Saturday, October 25, 2014 · 7:31 p.m.

Conservation easement protects 3,200 acres in Grundy County

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South Cumberland State Park lies atop the Cumberland Plateau in four different counties. Foster Falls is just one of many beautiful areas in the park. (Photo: Contributed)

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry, in partnership with the Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund, is celebrating the completion of a multiyear effort to conserve a significant stretch of environmentally and economically important forestland in South Cumberland.

The Division of Forestry acquired a conservation easement on 3,282 acres adjacent to South Cumberland State Park in Grundy County, thanks to a grant from the federal Forest Legacy Program. The conservation easement allows for the property to remain privately owned and managed as a working forest, which significantly benefits the local economy while conserving the area’s exceptional biological diversity. The land is near a section of the nationally ranked, 17-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail, where more than 1 million people visit South Cumberland State Park annually.

"The conservation easement will ensure that a valued portion of the unique tableland forests of this area remains intact in perpetuity," said Jere Jeter, state forester and assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. "The division is proud to partner with the Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund in keeping working forests forested and protecting the rich forest heritage of the South Cumberland Mountains."

Ranked 10th on the 2012 national Forest Legacy priority list, the Fiery Gizzard project received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program. U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais supported federal appropriations for the Forest Legacy Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund in fiscal year 2012.

"I grew up hiking in the mountains of East Tennessee and welcome the announcement that Tennessee will be able to preserve more than 3,000 acres next to the South Cumberland State Park to ensure the same opportunities will be available in the future for Tennesseans and visitors," Alexander said.

In 2008, the Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund, with assistance from the Friends of South Cumberland State Park, preserved nearly a third of the Fiery Gizzard Trail and a large section of the trail viewshed from fragmentation and development. With the completion of this final phase, more than 5,000 acres have been added to South Cumberland State Park system, along with the protection of these 3,282 acres that will be maintained as private working forestland.

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