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Protection of keystone parcels links some 60,000 acres of public recreation lands and habitat in Tennessee

SPARTA, TN (July 5, 2016)—The Open Space Institute (OSI), the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and The Land Trust for Tennessee today announced the permanent protection of keystone properties connecting some 60,000 of acres of public recreation land and critical wildlife habitat in north-central Tennessee.

Located in the rugged Scott’s Gulf canyon area of the Appalachian Mountains’ Cumberland Plateau region, the three inholdings total 2,600 acres and offer dramatic, sweeping views of pristine forests, streams and other natural settings. Providing habitat for several rare and endangered species—including three federally-listed species of bats as well as fish, mussels and plants—the lands are also key puzzle pieces connecting some of Tennessee’s most beloved outdoors recreation areas. These areas include Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area, Big Bottom, Virgin Falls State Natural Area, Lost Creek State Natural Area, Bledsoe State Forest, and Fall Creek Falls State Park—consistently one of the highest-ranked state parks in the state.

OSI’s funding for the project came from its Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund, which provided a $475,000 grant to the project. The mission of the Fund, which was created with funding from the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations in Chattanooga, TN, is to protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity by protecting large forest tracts in landscapes critical to facilitating wildlife adaptation to climate change.

To date the fund has helped to conserve 14,285 acres, including the Scott’s Gulf properties, in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

“By connecting and linking this extraordinary amount of protected land, including the beloved Fall Creek Falls State Park, the project helps to ensure the integrity of large, intact forests and safeguards the many benefits for wildlife and people they provide,” said Peter Howell, executive vice president of the Open Space Institute. “We salute the Land Trust for Tennessee, the State of Tennessee and their partners for their commitment to protecting this extraordinary region, a true jewel in the southeast.”

The State of Tennessee has worked diligently with landowners and non-governmental organizations over the past decade to purchase land in the area to conserve the biological resources and beauty of the Scott’s Gulf region of the Cumberland Plateau. Much of Scott’s Gulf is located within the 10,000 acre Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness—a TWRA Wildlife Management Area with waterfalls, 26 miles of hiking trails, overlooks of the Caney Fork River Gorge, public hunting access and primitive campgrounds.

“We are pleased to add this new acreage to the Centennial Wilderness,” says TWRA Director Ed Carter. “The land will provide needed conservation to several federally listed species and provide new recreational opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts.”

The State of Tennessee purchased the property from landowners Bobby and Joy Cunningham, and The Land Trust for Tennessee was essential in finding additional funding and facilitating the deal.

“The Land Trust for Tennessee is honored to work with the Cunningham Family and TWRA on this crucial conservation purchase,” says Liz McLaurin, the president and CEO of The Land Trust. “It is incredible to see this private land go into public use for the Tennesseans of today and tomorrow to enjoy.”

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