The Valley of Flat Fork Creek
The Valley of the Flat Fork Creek in what is now eastern Morgan County, TN, has been home to farmers, artisans and hunters for many centuries; the Tennessee Division of Archeology has determined that historical sites in the Valley contain evidence of lengthy Native American residence beginning in the Archaic Period (from approximately 10,000 years ago), through the Woodland Period (300 BC-AD 900) and beyond the Mississippian Period (AD 900-1600). The capacity of the Valley to support farming, domestic use and hunting are all evidenced by the presence of artifacts from these historical periods as well as more recent times dating from the early 19th century when the Joyner Family purchased the land containing the property from the State of Tennessee prior to the beginning of the Civil War.
The Joyner Family Farm once encompassed land extending from the base of Bird Mountain and drained by Bolton Branch, across the floor of the Flat Fork Valley and through Flat Fork Creek to the lower flanks of Love Mountain. Local historians and lore indicate that the Flat Fork Valley and the Joyner Farm were the sites of Civil War skirmishes and guerilla activity; raids and thefts of food, livestock and horses on local Valley farms were carried out by soldiers on both sides of that conflict. It is reported that one Joyner barn (now no longer standing) contained Civil War-era bullets embedded in its siding.
The Valley of Flat Fork Creek incorporates the Joyner Family homeplace, where the family residence enjoyed continuous Joyner family occupancy for over 100 years until the last direct descendant, Louis Jones, passed in 1993. Louis Jones possessed a strong land ethic, retained and safeguarded his mineral and timber rights, and vigorously defended his land against boundary encroachment by the local land company.
The influence of the Emory River Land Company upon the Flat Fork Valley continued into the 1970’s and 1980’s, when the company submitted plans to strip mine several seams of coal on Bird and Love Mountains. If approved, the mined area would have been converted from eastern deciduous forest into a moonscape, with serious negative impacts upon the water supply for the City of Wartburg as well as the natural, cultural and historical resources of the Flat Fork Valley. Concerned citizens of the Flat Fork Valley, the Frozen Head State Park Association, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, the Sierra Club and Save Our Cumberland Mountains petitioned the Tennessee Department of Health and Environment (1983) and the US Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE; 1985) to declare the entire Flat Fork Watershed as unsuitable for surface mining. After many appeals and hearings, the OSMRE granted the Petition in the early 1990’s; this was the first OSMRE lands unsuitable for mining petition approval that protected an entire watershed, and was a tremendous victory for citizen action.
In the following years, the worth of protecting the Flat Fork Watershed has become more apparent in maintaining the consistent high quality of the Flat Fork Creek and the integrity of the Emory River Watershed. So much so, that the land in the watershed was acquired by the State of Tennessee as part of the “Connecting the Cumberlands” initiative of Governor Bredesen’s administration in 2007, now a part of Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area. The property line once vigorously defended by Louis Jones is now the boundary shared by the Bird Mountain section of the Park and the current landowner, Annetta Watson.
Our Conservation Story
In December of 2015, Annetta placed a conservation easement on her acquisition of58 acres in the Flat Fork Valley. The land shares more than a half of a mile of its boundary with Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area (24,000+ acres). In 2016, Annetta purchased the adjacent property (only separated by the local graveyard which she carefully tends) and Flat Fork Road, and in October, 2016 placed an additional conservation easement on the newly acquired land.
Annetta’s commitment to the conservation legacy of Louis Jones reflects her innate belief in the protection of Tennessee’s natural treasures. Rich with biodiversity, the Valley of Flat Fork Creek is within a short distance of other protected lands: approximately 3 miles of the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail currently under development, 5 miles from the Northern Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (approx. 146,000 acres), and 7 miles from Catoosa Wildlife Management Area (approx. 82,000 acres).
Photography by Tom Wood