Paint Rock Image

Long-Awaited Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge Coming to Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau

Image Credit: True Capture Studios Courtesy the Open Space Institute

FRANKLIN COUNTY, TN (Aug. 25, 2023)—After decades of determination and anticipation, a National Wildlife Refuge along the border of Tennessee and Alabama will finally become a reality thanks to integral support from the Open Space Institute’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund.

This summer, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee (TNC) acquired 87 acres of land adjoining the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area. OSI provided the largest portion of funding for TNC’s acquisition, whose upcoming transfer to the USFWS in September will officially establish the long-awaited Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge while building regional connections to other protected land for people and wildlife.

"The Open Space Institute is honored and humbled to have helped solve this critical land protection puzzle,” said Kim Elliman, President and CEO of OSI. “We salute the efforts of the many private conservation organizations, local citizens, and state and federal agencies who have worked tirelessly through the decades to achieve this long-awaited vision.”

OSI’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund catalyzes land protection along the Appalachian Mountain range — an area that is home to the world’s largest broadleaf forest, stores most of the nation’s forest carbon, and provides essential refuge for plants and animals at risk of habitat loss from climate change. The Fund is made possible thanks to major support from the Doris Duke Foundation and additional funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation, Riverview Foundation, Footprint Foundation, the McKee Family, and other private foundations.

A longtime supporter for creation of the Refuge, OSI has also partnered in the protection of more than 40,000 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau. Home to the longest hardwood forested plateau in the world, the Cumberland Plateau stretches across four states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama — and has endured a long history of aggressive deforestation.

With its establishment, the Refuge will help safeguard the headwaters of the Paint Rock River, which originates in Franklin County, Tennessee. Along its course south toward the confluence of Estill Fork and Hurricane Creek in northwest Jackson County, Alabama, the river and its tributaries support an extremely diverse array of aquatic life.

In these waters live 100 species of fish, including one species confined solely to the river and one stream in Kentucky; and about 45 different mussel species, including about a dozen globally rare species and one that is found nowhere else in the world.

Creation of the Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge supports President Biden's America the Beautiful initiative, which has a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the nation's lands and waters by 2030 for people and nature.

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