The Tennessee River Gorge Trust is getting ready to announce who will fill the shoes of the retiring Jim Brown -- a co-founder of the gorge trust 31 years ago and its executive director since 1995.
The new executive director, beginning Jan. 7, will be Rick Huffines.
Huffines, 50, currently serves as the deputy regional chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta.
In January he will retire from a 26-year career of public service where he has worked throughout the Southeast in five states in various capacities.
Both Brown and Huffines say the trust will continue to add new parcels to the 17,500-acre preservation effort, but the organization's future also will include making the beauty and nature of the unusual Grand Canyon of the Tennessee more accessible and enjoyed by the public.
"Up until today, what the trust has been doing is acquiring as much land as we could and taking care of it. Now we want to make it relevant to the community," Brown said.
Huffines, who said he was inspired at a young age in Middle Tennessee to work in conservation by another conservationist, said he hopes he and the gorge trust can return that favor.
"I'd like to take the 10 or 15 years and have equal impact on some young people -- and keep this burn for conservation going," he said.
Daniel Carter, gorge trust board president, said a national search brought 40 to 50 applications.
"Rick just seemed to meet what we were looking for," Carter said. "He's a naturalist. He's experienced in land acquisition. He's experienced in land management. But what also became evident to all of us was his leadership and speaking ability. We feel like Rick cannot only be a leader at the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, but also a leader in Chattanooga for conservation."
Brown will continue to work on contract with the gorge trust through June to help with the leadership transition.
"The gorge is a unique place," Brown said. "It's a river canyon that took millions of years to carve. But it could be developed in decade, and we can't get it back. It's a measure of the community that they see its value and set it aside."