Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge Becomes Reality

The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service establish a long-awaited wildlife refuge in Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.

A few people walk through a forest filled with tall trees.
Paint Rock River NWR The Nature Conservancy transferred a parcel to the USFWS to establish this new refuge in 2023. © True Capture Studios Courtesy/The Open Space Institute

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For decades a variety of private conservation organizations, local citizens, and state and federal agencies have dreamed of establishing a public wildlife refuge within the southern Cumberland Plateau region along the Tennessee/Alabama border, and now that is becoming a reality. 

Earlier this summer, The Nature Conservancy acquired 87 acres of land from the Niedergeses family located in Franklin County, Tennessee, adjoining the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s (TWRA) Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The largest portion of the $350,000 acquisition was provided by the Open Space Institute, with additional support coming from The Tucker Foundation and others. This transaction and the property’s upcoming transfer to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in September will officially establish the long-awaited refuge.

Refuge Importance:

  • In the conservation and scientific communities, it is widely understood and agreed that connected networks of resilient lands and waters must be conserved at a large scale to allow nature to adapt to climate change. The Niedergeses property is located within a matrix of public and private forested lands that will be essential for climate change adaptation and resiliency for generations to come.
  • The Appalachian Mountains, which include the Cumberland Plateau region in Tennessee and Alabama, shelter a rich variety of species and diverse ecological and human communities. In fact, the Appalachians are on par with the Amazon rainforest and Kenya’s grasslands as one of the most globally important landscapes for climate change resilience and conserving biodiversity.
  • Wildlife refuges create new public recreation opportunities and increased tourism revenue for the local community. 
  • The newly established Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge will contribute to President Bidens’s America the Beautiful initiative, which has a goal of conserving at least 30% of the nation's lands and waters by 2030 for people and nature.
  • The Paint Rock River's headwaters lie in Franklin County, Tennessee, where they flow south toward the confluence of Estill Fork and Hurricane Creek in northwest Jackson County, Alabama. This refuge will help protect the headwaters first to benefit water quality, wildlife, and recreational opportunities downstream.


    The Open Space Institute's Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund is made possible thanks to major support from the Doris Duke Foundation and additional funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation, Riverview Foundation, Footprint Foundation, the McKee Family and other private foundations.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.