When George Lindemann first purchased property in Cumberland County, he intended to farm cattle.
“Now, when I’m there, I go to hike or to paddle,” said Lindemann. “And I get people to come visit.”
An avid paddler, Lindemann is often watching the weather for rain so he can enjoy the free-flowing creeks and rivers on the Cumberland Plateau.
One of those streams is Soak Creek, a tributary of the Piney River that winds its way through Cumberland, Bledsoe and Rhea counties. Last week, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced Lindemann had donated 1,034 acres to the Cumberland Trail State Park, with a value of $8.27 million. The land will not only add five critical miles to the linear state park but also provide better access to one of the paddling community's favorite rivers.
“It’s only because I paddle that I was aware it existed,” Lindemann said. “It’s beautiful, in pristine condition. There are no home or cabins or signs of life. You rarely see any signs of humans. When you’re paddling down it, you might as well be in Jurassic Park.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the area is one of the best remaining examples of a major biotic community. It also boasts a variety of wildflowers, including native milkwort and spotted geranium, along with old growth forests and waterfalls.
The donation follows the designation of Soak Creek as a Tennessee Scenic River last year. It is the first river to be named a Scenic River in 15 years.
Lindemann has been involved in conservation projects before and said he felt the scenic designation went hand-in-hand with the land donation.
And while preservation of a “natural wonder” was part of the impetus for Lindemann’s donation, he also noted such treasures could be an economic boon to the area through growing ecotourism.
“There are so many amazing natural wonders here,” he said. “We’ve not done a good job of advertising and letting people know about them.”
Tourism brought $112.29 million to Cumberland County in 2015, up almost $6 million from the year before. That includes $4.78 million in local tax collections and local wages topping $22 million. Cumberland County also has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state.
Lindemann noted some think it counter-intuitive to try to draw people to the area while also working to preserve natural resources. He disagrees.
“The more people come here, the more everyone will work harder to preserve these treasures,” Lindemann said of his vision to the river and the larger community. “If we can provide safe, appropriate access, we can offer services for all the community — the people who live here, the people who visit and the critters living along the creek.”
As part of the donation, Lindemann asked the state to provide access for watercraft.
While the land will offer hiking and recreational opportunities at Soak Creek, it will also help continue the development of the Cumberland Trail and provide a better connection from Stinging Fork State Natural Area to Piney Falls State Natural Area.
The Cumberland Trail cuts through 11 Tennessee counties, stretching from the Cumberland Gap in the east to the Tennessee River Gorge on the Tennessee-Alabama state line. When complete, it will offer more than 330 miles of hiking. So far, about 185 miles and 40 trailheads are open for public use.
Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of parks and conservation, said, “We appreciate his love for the outdoors and enthusiasm for Soak Creek and the Grassy Cove area.”
Hill told the Knoxville News Sentinel the state has about 95 percent of the property needed to complete the Cumberland Trail, with about 65 percent of the trail constructed. There is no timetable on when the Soak Creek trail will open.