October 5, 2023

The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund Protect Significant Fern Lake Property

CUMBERLAND GAP, Ky. and Tenn. — The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Conservation Fund have acquired the iconic Fern Lake property totaling 712 acres along the Kentucky and Tennessee border. This acquisition fills a near-complete inholding within Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Private financial support was provided by the James Graham Brown Foundation and other generous supporters as part of their commitment to protecting this biologically rich area. The acquisition will provide an important connection between already protected lands, including the C.F. Ataya LLC tract within TNC’s Cumberland Forest Project and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

This region is critically important for people and nature. Fern Lake provides water to the nearby city of Middlesboro, Kentucky, and the property has significance for the community going back generations. The surrounding Appalachian Mountains are a crucial migratory corridor for wildlife, especially as the climate changes. The Appalachians represent some of the most intact temperate hardwood forests remaining in the world and support a variety of wildlife, including several species listed as federally endangered such as the blackside dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis) and Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). This area is also of critical importance to the American black bear (Ursus americanus).

The acquisition marks the beginning of permanent protection for this land, which will remain under TNC and The Conservation Fund’s private ownership until it is transferred to the National Park Service (NPS). This transfer is expected to occur in the coming months with funding support from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). NPS will release more information when the next phase of the project is complete. Until then, the property will remain closed to the public so the partners can finalize proper management plans and associated infrastructure.

“The protection of Fern Lake and the surrounding watershed is a huge win for Tennessee, Kentucky and the region,” said Gabby Lynch, director of protection for TNC in Tennessee. “This acquisition illustrates the commitment The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, the National Park Service and the property’s previous owner share in protecting nature for nature’s sake, but also for the people who live here. Fern Lake is a jewel worth saving within the larger Appalachian region, a region that continues to grow in its importance for clean air, clean water, connected wildlife habitats and other benefits to people.”

Located in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, the property represents a conservation opportunity with significant benefits aligned with TNC’s efforts to protect land and water and tackle climate change and The Conservation Fund’s efforts to assist federal partners in meeting their land conservation objectives.

“In 2004, Congress pledged by law to protect Middlesboro’s water supply,” said Ralph Knoll, senior project coordinator for The Conservation Fund. “The Conservation Fund is happy to help the National Park Service fulfill that promise. A healthy and protected Fern Lake will forever provide residents and visitors clean water and outdoor recreation, while supporting important wildlife habitat.”

The Appalachian Mountains are globally significant, biodiverse, connected and resilient, with temperate hardwood forests that comprise the single most critical landscape east of the Mississippi River for climate resiliency. The services these mountains provide benefit tens of millions of people and thousands of communities.

“Fern Lake is an extraordinary property sitting in the center of an extraordinary place—Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains,” said David Phemister, state director for TNC in Kentucky. “Folks have been working to protect this land for over 20 years, and I could not be more thrilled to see it happen. My sincere thanks to our partners at The National Park Service and The Conservation Fund. This is a big win for everyone involved.”

About The Conservation Fund
The Conservation Fund protects the land that sustains us all. We are in the business of conservation, creating innovative solutions that drive nature-based action in all 50 states for climate protection, vibrant communities and sustainable economies. We apply effective strategies, efficient financing approaches and enduring government, community and private partnerships to protect millions of acres of America’s natural land, cultural sites, recreation areas and working forests and farms. To learn more, visit www.conservationfund.org.

About The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Media Contacts
Hayley Lynch | The Nature Conservancy | hayley.lynch@tnc.org
Jessica Underwood | The Nature Conservancy | j.d.underwood@tnc.org
Valerie Keefer | The Conservation Fund | vkeefer@conservationfund.org