The effort to preserve a 125-mile stretch of Pine Mountain that runs the length of southeastern Kentucky has taken a significant step forward with the purchase of nearly 2,000 acres, the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust announced Thursday.
The trust said the land is a key addition to what it calls the Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor, a migratory route and refuge for thousands of species of birds, animals and plants.
The trust has worked for years to acquire land on Pine Mountain in order to conserve it, adding more than 4,000 acres in Bell and Harlan counties to the corridor in recent years. The latest purchase is the largest acquisition in the history of the effort.
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Pine Mountain provides habitat for many rare species and shelters a third of the state’s endangered species. It also protects the headwaters of the Cumberland and Kentucky rivers and includes Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve in Harlan County, the largest known tract of old-growth forest in the state.
“Large landscapes of intact ecosystems are essential to the human and economic health of local, regional and global communities,” Hugh Archer, executive director of the trust, said in a news release. “Pine Mountain is one of the most biodiverse regions of the commonwealth and is a place filled with natural beauty and natural capital.”
The purchase created three new nature preserves called Line Fork Preserve, Hurricane Gap Preserve and Kingdom Come Preserve, located primarily along the north face of the mountain in Harlan and Letcher counties.
The land involved in the purchase is near Cumberland, in Harlan County, according to the trust.
The new preserves connect Kingdom Come State Park to the Hensley-Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area, creating a 7,000-acre protected forest tract, and they connect the E. Lucy Braun State Park Nature Preserve to Kentenia State Forest, forming a 6,000-acre protected forest tract, the trust said.
The purchase also will make it possible to complete development of 50 percent of the Kentucky portion of the proposed Great Eastern Trail, The planned hiking trail would extend 1,800 miles from New York to Alabama and could help boost tourism in Eastern Kentucky.
Archer said the trust bought the land from Kentucky River Properties, a land-holding company that had owned it for more than 80 years.
Archer said he had talked with the company for 18 years about buying the land.
There were 27 parcels in the purchase. Including survey work, the total cost to complete the purchase was $2.4 million, Archer said.
The trust has paid $1,000 or less per acre for the land it has bought, making the Pine Mountain project among the most cost-effective conservation efforts in the United States, Archer said.
The trust pulled together money from the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund and donations from the Forecastle Foundation, the Snowy Owl Foundation, the Beckham Bird Club, the Louisville Audubon Society, its board and other donors to buy the land.
Archer called the purchase a “major achievement” that had strong support from government agencies and from nonprofit and private partners because of the size, scenic beauty, biodiversity and ability to connect to other conservation lands.
Pine Mountain includes nearly 180,000 acres altogether. More than 40 percent is protected through some sort of conservation ownership, including by the trust and public agencies, Archer said.
The goal is to conserve the entire mountain.
“We’re not gonna quit ’til it’s done,” Archer said.