Trust buys land to protect Fern Lake watershed

Protecting the watershed of Fern Lake near the Cumberland Gap has taken another major step with the purchase of 2,171 acres by The Trust for Public Land.

The purchase means the trust now has protected 4,500 acres around the lake, which has historical and scenic importance in addition to serving as Middlesboro's water supply.

"It's a critical piece of land and it's all but done — except for the lake itself," said Rick Wood, director of the trust's Chattanooga field office.

The lake is owned by Middlesboro-based Appolo Fuels Inc. The trust has talked with the company but has had no success so far, Wood said.

As with earlier purchases, the trust will resell the land to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The lake and the land around it are visible from the park's Pinnacle Overlook, which offers views of three states — Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

The most recent purchase from The Molpus Woodlands Group cost $3.3 million.

The first 1,266 acres will be transferred to the park in January, using $1.9 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The remaining 905 acres will be transferred when money is available.

The $1.9 million in federal funds, as well as an earlier $1.9 million used to buy 1,850 acres, was secured by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers.