State of Tennessee Completes the Purchase of Bon Aqua Woods Tract

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 | 07:00pm

Nashville, Tenn. – The State of Tennessee announced today that the acquisition of a 35-acre forested tract in Hickman County is complete. The property, which includes oak and hickory forest with trees of exceptional size for the Western Highland Rim of Tennessee, will be established as the Bon Aqua Woods State Natural Area.

“We appreciate the dedication to land conservation and generous assistance of John Noel in working with the State of Tennessee to preserve and protect this special place,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke. “Thanks to him and to Maury Miller, a resident of Hickman County who also recognized the significance of this property, we are proud to be able to establish Bon Aqua Woods as one of our newest state natural areas.”

The decision to participate in the purchase of the Bon Aqua tract was the first project commitment made by the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund proposed by Governor Phil Bredesen and established by the General Assembly in 2005. The balance of the purchase was made using funds provided by the State Lands Acquisition Fund and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The property’s special features include not only trees of great size and diversity but also the presence of umbrella magnolia in its forest. Although not rare, umbrella magnolia is relatively uncommon on the Western Highland Rim, known only in this region in Lewis, Hickman, and Maury Counties. It is more typically found in the rich cove forests of the Cumberland Plateau.

“All who have visited the site have been impressed by the amount of umbrella magnolia and the number of exceptionally large and straight white oaks trees,” said Reggie Reeves, director of the Division of State Natural Areas. “The tract also has several young re-sprouting American chestnut trees and a diverse spring flora. Previously, the State Natural Areas Program did not include a representation of this forest type in its inventory and did not have a natural area in Hickman County, so this tract became a high priority for protection and inclusion within the State Natural Area System.”

Understanding the significance of the site, Noel purchased the property in January 2006 to prevent its trees from being cut down and harvested.

“It was my hope that the state would be able to acquire the property to establish a publicly-owned natural area, and I am extremely pleased to see that has occurred and this extraordinary patch of historical wilderness extended the protection and prominence it deserves,” Noel said.

The General Assembly recently passed legislation establishing the tract as Bon Aqua Woods State Natural Area, and Governor Phil Bredesen signed the bill into law on April 27, 2007. The legislation also designates approximately 2,168 acres in Lewis County as the Dry Branch State Natural Area and expands the Rugby State Natural Area in Morgan County from 323 acres to 445 acres. Now these areas will be permanently protected as part of the 77 State Natural Areas located throughout Tennessee.

The Bon Aqua Woods site is also notable for its historical significance, having once been part of the Bon Aqua Springs Resort. Four mineral springs were discovered at Bon Aqua by William Locke Weems in 1837. Weems named the area, which is bordered by Big Spring Creek, Bon Aqua. The springs became a famous health spa resort initially consisting of 40 to 50 cottages and a hotel.

In 1888 the hotel burned and was replaced by a new structure with 101 rooms. It is reported that Thomas Edison once visited the hotel. The resort closed in the 1920s. In its prime, the hotel was served by train service from Nashville. In addition to the mineral springs, it offered its guests a swimming pool and an outdoor bandstand where swing bands entertained. Additionally, the Tennessee Bar Association was formed at this site on July 4, 1882.

“Working with conservation-minded partners like Maury Miller, John Noel and the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund, places like Bon Aqua Woods can be identified and preserved as part of Tennessee’s rich natural heritage,” said Fyke.

The State Natural Areas Program will begin development of a Management Plan for the site, and will then develop a small parking area and hiking trail. Once the parking area and trail are developed, the area will then be opened to the public.

For more information about Tennessee State Natural Areas, call 615-532-0431, or visit

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