This AP story builds on a larger piece in the Chattanooga newspaper. I’d link to it but it’s a paid subscription. The gist is that Bowater, Inc., a huge timber company, is dumping 250,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau onto the market faster than the state–or anyone else–can buy and preserve it.
Just to to 250,000 acres into perspective, the Bowater holdings equal almost half the size of the 520,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While not in one chunk, as is the Smokies park, this Bowater land offers the last great chance in Tennessee to preserve large sections of wilderness.
The Cumberland Plateau contains some of the most beautiful land in the state, with waterfalls, caves, rock houses, and canyons that attract only a tiny fraction of the people who go to the Smokies.
The Plateau, with its thin soil, has never been a good place for farming, and most of the towns and counties there are eager for economic development–and that’s just the problem. According to the article, “Most of the 21 counties do not have zoning or land-use plans.” This means that anyone can–and will–come in and build anything.
If someone buys the top of a mountain and erects a home with a bright red metal roof, there’s no one to say no. If someone wants to build a retirement community and gate off a stream that people have fished in for generations, no one can stop it.
The perennially underfunded state has offered to buy a piddling 13,000 acres, but this is not enough. The entire Cumberland Plateau should be put under an economic authority that has the wisdom–and the teeth–to make sure that this last great undeveloped part of Tennessee is put to the best possible use, for present AND future generations.