CHATTANOOGA, TN (April 27, 2020) — Building on its land protection work atop the Southern Cumberland Plateau, the Open Space Institute (OSI) is announcing the protection of its latest property within the region. The land, conserved by TennGreen Land Conservancy with OSI’s support, will protect wildlife habitat around a stunning gorge atop the Plateau.
TennGreen was able to secure a conservation easement on the 550-acre “Whites and Piney Creek Gorge” property with funding from OSI’s Resilient Landscape Initiative and Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund, and thanks to the generosity of the property’s landowners, Annie and Steve Scarborough. This easement, located along a gorge surrounding Whites and Piney creeks, forever protects the creeks and the surrounding hemlock-rich woods.
The property marks the 24th property conserved by OSI atop the Southern Cumberland Plateau, totaling some 37,000 acres.
“In a landscape known for its unmatched biodiversity and natural resources, this property stands out as one of the best of the best. OSI is proud to have helped make this project happen and salute the incredible generosity of the Scarboroughs, as well as the hard work and dedication of TennGreen,” said Joel Houser, OSI’s Southeast Field Coordinator.
"We have lived on Whites Creek for thirty years, raising our children here in one of the most amazing places we've ever been... (This land) calls to anyone with a soul." - Landowners Steve & Annie Scarborough
“The completion of this Whites and Piney Creek Gorge Conservation Easement represents a huge conservation win for wildlife and Tennesseans,” said Steve Law, Executive Director of TennGreen Land Conservancy. “This spectacular and diverse property is located on the Cumberland Plateau — one of Tennessee’s crown jewels. Conservation of the waters, forests, and vistas on properties like this is why our mission is so important, and our work is so rewarding. I’m thankful to the Scarboroughs for their generous gift to future generations and to OSI for funding this exceptional project.”
"We have lived on Whites Creek for thirty years, raising our children here in one of the most amazing places we've ever been,” said landowners Steve & Annie Scarborough. “The spectacular gorges, waterfalls, and diverse habitat of Whites Creek and its tributary streams call to anyone with any outdoors in their soul. We’re overjoyed to work with our friends at OSI and TennGreen to complete this large step in preserving this beautiful land and water for the future. We cannot express our gratitude strongly enough.”
OSI protected the property with the support of its Resilient Landscapes Initiative, capitalized by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as well as its Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund, supported by the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations.
Since first launching the Resilient Landscapes Initiative (RLI) in the Southeast in 2014, OSI has helped secure more than 50,000 acres of “climate-resilient” habitat — referring to lands that will continue to provide habitat for wildlife, even as the climate changes. The Southern Cumberland Land Protection (SCLP) Fund has helped to protect about 32,000 acres (16,000 acres of which were supported by both the RLI and the SCLP funds).
The Southern Cumberland Plateau was also profiled in OSI’s award-winning 2018 Story Map, Saving the Southern Cumberlands.
OSI's 'Saving the Southern Cumberlands' Story Map
A flat-topped mountain that once was the bed of an ancient ocean floor, the Southern Cumberland Plateau today supports some of the most geologically unique habitat in North America — yet only 10 percent of the Plateau is protected. OSI is busy saving the land, before it is too late.
The easement completed on the Whites and Piney Creek Gorge property conserves approximately 7.5 miles of land along area streams, including Blue Branch, Camp Branch, Otter Creek, Piney Creek, and Whites Creek. Both Whites Creek and Piney Creek have been identified as possessing Natural and Scenic Qualities of statewide significance, according to the Tennessee Rivers Assessment Project.
Whites Creek hosts a variety of beautiful fish and wildlife, including the rare Tangerine Darter (Percina aurantiaca), which are found in clear headwater tributaries of the Tennessee River. Male Tangerine Darters have been described as one of the most colorful freshwater fish in the United States due to their bright orange and red colors during their breeding season.
In addition to immense habitat conservation benefits, protection of this land along Whites Creek helps ensure that the view along the creek remains natural. The portion of Whites Creek that flows along the property has been rated as a Class III Whitewater stream, and Whitewater paddlers have long enjoyed the scenic beauty and difficulty of running its waters.