The state of Tennessee has apparently closed the deal on the property in Gobey, Smokey Junction, & Brimstone areas that has been in debate for some time now. So far we have learned that 23,000 acres in Brimstone has been turned over to TWRA and so far they have begun marking certain trails in the Brimstone rec. area. so far we have no details on the land in Gobey in the Morgan county section of the property that was being looked at unless this 23,000 acres tract runs into this section. we will post any news as we get it. Anyone having details on this is encouraged to post their comments.
Earlier this year, GMO put its local interests — the timber rights on the 74,000-acre Sundquist tract and the surface rights on the 44,000-acre Brimstone tract — on the market. According to The Nature Conservancy's associate director in Tennessee, Gina Hanbible, GMO contacted Lyme Timber, with which it had worked on previous land transactions in the past. Lyme, in turn, turned to The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit conservation group with which it had worked on previous land acquisitions. TNC then contacted Governor Phil Bredesen, with whom the organization had worked on a number of other conservation projects along the Cumberland Plateau over the past three years, and the wheels of an eventual proposal were put into motion.
Early in the negotiation process, Forest Lands Group, LLC, which holds the Emory River (Gobey) tract adjoining Brimstone and Sundquist, was brought into the discussions. What resulted was a complicated proposal that most of the parties involved call an innovative, public-private initiative, one which would result in the state holding rights to 164,000 contiguous acres in and adjacent to the Cumberland Mountains on the northern Cumberland Plateau — including the 104,000 acres previously held by the state and 40,000 new acres.
According to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Communications Director Dana Coleman, Lyme Timber would purchase all properties from GMO and Forest Lands outright, at a total cost of around $148 million. That purchase would include the timber rights on the Sundquist tract, and surface rights on the Brimstone and Emory River tracts.
Lyme Timber would then sell an estimated 7,000 acres of the Emory River tract fee simple to the state. That 7,000 acres would border — and double the size of — Frozen Head State Natural Area near Wartburg in Morgan County.
Lyme Timber would also enter into a 10-year leaseback agreement with the state on the timber rights of the Sundquist tract, allowing the state to retain those timber rights at the end of the time period. Finally, Lyme Timber would sell a conservation easement — allowing the state to control public access, hunting and fishing, and wildlife management — on a total of 40,000 acres. That total would include some 25,000 acres of the Brimstone tract and 15,000 acres of the Emory River tract, though Lyme Timber's director of forestland investments, Tom Morrow, cautioned that those numbers are only preliminary.
"Those estimates could change as we move forward," Morrow said. "The conservation easement could wind up including more of the Brimstone tract, or it could include less of the Brimstone tract."
The problem, according to Marie Stringer, of the Governor's Policy Office, is sorting out exactly what property is included and what isn't.
"We're working through where the lines would be drawn right now," Stringer said. Regardless, she said, all of the property — except that within the Frozen Head State Management Area — will see active timber management.
In the end, the 40,000 acres of the conservation easement sold to the state would be placed under the management of the TWRA, establishing a third WMA to adjoin the already-established 70,000-acre Sundquist and 40,000-acre Royal Blue WMAs. The 7,000 acres sold fee simple to the state would be placed under the management of the TDEC. Public access on the remainder of the property — around 15,000 acres on the Brimstone tract and 10,000 acres on the Emory River tract — would be privately held by Lyme Timber. The future of that property is unclear, though Morrow said Lyme Timber would enter its ownership with no plans to develop the property. Several options would be available to Lyme, including leasing the recreation rights or eventually selling off the property.