Forest Service adds critical 40 acres to the Sipsey Wilderness

Sipsey Wilderness
Sipsey River running through the newly protected 40 acres within the Sipsey Wilderness. Photo via Conservation Fund

One of the last two private inholdings of land within the Sipsey Wilderness of Bankhead National Forest is now officially protected, according to an announcement by the USDA Forest Service and The Conservation Fund.

Previously threatened by development,  the 40-acre property will now be part of the beloved Sipsey Wilderness thanks to funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Alabama’s oldest federally designated wilderness areas, the Sipsey Wilderness within the Bankhead National Forest is one of Alabama’s most beloved natural wonders.

The Newly Protected Land

Map Sipsey
Map of the 40 acre addition within the Sipsey Wilderness via The Conservation Fund

The newly protected 40-acre tract sits in the heart of the Sipsey Wilderness where it’s surrounded on all four sides by national forest like a puzzle piece. 

Within the property, visitors will find large cliffs dramatically rising over the Sipsey River, including a large section of rock wall known as Shiprock, as well as a narrow ridge called the Devil’s Backbone and a small natural arch going through it. Around these landmarks and riverbanks, the property is almost completely forested.

Sipsey Wilderness
Cliff know as Shiprock found on the newly protected 40 acre property within the Sipsey Wilderness. Photo via The Conservation Fund

“For decades, nature lovers in Alabama feared what may happen if this tract were to be lost to development,” said Stacy Funderburke, The Conservation Fund’s Alabama Associate State Director. “Protecting the iconic Sipsey Wilderness from any future threat will impact generations to come. Our partners at the USDA Forest Service and funding from the LWCF have once again helped protect a treasure for the Alabama community.”

Under private ownership, the property faced high threats of being sold for development that could have jeopardized the land’s wilderness character, iconic biodiversity, wildlife habitat and importance to the Alabama community. Now, it’ll remain protected in perpetuity as part of the Sipsey Wilderness under Forest Service ownership.

“The USDA Forest Service is grateful to The Conservation Fund for its efforts to help secure this very special property located in the Bankhead National Forest,” said Cherie Hamilton, forest supervisor for the National Forests in Alabama. According to Hamilton, the 40-acre tract acquisition brings added value to the wilderness character because of its location in the heart of the Sipsey Wilderness where three trails converge with the Sipsey Wild and Scenic River. The public can enjoy expanded opportunities of solitude, natural beauty and special features of wilderness.”

How the Land Was Saved

Sipsey Wilderness
Sipsey River running through the newly protected 40 acres within the Sipsey Wilderness. Photo via Conservation Fund

When the property went up for sale in 2018, national environmental nonprofit The Conservation Fund acted quickly to purchase the land for conservation. The Fund then held and managed it until the Forest Service could secure the necessary LWCF funding to acquire the tract for the Sipsey Wilderness. As part of the national forest system, the land will remain protected for wildlife, watershed quality and public recreation like hunting and hiking. In addition to LWCF, Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, North Carolina made a generous donation to make this project possible.

Sipsey Wilderness
The marker recognizing the dedication of the Sipsey Wilderness in 1975

Local conservation groups are also praising the new acquisition. Maggie Johnston, Executive Director of Wild Alabama, an organization dedicated to the protection of stewardship of the Sipsey remarked:

“Wild Alabama is thrilled to see the Sipsey acquire this piece of property within the wilderness boundary. We look forward to working with our volunteers and the US Forest Service to preserve the wilderness character!”

To learn more about this new addition to the Sipsey, visit www.conservationfund.org/ 

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.