Like Countable?

Install the App
TRY NOW

Earth Day: Conservation Group Secures 100,000 Acres Of Cumberland Forest Mountains In TN, KY by Tyler Whetstone for the Knoxville News Sentinel

by BriteHeart | 4.22.19

April 22 is Earth Day, our annual reminder to review our habits and try to make changes toward clean air, land and water. Ginny Beagan, TCPALM

Some seven years ago, when he worked for the Kentucky branch of The Nature Conservancy, Terry Cook scouted a large tract of property that hugged the Tennessee-Kentucky state line in the Cumberland Mountains.

On Monday, Cook, who is now the TNC Tennessee state director and conservation leader, got to announce the acquisition of that same piece of property: 100,000 acres purchased from a timber company, the Tennessee chapter’s largest acquisition in its 41-year history.

The conservation group will be able to protect wildlife habitat, secure clean water for the area and keep the property open to the public, he said.

“I think this is, for me personally, one of the proudest moments I’ve had with TNC and I’ve been with them for 25 years … it’s a project that really only comes along once in a lifetime in terms of the scale and impact of it,” he said.

He called it a “happy coincidence” that the group was able to announce the deal on Earth Day.

A lot of land

The massive area covers 156 square miles, scattered across northern Tennessee (Claiborne and Campbell counties) and southern Kentucky (Bell, Knox and Leslie counties). Cook was not permitted to discuss details of the deal due to a nondisclosure agreement with the seller, whom he did not name.

The Nature Conservancy has acquired 100,000 acres. The massive area covers 156 square miles, scattered across northern Tennessee (Claiborne and Campbell counties) and southern Kentucky (Bell, Knox and Leslie counties). (Photo: Submitted by Byron Jorjorian/The Nature Conservancy)

It will link the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in Tennessee and the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and the Kentucky Ridge State Forest in Kentucky.

For some perspective, the Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville is made up of 1,720 acres, and the nearby Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, which spans the two states plus Virginia, comprises 24,000 acres. Before the deal, TNC preserved 340,000 acres across Tennessee.

It oftentimes takes “decades and decades” to acquire this much land, Cook said.

The Nature Conservancy acquired 100,000 acres in the central Appalachian Mountains of southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee. (Photo: Submitted)

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist is on the TNC board of directors. “This is one of the largest conservation projects in the Tennessee chapter’s history and a truly phenomenal accomplishment,” he said in a news release. “I have spent extensive time in the Appalachian region and cannot think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than to smartly preserve some of our nation’s most beautiful environments.”

Plans for the property

The property has been used for timber harvesting for decades, and that will continue, Cook said. TNC will support sustainable timber harvesting to help with the local economy and will continue the lease agreement with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to provide recreational opportunities like wildlife viewing, fishing and hunting, among other activities.

The Nature Conservancy has acquired 100,000 acres. The massive area covers 156 square miles, scattered across northern Tennessee (Claiborne and Campbell counties) and southern Kentucky (Bell, Knox and Leslie counties). (Photo: Submitted by Byron Jorjorian/The Nature Conservancy)

The group also will work with local communities to support economic development opportunities for outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism, among other things, according to a news release.

“It’s not going to be set up as a preserve that keeps people out, but we’re going to work with our local partners and the communities … the public will have access to it,” he said.              

TNC owns only the surface rights to the property, while a third party owns the mineral rights, meaning it can be mined, likely for coal in the future. Cook downplayed this possibility and said if there was mining on the property, it would be on a “very small percentage” and said TNC would work with the company to restore the land.

In the future, as it sometimes does, TNC could decide to sell the property either to the state or to a conservation-minded buyer who would continue to preserve it, he said.

The Nature Conservancy has acquired 100,000 acres, the Tennessee chapter’s largest acquisition in its 41-year history. (Photo: Submitted by Byron Jorjorian/The Nature Conservancy)

Why it matters

TNC research projects the area in and around the property acquisition to be part of one of the nation’s most important corridors for animal migration as the region’s climate changes.

The Cumberland Mountains, like the Smokies, are especially crucial because the varying elevations and topography provide habitat diversity for birds and dozens of mammals. That all of that is preserved in mostly one large chunk of land is a plus, Cook said.

TNC’s ownership also will help secure clean water for people in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee and protect the wildlife in the area. At the neighboring Cumberland Gap Park there is an array of wildlife: 33 mammals, 89 birds, 29 amphibians, 15 reptiles, 27 fish and 178 insects.

Of those, the property is home to over 100 species listed in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

We tell the stories that shape East Tennessee. Click here for a special offer to get unlimited digital access to the News Sentinel's unmatched coverage.

 

BriteHeart

Written by BriteHeart

Follow this Action Center to stay updated on new posts

Leave a comment
(0)