Karst Forest

Grassy Cove is a national natural landmark; it is, by some accounts, the largest sinkhole in North America at six miles long by three miles wide. Rainfall and springs on the slopes of Black, Brady, Brown and Bear Den Mountains sink into pastoral Grassy Cove which has no river outlet. The waters are absorbed into the karst and cave-riddled farmland and re-emerge days later at the Head of Sequatchie Spring and Devilstep Hollow Cave, a nationally-significant archeological site with its 22-piece cave art gallery, dating back more than 700 years. The waters from Grassy Cove helped create the Sequatchie River Valley, an anticlinal valley visible from outer space.

Located on the South end of this Cove, are 956 pristine acres which frame this nationally-significant Tennessee natural treasure. Wildflowers adorn the steep slopes in springtime and the trees blaze in the fall. Along the steep northern slopes are hidden wonders… Lost Waterfall Cave, Little Dogwood Pit, Spouting Dome Cave, and five other caves are found there. Hikers can walk along the Grassy Cove segment of Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park, gaze down at this wooded landscape, and know that this area will forever provide refuge for forest-dwelling species. The forests along more than ½ mile of headwaters of Grassy Cove Creek stand in the gap between Bear Den and Brady Mountains. 

Conservation of this 956-acre parcel, with its abundant woods and water, widens the wildlife corridor of the Cumberland Trail along Brady Mountain and protects the lands needed as species experience pressure from extreme weather. In addition, vistas from the almost 3000-foot-tall mountains dwarf the Grassy Cove valley floor below and offer views to the Smokies.

Project Timeline

  • July 6, 2014: TennGreen entered into a Purchase Agreement to buy the nearly 1,000-acre property for $2,000/acre

  • November 4, 2014: TennGreen purchased 100 acres of the property in order to obtain an option for the remaining land

  • August 17, 2015: A conservation buyer purchased an additional 100 acres of the remaining tract to secure an extension of the option

  • July 28, 2016: Through a low-interest rate loan, provided by First National Bank of Tennessee, TennGreen purchased the remaining 756 acres and the additional 100 acres owned by the conservation buyer. TennGreen is grateful to the Cumberland Trails Conference for funding a portion of the interest payment.

  • December 19, 2017: Federal grant funds were released to TennGreen, and the organization announced the official transfer of all 956 acres to TDEC for an addition to Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.

  • April 23, 2019: The U.S. Forest Service International Programs and Environment for the Americas honored TennGreen, the Open Space Institute (OSI), TDEC, and the U.S. Forest Service Southeast Division (USFS) with a Wings Across the Americas (WATA) Habitat Conservation Partnership Award for their collaborative efforts to protect this Karst Forest at Grassy Cove property. Click here now to learn more about this award!

Forest Legacy Grant & Open Space Institute Grant

A significant amount of the campaign’s success is due to the support of the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, who ranked this project (The Karst Forest at Grassy Cove) eighth in the country to receive funding through a grant from the Forest Legacy Program. Funding for the project was included in the Fiscal Year 2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies. 

Receiving the funds from the Forest Legacy Program also allowed TennGreen to advance its effort through an additional grant of $600,000 from the Open Space Institute (OSI). The Grassy Cove project was supported through the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative and Southern Cumberland Protection Fund, which are made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, Benwood Foundation and Merck Family Fund. These initiatives seek to build capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change.​

TennGreen raised a total of $2,229,000 for the conservation project, with more than $250,000 contributed by individuals and private foundations. Gifts ranged from $15 to $100,000—many inspired by the late Shirley Caldwell-Patterson’s generous challenge gift. Since it is not a government agency, TennGreen strongly relies on generous private philanthropy to fund its initiatives to save important land throughout the state.

Project Awards

  • 2019 U.S. Forest Service International Programs and Environment for the Americas, Wings Across the Americas (WATA) Habitat Conservation Partnership Award (click here now to learn more)

TennGreen is grateful to those who made a contribution to this effort and looks forward to the recreational, conservation, and economic benefits that the additional land will provide to our state for years to come!