The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) has announced the official transfer of nearly 1,000 acres of land along the southern portion of Grassy Cove to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The land will be managed by TDEC in perpetuity, and added to the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail State Park. TennGreen’s gift to the state will protect optimum views and habitat of Bear Den and Brady Mountains as well as the nationally-renowned Cumberland Trail. Natural features of the area range from dramatic bluffs and boulder fields, to eight caves including the scenic Lost Waterfall, Spouting Dome and Bear Den Mountain Caves.
Visible from outer space, Grassy Cove is the largest sinkhole in North America and one of Tennessee’s finest treasures. Designated a National Natural Landmark (NNL) by the National Park Service in 1973, it is considered one of the nation’s best illustrations of karst development and is home to a number of rare species, including the federally-threatened northern long-eared bat. Grassy Cove is located within the Cumberland Plateau, which has been identified by The Nature Conservancy as the world’s longest hardwood-forested plateau and one of the most biologically-rich regions on Earth.
“The addition of this Grassy Cove property preserves breathtaking views of forest and farmland along the nationally-recognized Cumberland Trail,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner, Brock Hill. “Visitors to Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park can explore geologic formations or imagine what early pioneers experienced when first discovering the forested hillsides overlooking the fields and meadows of the cove. It is wonderful to know that this land will be protected for generations to come.”
TennGreen raised a total of $2,229,000 for the conservation project, with more than $250,000 contributed by individuals and private foundations. Gifts ranged from $15 to $100,000—many inspired by the late Shirley Caldwell-Patterson’s generous challenge gift. Since it is not a government agency, TennGreen strongly relies on generous private philanthropy to fund its initiatives to save important land in Tennessee.
A significant amount of the campaign’s success is also because of the support of the Department ofAgriculture, U.S. Forest Service, who ranked this project (The Karst Forest at Grassy Cove) eighth in the country to receive funding through a grant from the Forest Legacy Program. Funding for the project was included in the Fiscal Year 2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies.
“This project is a great addition to the Forest Legacy Program,” said Michael Murphy, the Forest Legacy Program Manager for the Southern Region of the U.S. Forest Service. “Permanently providing forest cover in this unique geological area supports clean water and important habitat for the Greatest Conservation Need species.”
Receiving the funds from the Forest Legacy Program also allowed TennGreen to advance its effort through an additional grant of $600,000 from the Open Space Institute (OSI). The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation’s Grassy Cove project was supported through the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative and Southern Cumberland Protection Fund, which are made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, Benwood Foundation and Merck Family Fund. These initiatives seek to build capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change.
“OSI is proud to have supported the protection of the Grassy Cove property,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s Executive Vice President of Conservation Capital and Research Programs. “This property not only protects the viewshed of the Cumberland Trail, but will also protect critical lands for wildlife habitat and for humans as the climate changes. We applaud the Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation for its commitment to protecting this important landscape and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation for its commitment to manage the land for wildlife and public enjoyment.”
TennGreen has been committed to protecting the land since 2014, when this 956 acres in the Cumberland County region became available for sale. The land belonged to the Kemmer family of Middle Tennessee, who had occupied it since the early 1800s. TennGreen learned of the conservation opportunity when long-time supporter and member, Levonn Hubbard, put the organization in contact with the family. Many real estate, timber, and limestone companies expressed interest in the property for development and utilization of natural resources. However, after weighing several options, the Kemmers decided to sell the land to TennGreen so that future generations could experience and enjoy all of its natural wonders.
When TennGreen board chairman, Charles Womack, M.D. of Cookeville, was asked about the project, he stated, “TennGreen has worked for years to preserve the caves, waterfalls, forests, and scenery at Grassy Cove for the people of Tennessee and their descendants. If we had not stepped in to help, it would have been timbered and taken at least a generation to regain part of its unique beauty. Our mission is to save Tennessee’s treasures not only for ourselves, but also for our grandchildren and their grandchildren as well.”
TennGreen’s gift of land will protect the critical view shed of the Cumberland Trail,which Governor Haslam is aiming to stretch from North to South across the state before he leaves office. Both Governor Haslam and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander have been strong advocates of TennGreen and its Grassy Cove project.
“I still can recall walking into Grassy Cove in Cumberland County one spectacular spring day in 1978 during my campaign for governor. I had not seen a prettier sight,” said Senator Alexander. “Today’s announcement by the Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) that it will officially gift the land to Tennessee State Parks will help ensure future generations of Tennesseans and tourists can enjoy Grassy Cove and the Cumberland Plateau and I applaud those in TennGreen for all of their hard work to make this gift a reality.”
TennGreen is grateful to those who made a contribution to this effort, and is looking forward to the recreational, conservation, and economic benefits that the additional 956 acres of land will provide to the state. The organization is currently working with TDEC to set a date for a dedication on the property.
“We are proud to have lead the way in this significant conservation initiative,” said TennGreen Executive Director, Steve Law. “Grassy Cove is a Tennessee treasure, and the opportunity to experience its natural beauty is a gift for generations.”
A special event will be held Friday, June 1, 2018 starting at 10 a.m. with a dedication and a hike to follow. The dedication ceremony will be held at the Grassy Cove Community Center at 643 Kemmer Road in Grassy Cove. RSVP is required and citizens may do so by going to www.tenngreen.org/events