NASHVILLE – Visitors to Franklin State Forest in Franklin and Marion Counties will only be allowed to enjoy the forest on foot beginning March 11, 2023.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry (TDF) is instituting temporary restrictions for 120 days to assess the damage caused by off-road vehicles driven in restricted areas. This practice has jeopardized the protection of the forest and the safety and welfare of visitors. Once the assessment is complete, TDF will determine a course of action to protect the integrity of the forest and its natural resources.
“This is not a decision we came to easily or take lightly,” State Forester David Arnold said. “The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry is committed to the proper and responsible management of the state’s land and forest resources. Our agency has carefully protected, conserved, and enhanced state forests for decades to provide an abundant supply of high-quality timber, demonstrate sustainable forestry practices, and allow for multiple uses, including recreation. The damage witnessed at Franklin State Forest from off-road vehicle use in non-designated areas is setting us back, and we intend to correct that.”
Off-road vehicle use has increased significantly on state forests in recent years. Per state regulation, the use of motorcycles, trail bikes, all-terrain vehicles, bicycles and other off-road vehicles in any area of a state forest is strictly prohibited, except on designated roads or trails maintained by TDF. The department’s Agricultural Crime Unit patrolled Franklin State Forest every weekend in February to educate visitors about appropriate areas to ride. Unfortunately, violations continue.
Under these temporary restrictions, recreation at Franklin State Forest will be limited to people on foot and only within the visiting hours of thirty (30) minutes before sunrise and thirty (30) minutes after sunset. Motorized vehicles must be parked in designated parking areas and exit the forest once visiting hours end. Hunting will be allowed on foot and in accordance with existing Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency rules. No off-road vehicle driving, biking, horseback riding, or camping will be allowed during this assessment period.
Failure to comply with this use restriction is a violation of state law and may result in civil penalties and/or criminal charges. This order expires on July 8, 2023, unless extended or otherwise rescinded by the State Forester.
“We don’t want to penalize everyone based on the actions of a few,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. said. “However, this situation has become critical. In addition to the temporary restrictions to assess Franklin State Forest, we are monitoring use and damage at other state forests and will take further action if necessary.”
Updates regarding closure status, assessment plans, and the mitigation response for Franklin State Forest can be found online at www.tn.gov/agriculture/forests/state-forests/franklin.html and on the department’s Facebook page.
The Division of Forestry protects Tennessee’s forests by fighting wildfires, coordinating hazard emergency response, providing prescribed fire guidance and contract services, as well as wildland fire training. Additionally, the Division promotes the responsible use of forest resources by assisting landowners, providing quality seedlings, monitoring insects and diseases, improving urban forests, managing state forests, protecting water quality, and collecting forest inventory data. The Division also works to promote primary and secondary forest industries to stimulate the state’s economy. Visit www.tn.gov/agriculture/forests for more information.
–Tennessee Department of Agriculture