1,850 Acres Added to Cumberland Gap National Park (KY)

Middlesboro, KY, 6/30/2007: On Saturday, June 30, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers joined the National Park Service, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), and other local officials and project supporters at Pinnacle Overlook to celebrate the protection of 1,850 acres of the 4,500-acre Fern Lake watershed property as part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The property includes a significant portion of the watershed for the town of Middlesboro, KY and can be readily viewed from the Pinnacle Overlook, one of the park’s most popular visitor spots.

In previous years, Senator McConnell and Representative Rogers secured $1.9 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect these first 1,850 acres. Through their leadership, Congress approved the Fern Lake Conservation and Recreation Act to protect Fern Lake and its surrounding watershed lands in order to ensure the drinking water supply for Middlesboro. Among other actions, the Act authorized the acquisition of Fern Lake watershed lands and expanded the Cumberland Gap NHP boundary to incorporate the lake and the watershed.

“Today we mark a milestone in our efforts to protect the Fern Lake watershed property and expand the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park,” said Senator McConnell. “I recognize the importance of preserving Kentucky’s natural wonders for future generations to enjoy and I am pleased to have worked with my good friend, Congressman Hal Rogers, to secure the funds necessary to make it happen.”

“This initiative shows what happens when community leaders, national park and land conversation organizations and the federal government unite in a common purpose,” said Representative Rogers. “I believe the government has a role to play in developing our natural areas, just as it does in providing traditional economic development through transportation and infrastructure projects.”

TPL secured the entire 1850-acre property through a negotiated agreement with the landowner while federal funds were sought for the purchase. With completion of this part of the property, efforts will now be focused on securing the remainder of the tract.

“Conservation of these lands addresses the resource needs of surrounding local communities, protects an important historic area for generations, and promotes economic development through the potential for tourism,” said Rick Wood TPL’s Chattanooga Field Office Director. “We are very grateful to Senator McConnell and Congressman Rogers for their support in Congress to bring critical federal funding to this effort, and to the landowner, who made this opportunity possible. We also applaud the National Park Service staff and Park Superintendent Mark Woods for working through many of the details. It is not everyday you get to add this much land that has significance on several levels- American History, water quality, and viewshed – to the National Park Service. We hope to continue our work in this area to complete the much needed protection of this watershed.”

“We’re elated with this acquisition of property. In 1916, with the creation of the National Park Service, Congress mandated that cultural, historical and natural resources of national importance be protected for present and future generations. This keen vision of Congress in 1916 to protect America’s rich treasures is exemplified by Senator McConnell and Congressman Rogers in their strong support for the protection of the Fern Lake Watershed. We also thank The Trust for Public Land for their commitment to this project,” said Superintendent Mark Woods.

In addition to the property’s protection of critical watershed resources, it also protects land rich in history. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park stretches for 20 miles along Cumberland Mountain and contains 20,000 acres of historical, cultural, and natural resources. Located where the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet, this significant break in the Appalachian mountain chain provided the first opening to the American West. For thousands of years, large game animals moved through the Gap in their migratory journeys and created well-defined traces. Native Americans followed these trails; and in the 17th century established Warriors Path, which looped southward through the Cumberland Gap and connected the Ohio Valley with the Shenandoah and the Potomac. These rich hunting lands became known to a handful of European settlers, and in 1775 Daniel Boone was commissioned to blaze a road through the Gap.

Cumberland Gap’s diverse resources are coupled with its numerous recreation opportunities. With 70 miles of hiking trails, visitors can experience spectacular views and trace the footsteps of early settlers. Sightseeing at the historical sites, horseback riding, camping, and caving are among the activities available.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.1 million acres of land in 46 states. TPL’s recent conservation efforts in Kentucky have involved helping the state acquire land for a new state forest, and supporting the creation of local parks in the Louisville metro area. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.