A 4,000-acre chunk of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau now is protected near the Franklin-Marion county line.
The land includes more than 8 miles of streams in the Crow Creek Valley and other vital habitat for endangered species that live just north of the Alabama border.
The project also protects local mining jobs for the next 50 years and connects 25,000 acres of forest and wildlife corridor, according to officials with The Conservation Fund and The Land Trust for Tennessee, the nonprofit organizations that partnered on the effort with the state.
"The South Cumberland State Park area is unique in many ways," Brock Hill, deputy commissioner for state parks and conservation, said in a statement. "By providing protection of the threatened species and preserving one of Tennessee's most scenic lands, Tennessee State Parks will preserve and protect this wild place forever."
The protected 4,061 acres lie along the eastern side of the Crow Creek Valley above the tiny town of Sherwood, Tenn. Sherwood is home to about 500 people and Sherwood Mining Co., the town's longtime limestone mining operation that harks back to the days when the community was three times its present size.
The Conservation Fund, with support from The Land Trust for Tennessee, purchased 3,893 acres earlier this year from the mining company. The company retained the right to mine limestone underneath the property for the next 50 years, officials said.
"It's a positive move," Franklin County Mayor Richard Stewart said Monday. The mining company has "always been an asset to the community."
"The older I get, the more I see that needs to be conserved," Stewart said. "They don't make any more [forest land], so we're going to have to take care of it."
In an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the mining company donated an additional 168 acres to mitigate impacts from mining on the painted snake-coiled forest snail habitat. Franklin County is the only place in the world the animal lives. The habitat of the endangered Morefield's leather flower and seven other rare species of plants and animals also is protected.
The surface of the now-preserved land — adjacent to Franklin State Forest and Carter State Natural Area — will be managed by the state for public access, drinking water quality for Sherwood residents, wildlife habitat protections and sustainable forest management, officials said. A portion of the land will be managed by the state for expanded future hunting access, while the rest is managed as part of Carter State Natural Area and South Cumberland State Park.
The effort was made possible with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties rather than taxpayer dollars. It is overseen in part by Tennessee's congressional representatives — U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais.
"Nowadays, conservation cannot be an either/or choice. This private-public partnership demonstrates how we can work together to find solutions that protect the environment and natural resources, while supporting local economies and jobs," Ralph Knoll, Tennessee representative with The Conservation Fund, said in a statement.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.