Ben Miles, The Cumberland Trail: An Assessment of the Land Acquisitions and Potential Ecological Value of Tennessee’s New Linear Park
Faculty Chair: Dr. John Tucker
Tennessee’s first linear state park, the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail, will stretch over three hundred miles from Signal Point in Hamilton County, to the Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky border. Although the trail uses land already in public ownership at different locations along its proposed route, land purchased to secure a state-managed corridor for the Cumberland Trail acquires properties along an expansive area of the Cumberland Plateau. Efforts to acquire land for the tail’s corridor utilize both federal and state funding, and constitute the largest land acquisition project in Tennessee. This large and unique State Park land acquisition effort, with further ecological monitoring and analysis, will provide substantial contribution to sound conservation of the Cumberland Plateau.
The ecological value and potential contribution of the developing park receive close analysis here, using academic research and field studies. Guidelines regarding the most effective design of nature reserves, derives from biogeography, are applies to the protected area of the Cumberland Trail to articulate that area’s potential contribution to the region’s ecological integrity. Additionally, research from field studies provides baseline data on the natural resources contained within the Cumberland Trail State Park’s land, and identifies where further research could provide greater understanding of the Cumberland Plateau. The process utilized for Cumberland Trail land acquisitions are also examined and analyzed to determine some of the difficulties in the acquisition procedures, and why these encumbrances arise. Florida’s land acquisition effort, as carried out by Water Management Districts in that state, are also examined in order to provide a comparative lens through which the Tennessee systems might be more critically analyzed. Based on these data and analyses, I argue that the Cumberland Trail presents an important opportunity for effective land conservation on the Cumberland Plateau, and that continuing research carried out on Cumberland Trial properties holds the promise of greatly increasing our ecological understanding of this diverse and threatening region. I further contend that the land acquisition process in place for Cumberland Trail acquisitions should be improved, and should receive more support for state agencies in Nashville, so that it may continue and fully realize the potential ecological contribution of this emerging park.