March 2, 2021

Sipsey Wilderness Area Gains Missing Puzzle Piece

WINSTON COUNTY, Ala. — One of the last two private pieces of land within the Sipsey Wilderness of Bankhead National Forest is now officially protected, the USDA Forest Service and The Conservation Fund announced today. Previously threatened by development, this 40-acre property will now be part of the beloved Sipsey Wilderness thanks to funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

One of northern Alabama’s most treasured natural places, the Sipsey Wilderness within the Bankhead National Forest supports some of the state’s most diverse ecology and wildlife species. The newly protected 40-acre tract sits in the heart of the Sipsey Wilderness where it’s surrounded on all four sides by national forest like a puzzle piece. Within the property, visitors will find large cliffs dramatically rising over the Sipsey River, including a large section of rock wall known as Shiprock, as well as a narrow ridge called the Devil’s Backbone and a small natural arch going through it. Around these landmarks and riverbanks, the property is almost completely forested.

Under private ownership, the property faced high threats of being sold for development that could have jeopardized the land’s wilderness character, iconic biodiversity, wildlife habitat and importance to the Alabama community. Now, it’ll remain protected in perpetuity as part of the Sipsey Wilderness under Forest Service ownership.

“The USDA Forest Service is grateful to The Conservation Fund for its efforts to help secure this very special property located in the Bankhead National Forest,” said Cherie Hamilton, forest supervisor for the National Forests in Alabama. According to Hamilton, the 40-acre tract acquisition brings added value to the wilderness character because of its location in the heart of the Sipsey Wilderness where three trails converge with the Sipsey Wild and Scenic River. The public can enjoy expanded opportunities of solitude, natural beauty and special features of wilderness.

When the property went up for sale in 2018, national environmental nonprofit The Conservation Fund acted quickly to purchase the land for conservation. The Fund then held and managed it until the Forest Service could secure the necessary LWCF funding to acquire the tract for the Sipsey Wilderness. As part of the national forest system, the land will remain protected for wildlife, watershed quality and public recreation like hunting and hiking. In addition to LWCF, Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, North Carolina made a generous donation to make this project possible.

“For decades, nature lovers in Alabama feared what may happen if this tract were to be lost to development,” said Stacy Funderburke, The Conservation Fund’s Alabama Associate State Director. “Protecting the iconic Sipsey Wilderness from any future threat will impact generations to come. Our partners at the USDA Forest Service and funding from the LWCF have once again helped protect a treasure for the Alabama community.”

This is one of Alabama’s first conservation wins since the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, which fully and permanently funded the LWCF. LWCF is a bipartisan program that conserves ecologically and scenically valuable land across the U.S.—including many of Alabama’s iconic natural places such as Little River Canyon and the Pinhoti Trail.

The nearly 30,000-acre Sipsey Wilderness preserves the verdant and stream-filled canyons within Bankhead National Forest on the Appalachian Plateau. The wild and scenic landscape was one of the first wilderness areas designated east of the Mississippi. Today it remains Alabama’s largest designated wilderness and is one of the state’s most popular and beloved wild places. Roughly a two-hour drive from both Birmingham and Huntsville, the Sipsey Wilderness has been an accessible natural space for camping, fishing and more. The inclusion of this 40-acre tract will improve trails for hikers and expand river access for canoeing and kayaking.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including over 21,600 acres in Alabama.

Media Contacts
Val Keefer | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5802 |
Tammy Freeman Brown | USDA Forest Service | 334-241-8144 x144 |