The Land Trust For Tennessee And The Fund Partner With State Of Tennessee In Campaign To Purchase 6,200 Acres At Fiery Gizzard

September 16, 2010

View from Fiery Gizzard trail

View from Fiery Gizzard Trail. Photo by The Conservation Fund.

Monteagle, TN — The Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund, with support from the Friends of South Cumberland State Park, today announced the Fiery Gizzard Project, a campaign to protect approximately 6,200 acres of high conservation value forest on the South Cumberland Plateau in Marion and Grundy counties. Upon completion, the campaign will cap a multi-year effort to raise $8.1 million to protect the property, half of which has been committed by the state of Tennessee through the State Lands Acquisition Fund and federal grants.

The land links together nearly 10,000 acres of forestland between Grundy Forest State Natural Area and TVA’s Foster Falls Small Wild Area. Under Governor Phil Bredesen’s leadership, the state’s investment will purchase approximately 2,900 acres to be incorporated into the South Cumberland State Park system; the other half will be protected through a working forest conservation easement and remain privately owned.

The Fiery Gizzard area has been an urgent priority for protection within the conservation community for several decades. In addition to its exceptional biological diversity, Fiery Gizzard provides incomparable recreational opportunities while serving as an important resource for water quality protection and the local forest products industry.

The Fiery Gizzard trail system is managed by the state of Tennessee as part of South Cumberland State Park, an area visited by more than one million people each year. The trail system is approximately 17 miles long and is one of the top hiking trails in the nation according to Backpacker magazine. With more than 250,000 visitors annually, Fiery Gizzard is essential to the tourism economy in the South Cumberland region.

“Fiery Gizzard is nationally recognized for recreation, and threatened by development,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “By leveraging resources to preserve this land, we will be able to both protect the breathtaking scenery and important ecological features at the site for future generations, as well as continue to draw visitors to South Cumberland State Park, enhancing tourism and the local economy in one of Tennessee’s rural areas.” The Fiery Gizzard Project total cost is $8.1 million. The project is the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s highest priority project and they have committed to contributing over $4 million. With the expected sale of half the property to a conservation buyer for $2 million, $2.1 million will need to be raised from private sources.

Once the campaign secured over $1 million through private donations, an anonymous donor offered a challenge grant to encourage the community to complete the campaign. Once an additional $767,000 is raised, the donor will provide a gift of $333,000, ultimately matching 50 cents for every additional dollar contributed. The support from the community has been substantial and the project has $650,000 left to raise.

In 2008, developers had moved forward with plans to purchase the property for a second-home development. Fortunately, the transaction was not completed and there was another opportunity to protect this critical property. This will likely be the last opportunity for Tennesseans and the communities of the South Cumberland region to protect this amazing resource.

Although frequently listed as one of the premier backpacking destinations in the country, the Fiery Gizzard Trail is surprisingly vulnerable. Until recently, most of the trail system and its associated views traversed through private lands. In 2008, The Conservation Fund and The Land Trust for Tennessee, with assistance from the Friends of South Cumberland State Park, preserved nearly a third of the Fiery Gizzard trail and 2,400 acres of the viewshed from fragmentation and development.

“The purchase of the Fiery Gizzard tract at South Cumberland preserves both the trail and the viewshed into the future,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke. “This opportunity won’t come along again. We appreciate all the efforts of our conservation partners, and particularly want to recognize the late Marvin Runyon, a long-time member of the Friends of South Cumberland State Park, who was instrumental in securing nearly $2 million in federal grant funding to initiate a series of Fiery Gizzard acquisitions.”

At a time when federal, state and local governments confront budget deficits amid economic recession, conservationists’ work is unquestionably affected. But the risk to open space, wildlife habitat and scenic recreation areas remains, and in the South Cumberlands, conservation organizations, government agencies, local private landowners and political leaders are forging unique partnerships and finding creative solutions that advance conservation in the region.

“The public-private partnership for Fiery Gizzard reflects the highest ideals for conservation of special places in Tennessee,” said Jean C. Nelson, executive director of The Land Trust for Tennessee. “We feel fortunate to be able to protect these valuable acres from incompatible land uses and provide both economic and ecological benefits to the area. We have received support from across the country on this project, and all of us in the non-profit conservation community are forever grateful for the leadership Governor Bredesen has taken to make possible the protection of Tennessee’s important lands.”

“This is the crown jewel in the necklace of gems that is the South Cumberlands,” said Rex Boner, vice president and southeast representative for The Conservation Fund. “Not only does Fiery Gizzard have tremendous natural resources, it also has a significant impact on the local economy, through forest products and recreation tourism, which is absolutely vital to these rural communities. We are grateful for the huge amount of support already from the public and private sector, and we look forward to working with the local community to help us get to the finish line.”

“We are so pleased to be working with The Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund to protect this unique and beautiful wilderness resource,” said Mary Priestley, president of the Friends of South Cumberland State Park. “The importance of the Fiery Gizzard as a wildlife sanctuary, ecological gem, and haven for human ‘re-creation’ is inestimable. The Friends of South Cumberland have pledged to help with the acquisition of land that threatens the pristine nature of the park. This project to protect the Fiery Gizzard’s undisturbed landscapes is at the heart of what we are all about.”

Additional Information

For more information about the Fiery Gizzard campaign, or to donate, visit

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Top-ranked, we have protected more than 7 million acres across America.

About the Land Trust for Tennessee

The Land Trust for Tennessee is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, founded in 1999. Its mission is to preserve the unique character of Tennessee’s natural and historic landscapes for future generations. To date, The Land Trust for Tennessee has protected more than 53,000 acres of land and is working with numerous other landowners across the state. The Land Trust works with willing landowners to find ways to preserve forever the historic, scenic and natural values of their land. The organization is supported primarily by financial contributions from private individuals, foundations, and corporations. The Land Trust has offices in Nashville, Sewanee, and Chattanooga. Visit their website at

About the Friends of South Cumberland State Recreation Area

The Friends of South Cumberland State Recreation Area, Inc., founded in 1993, is a group of volunteer citizens dedicated to supporting the South Cumberland State Recreation Area, Tennessee's largest state wilderness park. As a non-profit 501(c)(3) membership corporation, Friends of South Cumberland derive their funding from individual and corporate memberships and from private donations. With the help of its members, as well as other conservation organizations and foundations, the Friends have acquired several properties that have become part of the state park. Vist their website at

Press Release Contacts

Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 |

Chris Roberts, The Land Trust for Tennessee, (615) 244-5263

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