Eastern Kentucky Park Adds 950 Acres, Eyes Larger Purchase

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) - Cumberland Gap National Historic Park bought a 950-acre tract next to Fern Lake as part of a move to secure the lake and its surrounding watershed of 4,500 acres.

The land, along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, was bought with $1 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"It's not every day you get to add land that has significance on several levels - American history, water quality and view shed - to the National Park Service," said Rick Wood, Chattanooga field director for the Trust for Public Lands, a nonprofit land conservation organization.

The group negotiated an agreement with the landowner while federal funds were sought for the purchase.

In 2003, Congress, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers, both Kentucky Republicans, passed a bill authorizing the National Park Service to purchase the Fern Lake tract in order to ensure safe drinking water for Middlesboro, Ky.

Wood said the group is now focusing on buying the rest of the 4,500-acre tract. The newly acquired land is visible from the Pinnacle Overlook, the most popular tourist attraction in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

In addition to protecting the view from the overlook, the 950 acres also provide a connection between Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and the state of Tennessee's planned extension of the Cumberland Trail.

Fern Lake, which is privately owned and for sale, was not included as part of the land purchase. Federal legislation calls for the U.S. interior secretary to use appropriated funds to acquire the lake and surrounding acreage from willing sellers.

Mark Woods, superintendent of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, said Fern Lake's natural beauty speaks for itself.

"These new tracts will further enhance the park's rich mosaic of resources, from Civil War history to the story of westward expansion and our system of 25 caves. It's going to add countless recreational opportunities for our visitors," Woods said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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