"[L]andscape... is just as much if not more alive as you but in a totally different form... it subsists primarily in silence, stillness and solitude – if you attend to it and go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you."
- John O'Donohue
The preservation of our natural landscapes is essential to creating and maintaining a high quality of life for Middle Tennessee residents. Nationwide, dwindling natural resources, a changing climate, and an economy in flux pose increasing challenges to our environment and society. Couple that with our area's rapidly growing population, and there is no question that we must proactively protect our beautiful open spaces if we wish them to be available for future generations. Land conservation efforts in the state represent both an environmental and a social movement – one that seeks to protect and preserve our natural resources, including animal and plant species and their habitats, while also making for a healthier human population and a thriving economy.
Conservation efforts aim to preserve our natural resources both for their inherent value and for their continued and sustainable use by humans – in the way of public parks, clean water, and food and energy sources.
A clear link exists between vibrant cities and healthy rural environments. Our own health and well-being is dependant upon a diverse and healthy environment. Conserving land and water will leave a sustainable region for future generations of Tennesseans.
Communities often believe that proactively conserving open space for "smart growth" is unaffordable. But evidence shows that protecting rural open space and creating city parks are investments "that produce significant economic benefits." The Trust for Public Land has identified several ways in which city parks and protected open space in rural areas create economic value. For instance, proximity to parks and open spaces enhances the value of residential properties and produces increased tax revenue for communities; open space captures precipitation, reduces stormwater management costs, and reduces the cost of drinking water (by up to ten-fold!) by protecting underground water sources; trees and shrubs reduce air pollution control costs; and parks attract non-resident visitors, who put dollars into our Middle Tennessee economies. Parks also have important health and wellness benefits for children and adults by promoting physical activity and leisure (www.tpl.org).
Middle Tennessee has seen significant growth in recent years, and more growth is predicted: an astounding 1 million new people are projected to call Middle Tennessee home by 2035. Our local land trusts and nonprofit conservation organizations work with federal, state and local partners to actively preserve the unique history and landscapes of Middle Tennessee.
And there is a lot to preserve! Tennessee is the most biologically diverse inland state in North America, according to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. The enormous sheets of ice that moved across our country during the ice age – eliminating entire species as they went – stopped just north of our state. More than 150 species of native trees, 300 native plants, 72 native mammals, 250 bird species, 56 amphibian species, 325 fish species, and 58 reptile species call Tennessee home (tenngreen.org). We have the most fish, crayfish, and mussel species on the continent, more cave openings than any state in the nation, and more species of native trees than all of Europe (tenngreen.org)!
Tennessee also has an impressive network of state and local parks. The Warner Parks – which span 2,684 acres only 9 miles from the heart of Nashville – are the largest municipally administered parks in the state. More than 500,000 visitors use the hiking trails, picnic areas, equestrian center, horse trails, and scenic roadways each year (Nashville.gov/parks)
These open spaces are important to our economy. Farming contributes $64 billion to our economy, and employs approximately 342,000 Tennesseans, says the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. Tourism, our second-largest industry, employs 181,000 Tennesseans and contributes nearly $15 billion to our economy, with an additional $1 billion contributed in local and state tax revenues. The group estimates that for every $1 invested our Tennessee State Parks, the state sees a $37 return! Still, we are the 7th fastest state in the country for the rate at which we are destroying our farms, forests, and other open spaces for development, losing acres at a rate of 80,000 each year (tenngreen.org).
Stunning attractions that are currently at risk include:
- Bluffs at Scott's Gulf
- Cumberland Trail segments
- Cummins Falls
- Mississippi River Bluffs
- Rattlesnake Falls
- Rocky Fork
- And more...
Nonprofit organizations called land trusts (The Nature Conservancy and The Land Trust for Tennessee are two local examples) conserve all different types of land, including farmland, forests, mountains, wildlife habitat, and cultural resources such like urban parks, archaeological sites or battlefields, or waterways.
Multiple strategies are used to protect Tennessee's beautiful resources. One is outright acquisition of land by a trust. Another strategy, known as a conservation easement, allows land to remain in private hands, with certain restrictions on development. Owners can retain private property rights (and may continue to live on and use their land), but are under contract to forbid development, mining, logging, drilling, etc., in perpetuity. Future owners are also bound by the terms of the easement.
"Conservation Buyers" may also acquire ecologically-valuable lands for protection. Through conservation buying, a land trust identifies and acquires a property within a targeted area or that is adjacent to a protected area, and then markets the property to buyers. The land is sold to a buyer committed to a conservation easement.
- If you are a landowner, consider a conservation easement. Easements are specifically tailored to meet the conservation and financial/tax planning needs of each landowner
- Volunteer your time with one of Middle Tennessee's land trusts.
- Encourage private land conservation and/or water resource conservation by advocating to others on behalf of these issues.
- Support operating budgets for nonprofit environmental organizations in Middle Tennessee. Find appropriate organizations on GivingMatters.com.
- Support sustained environmental youth programs, or lead one yourself. Create school-based experiential learning on environmental issues.
- Designate large gifts to purchase and preserve specific tracts of land.
- Make financial gifts to help support your favorite community parks.
- Lead recycling initiatives in your workplace and school, or in a rural area.
American Farmland Trust
Cumberland Region Tomorrow
Cumberland River Compact
Economic Benefits of Open Space Preservation
Greenways for Nashville
The Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County
The Land Trust for Tennessee
The Nature Conservancy Tennessee
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Shelby Farms Park Alliance
Southeastern Cave Conservancy http://www.scci.org/
Smart Growth Network (representing a coalition of government and advocacy groups)
The Swan Conservation Trust of Summertown Tennessee
Tennessee Environmental Council
Tennessee Preservation Trust