The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 20 acres larger — thanks to a land purchase made last weekend by the Friends of the Smokies on the park’s behalf.
The nonprofit organization bought the property at a public auction for $775,000. The Foothills Land Conservancy partnered with the Friends in the acquisition.
The private inholding is inside the park boundary, just south of U.S. Highway 321 near Pittman Center. The tract is surrounded on three sides by the park and adjoins the Soak Ash Creek wetland, one of the largest wetlands in the Smokies.
The property is split into two 10-acre tracts that include a 5,000-square-foot house with an indoor swimming pool. The public auction was held after the owner recently passed away.
Park spokesman Bob Miller said the opportunity to purchase the tract surfaced in just the past two weeks.
“Our land management policy calls for us to look at property when it’s available through a willing seller,” Miller said. “In this case, we would not have been able to move quickly enough if we had only federal funding to rely upon.”
Funding for the land purchase was provided by the Ogle-Fulmer “Picnic in Pittman for the Park,” an annual live and silent auction attended by Friends of the Smokies and their guests to raise funds for the park over a 10-year period.
The picnics were organized by Jim Ogle, a Friends board member and lifelong resident of Pittman Center, and former University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer, who has a cabin in the area and whose wife, Vicky, is a Friends board member.
Park officials say they have no immediate plans for the house on the property. Ownership of the 20 acres will consolidate the park’s boundary and enable the park to prevent future development on the tract, which might have brought in exotic insects and plants on landscaping material and construction equipment.
This week, the Friends of the Smokies completed its annual goal of raising $1.5 million for park projects ranging from historical restoration to natural resource conservation. Of that total, Friends has committed $600,000 to the “Trails Forever” endowment to fund long-term maintenance work on the park’s 800-plus miles of hiking trails.
Story courtesy of Knox News.