RHEA COUNTY, Tenn. (Sep. 7, 2023)—Support from the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF) has helped permanently protect portions of a stunning gorge in eastern Tennessee. Conservation of the property secures habitat for sensitive species while safeguarding forests for carbon storage.
The 115-acre property, protected with a conservation easement held by TennGreen Land Conservancy, includes nearly two miles of frontage along Whites Creek, a scenic waterway threading through Whites Creek Gorge. In addition to the 115-acre property, OSI’s involvement also helped strengthen protections with an existing easement for an additional 115 adjacent acres. Altogether, protection of the two properties totaling 230 acres will help the land’s pristine forests maximize carbon capture and storage in the face of a changing climate.
The project represents the second property protected with OSI’s support within the gorge, and OSI’s latest success atop the Cumberland Plateau — where it has partnered in the protection of more than 40,000 acres.
OSI’s ALPF 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.
“This conservation achievement is a perfect example of the Open Space Institute’s long-term efforts to protect the fragile forests and wildlife of the Appalachians in the face of a changing climate,” said Joel Houser, OSI’s Director of Capital Grants. “Protecting these forests allows the continued removal of harmful carbon emissions, further safeguarding the very air we breathe. We thank TennGreen Land Conservancy for their committed efforts to see this land protected, forever.”
Cutting through the Cumberland Plateau, Whites Creek Gorge offers scenic views and is beloved by whitewater paddlers. Whites Creek has statewide significance for its natural and scenic qualities; the creek and its surroundings contain habitat for the tangerine darter fish, the eastern hellbender salamander, bald eagles, and a previously undescribed species of goldenrod wildflower.
The protected property is also home to many Eastern hemlock trees, which are rapidly in decline due to the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid.
For more information about OSI’s land protection initiatives atop the Cumberland Plateau, visit OSI’s award-winning StoryMap, Saving the Southern Cumberlands.