WARTBURG, Tenn. - A pastoral quality invites comparison of the landscape to Cades Cove. A red-shouldered hawk darts through the hemlocks, and warblers singing in the forest canopy echo the arrival of spring.
The views from the ridge tops rival anything in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The 8,000-acre tract near the northwest boundary of Frozen Head State Natural Area at the headwaters of the Emory River is included in the largest conservation effort ever undertaken by the state of Tennessee.
As proposed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, the project would protect almost 124,000 acres of forestland valued at nearly $150 million in the Cumberland Mountains of Scott, Campbell, Anderson and Morgan counties.
Partnering with the state in the project is the Nature Conservancy, which plans to invest $11 million, and the Lyme Timber Company, a forestland investment firm based in New Hampshire that specializes in properties with unique conservation values.
Lyme Timber has committed approximately $54 million to the project. The company plans to defray its costs by selling conservation easements that give the state control over nontimber values such as recreation and development rights.
The deal involves three tracts, each with its own conservation strategy. The core of the property is the Martha Sundquist Wildlife Management Area, where the state will purchase the timber rights to 75,000 acres to protect wildlife habitat and water quality.
As part of the agreement, Lyme Timber would sell the conservation easements on 27,000 acres it purchases at Brimstone and on 13,000 acres it purchases at Emory River.
The state's only fee-simple purchase would be an 8,000-acre tract on Love and Bird mountains, in Morgan County, that would almost double the size of Frozen Head State Natural Area.
Gina Hanbible, associate state director for the Tennessee chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said the sheer scale of the project necessitates a nontraditional approach.
"The days of going in and buying 124,000 acres outright are over," Hanbible said. "Everybody has to give up something to make this work.
"The timber company has to give up the idea they can cut whatever they want; the conservationists have to give up the idea we can buy it and lock it away; and the state has to give up total ownership."
The forests and rivers of the North Cumberlands are among the most biologically diverse habitats in the world and include some species found only in the Cumberlands.
Conservationists say it's rare that so much contiguous land, with such high conservation value, comes up for sale at the same time.
"The opportunity to protect this kind of area is unprecedented," said Alex Wyss, Cumberlands program coordinator for the Nature Conservancy. "It's an intact forest that's still in good shape."
The Bredesen administration touts economic development as a hallmark of the plan.
The project calls for 90 percent of the acreage to remain working as forest. The bulk of the land would be privately owned and remain on the property tax rolls, while the state would pay "in lieu of" tax payments on properties it purchases outright.
Jim Fyke, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the plan calls for public access on all 124,000 acres.
"We're committed to providing the same recreational activities and public uses that have been available all along," Fyke said. "The governor believes there is room at the table for economic development, tourism and conservation. This project has all those ingredients."
The state's share of the North Cumberland Conservation Plan is part of a general obligation bond package the state finances every year for capital projects, Fyke said.
The $82 million would come from a state bond issue included in Gov. Bredesen's current budget proposal.
The North Cumberland Conservation Plan is the most ambitious of a series of land conservation projects spearheaded by the Bredesen administration.
In 2005, the administration set aside $10 million for the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund that has been leveraged to acquire more than 15,000 acres, and last year the Legislature allocated $20 million in bonds to purchase 12,500 acres of Bowater Inc. property on the Cumberland Plateau.
Rick Keeton, Scott County mayor, said the project appears to make no objectionable changes to the status quo.
"The property taxes and timber production will continue, and we'll have the ability to use the land for various forms of recreation," he said. "We'll have to see if the partnership that has been outlined can work efficiently."
Rex Lynch, Anderson County mayor, said that from a conservation standpoint, he believes the state is doing the right thing.
"One of our main concerns was that we'd continue getting some kind of taxes on it, and I was told that we would," Lynch said. "Really, I don't see a lot of impact on us." http://knoxnews.com/kns/gs_news/article/0,1406,KNS_392_5471318,00.html
I have had problems with the links from this site so that is why i double posted.....
1 concern going around on another board since this has come out is,,, will there be a private development going in ?
Mark, were the japanese scoping out a new test area for ATV's ?