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Stories in Tennessee

Chestnut Mountain: A Gift for All of Tennessee

These 5,700 acres of biologically rich mountain forest constitute the largest land donation in the history of The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee

  • It's the largest land donation ever to The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee.
  • TNC will manage a carbon sequestration project, part of which will offset Bridgestone emissions.
  • The Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain provides habitat for more than 100 rare species.
  • The property is part of a mosaic of 60,000 acres of public lands on the Cumberland Plateau.
  • TNC is working on a master plan to provide low-impact public access.
Spectacular Property

Alex Wyss vividly recalls his first visit to Chestnut Mountain in 2013. “I was struck by how spectacular this property was,” says the Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “A very large forested property—nearly 6,000 acres. In great condition. Gorgeous scenic views. We already knew it was in a biologically rich area and in close proximity or adjacent to several other protected lands on the Cumberland Plateau. We felt it needed to be protected, and we hoped that maybe we could help Bridgestone with management of these forests. Little did we know then what our relationship would lead to.”

On April 25, 2018, Bridgestone Americas Inc. announced the donation of all 5,763 acres of the company’s Chestnut Mountain property to The Nature Conservancy. The property, which will be known as the Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain, is located in White County on the Cumberland Plateau, 80 miles east of Nashville. It is the largest donation in the history of The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee.

TNC will manage a carbon sequestration project on the property that will offset the carbon emissions of the Bridgestone Tower, the company’s corporate headquarters in downtown Nashville, for years to come.

“We applaud Bridgestone for its commitment to the environment,” says Terry Cook, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “We are honored that Bridgestone has entrusted The Nature Conservancy with the management of this important forest.”

The property’s namesake, Chestnut Mountain, is the highest peak in White County, with an elevation of about 2,000 feet. The nature preserve includes mixed hardwood and pine forests, wooded mountain gulfs, caves, the headwaters of the Caney Fork River and Billy Branch Lake, which provides drinking water for communities in the area.

A Haven for Rare Species

The Firestone tire company had acquired the property in the early 1970s as a potential corporate retreat, and when Bridgestone acquired Firestone in 1988 it kept the property undeveloped and protected. That was fortunate and far-sighted. The Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain provides habitat to more than 100 species of conservation concern, including the golden eagle, the Eastern slender glass lizard, the barking tree frog and the green salamander. Rare plants found there include Cumberland rosemary and white prairie clover. The area is also known habitat for turkey, quail, deer, bobcat, red and gray foxes and beaver.

In addition, the property is part of a mosaic of 60,000 acres protected public lands on the Cumberland Plateau that includes Virgin Falls State Natural Area, Fall Creek Falls State Park, Bledsoe State Forest and the 10,000-acre Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness, which Bridgestone donated to the state of Tennessee in 1998-2000.

Plans for the Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain will include low-impact public access and the creation of connector trails between Chestnut Mountain and the other protected lands in the area. The Nature Conservancy will develop a master plan for public access first.

Outgrowth of Collaboration

The property donation is a natural outgrowth of a collaboration between Bridgestone and TNC. In 2014, the two organizations began working together on a comprehensive forest management plan for the property, which has included protective treatments for its hemlock trees to fight the hemlock woolly adelgid pest and restoration of native shortleaf pine stands on selected areas. In the Southeast, shortleaf pine forests have declined by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years. Restoring these trees will help re-establish habitat for ground-nesting birds like bobwhite quail and other species.

With the help of TNC, Bridgestone had enrolled the property in Forest Stewardship Council certification, one of the highest standards of forest management for sustainable forest products. Plans for the property include sustainable management of the forest in addition to the carbon sequestration program.

“Prior to our involvement, this forest had not seen much disturbance in terms of fire or active management,” says Trish Johnson, Director of Forest Protection for TNC in Tennessee. “Active management of this forest will strengthen its overall health and resilience to climate change. It also provides a great opportunity to do shortleaf pine restoration.”

“If we had first visited this property a decade ago, we might have said simply, ‘Great forest! Big trees! Let’s just leave it alone and protect it,’” says Alex Wyss. “But in recent years, conservation science has shown that sometimes forests like this have lost key components, especially with an over-suppression of natural fires. Pine-oak woodlands and savannahs with native grasses and wildflowers are native habitats that we have lost in many places but that we can bring back.  Make no mistake: Chestnut Mountain has lots of healthy forest, but it doesn’t have all the species that should be there. We can help that.” 

Trish Johnson also thinks it’s significant that the natural splendor of Chestnut Mountain will no longer be a well-kept secret: “I suspect that when Firestone bought this property in the 70s, they recognized the beauty of this landscape and wanted to preserve it. That was a good thing. But now all the citizens of Tennessee will be able to enjoy it. And that’s even better. The vision for this property has changed, and for the better for everybody.” 

Billy Branch Lake
Billy Branch Lake This lake at the Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain provides drinking water for the surrounding communities. © Paul Kingsbury/The Nature Conservancy