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Staff file photo/ With fall colors nearing the peak at Edwards Point, the Southern Belle riverboat cruises the Tennessee River Gorge in October 2016. The rocky cliffs seen directly behind and above the Southern Belle form Edwards Point, recently acquired by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust and permanently protected for future generations.

Almost three dozen acres on Signal Mountain have been protected through the Tennessee River Gorge Trust's acquisition of iconic Edwards Point, which takes in the view of the eastern end of the river gorge from more than 1,800 feet above sea level.

"This morning we all have the privilege of being surrounded by this incredible view that we have of the entrance to the iconic Tennessee River Gorge," trust executive director Rick Huffines said Tuesday morning during an announcement at Baylor School with Williams Island and the Tennessee River as a backdrop.

Outdoor public spaces are important to the human species, especially in trying times, he said.

"We seek these places and we need these places to maintain a sense of place and knowledge that we have space — open space — out there for us when we need it," Huffines said. "One of the important outdoor places we seek is a place known as Edwards Point.

"There is rarely a day that goes by — rarely, and it's usually because of really foul weather — that there is not a human being standing up on Edwards Point," he said, describing it as "a pilgrimage for many."

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Staff photo by Ben Benton / Tennessee River Gorge Trust executive director Rick Huffines speaks Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, about the trust's recent acquisition of 32 acres on Signal Mountain to protect iconic Edwards Point, which overlooks the eastern end of the 27-mile-long Tennessee River Gorge.

Huffines quoted his son's observation on a recent visit to the site, "Dad, this is exercise for my eyes."

Thanks to years of discussions and planning, humans of the future from the oldest to the youngest will enjoy it, too, he said.

"We've reached a sale agreement and the 32 acres on the point are now permanently protected, and we'll have a place for people to exercise their eyes for many years to come," Huffines said.

The gorge encompasses about 27,000 acres in Hamilton and Marion counties, of which the trust has protected about 18,000 acres through conservation easements, memorandums of understanding and property ownership, according to trust officials. Edwards Point has been owned by the Arnold and Stocker families until recently.

Tim Arnold and his sister, Wendy Arnold, said their World War II veteran uncle originally bought the property as a place of solace after the war, and they wanted to see it protected.

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"The Edwards Point property has been in our family for several years," Tim Arnold said in a statement. "My uncle, Jay Norman Sylar, acquired it with two friends right after World War II. My sister, Wendy, and I inherited it through my grandparents and then through my mother. As the land transitions to the stewardship of the River Gorge Trust, we feel certain that this small part of our natural world will be preserved."

Along with Edwards Point, the trust also purchased 40 acres of property midway up Signal Mountain to ensure an uninterrupted view of the gorge.

"What a great addition to the 18,000 acres already protected by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust," said Barry Allen, previous chairman of the trust's board of directors.

The gorge "is a gem," Allen said. "It's about the wildlife, it's about the history, it's about the cultural significance, it's about the ecologically significant habitat, it's about community outreach and it's about protecting a place that is so dear to so many."

Huffines praised the trust's past leaders for putting the organization in position to acquire such an important piece of property.

The trust paid $730,000 for the 32 acres and the additional 40 acres, officials said. A $300,000 contribution from the Tucker Foundation, plus $60,000 in commitments from other community members, kick-started a capital campaign to raise $1.15 million for current and future land acquisitions, officials said.

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

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Staff photo by Ben Benton / Tennessee River Gorge Trust former board chairperson Barry Allen speaks Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, about the trust's recent acquisition of 32 acres on Signal Mountain to protect iconic Edwards Point, overlooking the eastern end of the 27-mile-long Tennessee River Gorge.
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