The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, held an event today to celebrate the addition of 616 forested acres to Cherokee National Forest near the Tennessee-Georgia border. Located within the Ocoee Bear Reserve, the protection of this land preserves the headwaters of Taylor Branch, a tributary to the biologically-rich Conasauga River, while also preserving habitat for federally and state-listed species and providing increased access for recreation.
Federal funding from the threatened Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) helped to make this conservation success possible.
“Today is a great day for outdoor enthusiasts in Tennessee. The Conasauga River is a national treasure, and we’re proud that this conservation effort will help keep it healthy for years to come,” said Ralph Knoll, The Conservation Fund’s Tennessee Representative. “This effort would not have been possible without federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and we are grateful to Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann for their leadership in working to reauthorize LWCF.”
“Including the Howell property as part of the Cherokee National Forest has been a goal and a dream for over two decades. It is also a successful example of how government agencies, private organizations, and conservation-minded landowners may come together to achieve lasting conservation results and outdoor recreation access for all Tennesseans,” said Terry Cook, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “Our partnership is grateful for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has invested approximately $280 million over the last five decades in protecting and expanding beloved parks and forests all across our beautiful state.”
Taylor Branch creates an exceptionally clear pool where it meets the Conasauga River, and the protection of this tributary will help ensure a quality recreation experience for snorkelers and other forest visitors. The protection of this land, which is located within the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s State Wildlife Action Plan for high priority aquatic habitat, also safeguards key habitat for more than 15 species listed on Tennessee’s threatened and endangered species list and 11 aquatic species listed as endangered by the federal government.
“This land acquisition protects the waters at an important public river access point, as well as the staging area for our educational snorkeling programs on the Conasauga River,” said JaSal Morris, Forest Supervisor of Cherokee National Forest. “Since the year 2000, over 8,000 snorkelers have experienced the river through 1,000 guided snorkel trips. The project contributes to the Forest Service’s mission by safeguarding a free-flowing river and increasing habitat protection for aquatic animals and biodiversity found few other places in the nation. We thank our many partners and the Howell family for making this project possible.”
The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy jointly acquired this property from the family of Alonna J. Howell, who preserved the property for many years with the hope of one day transferring it to public ownership. The property will now be managed by the U.S. Forest Service as part of Cherokee National Forest, which totals more than 655,000 acres and is home to camping, trout fishing, hiking, and other recreation opportunities.
“My father bought the land primarily to ensure that it was not developed in a way that would be unacceptable to his conservation ethic,” said Shepherd L. Howell, son of Alonna and Dr. William Harvey Howell. “The whole family was happy that it could ultimately be protected in a way that would be suitable to him.”
This conservation effort was made possible with private support from the Riverview Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, and funding from the LWCF. A bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to acquire critical lands and protect our country’s best natural resources and recreational access for more than 50 years, LWCF will expire in two days, on September 30, unless Congress acts to reauthorize. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Representative Chuck Fleischmann supported Tennessee’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided more than $200 million to conservation and outdoor recreation efforts in our state — including the funding to support this 616-acre addition to the Cherokee National Forest,” said Senator Lamar Alexander. “Protecting and preserving land in the Cherokee National Forest will help protect our state’s natural heritage while also giving the millions of people who visit the state every year an additional reason to come and enjoy the great outdoors.”
“Millions of people visit Tennessee each year to experience our incredible God-given outdoor amenities, and this newly protected land in the Cherokee National Forest will help preserve important aquatic habitats and expand recreational opportunities for Tennesseans and visitors,” said Senator Bob Corker. “It is important that these resources are available for future generations, and I appreciate the hard work of those making that a priority.”
“The Cherokee National Forest offers outdoor enthusiasts unparalleled access to some of the most beautiful, pristine land in the United States,” said Congressman Chuck Fleischmann. “From the economic impact of tourism and job creation to recreation and enjoyment, the Cherokee National Forest is a unique source of pride for Tennesseans. I am glad to see The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, the Howell family, and all parties involved prioritize the preservation of this land. I thank all those who came together to protect this land for their commitment to conservation and ensuring our natural lands can be enjoyed for generations to come.”