Just more than 1,000 acres in Marion County, Tenn., has been added to South Cumberland State Park that will connect more than 7,000 acres of protected public land.
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, in partnership with The Conservation Fund, The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Open Space Institute announced the addition on Wednesday.
The Conservation Fund, with transactional support from The Land Trust for Tennessee, purchased the 1,058 acres from landowners Dr. George and Ruby Dixson in late-2016, according to TDEC spokesman Eric Ward.
The newly acquired land is adjacent to the Fiery Gizzard Trail, a trail that has been ranked by Backpacker Magazine as one of the top 25 backpacking trails in the United States. The acquisition connects more than 7,000 acres of protected public land, conserves forestland and cove habitat from future development, and protects scenic views on the Fiery Gizzard Trail, Ward said.
Officials said approximately 600,000 visitors enjoy South Cumberland State Park annually, with many stepping out on the 12-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail.
Many large sections of the trail and surrounding bluffs remain in private ownership, Ward said. State crews plan to relocate a nearby portion of the trail that is on private land to the newly acquired land, he said.
"It is an honor to participate in another conservation project that will help to protect additional land in the Fiery Gizzard area – an area cherished by outdoor enthusiasts and hikers," The Conservation Fund Tennessee representative Ralph Knoll said in a statement on the acquisition.
"The successful conservation of this land for the Fiery Gizzard Trail is a resounding win for outdoor lovers and wildlife alike," OSI executive vice president Peter Howell said. "This is an enduring place that truly merits permanent protection, given its critical role in connecting thousands of acres of protected land and facilitating continuing public use of the Fiery Gizzard trail. We congratulate The Conservation Fund and The Land Trust for Tennessee on this achievement."
The addition will add to Tennessee's outdoor experience, officials said.
"TDEC takes land preservation seriously and prides itself on providing top-quality outdoor recreation experiences for state park visitors," TDEC Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Conservation Brock Hill said. "Additions to our state parks system benefit all Tennesseans through the protection of our air, water and habitat, and create more opportunities to enjoy the beautiful spaces we call home."
The Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund and OSI's South Cumberland Land Protection Fund provided critical grant funding to the effort, which enabled the state of Tennessee to acquire the land in April 2017. Officials said the conservation win advances long-term conservation goals identified in the Tennessee State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP, 2015), Cumberland Voices: A Conservation Vision for the South Cumberland Region (2011), and the THRIVE 2055 Natural Treasures initiative.
The acquisition also builds upon the State's recent efforts to conserve land in the region. In March 2017, South Cumberland State Park celebrated the dedication of Denny Cove, a 685-acre climbing destination just a quarter mile from the newly acquired 1,058 acres. In 2010, The Conservation Fund, The Land Trust for Tennessee and the State of Tennessee partnered to purchase 6,182 acres on the Fiery Gizzard from a private timber company. At that time, 2,900 acres went into public ownership as part of South Cumberland State Park, and 3,282 went into private ownership with a conservation easement held by The Land Trust for Tennessee.
"The Land Trust for Tennessee is privileged to work with private and public partners to continue the conservation success in the South Cumberland region," said Liz McLaurin, president and CEO of The Land Trust for Tennessee.