TennGreen achieves conservation successes in the Cumberland Plateau region

Authored By Staff report

An aerial view of Grassy Cove. (Photo: Ken Tucker)

The public is invited to join the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, also known as TennGreen, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for a special event commemorating TennGreen’s transfer of the 956-acre tract to Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.

Following the dedication ceremony on June 1, there will be a hike along the new addition.

Learn more or register to attend here.

Grassy Cove is a national natural landmark, by some accounts the largest sinkhole in North America at six miles long by three miles wide. Rainfall and springs on the slopes of Black, Brady, Brown and Bear Den Mountains sink into the pastoral cove which has no river outlet. The waters are absorbed into the karst and cave-riddled farmland and re-emerge days later at the Head of Sequatchie Spring and Devilstep Hollow Cave, a nationally-significant archaeological site with its 22-piece cave art gallery, dating back more than 700 years. The waters from Grassy Cove helped create the Sequatchie River Valley.

Located on the south end of this cove are 956 pristine acres which frame this nationally-significant Tennessee natural treasure. Wildflowers adorn the steep slopes in springtime and the trees blaze in the fall. Along the steep northern slopes are hidden wonders, Lost Waterfall Cave, Little Dogwood Pit, and Spouting Dome Cave, along with five other caves. Hikers on the almost 3,000-foot-tall mountains of the Grassy Cove segment of the Cumberland Trail can gaze down at this wooded landscape, and know that this area will forever provide refuge for forest-dwelling species.

Conservation of this parcel widens the wildlife corridor of the Cumberland Trail along Brady Mountain, protecting the lands needed as species experience the pressures of climate change.

Read an earlier report about the Grassy Cove project here.

A scene in the Dry Creek Headwaters. (Photo: Tom Wood)

Dry Creek Headwaters
Another recent TennGreen conservation achievement is the successful purchase of the 582-acre Dry Creek Headwaters. This beautiful property is along a wild stretch of the Caney Fork River that frequently floods the river bottom at the gateway to Scott’s Gulf. The Headwaters rise steeply up the gorge near Virgin Falls, overlooking the river bottom at the convergence of the Eastern Highland Rim and the Cumberland Plateau.

The plan is for the State of Tennessee to acquire the property from TennGreen and split management between State Natural Areas (TDEC) and TWRA.

TWRA will manage their portion of the property as an addition to Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness, actively maintaining it for habitat and species protection, as well as for hunting, fishing, and recreational enjoyment. State Natural Areas will manage their portion as an expansion of Lost Creek SNA, maintaining it for species protection, hiking, and other recreational pursuits.

This project could not have occurred without the financial support of the Open Space Institute and a major private donor, Dr. Stephen Stedman. Dr. Stedman’s donation is in memory of his late wife, Barbara, who “loved wild places with wildflowers and wild rivers, both of which are well represented on the Dry Creek property.”

The tract is part of a 55,000-acre conservation corridor which links Virgin Falls, Scott’s Gulf, and Fall Creek Falls State Park to Bledsoe State Forest and the Boy Scout’s Latimer High Adventure Reservation.

Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park. (Photo: Chuck Sutherland)

Rock Island State Park addition
In Aug. 2017, two TennGreen board members and lifelong conservationists, Mary Lynn Dobson and Ann Tidwell, alerted TennGreen’s conservation staff that 45 acres of land were for sale adjacent to Rock Island State Park along the Caney Fork of the Cumberland River. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation expressed interest in acquiring the property to expand the park. TennGreen has been working to purchase and transfer the land to TDEC.

In 1917, the Great Falls Hydroelectric dam created a lake, bringing with it numerous recreational opportunities. Rock Island has hosted the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking World Championships, and the park features eight hiking trails, scenic overlooks, waterfalls, deep pools, and a sandy beach for recreational swimming and water sports.

This expansion will greatly relieve pressure on the land as well as state park staff who manage an increasing number of visitors each year.

Mitchell Cove. (Photo: Christie Peterson Henderson)

Mitchell Cove
In partnership with the South Cumberland Regional Land Trust and the Jumpoff Community Land Trust, TennGreen has worked to place and hold a conservation easement on nearly 1,000 acres of forested wildlife habitat in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Conserving the property will permanently protect the wooded habitat for rare species, and will limit future development and subdivisions, effectively safeguarding more than four miles of riparian habitat along streams and more than two miles of scenic bluffs overlooking Mitchell Cove. In an era of warming climates, it is essential to protect large, densely-forested habitats with dramatic geographic features — such as the valleys and vistas found surrounding Sewanee — to offer wildlife a refuge where they can survive and thrive.

Also of high conservation importance, the property contains one of the best examples of Native American rock art in Tennessee: red pictographs created by the ancestors of the Native Americans, perhaps as early as 1,000 years ago. These renderings appear to reflect prehistoric beliefs about the universe and its transformational character and structure. Its arrangement on the landscape may reflect the cosmos, with red paintings of celestial characters in elevated areas close to the sky, and black images at lower elevations in the dark reaches of the caves. Rock art tangibly transformed the world of nature into the world of the spirits, and conserving the pristine lands surrounding these caves preserves an important part of our shared human history.

This conservation easement, which will ensure that the forested bluffs and valleys remain undeveloped and the wildlife habitat is maintained in perpetuity, is the final step in a decades-long commitment by South Cumberland Regional Land Trust and Jumpoff Community Land Trust to protect one of the most ecologically-diverse and scenic bluffs in Tennessee.