Northern Cumberlands

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

Complete with waterfalls, steep bluffs, dense forests and sandstone outcroppings, the Cumberland Plateau is a breathtaking example of the unique ecological value found across the Southern Appalachians. Extending over 450 miles from northern Alabama to western West Virginia, the Cumberland Plateau is the largest hardwood-forested plateau in the world and is home to the highest concentration of endangered species on the continent.


This rare compliment of wildlife and wild spaces is under attack. Unsustainable development and human use threaten the beauty and viability of this special place. Vast stretches of forests are diminishing at alarming rates due to urban growth, rural development, unsustainable forestry practices, mining and agriculture. However, the most immediate and dangerous threat to the Plateau is the massive turnover in landholdings as paper and timber companies sell off their immense tracts to developers. 


The region has the most diverse collection of woody plant species found in eastern Tennessee. Overall, there are more than 2,000 species of plants in the Northern Cumberlands. Rare plants in this region include Goldenseal, Canada Lily, Southern Lady's Slipper and Cumberland Sandwort.


Rare animals in Northern Cumberlands include the Hellbender, the Indiana Bat and Gray Bat, the Peregrine Falcon, the Golden Eagle and the Cerulean Warbler. The region is a key breeding habitat for numerous migratory songbirds. In addition, the Cumberland Plateau region has the highest concentration of caves in the world and within that the highest number of cave invertebrate species in the world.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

The Northern Cumberlands project area in Tennessee and Kentucky encompasses about 2.5 million acres. The Nature Conservancy currently owns more than 5,500 acres of the project area. There are large, unprotected private landholdings of significance within the Northern Cumberlands, many of which are interspersed within a vast network of public lands.

Some of the more recognized public landholdings in the area include: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Obed Wild and Scenic River (see The Nature Conservancy's Obed River preserve), Catoosa and Royal Blue Wildlife Management Areas, Frozen Head State Park, Scott State Forest, and Pickett State Park and Forest.

The most recent addition to this list is the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, a 146,000-acre property that spans Anderson, Morgan, Scott and Campbell Counties. In 2007, The Nature Conservancy joined the state of Tennessee and two conservation timber companies in protecting this property as well as adding more than 11,000 acres to Frozen Head State Park. The North Cumberland WMA is now the  largest public park land owned by the state of Tennessee.

Because Frozen Head State Park is adjacent to the North Cumberland WMA, this conservation project has created a 300-square-mile corridor of protected lands. In the process, forests, streams and mountains are now protected habitat for wildlife ranging from songbirds to elk. These lands are all open for public recreation.

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