Cumberland Trail State Park now almost 300 miles with acquisition in Rhea County

Trail now to trace continuous path through 11 Tennesse counties

Contributed photo by Alan Cressler / Piney River in Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park is shown in Rhea County, Tenn., where 358 acres of newly-acquired land known as Piney River Bluffs now extends the trail continuously through 11 Tennessee counties.
Contributed photo by Alan Cressler / Piney River in Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park is shown in Rhea County, Tenn., where 358 acres of newly-acquired land known as Piney River Bluffs now extends the trail continuously through 11 Tennessee counties.

One of the most unique trails on the Cumberland Plateau will now continuously span 11 Tennessee counties with a 358-acre acquisition near Spring City, Tennessee, leading to what will become almost 300 miles of unbroken path.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation - in support of TennGreen Land Conservancy and the Open Space Institute - announced Wednesday the recent acquisition in Rhea County known as Piney River Bluffs to expand protected lands in Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.

Piney River Bluffs is less than 2 miles from Spring City and is a high-priority acquisition for the linear state park, completing the protection of an 11-mile trail section through Piney River Gorge, among the most remote experiences on the Cumberland Trail, Environment and Conservation spokesperson Kim Schofinski said in a news release.

A new map should be available in the spring showing the trail's path through - from south to north - Marion, Hamilton, Sequatchie, Rhea, Bledsoe, Cumberland, Morgan, Anderson, Scott, Campbell and Claiborne counties.

(READ MORE: Cumberland Plateau cave art reveals native people's lives)

The completed link will be a boon for Spring City, and it will link city-area parks to the main trail.

"This is something we're looking forward to, obviously," Spring City City Manager Stephania Motes said Friday in a telephone interview.

The idea of linking area trails has been a local conversation for more than 10 years, and city officials knew the land now added was a key piece for the park and benefit for Spring City residents.

(READ MORE: Thousands of solar eclipse tourists flood Spring City, Tenn.)

"We've been working on tourism and different ways to bring people in for a long time, and we feel like with the trail, we'll get a good influx of people not just to do the whole Cumberland Trail, but they might visit Spring City for the first time and be willing to come back," Motes said.

"It's going to start at one of our parks over at [Watts Bar] lake, and then it's going to connect them straight to the Cumberland Trail," she said. "It's going to be good for us in all sorts of ways, for our citizens to give them a better quality of life here and also for tourism because we want to show off Spring City.

"We think it's a jewel, and not a lot of people know that. We're excited about it."

(READ MORE: Spring City: A natural retreat)

The acquisition also finalizes the Cumberland Trail connection to Soak Creek State Scenic River, to fully join 30 additional miles of the trail network in Rhea and Cumberland counties.

"This is an outstanding addition to a unique state park," Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers said in the release. "This is a major step in conservation and preservation of natural beauty for the trail. We are grateful to TennGreen Land Conservancy and the Open Space Institute for their partnership on this project."

The acquisition of Piney River Bluffs conserves significant forest habitat, according to officials.

It lies within what's known as the Cradle of Southern Appalachia, a tri-state, collaborative landscape conservation blueprint spearheaded by the Thrive Regional Partnership, Schofinski said. The acquisition links the Cumberland Trail to the 816-acre Piney Falls State Natural Area as it enters Cumberland County.

It's another win for the conservation groups involved, as well.

Piney River Bluffs is the first project in the Southeast supported by the Open Space Institute's Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, which focuses on protection along the Appalachian Mountain range, officials said in the release. The region - home to the world's largest broad-leaf forest - stores most of the nation's forest carbon while providing essential climate refuge for plants and animals.

(READ MORE: New section of Cumberland Trail opens in Rhea County; state celebrates newest scenic river)

The fund is made possible due to support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and additional funding from the Lyndhurst, Riverview and Tucker foundations, and the McKee family from Collegedale, officials said.

The Piney River Bluffs effort "is a resounding victory in the long-term effort to protect the fragile forests of the Southeast's Appalachian Mountain region in the face of a changing climate," the institute's southeast field coordinator, Joel Houser, said in the release.

The conservation project came together through a public-private partnership, Houser said, thanking state officials and TennGreen for their efforts in securing "this resounding win on behalf of the people of Tennessee."

"Piney River Bluffs represents one of our state's best examples of conservation land - beautiful forests and rivers protecting hiking lands," TennGreen's director of land conservation, Christie Henderson, said in the release.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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