State of Tennessee Acquires Virgin Falls State Natural Area
Public/Private Partnership Allows Purchase After Four Decades Managing Under Private Ownership
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau and Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill announced today that Virgin Falls State Natural Area in White County has been acquired by the state of Tennessee through the support of a number of private/public partnerships.
Virgin Falls has been under private ownership, but managed by the state as a natural area for nearly 40 years. Working closely with the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, the state of Tennessee was able to purchase the 1,551-acre parcel near Sparta through a combination of funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and private donations.
A favorite hiking destination for decades, Virgin Falls features a waterfall that exits a cave at the top of a cliff and then disappears into a second cave at its base. Nature lovers have noted the existence of unique flora and fauna and amateur geologists have explored the composition and structure of its many caves.
The federal funding comes from an Endangered Species Recovery Land Acquisition Fund grant due to the occurrence of four threatened and endangered species on the property. The recovery and conservation of these species will be part of the land management plan. While portions of the property have been a state natural area for nearly four decades, this acquisition will permanently prevent degradation and fragmentation of the habitat for these species, as well as provide opportunities for habitat restoration.
“TDEC wishes to acknowledge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and TWRA for their continued support,” Martineau said. “Without the support of the USFWS endangered species grant program and TWRA’s generosity and guidance, the state would not be as successful in the recovery and protection of significant rare species and habitats like those within Virgin Falls.”
The Virgin Falls property is located adjacent to the state-owned Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area, which conserves rugged Scott’s Gulf along the Caney Fork River. This gorge stretches for approximately 18 miles as the Caney Fork River drops from the top of the Cumberland Plateau eventually draining into the Cumberland River. A major portion of the property will be managed as a component of Tennessee State Parks and the State Natural Areas program. The remainder will be owned and managed by TWRA.
The close proximity of the parcel is adjacent to TWRA-managed properties, providing unimpaired game and species movement along a preserved corridor.
“The Cumberland Plateau is home to a number of wildlife species considered to be ‘of greatest conservation need,’” said Ed Carter, TWRA Executive Director. “The opportunity to preserve land that aids those species, connects to an existing wildlife management area, and provides greater recreational options made this tract especially attractive. The number of private and governmental entities that came together to accomplish the acquisition is a testament to cooperation for the greater public good.”
“This is the fifth land project for our small non-profit foundation in the corridor that connects Fall Creek Falls to Virgin Falls. We’ve helped protect more than 4,500 acres along the Caney Fork, the Cane Creek Gorge, Welch’s Point and now Virgin Falls,” said Kathleen Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. “We are grateful to our chairman Dr. Charles Womack, our campaign chairmen Gloria and Ted LaRoche and all our members. But most of all to Gov. Haslam and our leadership at TDEC and TWRA for loving beautiful, green Tennessee.”
“This particular property possesses special qualities found on the Cumberland Plateau and its scenic beauty is hard to match,” said Hill. “We are particularly thankful for Kathleen Williams and the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation for their immeasurable support and long-time commitment to protect this significant property, along with the many businesses and individuals who have generously contributed to the Virgin Falls effort. We look forward to formally re-dedicating Virgin Falls during Tennessee State Natural Areas Week this coming spring.”
Tennessee’s 54 state parks and 82 natural areas span the state from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and offer an array of diverse natural, recreational and cultural experiences, including hiking, camping, boating and golfing. Celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year, the Tennessee State Parks system was established through legislation in 1937. Today, there is a state park within an hour's drive of just about anywhere in the state, with features such as pristine natural areas and a variety of lodging and dining choices.
For more information about Tennessee State Parks, please visit www.tnstateparks.com. Information about Tennessee’s State Natural Areas program can be found at http://www.tn.gov/environment/natural-areas/.