Philanthropist George Lindemann donates 2,000-acre Soak Creek Farm to TennGreen group

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Ben Benton, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Mar. 21—A donation of 2,000 acres in Tennessee's Bledsoe and Rhea counties by philanthropist George Lindemann will preserve streams and upland forest on the Cumberland Plateau while establishing a research station for habitat and plant studies.

The gift of Lindemann's Soak Creek Farm was announced this month by TennGreen Land Conservancy, formerly the Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation. The group has conserved more than 13,000 acres within 10 miles of Soak Creek Farm since 2001.

Lindemann's and the conservancy's long-term goal is to establish the Soak Creek Farm as a research station, evaluating habitat management techniques and medicinal plants. The conservancy will identify partners in higher education for research projects and potential management of the land. Before transferring the farm to new ownership, the conservancy will place a conservation easement on the property to ensure it remains undeveloped, other than a research station.

Alice Hudson Pell, TennGreen's associate director, said the gift will have far-reaching benefits.

"The Cumberland Plateau is one of the most important natural features in the United States, and thanks to this generous donation, students and researchers will make discoveries for generations to come," Pell said Friday. "We are grateful for Mr. Lindemann's extraordinary gift and his proactive efforts to protect our natural treasures while strengthening our rural economies."

Soak Creek Farm has more than 16 miles of streams, including Dunlap Creek, Evans Branch and Shingle Mill Branch, all flowing into the Piney Creek watershed, TennGreen officials said. The farm abuts the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park, which became the state's 53rd state park in 1998 and consists of land in 11 Tennessee counties.

The Piney Creek watershed is home to recreational areas, such as Soak Creek, which was designated a State Scenic River in 2017. Piney Creek River is the most recent river to earn Tennessee's State Scenic River designation. Officials said Lindemann was also instrumental in both the Piney and Soak Creek designations, and in 2017 he donated 1,034 acres to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to establish the Soak Creek section of the Cumberland Trail.

For Lindemann, the Cumberland Plateau is one of the most unique ecological systems on the planet, and he believes it can be conserved and protected while it helps boost local economies. As he lived on the plateau for more than a decade, the need to preserve it became clearer.

"I have had a farm on the plateau for about 15 years now and as each year has gone on I've learned more about the plateau and about how important it is on a regional, national, even global level," Lindemann said Friday. "As each year goes by I become more passionate about the need to conserve this area because it's one of the last examples of its type of ecology anywhere in the world."

Lindemann, 56, of Miami Beach, Florida, said he and his family spent March through August 2020 at nearby Coal Creek Farm, Lindemann's 5,200-acre farm about a half-mile from the now-donated Soak Creek Farm. He calls the Coal Creek Farm his second home, but it's also an example of conservation research on a working cattle ranch and farm.

Lindemann said pressure from urban sprawl on the delicate Cumberland Plateau is a concern, so with the donation and continued efforts to generate interest, he hopes environmentalists, business leaders and local governments can team up in pursuing development with an eye toward conservation and job creation.

As Lindemann lived and worked in Tennessee at his farm and in Nashville over the years he learned to love the state and "the plateau that is the largely untouched gem that has become so important to me," he said.

Lindemann said he enjoys seeing people enjoy the plateau's resources and hopes to continue teaming up with local nonprofit groups. He wants to seek more cooperation among residents, governments and business leaders to keep conservation in mind.

"I'm a businessman at heart and I believe that in order for a venture to succeed the interests of all the stakeholders need to be aligned, and if we can come up with something that is both good for the environment and profitable it'll be more successful," he said.

"For example, in the Soak Creek donation I didn't just donate the land. In the back of my mind there was notion of ecotourism and that's a driver for the local economy," Lindemann said. "I'm as interested in bringing jobs to the area as I am conserving it because I believe the two go hand-in-hand."

Paddling sports, hiking, biking and other popular activities "have a minimal impact on nature but yet give a lot of pleasure to people and bring business to the area," he said.

Investments in those kinds of activities or, for entrepreneurs, investments in conservation-oriented business, make a healthy environment more important to long-term success, according to Lindemann. His work with various universities at Coal Creek Farm delves into the use of native grasses as fodder for grazing for commercial cattle operations.

The environmental clock is always ticking, so conservation education and preservation can't wait.

"There's this opportunity that exists right now for all of us to preserve one of these last stretches of amazing species-rich ecosystems, and it can be done with more people moving to the area," he said. "They can go hand in hand, we just have to have smart growth that is considerate of the environment."

"TennGreen is honored to be the recipient of this magnificent land gift," executive director Steve Law said in a statement on the donation.

"We are so grateful to George for the trust he has placed in us to ensure his conservation vision becomes reality," Law said. "Through our continuing work with George and building new partnerships with educational institutions, we have a unique opportunity to permanently protect the land and establish it as a demonstration site for habitat management and cutting-edge research."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.