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By Lucy Williams, Editor & Publisher
Noted authorities in state parks, green ways and natural areas were on site at Wells Hill Park Thursday morning, weighing the potential of the 114-acre property recently purchased by Fayetteville businessman Charles Gleghorn.
Among those spending the morning walking over the area with Gleghorn were Kathleen Williams, president and executive director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, two foundation staffers, a Nashville attorney interested in assisting the foundation, and an authority on rare plants.
Following the walking tour, the group met with Action Lincoln County proponents and guests at Shoney’s to discuss plans.
“We would really like to see this area preserved as either a state park or state natural area,” said Christie Peterson, land conservation coordinator with the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. “A state natural area would be perfect for Wells Hill – it would keep the area pristine, more wild.”
Designation as a natural area would also protect the park more heavy use that a state park might have, Peterson said, stressing that the foundation would very much like to partner with Gleghorn.
“The first step is getting our board to approve it, and I don’t think that will be an issue,” she continued. “This is a gem for Lincoln County and should not be developed. I hope we can help with getting it preserved forever.”
Community support would be a key to the park becoming either a state park or a state natural area, the foundation spokespersons continued, noting that the process should move quickly along with the park being held by one property owner, though the foundation would like to see the portion of the park retained by the City of Fayetteville included with the park as it becomes either a state park or state natural area. The area retained by the city includes the headwater for the first gravity flow water system in the country.
Also on hand for the meeting was Dennis Horn, an engineer, naturalist, amateur botanist and wildflower photographer who makes his home in Tullahoma. He is very active with the Tennessee Native Plants Society and the Scientific Advisory Committee for Rare Plants in Tennessee.
Two plants – knotting rattlesnake root and twisted trillium – drew Horn’s interest, he said, noting that the first is on the state’s endangered list, while the second has never been seen this far south.
“With the springs and waterfalls, it is a tremendous asset,” he said. “We spent four hours in there this morning, and never heard a car and saw another person – that’s really amazing, considering the fact that it’s surrounded by development … It’s very well suited to become a natural area. If it were made into a state park, it could be destroyed, but still, people would come from all over to see it.”
Horne compared the area to Short Springs, a 420-acre state natural area considered as a premier site by the state. “Wells Hill is like a miniature of that,” he said.
“I just feel very fortunate that Charles is willing to step up and find one way or another to protect it,” he added. “He’s doing a huge favor, not just for the people of Lincoln County but for Tennessee as well.”
Joe Prochaska, a Nashville attorney who helps the foundation, was also present, saying his role is to figure out how to make the designation as a state park or state natural area happen.
“You have a very special place, and I hope you’re able to preserve it and I think you can,” he said. “In Nashville, we have Wagner Lake, and it’s surrounded by houses and other development, but we’ve been able to preserve it and put in trails – it has really become a destination, and with a little work, you can have a real attraction here.”
Gleghorn said his intent in purchasing the property was not for a housing development or logging, but instead, to protect it as a natural treasurer.
“It benefits our whole community,” he said, adding that his intent is to move forward with efforts to have it either designated as a natural area or a state park.”