The Nature Conservancy signs land transfer agreement with Brookfield Renewable Energy to acquire 4,000 acres of Tennessee forestland formerly owned by Alcoa that connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Cherokee National Forest
May 6, 2013
– Scenic Property Links Great Smoky Mountains with Cherokee National Forest.
On May 3, The Nature Conservancy and Brookfield Renewable Energy signed an agreement that will lead to the transfer of 4,000 acres of Tennessee mountain forestland to the Conservancy. Because the land—located along both sides of the Little Tennessee River—connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Cherokee National Forest, the conservation project is known as “Bridging the Smokies.”
The land in Blount and Monroe counties had formerly been owned by Alcoa and was acquired by Brookfield when the Canada-based company purchased four hydropower dams along the Little Tennessee River in Tennessee and North Carolina in 2012.
At ceremonies along the Little Tennessee River on May 3, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander said, “There is no more popular or magnificent section of the Great American outdoors than the land adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. Any effort to find new ways to protect that land and make more of it available for outdoor recreation certainly will be welcomed by Tennesseans.”
Joining Senator Alexander in speaking during the ceremonies were John Zuccotti, chairman of the board of Brookfield; U.S. Congressman John Duncan; Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau; Tennessee Wildlife Resources Director Ed Carter; and Nature Conservancy State Director Gina Hancock.
“As a hydropower operator we know how crucial vibrant watersheds are to the health of the rivers we all value,” said Brookfield’s John Zuccotti. “We are pleased that under The Nature Conservancy’s stewardship, these lands will be protected and nourished for years to come.”
“The Smoky Mountains contain some of the richest wildlife habitat in the eastern United States and some of Tennessee’s most iconic landscapes. Protecting these mountain lands is a significant win for people and nature,” said Gina Hancock, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee.
The ceremonies concluded with a traditional Cherokee blessing from Jerry Wolfe, Beloved Man of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. The lands along the Little Tennessee River were historically the homelands of the Cherokee. The Cherokee towns of Tallassee and Chilhowee were located beside the Bridging the Smokies tracts, and the nearby former Cherokee village of Tanasi gave the state of Tennessee its name.
The Nature Conservancy has been working steadily on the long-term protection of this historic and scenic area since 2004. That year, the Conservancy and nine other conservation groups brokered a conservation agreement with Alcoa when it relicensed its four hydropower dams. The deal provided environmental protection for 10,000 acres, including the Conservancy's acquisition of nearly 6,000 of the 10,000 acres from Alcoa. The Conservancy subsequently transferred those lands to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Cherokee National Forest and state Wildlife Management Areas for public use.
The 4,000 remaining acres will now be owned by The Nature Conservancy, which plans to improve recreational access, including building hiking trails and developing interpretive signage that highlights the rich history and nature of the area. The Conservancy ultimately plans to transfer these forestlands into public ownership.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.