Carpenter Mark Aikers, Cumberland trail Park Ranger Josh Kuykendall and Randy Whorton with Wild Trails, from left, are shown in February 2017 speaking about replacing a three-tiered set of stairs that were destroyed during wildfires that burned segments of the Cumberland Trail in the fall of 2016. The Cumberland Trail has now received a major boost, after state officials announced Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, the addition of more than 6,000 acres to the park. / Staff file photo

State officials announced Monday morning the addition of more than 6,000 acres to the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.

The land – a 6,229-acre parcel known as the Lone Star property – will support wildlife habitat, native ecology and additional public recreation opportunities, according to a Monday morning news release from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"Our award-winning state parks are a source of pride for all Tennesseans, and this acquisition shows our commitment to preserving Tennessee's extraordinary natural resources," reads a statement from Gov. Bill Lee in the release. "This acquisition will enhance a Tennessee treasure, the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park, and we are pleased to collaborate with partners inside and outside of government to make this happen."

Conserving Lone Star was a high priority for the Tennessee State Parks system due to its proximity to the Cumberland Trail. The Conservation Fund purchased the land in November 2019 and held it until TDEC and its partners could acquire it. The land was officially transferred on Feb. 20 to the Department of Environment and Conservation, which will use it to develop a significant segment for the Cumberland Trail that will connect Ozone Falls State Natural Area to existing state owned land.

"This is one of our most distinguished state parks, and this acquisition will only add to the park's prestige," said Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers. "We are grateful to our partners for helping us expand the reach of this park, and we know Tennesseans will enjoy the benefits of this addition."

When completed, the Cumberland Trail will extend more than 300 miles from its northern terminus in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to its southern terminus at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park just outside Chattanooga.

"The Cumberland Trail is an example of what makes Tennessee such an international attraction," said Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, whose district includes Cumberland, Van Buren and Putnam counties. "This acquisition will be an outstanding addition to link our Cumberland trails and foster an extensive trail system that promotes hiking while also preserving our valuable natural resources."

The state's purchase of Lone Star was possible with the state's Land Acquisition Fund, the National Park Service's State and Local Assistance Program which is funded by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Restoration Program (also known as Pittman-Robertson). The U.S. congressional delegation representing Lone Star includes U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, and U.S. Rep. John W. Rose.

"The addition of 6,229 acres to the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park ensures that even more of our state's beautiful land, water resources and recreation areas will be available for future generations to enjoy," Alexander said. "The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, has played a large role in protecting Tennessee's outdoors, and today's announcement is yet another example of their success."

"Our state parks are a treasure worth preserving and enhancing for the next generation of Tennesseans," Blackburn said. "This is an excellent example of what can be done when state and federal officials work together. It's a tribute to the commitment of everyone who worked on this project to add this land to the Tennessee State Parks system."

The Cumberland Trail's scenic footpath follows a line of high ridges and deep gorges along or near the rugged, eastern edge of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau. The trail offers a unique wilderness experience and many scenic views, including waterfalls, landscapes, gorges, wildlife, and diverse flora.

The Justin P. Wilson Cumberland State Park became Tennessee's 53rd state park in 1998. It's the state's first "linear park," cutting through 11 counties and two time zones. The Cumberland Trail includes more than 31,500 acres and intersects three National Park Service areas, three wildlife management areas, and six state natural areas, totaling over 330,000 acres of public lands. The 6,229-acre Lone Star addition ranks high in the State Wildlife Action Plan for terrestrial habitat. It contains approximately 22.5 miles of streams and threatened species such as the Allegheny woodrat.

This effort has received tremendous support from the local community, including a generous grant from the Cumberland Trails Conference and a major fundraising effort led by TennGreen that secured donations from hundreds of individuals totaling roughly $160,000.