By Charlotte Underwood
HATFIELD KNOB, TN (WLAF) – The newly rebuilt Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Tower was unveiled on Wednesday and a ribbon cutting ceremony was held. The new tower was dedicated and named after TWRA volunteers Terry and Jane Lewis, the couple who has been instrumental in the conservation of the area and the building of the initial structure, as well as continuing conservation.
Representatives from multiple agencies who played a part in the rebuild gathered together to commemorate the event.
Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) Executive Director Jason Maxedon was on site for the unveiling.
“We’re very excited about the upgrade,” Maxedon said.
He gave a brief history of the Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Tower, which originally opened in 2005.
After purchasing materials, the Lewises erected the structure with the help from volunteers of the Campbell County Outdoor Recreation Association (CORA), the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other volunteers, as well as TWRA personnel from area 41, North Cumberland WMA and former TWRA Elk Bioligist Steve Bennett.
The Hatfield Knob Elk Tower is estimated to attract about 16,000 visitors annually, which is a “big drive” for the local economy and a “win-win for wildlife conservation and the community, ” according to Maxedon.
“The Lewises still maintain the tower to this day and use their own equipment to plant and cultivate wildlife habitat and food plots. A neat thing about this tower is it has a live view cam where you can watch and view Elk and is home to the first Elk herd to be seen roaming Tennessee since the 1860s,” Maxedon said.
The rebuilt tower is larger than the original and has been upgraded to metal so it will last longer. The new structure represents a $121,500 investment in outdoor recreation and the local community. The rebuild was made possible with support from the Conservation Raffle through the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation, along with multiple volunteer man hours and in kind donations.
Campbell County Mayor E.L Morton spoke briefly at the event, making an official proclamation that August and September was officially “Bugling Season 2022” in Campbell County to recognize all the work and effort that went into the conservation of the area in general and the new tower. He also presented Judge Elizabeth Asbury with the proclamation plaque to recognize the role her father Judge Lee Asbury played in the conservation of the area as an original founder of CORA.
“We stand on the shoulders of great people; Judge Lee Asbury and the original members of CORA brought us to this point, along with the people of Campbell County,” Morton said.
The area that the Elk Viewing Tower is located on is reclaimed surface mines. Terry and Jane and all the volunteers who worked on the area were credited with creating a place that “not only held Elk, but grew Elk.”
Bill Stanley with CORA spoke about the history of the land acquisition and how preservation and conservation prevailed over privatization.
“The story of CORA is one of the most powerful grassroots conservation stories you will ever hear. In 1987 we were afraid these mountains were going to dissappear from traditional use.” Stanley said. He went onto tell the story of CORA and how a series of land transfers from various companies tried to privatize the area for development.
“Lee Asbury and other local heroes, Jerry Stout among them, formed CORA and worked with all the interested parties they could to find a way to keep these mountains open for everybody; And Lee was pretty cunning, pretty sly and a very wise man,” Stanley said. Several CORA members took second mortgages on their homes to pay the note so taxes could be paid on the land for three years and raised the money. Eventually they prevailed and acquired the first 45,000 acres of public land that became Royal Blue. After numerous other land acquisitions, CORA has helped ensure that today, 48 percent of Campbell County is public land access. One of the highest percentages in the Eastern United States, according to Stanley.
“This is an epic story of grassroots conservation activism where actual livelihoods were risked for the greater good, for strong and dedicated individuals worked with others to find common ground,” Stanley said.
He gave a huge thanks to all the organizations, individuals and volunteers that made the new Elk Tower possible, these included the CORA board of directors, TWRA and it’s Commission, the North Cumberland WMA and The Tennessee Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Campbell County Commission, Campbell County Chamber of Commerce, County Mayor E.L Morton, County Road Superintendent Ron Dilbeck, Roger’s Group, Robert Campbell Engineering, Clinch Powell Resource Conservation Council, Billy Ball and National Wild Turkey Federation Pine Mountain Longbeards, local BSA Troops and a ton of volunteers.
The project had over 700 hours of volunteers and over $15,000 of in kind donations and equipment donations to help put the new tower together.
Stanley also thanked Lee Asbury, “because the legacy he gave us and his family carries forward today. And we had help from Terry and Jane Lewis who pulled us, conjoled us and made us better than we thought we could be in putting this together,” Stanley said.
Terry and Jane were completely surprised by the dedication and naming of the Elk Tower in their honor.
“We want to thank you very much. This comes from our heart, the work we’ve done here. We love the Elk,” Jane Lewis said.
Terry Lewis spoke briefly and thanked all the volunteers that helped with both the original structure and the newly rebuilt one. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 08/19/2022-6AM)