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The Cherokee National Forest is seen in this image / Photo provided by Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.

The Tennessee Valley Authority said Wednesday it is giving $30,000 to aid a program established by Volkswagen of America to expand the Cherokee National Forest.

TVA's grant will support The Conservation Fund's program established by VW last November to help eligible environmental improvement projects in 33 East Tennessee counties. The initiative aims to purchase, protect and then donate about 1,500 acres to the U.S. Forest Service to become part of Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee.

"With environmental stewardship a core part of the TVA mission of service for over 86 years, we are thrilled to partner with The Conservation Fund to directly improve East Tennessee," said Bucky Edmondson, director, TVA Natural Resources. "We always achieve more when we work together."

In November 2019 when Volkswagen broke ground on its U.S. electric vehicle manufacturing facilities in Chattanooga, the German auto maker announced an initiative with The Conservation Fund to help protect and restore forestland in the United States. TVA's funding adds $30,000 to the $200,000 already administered by The Conservation Fund and Volkwagon.

"TVA's support will help to advance local environmental and community efforts designed to deliver measurable and lasting benefits to Tennessee's natural resources," Ralph Knoll, Tennessee representative with The Conservation Fund, said in a statement Wednesday.

The 650,000-acre Cherokee National Forest stretches the length of eastern Tennessee's border, with lands north and south of the Greater Smoky Mountain National Park. The forest is home to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and other whitewater and wilderness areas.

The land added by The Conservation Fund and Volkswagen at Cherokee National Forest will enhance efforts to help improve water quality, access to public recreation, environmental education, and habitat for the black bear and the endangered Indiana bat.

Grants of up to $50,000 each are open to applications from qualified entities in 33 East Tennessee counties. Proposed projects must focus on the region's highest priorities, including improving water quality, enhancing outdoor recreation and providing environmental education.

Qualified nonprofits, schools and public agencies can apply. There are specifications on what types of projects will be considered. Upon receiving a grant award, recipients will be required to submit tracking and success evaluation reports.

The deadline for submitting applications is Feb. 14, 2020. Grant award recipients will be notified in March.

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