Steve Ahillen, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
Published 6:28 p.m. ET March 22, 2017
The Cumberland Trail got a 1,034-acre, $8.27 million boost this week.
George Lindemann, a farmer and businessman who owns nearly 10,000 acres in Cumberland, Rhea and Bledsoe counties, including Coal Creek Farm, donated the land around the Soak Creek in Rhea County to the linear Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.
When completed the Cumberland Trail will cover 300 miles in Tennessee, connecting the Tennessee River Gorge to Cumberland Gap. It will be a part of the Great Eastern Trail, expected to be an alternative to the Appalachian Trail and run from Alabama to New York.
The Soak Creek acquisition, valued at $8.27 million, adds a crucial 5 miles to the trail.
“It’s very significant at a lot of levels,” said Brock Hill, Tennessee deputy commissioner of Parks and Conservation. “The donation allows us to better situate the trail. We weren’t expecting to get the land, but now that we own the land we can have a much better trail.”
Soak Creek is the newest of 15 Tennessee scenic rivers, having been added in 2016. Its course connects Piney Falls and Stinging Falls state natural areas as well as the Grassy Cove Karst Area National Landmark.
“After the (scenic river) designation had passed the Legislature, Mr. Lindemann came to us and was really so excited about what we were doing that he wanted to give us this land and provide better access to the river.”
Lindemann said the seeds of making his donation actually were planted three or four years ago.
“I was paddling the Big South Fork and at the takeout there was an elderly gentleman who all of my paddling friends knew. The man started naming off all of these creeks around where I live. I had no idea. Once I went down to Soak Creek for the first time, I was so blown away that I became very passionate about protecting these places.
“This is crazy that this exists and everyone isn’t clamoring to protect it.”
According to a news release accompanying the announcement, Lindemann’s donation is one of the largest private land donations in recent state history.
The addition is an especially attractive one for outdoor enthusiasts, providing access to Soak Creek, a pristine mountain waterway that seasonally includes Class III and IV rapids.
“When I set about trying to bring attention to the creek, it (making this an addition to the Cumberland Trail) wasn’t on my mind, but that became a wonderful bonus,” Lindemann said. “The more of these natural outdoors amenities (kayaking, hiking, etc.) that exist here, the more people will come to the area and the more these natural wonders will be preserved.”
“Mr. Lindemann’s only stipulation was that we provide river access to Soak Creek,” Hill said. “He is a kayaking enthusiast. Once he got on Soak Creek the first time, good things started to happen.”
The state plans to use federal money given to the Tennessee park system through an Appalachian Regional Commission grant to build the 5-mile trail through the property.
“We are in the process of getting environmental approval,” he said. “Then we will construct the trail. This will be a contracted trail.”
Hill explained that some trails are constructed through efforts with volunteer partners while on others, like the Soak Creek Section, the state pays to have the work done.
He said there is no timetable on the project, but he expects to have the contract signed this year and could have the trail constructed by year’s end.
The Cumberland Trail itself is about 65 percent constructed.
“We have 95 percent of the property (needed for the trail),” Hill said, noting there is a gap around Spring City where the owner is asking above fair market value.
The timetable is not set for the trail’s completion, but Hill said the goal would be to have it done before Gov. Bill Haslam’s term is ended in 2018.
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