The Cumberland Trail cuts a swath through Tennessee from the Cumberland Gap to Chattanooga offering a wilderness trail for hikers looking to explore the high ridges and deep gorges of the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
About 210 miles of the trail are open, with more being built each year by volunteers with the Cumberland Trail Conference.
The 6,650-acre Lone Star tract, once the site of proposed industrial wind turbines in Eastern Cumberland County, offers the opportunity to tie those trails together.
“I’ve been on the Cumberland Trail for 14 years, and we’ve been talking about trying to buy the Lone Star tract as long as I’ve been here,” Anthony Jones, assistant park manager, said during a Positively Glade presentation Oct. 17.
The land does not include “Big Rock,” which is owned by Lhoist North America, a rock quarry operation in Crab Orchard.
The Conservation Fund — at the request of the state of Tennessee — has negotiated the purchase of the property and mineral rights for the property.
Matthew McClannahan, vice president for TennGreen East Tennessee, said, “We’re hoping to restore Lone Star to a more natural appearance. We want to put trails in there. We think this could be a crown jewel in Cumberland County.”
The Cumberland Trail has hiking trails to Ozone Falls and north of the Lone Star property on the Daddy’s Creek segment in the Catoosa/Keys-Harrison Wildlife Management Areas
“This eliminates 12 miles of highway walk down Hwy. 70 or I-40, down Hebbertsburg Rd. to connect our trails, and it adds 7 miles of hiking trails through the wilderness and not the side of a highway,” Jones said.
Jones designed trails for the parcel during an earlier purchase attempt in 2007.
While he could not say how long it would take to construct trails on the property, he said, “We’ll start building as soon as we’re allowed to.”
Lone Star is also the final major land acquisition necessary to connect Laurel Snow State Natural Area near Dayton to Nemo Bridge in the Obed Wild and Scenic River.
“Every other piece of land is either acquired or in the process of being acquired,” Jones said. “This 6,000 acres is the only land left that we need in that area.”
The property would also provide a habitat conservation corridor. While an inventory of the Lone Star tract has not been completed, 13 rare species have been documented within one mile of the property. The land also includes about 22 miles of streams that flow into three watersheds and form the headwaters of Fall Creek at Ozone Falls.
Fair market value was determined to be $6.9 million, with the owner offering a purchase price of $6 million. Acquisition costs, due diligence and legal fees bring the total cost to $6.835 million.
“We need your help,” McClannahan said. “We’ve had a lot of generous gifts and donations. We have the lion’s share of that money raised.
“But we need to get that last yard, so to speak, to finish the journey.”
The organization must have all funds raised by Dec. 1. Donations can be made online at tenngreen.org.
“It shows the state of Tennessee and our donors that the people in the local community support preserving the Lone Star tract,” McClannahan said.
Alice Hudson Pell, TennGreen associate director, said, “The Conservation Fund has the property under contract. They had hoped to close mid-October, but it’s going to be mid-November, I think now, and the transfer to the state should happen in this calendar year.”
Pell said TennGreen was asked to raise as much as it can to decrease costs to The Conservation Fund and the state. TennGreen has raised $120,000 of a $200,000 goal, she said.
TennGreen is the oldest statewide land conservancy in Tennessee. It has partnered with various individual land owners, organizations and agencies to identify and conserve biologically important land across the state.
The organization has worked on various land acquisitions in Cumberland County, including Black Mountain, Brady Mountain, Devilstep Hollow and Grassy Cove.
Most recently, TennGreen purchased about 200 acres of land at Hinch Mountain. The parcel connects Devilstep Hollow at the Head of the Sequatchie, Bear Den Mountain and a portion of the Cumberland Trail State Park along Hinch Mountain — all owned by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Without this section of property, hikers would have to walk 1 mile on Hinch Mountain Rd.
“Now that the land has been transferred into state ownership, it will provide a safer route for hikers, allow greater access to Devilstep Hollow/Head of the Sequatchie and offer a promising location for a Grassy Cove trailhead on TennGreen’s previously donated Karst Forest at Grassy Cove property,” said a press release from TennGreen.
TennGreen assists landowners with conservation easements. These easements stay with the land forever, protecting it from future development, but the terms are unique to each agreement. Owners can continue to use their property and retain the right to sell or transfer ownership. TennGreen is responsible for land stewardship.
TennGreen also helps facilitate land donations, often the simplest method to preserve land.
The organization also helps acquire property when public agencies or private organizations need to move quickly to complete the purchase or need to raise additional funds, as is the case in the Lone Star purchase.
Land conservation helps protect ecosystems, promote better health of residents and stimulates the economy, she said. A 2011 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found 3.45 million people over the age of 16 took part in fishing, hunting or wildlife watching in Tennessee with an associated $2.5 billion in revenue. Most people participate in outdoor activities within a 100-mile radius of their homes.