Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has announced the purchase of more than 12,500 acres on the Cumberland Plateau from Bowater Incorporated. The properties, acquired for $17.3 million at an average cost of $1,385 per acre, are located in Cumberland, Hamilton, Rhea, Van Buren and White Counties.
In 2005, Bowater announced the company would be divesting itself of significant land holdings in Tennessee (app. 250,000 acres), including acreage that had previously been identified by the state as priorities for conservation.
"I'm extremely pleased we have been able to purchase these tracts, which represent a core group of the Bowater lands with the highest conservation value," said Bredesen. "Tennessee is truly blessed with some of the most beautiful and fruitful land on the face of the earth, and this purchase will allow us to protect areas of significance for the benefit of future generations."
Governor Bredesen and the General Assembly allocated $20 million in bonds for the acquisition of the Bowater tracts and for in-lieu-of tax payments to assure the economies of local communities would not be negatively impacted by the state's purchase.
The state's conservation prioritization process takes into account the biological significance and the scenic, recreational, cultural and historic values of the properties, as well as their proximity to other state holdings. The purchase of these lands represents one of several transfers of Bowater land to the state. In 2004, the company announced its donation of approximately 3,100 acres of Bowater's Pocket Wilderness Areas to the state's Cumberland Trail System.
"Bowater is proud to be working so closely with the State of Tennessee in these land conservation initiatives," said David Paterson, president and CEO of South Carolina-based Bowater Incorporated. "Governor Bredesen and the state's conservation officials have been innovative in developing cooperative environmental initiatives between public and private sectors, such as those between Bowater and the state, and we are pleased to play a key role in preserving these special lands for all Tennesseans."
The properties purchased by the state include:Approximately 6,200 acres critical to developing an almost unbroken corridor of public land between the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area, Bledsoe State Forest and Fall Creek Falls State Park;
Approximately 2,350 acres of sensitive pocket wilderness areas, including Virgin Falls, which features scenic hiking trails and overlooks; and
Approximately 4,000 acres needed for further development of Cumberland Trail State Park, the state's first linear state park. When completed, the Cumberland Trail corridor will extend 300 miles through 11 Tennessee counties from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park on the Tennessee-Virginia-Kentucky border to Signal Point near Chattanooga.
"This is a real achievement for the state and for citizens and visitors who cherish the scenic vistas, recreational opportunities, biological significance and cultural attributes of the special places that define Tennessee's landscape," said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke, who has spearheaded the state's conservation efforts on behalf of Governor Bredesen. "It's also extremely gratifying to see the current focus on conservation by both public agencies and private entities across Tennessee."
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) manages the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness, which includes over 12 miles of the Caney Fork River Gorge in White and Van Buren Counties.
"The addition of the tracts acquired from Bowater will allow us to expand this spectacular wildlife management area and provide a larger land base for the public to enjoy for generations to come," said TWRA Director Gary Myers.
Conservation has been one of the key priorities of Governor Bredesen's administration. With the purchase announced today, the state has acquired more than 30,000 acres of high conservation priority properties since 2003 that are managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation, Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Bredesen also created the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund to help Tennessee become a faster, stronger competitor for priority tracts and better leverage private and federal dollars to do even more to preserve the state's most scenic areas.