The Importance of Our Work
Tennessee is a Beautiful Green Garden
...with mile-high mountains in the East, the grand Mississippi River in the West and thousands of miles of rivers in between. Tennessee is blessed with majestic bluffs and waterfalls, mountain peaks and grand vistas, caves and rock houses, springs and wildflower meadows, abundant wildlife, dragonflies and fireflies to give magic to the night. Tennessee is our garden and we are its stewards. Tennessee’s natural attributes:
- Tennessee is the most biologically diverse inland state in North America – the variety and volume of life here is magnificent.
- The topography of Tennessee is among the most varied in the United States, ranging from wide level river bottoms in the West to high mountain peaks in the East, with valleys, plateaus, basins, and other features in between. Our State covers nine physiographic provinces from the high Unaka Mountains to the Mississippi River Valley – each shift in elevation and variance in geologic history and composition provides a unique landscape where new and different life may thrive.
- Tennessee is famous for our waterfalls, whitewater streams, natural arches, spectacular cliffs and canyons and other geologic features of scenic beauty and wonder.
- During the glacial ages, great ice sheets to the north scraped away most life forms, but stopped short of Tennessee, where ancient species still live.
- The Tennessee and Cumberland River Watershed is the world’s most diverse temperate freshwater ecosystem. Seven of the top eight most ecologically diverse rivers in North America flow through Tennessee. In just one river – Tennessee’s Duck River – there are more fish species per mile than any other river in North America.
- Tennessee has over 9,000 known caves, more than any other state in the U.S. including caves of extraordinary length, astounding beauty and terrific recreational potential. These caves are key elements in Tennessee’s water resources, contain important pre-Columbian and Civil War archeological sites, and are the habitat of rare species found nowhere else on earth.
- Tennessee has more species of trees than throughout all of Europe...sourwood and sassafras, buckeyes and basswood, hickories and hemlock – our garden blooms with them in the spring and blazes with them in the fall.
- And Tennessee abounds with orchids and other wildflowers, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Our woods and mountains are home to deer, elk, turkeys, fox, black bear, river otters, squirrels that fly and bobcats that prowl. So much variety to behold and so much more hidden that we don’t even yet know about. Tennessee nurtures more than 2,300 native plants, 89 native mammals, 300 bird species, 70 amphibian species include numerous frogs, salamanders, and newts; 61 reptile species include three types of rattlesnakes, and 325 fish species in Tennessee's lakes and streams. Tennessee has the most diverse crayfish fauna in the US with 77 species. And no one knows how many species of insects and spiders abide in Tennessee.
But, Our Garden is at Risk
With all this bounty to conserve, shamefully we are 50th nationwide in environmental spending. Tennessee’s population increased from 3.9 million in 1970 to 6 million in 2005; it is expected to increase to a total population of 7.6 million by 2025. More residents will accelerate the fragmentation of our landscape into smaller individually-owned parcels and strain an already stressed water supply. Tennessee is 7th in the nation in loss of farms and forests; we convert more than 80,000 acres each year to development and sprawl.
We Must Work Quickly
Land will never be more available than it is today. The Foundation must work now to help conserve the scenic beauty and life-sustaining riches of Tennessee. We are the caretakers of Tennessee and Tennessee takes care of us. Our homeland feeds our Spirit and gives us life. It gives us all we need to be sustained. We depend on wild species - to enrich the soil, cleanse the water, pollinate the flowering plants, and create the very air we breathe. We need wild species and conserved land for our food, water and air. Plus, our environment provides us with raw materials for our economic future: for the next important, undiscovered medicines, crops, timbers, fibers, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products. Additionally, tourism is the second largest industry in Tennessee, employing 184,000 Tennesseans and contributing $14.2 billion to our economy and $1.1 billion in local and state tax revenues. The top tourist attractions in Tennessee are parks. Tennessee attracts visitors because of its natural beauty. So what is good for our sustenance and life is also good for our pocketbooks. Our Foundation must spread this message to the public and to our elected officials.
The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation challenge is to conserve the best Tennessee has to offer. By creating more public parks to inspire a love of nature while conserving fragile life and wondrous geologic features, and by linking parks together with greenways, corridors of protected land, we can conserve Tennessee’s bountiful natural environment.
A Map to Guide Our Work
A Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation Plan map was adopted at the December, 2007 strategic planning session. Prepared by TWRA staff at the Foundation’s request, it includes parks and natural areas, wildlife management areas, state scenic trails and rivers, towns with greenway systems, arches, peaks, waterfalls, and areas of conservation interest. Depicted on the map are the Cherohala Skyway, Natchez Trace Parkway, Sheltowee Trace, the Trail of Tears, and the Benton McKay Trail, Cumberland Trail, and Mississippi River Bike Trail. This map will guide our conservation efforts.