three-wheelers because "the way people use Land Between the Lakes changed." He said open sessions with the public help them understand what is the social fabric that makes up Land Between the Lakes.

With different stations set up in the gymnasium of the Joe Creason Community Center, people were invited to walk around the room at each station to speak with conservation officers and give feedback by filling out informational forms regarding their LBL experiences and preferences.

Steven and Judy Moore of Benton said they attended the open session for the opportunity to voice just how important access to roads and cemeteries is to their family, having several family members buried in at least two Land Between the Lakes cemeteries.

The Moores said they were appreciative of Tuesday's public session because it gave them the opportunity to voice their concerns that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

"I think this [session] is a great thing," Judy said.

Joyner said economic, social and environmental values do not operate in a vacuum.

"We could have something that has big environmental impact but is incredibly important to the social value of Land Between the Lakes," Joyner said. "When we're looking to make any type of decision, it's important for us to understand those values. We're going to get feedback from the public and start to shape what that feedback means.""

Kayaking, Joyner noted, was named among the current important aspects of Land Between the Lakes during the public session in Benton. At a meeting held in Dover, Tennessee, the previous week, he said fishing from the bank with access to a deep water channel was an important issue for the public.

"That's important to us because we know that people value trails to get down to the water," he said. "We would not have known that otherwise. So as this process goes on, we can understand that all of those threads make Land Between the Lakes what it is."

Joyner said he encourages the public to give feedback for one reason.

"It's their public lands," he said. "They have a right to give us guidance on how they would like to see it managed. Land Between the Lakes defines our culture here. When they created this area, it was designed to be a place where people could go and get a recreation opportunity in a forested area. People flock here."

Joyner said this was LBL's first public session intended solely to discuss social, environmental and economic values.

"I am blown away by how much people value their recreation opportunities," Joyner said. "People being engaged in this process says a lot about how people care, and that bodes well for our future."

Attendees at the session also learned about Mindmixer, a platform that allows the public to participate in interactive, online discussions about recreation and environmental education. As of Tuesday, Mindmixer had The 968 online interactions.

Fresh topics rotate through Mindmixer, and visitors are encouraged to check the site often at www.landbetweenthelakes.mindmixer.com.

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