Addition to Cumberland Gap Park Celebrated (KY/TN)

Middlesboro, KY, 5/27/2009: On Wednesday, May 27, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell joined the National Park Service (NPS), The Trust for Public Land (TPL), local officials and other supporters to celebrate the protection of 4,021 acres of the Fern Lake watershed as part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers was unable to attend the celebration in person but prepared a video message for the crowd that gathered for the event.

The property is important because it 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.

The effort began in 2004 to protect the approximately 4,500-acre Fern Lake watershed on behalf of the citizens of Middlesboro, Ky., located just outside the park. The project was made possible through Sen. McConnell’s and Rep. Rogers’ leadership in securing enactment of the Fern Lake Conservation and Recreation Act included in the 2004 Consolidated Appropriations Bill, which expanded the park boundary to include the lake and watershed.

The event was held at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Visitor Center Auditorium.

Sen. McConnell, who paid tribute to the park in the Congressional Record earlier this year, said, “this park shows the importance Kentuckians place on our natural environment and I am proud to have consistently secured funds to help acquire and preserve Fern Lake.”

“The acquisition of Fern Lake and the surrounding watershed has long been a priority of mine and my colleague Senator McConnell. I’m pleased to see local and federal officials, along with the contribution of The Trust for Public Land, come together to expand this historic national park,” said Congressman Rogers. “This is a prime example of pairing economic development with protecting our environment and heritage. These efforts will increase tourism, expand recreation options for visitors to Cumberland Gap, preserve the lake’s resources and ensures a clean water supply for the citizens of Middlesboro.”

In previous years, Senator McConnell and Representative Rogers secured $1.9 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to protect the first 1,850 acres. Another $3.05 million was secured over two years from the LWCF to protect a 2,171-acre tract of land in the watershed. TPL purchased the property from a client of The Molpus Woodlands Group, LLC (“Molpus Woodlands Group”) and recently transferred it to the National Park Service.

“TPL is pleased to have played a role to ensure the continued supply of safe, clean drinking water to people in Middlesboro and to protect the critical viewshed from the popular Pinnacle Overlook. We are very grateful to Senator McConnell and Congressman Rogers for their leadership to bring significant federal funding to this effort, and to the landowners, 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 great to celebrate this amazing conservation success today with everyone who made it possible,” said Rick Wood, TPL’s Chattanooga Field Office Director.

“It is exciting to see this project come together to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary year of the dedication of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. This is a unique partnership project that benefits all Americans for generations to come. It is made possible by the leadership of Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, and the dedicated staff of The Trust for Public Land,” said Superintendent Mark Woods.

“Molpus Woodlands Group is proud to have been a participant in the journey to protect the Fern Lake Watershed. We look forward to again working with conservation organizations to be good stewards of the land,” said Dick Molpus, President of The Molpus Woodlands Group, LLC.

Congress created Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in 1940 to preserve the “gateway to the west,” a natural gap in the Appalachian Mountains crossed by almost 300,000 settlers as they moved from the East in America’s early years. The park is known today for its scenery, caves, rich history, and more than 70 miles of trails.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park stretches for 25 miles along Cumberland Mountain and contains almost 24,000 acres of historical, cultural, and natural resources. Located where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet, the break in the Appalachian mountain chain provided the first opening to the American West through which Daniel Boone and thousands of pioneers traveled. 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, hiking, horseback riding, camping, and caving are among the activities available. Additional information is available at the following website:

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 2.5 million acres of land in 46 states. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.