The Nature Conservancy recently purchased a 4.5-acre tract of land in northeastern Tennessee’s Shady Valley community that will be an addition to the nonprofit organization’s Orchard Bog Preserve. The acquisition not only provides critical habitat for the area’s rare bog turtle population but also provides the community with a success story of how protecting wetlands results in benefits for plants, animals and people, too.
“We’ve dreamed of adding this property to Orchard Bog Preserve for a long, long time,” says Gabby Call, program director of the Nature Conservancy office in Shady Valley and self-proclaimed “bog turtle steward.” “This property may be small in size, but it is very important.” Bog turtles, she explains, have been using this land as part of their larger habitat for many years. For this reason, Call and her team are thrilled to have secured this property to protect the rare turtles.
The 4.5-acre property, which abuts Orchard Bog Preserve (The Nature Conservancy’s largest wetlands preserve in Shady Valley), was formerly owned by Edith Jenkins. A native and resident of Shady Valley, she inherited the land from her brother, George Jenkins Jr. Though George passed away in September 2000, his memory and his dedication to the well-being of the bog turtles live on with Edith, who remembers George frequently stopping his car to get out and remove the small black-shelled reptiles from the middle of the road.
The Conservancy will help Edith memorialize her brother by placing a plaque in his honor somewhere in the preserve. Interns associated with LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future), a Nature Conservancy-run program in which urban youth are exposed to various Nature Conservancy conservation projects, are slated to install the plaque later this summer. Above all, Edith wants to preserve Shady Valley’s trees, plants and animals. “Especially the turtles,” she adds.
Gabby Call shares Edith Jenkins’ concern for the health of Shady Valley, explaining that bog turtles, the smallest species of turtle in North America, require very specific habitat conditions. These include the combination of open space, very sunny spots and shallow water.
In the mid-twentieth century, much of the turtles’ natural wetlands habitat in Shady Valley was drained in order to promote agriculture. Edith counts her father, George Jenkins Sr., who originally purchased the family’s property in the 1940s, as one of many who transformed the wetlands into farm land. In more recent years, as agricultural land use has diminished somewhat, The Nature Conservancy has made concerted efforts to restore some of Shady Valley’s wetlands to their original state. To date, almost 150 acres of marshy wetland areas have been reclaimed.
Other species, such as wild cranberries and waterfowl, also benefit from a healthier wetland ecosystem. Humans benefit too. As Call explains, wetlands act as “giant sponges that filter chemicals and sediment out of the water. Healthy wetlands mean cleaner water for animals and people.”
The Nature Conservancy’s Shady Valley nature preserves are open to the public. Hikers and nature lovers may experience the restored wetlands at Orchard Bog Preserve on well-maintained trails. For more information, visit www.nature.org/tennessee.
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. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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