April 12, 2016

Nashville, TN— A treasured piece of Appalachia, lovingly enjoyed and protected by the United Methodist Church (UMC) for nearly 70 years, has been passed along to new temporary stewards. In the process, a beloved youth camp will get a new lease on life.  

This week, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy completed a joint purchase of 488 forested acres on the flank of Buffalo Mountain, about four miles south of Johnson City, Tennessee. Since 1947, the property had been known as the Buffalo Mountain Camp and Retreat Center. Owned and operated by the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, it served continuously as a thriving summer camp to thousands of youngsters and a weekend retreat for church groups and community organizations.

The camp’s years of service to the Methodist Church and the local Washington County community came to an abrupt end in August 2012 after flash flooding irreparably damaged buildings and other infrastructure at the camp.

“The flood was just devastating to us, as you can imagine,” says the Reverend Jeff Wadley, executive director of the former Buffalo Mountain Camp and of the new camp that will replace it. “It took our camp board of directors two years to fully evaluate the situation. In the end, our board realized that it would be cost prohibitive to rebuild. There was too much damage. After much analysis, the best stewardship model was to relocate.”

The camp’s board approached the U.S. Forest Service about acquiring the property because of its location adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest. Though interested, the Forest Service was not in a financial position to purchase the camp immediately.

Enter The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Both organizations knew of the Forest Service’s interest in the camp and were well aware that the undeveloped, eastern portion of the property also had high conservation value as forest habitat. The 2015 Tennessee State Wildlife Action Plan rated the Buffalo Mountain site as being a very high forest habitat priority.

The two nonprofit conservation organizations acquired the camp’s undeveloped 488 acres on the west slope of the mountain. The Forest Service will nominate this priority project to receive acquisition funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)—funded through offshore oil and gas royalties and not taxpayer money—for its future acquisition. The UMC intends to sell the smaller, lower elevation portion of the property, which contains what remains of the camp buildings, separately. Though The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy have collaborated before, the purchase of this property marks the first time The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy will be joint owners and managers of a property in Tennessee.

“It has been so much fun to translate the concept of shared ownership into a real land purchase,” said Gabby Lynch, Director of Protection for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “One group alone can never save all the beautiful land that merits protection. By working together, our two organizations’ strengths are complemented and magnified.”

“It is an honor to help ensure that the former Buffalo Mountain Camp site will be protected as a tribute to all of the young people and individuals who fostered a love of the outdoors here over the last seven decades,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee Representative for The Conservation Fund. “The perpetual preservation of this and other beloved lands across Tennessee depend on the permanent authorization and full funding of the LWCF, and we thank U.S. Senators Alexander and Corker and U.S. Representative Roe for their continued support of this successful and critical program.”

The sale of the Buffalo Mountain Camp property has generated funds for the Holston Conference of the UMC that “will be used to establish our new camp,” said Wadley. The new camp site, Camp Bays Mountain in Kingsport, is expected to open in time for the 2017 summer season.

“Personally speaking, I’m very pleased with this outcome,” said Wadley. “I’m a conservation-minded person due to my faith, and I was thrilled to learn that this property could be placed into the public trust, and that it will be available for the public to enjoy for generations to come.”

The two nonprofit conservation organizations plan to own and manage the property together, with long-term plans to transfer the property to the U.S. Forest Service to become part of the Cherokee National Forest as soon as federal funding becomes available.

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 7.5 million acres of land.

About The Nature Conservancy
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 and more than 300,000 acres in Tennessee. Visit The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee on the Web at www.nature.org/tennessee.

Press Release Contacts
Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | asimonelli@conservationfund.org | (703) 908-5809
Paul Kingsbury | The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee | pkingsbury@tnc.org | (615) 516-4480