Cleveland man partners with conservation groups to protect 620-acre Custard Hollow on Cumberland Plateau

TennGreen Land Conservancy / A view from the head of Custard Hollow, 620 acres of property on the Cumberland Plateau that has been protected through a conservation easement accomplished by TennGreen Land Conservancy, landowner Robert D. McCaleb of Cleveland, Tenn., the Open Space Institute and The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee.

A Cleveland, Tennessee, man partnered with conservation groups to conserve 620 acres of Cumberland Plateau forest in Franklin County where it will add to work already underway or completed.

For Robert D. McCaleb, the conservation easement on the property not only protects increasingly rare wildlife habitat and the land's scenic beauty, it honors McCaleb's father, a former World War II prisoner of war, and his "Greatest Generation."

"My father, H. Kenneth McCaleb, an ex-POW in WWII, found great solace in these forests from the wartime injustices he endured," McCaleb said in a TennGreen Land Conservancy news release on the easement.

"I would like to remember him, indeed the entire Greatest Generation, and all combat veterans, by this donation," he said.

TennGreen, McCaleb and the Open Space Institute and The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee joined forces to protect Custard Hollow through the easement. Conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements designed to perpetually protect significant natural resources from harmful land practices. By conserving a property with a conservation easement, landowners can preserve their vision for the land and also create a lasting legacy, according to TennGreen officials.

"I believe large portions of the southern Cumberland Plateau are irreplaceable and very much warrant preservation so that future generations will have the opportunity to explore and enjoy the beauty of the area," McCaleb said in the release. "The relative peace and tranquility of the forests and mountains should provide opportunity for inspiration and spiritual benefit to those who choose to explore this corner of God's creation and remarkable landscape."

(READ MORE: New deal expands conserved property in Cumberland Plateau)

The conservation of Custard Hollow -- located in an extensive conservation corridor that includes Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Walls of Jericho State Natural Area near the Alabama state line and South Cumberland State Park -- protects important waters and wildlife habitat on privately owned land, including significant caves. The tract contains more than a half-mile of Custard Hollow Creek. TennGreen officials said Tennessee Rivers Assessment Project identified the creek as having statewide or greater significance for its natural and scenic qualities.

"The Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund Plan recognizes this conservation corridor as the Carter Mountain Area of Interest," TennGreen spokeswoman Kim Woodward said Thursday in an email.

The area of interest covers about 160,600 acres on the Southern Cumberland Plateau of which about 42,000 acres have been conserved, including land protected with conservation easements and state-owned lands, she said.

"A conservation easement protects the land from exploitation in perpetuity," Woodward said, describing how it differs from land acquisition.

(READ MORE: Philanthropist George Lindemann donates 2,000-acre Soak Creek Farm to TennGreen group)

"As the holder of the easement, TennGreen is equipped to enforce any and all violations that are not consistent with the purpose of the easement or degrade the conservation values of the protected property," she said. "This conservation easement protects the land from development, excessive subdivision and unsustainable resource extraction. Land protected with a conservation easement can be privately or publicly owned."

Conserving land by means of acquisition -- the practice of a state or nonprofit organization buying the land to expand or create publicly accessible parks -- does not ensure it is protected forever because the state, nonprofit or any future owners are not restricted from any type of use of the land, other than by their individual missions or charters, Woodward said.

The region surrounding Custard Hollow was the focus of coal mining long ago, but now there are no provisions allowing any kind of mining even for mountain stone, she said.

Timbering can take place but will be closely monitored, according to Woodward.

"Timber on the protected property may be harvested, but only in accordance with a sustainable timber management plan that must first be approved by TennGreen Land Conservancy," she said.

(READ MORE: Local conservation group critical of 133-acre Prentice Cooper timber sale)

TennGreen's Custard Hollow project received funding through the Institute's Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, which supports land protection along the Appalachian Mountain range. The fund is made possible through major support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and additional funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation, Riverview Foundation, Footprint Foundation and the McKee family from Collegedale, Tennessee.

The conservation easement represents TennGreen's second completed easement within the Cradle of Southern Appalachia Focus Area, funded through Institute support, according to TennGreen and its partners.

"The successful conservation of Custard Hollow with the support of the Institute's Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund demonstrates the critical importance of securing the Southern Appalachians' fragile forests in the face of a changing climate," the Institute's Southeast Field Coordinator, Joel Houser, said in the release.

"We're thrilled to have aided in the protection of more scenic and resource-rich land in the Cradle of Southern Appalachia. This success wouldn't be possible without the generosity of Robert McCaleb and the outstanding support of our partners at the Open Space Institute and The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee," TennGreen Interim Executive Director Alice Hudson Pell said in the release, noting McCaleb is an example for other landowners.

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