Reaching goal

Foothills Land Conservancy hits mark of 25,000 acres in 25 years

The Foothills Land Conservancy has achieved its goal of preserving 25,000 acres of East Tennessee land from development in time for the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Bill Clabough, executive director of the group, confirmed the milestone Thursday, acknowledging that the final 1,898 acres are part of the Three Sisters development on Chilhowee Mountain northeast of Walland.

As 2009 neared its end, Foothills Land Conservancy was 1,455 acres from its goal of securing 25,000 acres against development by this year, Clabough said. The Three Sisters conservation easement was signed days before 2009 ended, according to documents on file with the Blount County Register of Deeds.

The 1,898 acres, representing nearly 40 percent of the total Three Sisters land, are on the north face of the mountain and visible from Heritage High School and U.S. Highway 321, he said. The development, held by the North American Land Trust, is a partnership that in 2007 announced it had purchased about 5,000 acres on the top of an eight-mile ridgeline that has a trio of peaks known as the Three Sisters.

The land conservancy plans a celebration for sometime this year to commemorate the preservation milestone.

“This will celebrate what we do, what we’ve done and what we hope to do,” Clabough said.

Not counting the Three Sisters land, the land conservancy partnered with 16 landowners to preserve 2,510 acres against development in 2009. About 1,300 of those acres are in Blount County, Clabough said.

“We’re excited that they (Three Sisters) decided to do that and partner in it,” Clabough said. “It is a great and unique gift to Blount County.”

He said, though, that “the real significant part is what they did. It means that ridge will never change.”

Clabough added that he believes the next 25,000 acres of land placed under conservation easement will happen much more rapidly, within 15 years.

The Three Sisters purchase was a partnership of the Haslam family, owners of Pilot Oil; Sandy Beall, founder of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain; Brad Martin, former CEO of Proffitt’s; the Clayton family, owners of Clayton Homes manufactured housing; and the family of Charlie Hicks, businessman and East Tennessee landowner.

Looking back at Foothills Land Conservancy

The primary method in which FLC works with land owners is to work with them on placing a ‘conservation easement’ on their property. This past year, FLC worked with 16 land owners to preserve 2,510 acres.

Land placed in a protected easement through Foothills remains in its natural state and cannot be developed, but owners do not give up title to their property - in fact they can continue to own, use, live, lease or donate their land. No tract is too large or too small for a conservation easement. As Bill Clabough, FLC’s Executive Director, explains it, “This is a legal contract between a landowner and FLC describing activities that may take place on a property in order to protect the land’s conservation value. Both parties have input into the contract’s specifics.”

Clabough also notes that property’s environmental qualities are what make the 25,000 acres special. “We’re talking about land that provides for rare and migratory wildlife, that offers views of the Smokies and adjacent foothills, 150 year old trees, and streams where the re-introduction of trout has taken place. These places are unique to our region and help us hold on to our rural character.”

For landowners, like Joyce McCroskey of Blount County, signing a conservation easement “is worth doing, it’s important. My late husband, David, and I have always been supporters of land conservation. We live in a special place and this is how I can help keep it that way.”

FLC is currently in the planning stages for our 25 in 25 celebration with details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Description of 2009 Partnerships

Blount County

• 229 acres (Blount County)

This beautiful piece of property is located on a peninsula that extends into the Fort Loudon Lake. It has historically been a cattle farm, but in recent decades the management of the land has been dedicated to uses that are more beneficial to wildlife. Former crop fields are being converted to native warm season grasses and will make excellent habitat for birds and small mammal species. Located two miles from Friendsville, the property’s acreage is approximately 15 percent woodland and 85 percent open fields. The surrounding water body provides superb habitat for migratory waterfowl, and the lake fringe and grassed fields provide high quality habitat for both resident and wintering birds.

• Mike and Kim Cook - 44 acres (Blount County)

This property is situated at the southeast region of Blount County and the southeast base of Chilhowee Mountain. A mixture of woods, pastureland, and streams comprise this small cattle farm. The property remains largely in a natural state with generous natural resources and is a safe refuge for most species of wildlife that are expected in the region, including game species such as deer, raccoon, turkey, and even black bear.

• Gail Harris - 318 acres (Blount County)

Gail Harris is no stranger to Foothills Land Conservancy, having served on FLC’s board early on in the organization’s development. In 2002, Gail and her late husband, Jim, partnered with FLC to place a conservation easement on a 105 acre tract in Blount County. This year, Gail decided that it was time to place an easement on her 317 acre working farm, located between Wildwood and Rockford. She notes, “This is something I can do to preserve my land, to be a good steward of what I have been given... conservation easements allow a land owner to provide lasting contributions to the community.” The property boasts a cave, old tobacco barn, a dairy farm, as well as row crops, wildflowers, and 100-plus year old beech and oak trees.

• Charles Lunsford - 500 acres (Blount County)

Charles Lunsford and his two sons, William and Wesley, wanted to preserve their 500 acre property for future generations and in memory of their family members that owned the land before them. This included honoring Charles’ late mother, Johnie Griffitts, a Blount County schoolteacher for over 30 years. The Lunsford tract is located on the U.S. 129 side of Chilhowee Mountain near Tallassee and abuts a portion of the Foothills Wildlife Management Area, which is owned and managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The land also borders the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Tellico Reservoir and is in sight of both the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

• Joyce McCroskey - 220 acres (Blount County)

Joyce McCroskey’s 220 acres are situated in West Millers Cove. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Foothills Parkway, Foothills Wildlife Management Area and the Cherokee National Forest are all large tracts of protected habitats within reach of wildlife from the McCroskey property. Approximately 2/3 of the land is forested and includes hardwoods such as oaks, hickory, maples, and tulip poplar. The site includes portions of Hesse Creek, two springs, and a small cave.

Knox County

• Charlie Barnett - 15 acres (Knox County)

This acreage is located on Keller Bend Road along Fort Loudon Lake. This largely wooded tract has one house and a barn. The property provides good habitat for both resident and migratory species and offers a woodland corridor on a peninsula, adjacent to open water. Most of the woodland is in second growth forest, but small portions contain large trees of oaks and hickories.

• Dan and Judy Batson - 5 acres (Knox County)

Dan and Judy Batson first learned of Foothills Land Conservancy a few years back through articles written in the local papers. One news clipping in particular caught their eye. It was a Knox County horse farm now protected from future development through an FLC conservation easement. The Batson’s realized if their neighbors could place an easement on their property they might also wish to do the same. Dan and Judy recently decided to sign an easement agreement with FLC on a 5 acre parcel, purchased in the 1960s by Dan’s parents. A unique aspect to this property is that the majority of the land resides under Fort Loudon Lake. For the Batson’s, protecting the views and environmental values along with encroaching development and a substantial marina next door all contributed to their final decision. The property is situated on the point at Chota Marina.

• Rose Property - 67 acres (Knox County- Project of Legacy Parks Foundation)

Plans for this property include preservation of its ridge-top, use as a passive Knox City Park, and inclusion in Legacy Park’s Urban Wilderness and Historic Corridor Project. The property is the most prominent rock bluff along Knoxville’s south waterfront that is visible from Neyland Drive and downtown Knoxville.

• Seven Islands - 26 acres (Knox County- Project of Legacy Parks Foundation)

Plans are underway to utilize part of this 26 acre tract for a pedestrian bridge - a walkway that spans the French Broad River and will connect to Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge (SIWR). SWIR is a wildlife sanctuary that encompasses 360 acres. It’s available for recreational use by the general public. Management of the SIWR refuge is a joint effort between Knox County Parks & Recreation and the Seven Islands Foundation.

Monroe County

• Winston and Jeanette Davis - 161 acres (Monroe County)

On December 12, 2009, Winston and Jeanette Davis, retired educators, placed 161.16 acres of their mountain land in Coker Creek, Tennessee, in an easement contract with Foothills Land Conservancy. The Davis property has a shared border with the Cherokee National Forest and was, interestingly, the scene of Civil War activity. Green slate was once quarried on part of the property and used to line the furnaces at the Tellico Iron Works. Unfortunately, this Tellico Iron Works was destroyed by General William Tecumseh Sherman on his march through the area to engage in the Battle of Knoxville. When Jeanette and Winston became the gifted, current owners of their mountain land treasure, they wished to preserve the land in its beautiful, unspoiled state. Part of their personal statement concerning their decision to place the land with the conservancy is as follows: “Whatever we do to help preserve nature in its state of finest glory is an ongoing gift to future generations of people.” According to Clabough, Jeanette and Winston purposely planned to place the land in the conservation easement on Dec. 12 because it would have been the 73rd wedding anniversary of her parents, Earl and Marie Payne. “I believe placing the land in the stewardship of Foothills Land Conservancy would be pleasing to Jeanette’s father because he loved the mountains so much,” said Winston Davis.

• Patsy and Clifford Lynch - 130 acres (Monroe County)

Various portions of the Lynch property have been in Patsy’s family for 96 years. It was Patsy’s grandparents, the Pattersons, that originally owned the land. This tract provides an amazing view of Monroe County and the adjacent foothills to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Their property currently boasts several springs, an old barn, cattle, deer, turkey, red foxes and even hawks. When asked why it was important to sign an easement at this time in their life, Pasty Lynch responded that “everywhere we looked there are subdivisions. (Preserved) land needs to be left for everyone to see the animals and trees.” The Lynch’s recently hosted 38 family members for Thanksgiving and enjoyed sharing this open and protected space with their East Tennessee relatives as well as kin from Lafayette and Albany, Ga.

Sevier County

• 57 acres (Sevier County)

This FLC conservation easement lies within an extended and largely wooded Great Smoky Mountains system that is a valuable refuge and corridor for many native wildlife and plant species. The property is situated above Norton Creek - draining into the high quality stream that supports trout habitat - helping to maintain this riparian buffer. Minimizing the disturbance on the easement helps to assure protection of the creek for use by area wildlife and humans in the future. The upper reaches of Norton Creek, upstream from the property, have been extensively re-habilitated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the land owner, and others, as trout habitat.

• Bart Carey - 17 acres (Sevier County)

Located on Walden’s Creek, this 17 acre easement will adjoin the 80 acre easement property previously donated by Bart Carey. Protection from commercial development and preservation of pastoral and ridge top views along Walden Creek Road helps to ensure this valley tract will stay ‘as is’ in perpetuity. Carey received a grant from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program that provides for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat. Bart and his family have utilized the funds to add in wildlife food and water sources - building a pond and planting various native tree species.

• Ruth Hoglan - 6 acres (Sevier County)

Ruth Hoglan asked herself one time, “If I had all the money and choice where would I go in the world?” Her answer, “Stay right where you are.” Ruth’s 6 acre tract was once part of a much larger piece of land owned by her family since the late 1700s. So it’s no surprise that she ‘feels anchored here’ and adds that ‘nothing else could take it’s place - nothing else could be as good’. This special easement signing was also in memory of her father, Orton Duggan.

• Marian Oates - 510 (Sevier County)

This special easement signing took place in June 2009, shortly before Marian Oates’ passing. Marian not only placed a conservation easement on her property but also bequeathed the land to FLC. Now 510 acres of ridge tops and mountainsides will be protected in perpetuity. From atop the east side of Bluff Mountain pictures of civilization emerge from below - the twists of roads cut into the hills and building rooftops that reflect the shining sun. To the west, a different story emerges - a window into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with cascading views of Cove Mountain, Clingmans Dome, and the majestic Mount LeConte. Marian could also point out the former location of her family’s old cabin and the long fallen hotel, once a favorite vacation spot for her grandparents back in the early 1900s. Called the Dupont Springs ‘Cool Chilhowee Health Resort,’ it touted the water as having strong mineral properties that “contained iron, lithia, and magnesia.” It’s this very hotel that inspired her grandparents and their son Frank, to consider the mountain as a permanent holiday spot. Over the next few years Frank developed a land acquisition plan to buy up tracts, gradually building up the necessary road systems. In early 1950s, Marian’s father then purchased the very top of Bluff Mountain for $10,000 and with a bit of patience and much excitement he and his wife, Emma Ree Crooks Oates, built their dream retirement home in 1964.

• Mike Suttles - 206 acres (Sevier County)

Located at Walden’s Creek, this farm includes a variety, quantity and quality of habitat to support a great diversity of native plant and animal species. The Suttles family settled on the property in the early 1800s with deed records dating back to the original Land Grants. While ¾ of the land is forested, approximately ¼ of the land includes a pasture along the creek that has supported a small herd of cattle for many generations. The Suttles farm is the last remaining working farm in the valley. Mature hardwoods such as chestnut oak, white oak, hickory, red and sugar maples, and tulip poplars that run along the ridges and mountain side contribute to the scenic views along Waldens Creek Road.

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