Little Cove Creek Preserve – 17 Acres Added

George and Jean Nilsen donated their 49-acre Little Cove Creek Farm in Carter County, TN to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) on December 19, 1984. Almost 40 years later, SAHC has purchased a 17-acre tract to add to the preserve. This new acquisition closes a gap between SAHC’s Little Cove Creek Preserve and Cherokee National Forest.

“This special slice of land was an important addition to our wonderful Little Cove Creek Preserve,” says Land Protection Director Michelle Pugliese. “The property can be seen from the Appalachian Trail, and the main branch of Little Cove Creek, classified as a Tennessee Exceptional Stream, flows along the western boundary. It has been SAHC’s long-time goal to acquire this tract to bridge the Little Cove Creek Preserve with the national forest.”

The protected portion of Little Cove Creek and a small waterfall are special features of the newly acquired land. During our June Jamboree partnership hike with Pathways to Parks this summer, hikers enjoyed seeing the new tract and waterfall in person. The intrepid Challenge Hike participants for the June Jamboree charted an off-trail course, descending from the Hackline Trail on Cherokee National Forest and following Little Cove Creek into SAHC’s preserve. It is a lovely destination for guided hikes in our Connecting People with Land Program!

“Acquiring this tract will enable SAHC to maintain a short interpretive trail loop, allowing guests to our Little Cove Creek Preserve to visit the cascading waterfall as well as historic gravesites, rock walls, and foundations on the original property,” adds Associate Director Kristy Urquhart.

Closing the gap between SAHC’s preserve and national forest land helps secure unbroken habitat corridors for wildlife and plants and protects a crucial link in protecting the Doe River Watershed, one of the best trout fishing areas in the entire state.


Donated in 1984, the original Little Cove Creek tract was the first nature preserve acquired by SAHC for long-term ownership. Although SAHC had purchased other tracts of land in the Highlands of Roan prior to 1984, these other tracts were transferred to U.S. Forest Service ownership or other public land entities. According to an interview by Sarah Fraser in 2006, “George and Jean Nilsen learned about SAHC by reading an article written by Rick Patterson in the September 16, 1984 issue of the Johnson City Press Chronicle. They wanted their land to be preserved forever, so they donated it to SAHC.”

“I enjoyed hiking this property years ago with George Nilsen, and I was excited to share this remarkable place and stories of SAHC’s leaders with guests at this year’s June Jamboree,” recalls Jay Leutze, Senior Advisor to the Board. “Some of the early meetings to plan SAHC’s land protection and stewardship of the Highlands of Roan took place on the Nilsen farmstead. The preserve was used for nine years to house the botanist and stage the goats for the Baa-Tany Goat Project. It was such an important place for some of the early stewards of the Roan that they chose to be buried there — including Ed and Barbara Schell and SAHC founder Stan Murray.”

With the recently protected tract, SAHC’s Little Cove Creek Preserve now totals 66 acres. We are thrilled that the property is part of SAHC’s Connecting People with Land Program, and deeply grateful to the conservation-minded leaders and SAHC supporters who made the purchase and permanent protection of this land possible!