The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) gathered with other state conservation leaders on Oct. 20, to dedicate Sherwood Forest – a nearly 4,000-acre natural area in Franklin County acquired by the state in November 2016.
“This land contains some of Tennessee’s most rare and unique natural and cultural features and deserves our protection,” said Brock Hill, TDEC deputy commissioner of parks and conservation. “We are proud to preserve what makes this area special while also creating safe and enjoyable recreation experiences for our visitors to South Cumberland State Park.”
The acquisition received accolades from Governor Bill Haslam, by winning a 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award in the Natural Heritage category. This project was one of 11 initiatives from across the state recognized for exceptional voluntary actions that improve or protect Tennessee's environment and natural resources with projects or initiatives not required by law or regulation.
The addition joins the Carter State Natural Area with the Franklin-Marion State Forest, an hour west of Chattanooga. Together these wildlife areas create a corridor spanning 28,000 acres that includes rare plant species, prehistoric caves and sandstone cliffs.
“It is truly inspiring to look out over so much conservation,” said Liz McLaurin, president and CEO of The Land Trust for Tennessee. “With the addition of Sherwood Forest to our state’s protected areas, we celebrate over 25,000 acres of contiguous forestland protected through State ownership, University ownership and/or conservation easements. That’s a legacy that we could not have imagined just ten years ago - something that happened thanks to so many funders and partners.”
The area contains nine rare plant species, including American ginseng and Morefield’s Leatherflower, which is on the federal endangered species list. The Forest also boasts caves with prehistoric pictographs dating from AD 966 as well as 100 foot sandstone cliffs and a natural bridge.
“Additions to our parks and natural areas like this acquisition not only protect individual species of plants and animals, but also help provide for healthy forests, clean water and our enjoyment of nature,” said Roger McCoy, director of TDEC’s Division of Natural Areas. “I'm grateful for the work and dedication that all put forth to make this acquisition a reality; I'm especially thankful to work for a department and state that value these types of projects.”
This project was made possible with funding from the Land Water Conservation Fund – a bipartisan, federal program – and the Tennessee State Lands Acquisition Fund. The Conservation Fund, with transactional support from The Land Trust for Tennessee, purchased 3,893 acres in 2016 from a private mining company, which retained the rights to mine limestone underneath the property for the next 50 years. This will allow the company to continue operations and maintain local mining jobs. In agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the company donated an additional 168 acres to mitigate for impacts to the painted snake coiled forest snail habitat. Funding was also supported by the Open Space Institute (OSI) which led to the property being formally acquired by the state last year for $4.7 million.
"Conservation efforts today need to take into account the needs of our communities," said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee representative with The Conservation Fund. "We were pleased to provide an innovative solution for the state and local partners that conserved Sherwood Forest, ensuring protection for environment and natural resources while supporting local economies and jobs."
“OSI is proud to have supported the protection of Sherwood Forest, and prouder still to continue to protect lands within South Cumberland State Park that will be a critical stronghold for wildlife and humans in the generations to come,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president of Conservation Capital & Research Programs.
Sherwood Forest is a day-use area open to the public, of which 3,075 acres will be managed by South Cumberland State Park and the remaining by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry. A large portion of the property is available for deer and turkey hunting, with safety zone exceptions. Visitors can also enjoy a three mile hiking loop, of which a half mile is currently open. The park is seeking volunteers to assist with constructing the remainder of the loop.
"The protection of Sherwood Forest is a terrific milestone in the conservation of Tennessee's natural heritage, more than a decade in the making,” said Mary Jennings, field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Protection of the site connects a landscape of conservation areas and significantly advances recovery efforts for Tennessee's lone federally protected species of land snail. Projects like these are only possible through persistent collaboration of devoted partners.”
For more information, visit http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/south-cumberland.