Recent months have seen the success of two significant land conservation projects on the South Cumberland Plateau in Franklin County.
Following five years of effort in partnership with The Conservation Fund and the state of Tennessee, The Land Trust for Tennessee recently announced the protection of 4,061 acres known as Sherwood Forest, connecting Franklin State Forest with the Carter State Natural Area.
More than 3,000 acres of the tract are being added to the existing 375-acre Carter State Natural Area, a unit of South Cumberland State Park and the home of Buggytop Cave. Primarily forested mountainside, the tract includes approximately one-third of the habitat of the federally threatened painted snake coiled forest snail (Anguispira picta), with Franklin County being the only place it’s known to exist. The land is also home to the Morefield’s leather flower, the American smoketree and a half-dozen other rare species of plants and animals.
The remaining 986 acres are being added to the 7,737-acre Franklin State Forest. Overall, the project preserves more than 8 miles of streams in the Crow Creek Valley and connects over 25,000 acres of protected forest and wildlife habitat, which also includes 13,000 acres owned by The University of the South.
The majority of the tract was purchased from the Sherwood Mining Co., with an agreement that allows the company to continue mining limestone underground for the next 50 years, thus retaining local mining jobs. The company donated the remaining 168 acres as mitigation for impacts to the snail habitat. Limestone mining has a long history in the Sherwood community, with the Gager Lime and Manufacturing Co. operating there from 1892 to 1949, its ruins still a visible landmark.
The project received funding from the Land & Water Conservation Fund, a federal program supported by proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties, through the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. The Open Space Institute was also instrumental in facilitating the project.
Although the entire tract is expected to open up new opportunities for hunting, there are no immediate plans for the development of trails or other outdoor recreation uses. The land will also be managed for maintaining drinking water quality for the Sherwood community, wildlife habitat protection and sustainable forestry.
"The Sherwood Forest project exemplifies so much about the values and priorities of The Land Trust for Tennessee," President and CEO Liz McLauren said in a prepared statement. "What a privilege it is to work with public and private conservation partners like The Conservation Fund, Open Space Institute, and multiple state and federal agencies to protect a place for recreation, as habitat for rare and endangered species, for wildlife connectivity and for climate resiliency."
Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president of conservation capital and research programs, said: "OSI is proud to have supported the protection of Sherwood Forest, whose unique landscapes and unusual limestone bedrock give it the critical ability to provide habitat to wildlife even in an uncertain climate. Sherwood Forest is now part of a landscape that will prove to be a natural stronghold for wildlife for generations to come."
The Conservation Fund’s Tennessee representative Ralph Knoll said: 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. We’re thankful to Sens. Alexander and Corker and Rep. DesJarlais for their continued support of LWCF, which is so critical to conservation in Tennessee, and to all the partners who made this conservation success possible.
Tunnel Hill protected
A second recent conservation success story is the protection of 411 acres on Tunnel Hill, located a short distance northwest of Sherwood Forest. With help from the Open Space Institute, The Land Trust for Tennessee purchased the property from local resident Peter Keebler, then transferred the tract to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to be part of the adjacent 17,000-acre Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The Cowan Tunnel, a still-active railroad tunnel built in the 1850s, underlies part of the property. The Mountain Goat Trail, an old railroad route up the mountain currently in the process of being developed as a potential 35-mile rail trail, forms the boundary on one side. The tract also connects to the 249-acre Hawkins Cove State Natural Area, another unit of South Cumberland State Park, as well as a 200-acre conservation easement held by the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation.
This property is home to a number of rare plant species, most notably a large population of the state endangered Cumberland rosinweed (Silphium brachiatum), found only in a few counties in Tennessee and Alabama.
In addition to funding through TWRA, the Open Space Institute acquired grant money for the project from several charitable foundations because of the tract’s importance in facilitating wildlife adaptation to climate change.
Referring to the Sherwood Forest project, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said: "Preservation of Sherwood Forest in Franklin County will help provide future generations with opportunities for hunting, hiking and recreation in a beautiful area of our state. The state of Tennessee, The Conservation Fund and The Land Trust for Tennessee deserve our appreciation for their hard work and dedication to permanently protect Tennessee’s most diverse and important lands."
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com.
Updated @ 4:23 p.m. on 12/6/16 to correct a factual error: Carter State Natural Area is currently 375 acres, not 3,750 acres, as originally reported.