NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One of Tennessee’s largest and most visited state parks now has more caves and streams for visitors to explore following the acquisition of an additional 838 acres of land.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced the expansion to Fall Creek Falls State Park in a Thursday news release. The park, which has one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States, already encompasses 29,800 acres on the Cumberland Plateau.

Multiple organizations, including the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, TennGreen Land Conservancy and the Conservation Fund, helped purchase the additional land with the support of the Open Space Institute and the Lyndhurst Foundation.

“This is a magnificent addition to this popular state park,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner Greer Tidwell. “We are grateful to the partners who put this acquisition together. They serve Tennesseans in outstanding ways, and we look forward to park visitors enjoying this expanded boundary of the park.”

The 838-acre property has shared nearly a mile of its border with the park and contains steep bluffs, rock houses and caves that the TDEC says provide significant habitats for species threatened by climate change.

The land lies within the Cradle of Southern Appalachia Initiative, a conservation blueprint adopted by the Thrive Regional Partnership’s Natural Treasures Alliance, of which TennGreen Land Conservancy is a partner.

Although the tri-state region around Chattanooga is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, only 15% of the area is currently protected. The acquisition is the most recent step among decades of collaborative efforts to expand conservation work in the region.

“Like many places in Tennessee, and in large part the result of its scenic beauty, the Southeast region’s population is booming – putting its natural assets at risk,” said Alice Hudson Pell, interim executive director of TennGreen Land Conservancy.

The Natural Treasures Alliance’s goal is to double the amount of conserved land within the region by 2055. By doing so, Pell said more at-risk species would be protected, water quality would be improved and more opportunities for conservation awareness would open up.

“TennGreen Land Conservancy is proud to play a role in advancing these efforts through this expansion of Fall Creek Falls State Park,” Pell said.

Dry Fork (COURTESY TDEC)

Located within the Dry Fork watershed, the property also contains nearly five miles of streams, including Dry Fork, Benton Branch and Mount Pleasant Branch. Waters from those streams flow within the park to Cane Creek.

The property is also within the headwaters of numerous nearby caves. The land serves as a buffer area that protects several known Indiana bats and other rare species. During a visit to a cave on the property, scientists documented the threatened tricolor bat.

“Fall Creek Falls State Park, and public land in general, is a huge driver of Tennessee’s recreation economy,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee state director at The Conservation Fund. “This addition of state park land is a perfect example of how environmental protections and economic sustainability can go hand in hand, and how partnerships can make it happen.”

The acquisition was funded through the Open Space Institute’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund and the Lyndhurst Foundation.

The fund supports land protection along the Appalachian Mountain Range, which is home to the world’s largest broadleaf forest, stores most of the nation’s forest carbon and provides refuge for plants and animals at risk of habitat loss.

“The Open Space Institute is proud of its role in expanding Fall Creek Falls State Park, and its efforts to secure the fragile forests that are so important to all of us in the state of Tennessee,” said Joel Houser, Southeast field coordinator for Open Space Institute. “We thank TennGreen Land Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, The Conservation Fund, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for their outstanding efforts to protect this property, forever.”