Climbing at Fall Creek Falls State Park
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Traversing Tennessee Trails

Photo Credit: Chuck Sutherland

Zachary Lesch-Huie caught the climbing bug hard in high school, and has since climbed all over the country. But when he first visited Denny Cove in southeastern Tennessee, with its lifetime of climbing routes, he knew the property had to be conserved.

With the threat of development looming, Lesch- Huie was overjoyed when the Open Space Institute and its partners stepped up and protected the 685-acre Denny Cove property just 30 minutes from  Chattanooga.  The Open Space Institute led the way with $380,000 in seed money to advance the conservation project. From  here, local partners, including the national nonprofit rock-climbing advocacy groups the Access Fund and the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, leveraged additional funding to secure the Denny Cove property before adding it to South Cumberland State Park.

With unique, multi-colored sandstone cliffs, Denny Cove offers a veritable  amusement  park  of low overhanging walls, massive roofs, slabs, cracks, and corners. In addition to the great climbing potential, the property features a 70-foot waterfall, and scenic overlooks. And with plans in hand to add miles of hiking trails, the Denny Cove property may one day provide new access to the popular, and distinctively named, Fiery Gizzard Trail, also located within the state park.

“Through the years, southeastern  climbers  have seen so many of their best climbing spots become threatened or lost,”  says  Lesch-Huie, the Access Fund’s Southeast regional director. “The same could have happened to Denny Cove, but the incredible support of organizations like OSI ensured the area was saved forever.”

An ancient landmass of compacted sedimentary rock layers, the Southern Cumberland Plateau towers more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape. It is bisected by deep crevices and permeated with caves. It is the largest forested hardwood plateau in the world, and supports many endemic species and protects them from climatic changes. The Southern Cumberland Plateau is also severely threatened by quick-sprouting subdivisions and massive property sell-offs.

Ravens Point, Southern Cumberlands, TN
Ravens Point, Southern Cumberlands, TN
Photo Credit: Steven Alvarez

Protecting Denny Cove is only the latest conservation success story attributed to OSI in collaboration with its local partners.  Through its Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund, OSI targets areas for conservation in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. In more recent years, OSI’s Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund has also provided support in this region. Read more.

The Denny Cove project was one of three OSI projects completed in 2017 that expand and further protect South Cumberland State Park. In each of these projects, between its two funds OSI provided the lion’s share of private funds needed for completion of these conservation projects.

The addition of Sherwood Forest to South Cumberland State Park and Franklin State Forest not only enhances recreational offerings in the area, but the 4,062-acre Sherwood Forest property also provides habitat for diverse animals and plants, including 40 percent of the known habitat of the painted snake-coiled forest snail. The land  is also classified as a climate-resilient landscape – meaning Sherwood Forest will remain a haven for sensitive plants and animals, even as the climate changes. To protect the property, OSI provided $800,000 to The Land Trust for Tennessee and to The Conservation Fund, and these grants resulted in matching federal funds. Along with other nearby properties conserved by OSI, Sherwood Forest is a priority landscape for conservation, as identified by more than 30 partner organizations in a comprehensive planning  process  described  in Cumberland Voices: A  Conservation  Vision  for  the South Cumberland Region (2011), a regional conservation planning document.

“OSI has made a significant commitment and contribution to fulfilling the vision outlined in Cumberland Voices,” says Benic “Bruz” Clark, president of the Lyndhurst Foundation. “By linking together public landholdings with private conservation easements in areas that have  been  scrutinized for biodiversity and climatic resilience, OSI and its partners are creating a sanctuary for wildlife while also preserving a rich and  colorful  legacy of human habitation and culture that dates back many thousands of years.”

Near Denny Cove, OSI was instrumental in protecting a portion of the trail through nearby Anderson Point. This 1,058-acre conservation effort will further connect more than 7,000 acres of protected public and private lands, expanding recreational areas, and creating uninterrupted habitat corridors. The Open Space Institute granted more than $190,000 to The Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund to help secure the project.

“By bringing many different folks together, supporting local land trusts, and assisting to identify key conservation priorities, OSI continues inspiring efforts to protect this unique and beautiful area of Tennessee,” says George Shinn, park manager at South Cumberland State Park. “And with each successful project we are making progress – not only in saving these awesome places to boost the local recreational economy, but to protect our natural resources and habitats now and forever. None of this would have been possible without the monumental help of OSI.”

Support for OSI’s Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund comes from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  The Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund is underwritten with the support of the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations and the Merck Family Fund.  

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