Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee
Over the last 20 years, we’ve helped add over 17,500 acres to Cherokee National Forest, including key sections of popular hiking trails, critical wildlife habitat and a portion of the historic Trail of Tears. And that number continues to grow. By working in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), The Nature Conservancy and other partners like Volkswagen, and leveraging funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), we continue to secure additional forestland for future generations.
RECREATION & TRAILS
Did you know only about 94 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Tennessee? And a small portion of that trail runs through Cherokee National Forest thanks to a 2016 effort between us, USFS and the Appalachian Trails Conservancy to relocate the trail and provide hikers a safe crossing at U.S. 321. Other portions of the trail run through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park — the country’s most visited national park — which the Cherokee National Forest sandwiches with a southern forest portion and northern forest portion. Between park visitors and the 3 million people who hike the Appalachian Trail annually, this area and the forest are a haven for outdoor recreation and tourism.
There are also trails within Cherokee National Forest with historical and cultural importance. The people of the Cherokee Nation were the original stewards of this landscape. But when European settlers pushed into the Cherokee’s ancestral homeland, disease and exploitation caused the Cherokee population to go from roughly 200,000 to 25,000. In 1830 after the Indian Removal Act, what Cherokee remained were forced to relocate to new territory in Oklahoma. An estimated 4,000 people died on the journey route, now known as the Trail of Tears.
In 2014, we helped conserve a property adjacent to Cherokee National Forest that contains a portion of the Unicoi Turnpike Trail (a former Cherokee trading path) and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail — a 4,900-mile land and water trail that traces parts of the original Trail of Tears route through nine states.
HABITAT & BIODIVERSITY
One of our keystone projects in Tennessee, the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork property, was once one of the largest unprotected tracts of land in the Southern Appalachians. Located within Cherokee National Forest and adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, the protection of this landscape created a vast unfragmented haven for rare wildlife species such as the peregrine falcon, eastern hellbender and the Yonahlossee salamander. Through our efforts, some of this land went to the USFS for the Cherokee National Forest, and some became part of the new Rocky Fork State Park — both excellent recreation destinations.
About 1.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail crosses through the Rocky Fork property, and sixteen miles of pristine blue-ribbon trout streams harbor exceptional populations of native brook trout. Rocky Fork also boasts habitat for game animals such as bear, turkey, deer and grouse. The protection of this biodiversity hotspot is a critical victory in our larger fight against habitat loss and climate change.
Cherokee National Forest also includes part of the Conasauga River, which is an ecosystem teeming with aquatic wildlife, including 12 federally endangered species and 76 native fish species. When we learned that 300 acres (with half-mile river frontage) along the Conasauga was listed for sale, we quickly helped USFS secure it as part of the national forest’s Ocoee Bear Reserve.
“Being involved in the Conasauga River project is one of many that I have been fortunate enough to be engaged in to assist the Cherokee National Forest with their ongoing efforts to protect significant natural resources for the citizens of Tennessee and beyond.”
—Ralph Knoll, The Conservation Fund’s Tennessee State Director
These critical additions to Cherokee National Forest would not have been possible without the dedication of our partners at USFS and many others, as well as strategic funding from the LWCF. LWCF, annually approved by the U.S. Congress uses offshore drilling royalties paid to the federal government, not taxpayer dollars, to conserve key land and waters like these in the U.S.
In 2021, we partnered with Volkswagen to protect 1,500 acres within Cherokee National Forest near the company’s Chattanooga plant. The sites protected through this partnership include ecologically important waterways like the French Broad River, Little Toqua Creek and the Conasagua River.
Other partners at the Cherokee National Forest include The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund.
Tennessee Representative, Conservation Acquisition