Description of Areas Proposed for Designation as the Oak Ridge Reservation State Natural Area

These descriptions of the five natural area subunits and 30 specific sites of ecological importance identified in the Tennessee Division of Natural Heritage proposal are referenced to the color map of the proposed Oak Ridge Reservation state natural area. Descriptions are abbreviated from the Division of Natural Heritage report on the proposal.


The Walker Branch - Three Bend unit totals 6,059 acres in the eastern corner of the Oak Ridge Reservation, including the entire Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Area. The area includes one of the world's largest populations of the rare wildflower species Delphinium exaltatum, tall larkspur.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 1: Lower Walker Branch Ledges
Located on the slope overlooking the west branch of Walker Branch north of Bethel Valley Road. Tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum) occurs in limestone outcrops in a power line right-of-way and in an area of barrens.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 2: Walker Branch Embayment Barrens
Located south of Bethel Valley Road and west of Walker Branch Embayment. Tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum) is located at this site, which is a large area with a variety of forest types. It also supports barrens where mowing occurs along a pipeline and a power line right-of-way. A concentrated population of tall larkspur is found in one area, and this species also occurs as scattered individuals throughout the site. This site was one of eight original Registered State Natural Areas established on the ORR in 1985.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 3: Walker Branch Watershed Research Area
This area of Chestnut Ridge is a world-renowned research area. The forest type in this area is a northern red oak-tuliptree-chestnut oak-white oak type, of excellent quality, and largely unfragmented. This forest provides excellent habitat for cerulean warblers (Dendroica caerulescens), which are under consideration for federal listing and have been observed nesting in the area in the past. The area also contains the only colony of mountain witch-alder (Fothergilla major) known to occur on the ORR.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 4: McCoy Branch Embayment Barrens
This site located south of Bethel Valley Road and east of McCoy Branch Embayment encompasses a large area containing a variety of forest types including a tuliptree–red cedar–white oak–hickory forest community and an oak-hickory-ash limestone woodland community. A large population of tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum) occurs here. This site was one of eight original Registered State Natural Areas established in 1985 on the ORR.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 5: Chestnut Ridge Barrens and Wetland
Chestnut Ridge Barrens and Wetland is located at the intersection of Roane and Anderson Counties, under and near a power line. Rare species found here include tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum) and Canada lily (Lilium canadense). Tall larkspur is found in a cedar barrens and a wet meadow. Carolina quillwort (Isoetes caroliniana) is found along a stream. The uncommon robust variety of featherbells (Stenanthium gramineum var. robustum) is found at the edge of a wetland. Adjacent to the stream is a forested wetland where Canada lily and Carolina quillwort grow.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 6: Bethel Valley Small-head Rush Wetland
Small-head rush (Juncus brachycephalus) is located in this wetland adjacent to a Bearden Creek tributary. Hembree Marsh is the only other area on the ORR in which small-head rush has been found. There are low, emergent or scrub-shrub wetlands immediately adjacent to the stream, but otherwise a white pine plantation dominates. The pine plantation could be restored to barrens.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 7: Middle Haw Ridge Mesic Forest
This site supports oak-hickory-ash limestone woodland, oak-hickory forest, bottomland hardwoods, mesic hardwoods, and xeric hardwoods. Landscape features include steep slopes, forested rock outcrops, and mature forest. Rare species include American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Canada lily (Lilium canadense).

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 8: Bearden Creek Water Gap and Wetland
This area is located includes the narrow forested (tuliptree-oak-hickory) gap in Haw Ridge through which Bearden Creek passes and the upper portion of the Bearden Creek Embayment of Melton Hill Lake (Clinch River). The narrow floodplain wetland in the gap is flanked by steep slopes. On the margin of the embayment, a narrow fringe of scrub-shrub wetland grades abruptly into an emergent wetland community. The spike rush (Eleocharis acicularis) grows in the emergent wetland. This species is rare in East Tennessee. Canada lily (Lilium canadense) also occurs on this site.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 9: Rainy Knob
Located along Melton Lake on the north and east side of Freels Bend. The rare plants goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Carey saxifrage (Saxifraga careyana) occur in this area. This area contains a scenic, rocky limestone sinkhole with a cave entrance in an area of bluffs near an embayment. This forested sinkhole provides habitat for Carey saxifrage.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 10: Bull Bluff
Bull Bluff is a steep, north- and east-facing sheer limestone cliff overlooking Melton Hill Lake. The forest communities include tuliptree-red cedar-white oak-hickory forest and Ridge and Valley calcareous mixed mesophytic forest. Rare plants include Appalachian bugbane (Cimicifuga rubifolia), northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), Carey saxifrage (Saxifraga careyana), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and spreading false-foxglove (Aureolaria patula). The remainder of the peninsula (also known as Gallaher Bend) is largely forested and includes some hay fields. The area supports Canada lily (Lilium canadense). The peninsula includes an area in need of kudzu (Pueraria lobata) management.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 11: Freels Bend
The area contains wetlands (not yet surveyed) and large hay fields that could be converted to warm season grasses. This is a nesting area for the grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). Loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus migrans) and the southeastern shrew (Sorex longirostris) have historically occurred in this area, and the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), which is rare in east Tennessee, has been found here.

Walker Branch - Three Bend Site 12: Solway Bend Bluff
Solway Bend Bluff is an east-facing, steep, rocky slope. There is a small cedar glade here on the top of a rock outcrop where limestone adder's tongue fern (Ophiglossum engelmannii) grows. This fern is rare in east Tennessee. Carey saxifrage (Saxifraga careyana) grows on vertical rock faces. Cancer root is known only from this site on the ORR. Appalachian bugbane (Cimicifuga rubifolia) is found here in mesic forest.


The New Zion unit comprises 2,891 acres in the western portion of the ORR. Features include portions of Haw Ridge, Bethel Valley, and Chestnut Ridge; Ish Creek and an unnamed sinking creek (karst feature; the creek disappears into sink hole and reappears as a spring); and barrens, forest, and wetlands habitats.

New Zion Site 1: New Zion Boggy Bottoms
This is a headwater area of an unnamed Clinch River tributary flowing from Chestnut Ridge. Ground water seeps maintain a wetland hydrology in the boggy bottoms where various species of sphagnum moss and ferns are dominant. Pooled water can be found in parts of the area during most of the year. Rare plants associated with this area include Canada lily (Lilium canadense), heavy sedge (Carex gravida), and pink lady's-slipper (Cypripedium acuale).

New Zion Site 2: Haw Ridge Uplands and Raccoon Creek Embayment
This site includes the northwest-facing slope of Haw Ridge, including rock outcrops, and the Raccoon Creek Embayment. The area also includes several wetlands. Rare and uncommon plant species here include goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Canada lily (Lilium canadense) along the lower slopes near Raccoon Creek, spreading false-foxglove (Aureolaria patula) and the Nuttall's water-weed (Elodea nuttalii), monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum) and fly poison (Amianthium muscaetoxicum).

New Zion Site 3: Clinch Floodplain Swamp
This area includes a forested wetland along a stream that enters the floodplain of the Clinch River and a headwater wetland on the south slopes of Haw Ridge. Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and Carolina quillwort (Isoetes caroliniana) are present.

New Zion Site 4: Ish Creek
A second-order springfed stream that supports high fish species richness, including the state-listed Tennessee dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis), Ish Creek bisects and drains much of the New Zion natural area unit. It runs through a mixed hardwood forest where goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is found. Additionally, bottomland hardwood forests are associated with the Ish Creek floodplain. Club-spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata) is found in wetlands here.

New Zion Site 5: Raccoon Creek Barrens
A cedar–postoak barrens where open canopy and shallow limestone soils support grassland ecosystems dominated by little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium). Side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) is also found here. Other species of interest include a milk vetch (Astragalus canadensis) and limestone adder's tongue fern (Ophioglossum engelmannii). This grassland barrens remnant extends into adjacent forest and a nearby loblolly pine stand. This ecosystem could be expanded to restore the barrens community to where it once occurred.


The Copper Ridge unit comprises 3,908 acres located in the southern portion of the Oak Ridge Reservation. Prominent features include Copper Ridge, extensive river bluffs on the perimeter of Melton Hill Lake, diverse forest community types, the highest elevation within the Reservation – 1,356 feet on Melton Hill, two caves and several sinkholes, moist ravines, springs and seeps, and forested wetlands.

Copper Ridge Site 1: Copper Ridge Cave
This site includes the largest known cave on the ORR. The surrounding forest is an oak-hickory-tuliptree type. This forest and cave provide habitat requirements for species such as the six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus). The microhabitat of the cave entrance could provide recovery habitat for the federally threatened Hart's-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum). The layers of sediments in the cave are noted as preserving an outstanding record of changes in the Earth's magnetic field.

Copper Ridge Site 2: Dry River Bluffs and Caves
Dry River Bluffs and Caves support rare plants that include heavy sedge (Carex gravida), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Pursh's wild-petunia (Ruellia purshiana), and three-parted violet (Viola tripartita var. tripartita). Forest community types found in this area include oak-hickory-ash limestone woodland, oak-hickory forest, mature white pine, mixed pine and hardwoods, and cedar forest. The landscape features in this area include caves, limestone sinkholes, steep slopes, outcrops, calcareous cliffs, moist ravines, springs, seeps, and forested wetlands.

Copper Ridge Sites 3 and 4: Hickory Creek Bend Bluffs and Melton Lake Bluffs
Hickory Creek Bend Bluffs and Melton Lake Bluffs support many rare species including goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), lesser ladies'-tresses orchid (Spiranthes ovalis), Carey saxifrage (Saxifraga careyana), Appalachian bugbane (Cimicifuga rubifolia), and spreading false-foxglove (Aureolaria putula). The forest communities types found here include tuliptree-mixed hardwood forest with pine, Ridge and Valley calcareous mixed mesophytic forest, chestnut oak-tuliptree-northern red oak-hickory forest, chestnut oak-tuliptree-northern red oak-hickory-white oak, and hickory-red cedar-Virginia pine forest.

Copper Ridge Site 5: Flashlight Heaven Cave
Flashlight Heaven Cave is located on the western slope of Copper Ridge between State Highway 95, White Oak Lake, and the Tower Shielding Facility access road. The cave is believed to connect to Copper Ridge Cave (site 1). Landscape features of the site include the cave, steep slopes, forested rock outcrops, and mature forests. Forest types here include oak-hickory-ash limestone woodland and oak-hickory communities. Two rare plants are found - American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Pursh's wild-petunia (Ruellia purshiana).

Copper Ridge Site 6: Tower Shielding Bluffs
This site is located along the shore of Melton Lake southeast of the Tower Shielding Facility. This is a steep east-facing slope overlooking the lake. Rare species occurring here include spreading false-foxglove (Aureolaria putula) and Carey saxifrage (Saxifraga careyana). The overstory consists primarily of oaks and hickories with some mesic species such as sugar maple (Acer saccharum).


The Blackoak Ridge unit comprises 2,929 acres in the western part of the Oak Ridge Reservation. The Blackoak Ridge natural area has two sections: East Blackoak Ridge and West Blackoak Ridge, separated by the Poplar Creek water gap and Blair Road. Prominent features are the East Fork Poplar Creek floodplain, Blackoak and McKinney Ridges, river bluffs, mixed hardwood-native pine forest, and a large forested wetland. In addition to southern red oak-tuliptree-white oak-pine-hickory, tuliptree-southern red oak-white oak, and northern red oak-tuliptree-white oak forest types, this area includes some pine plantations that will eventually be replaced by natural communities, either through forest management or natural succession. Some invasive species control and management, including kudzu and privet.

Blackoak Ridge Site 1: Poplar Creek Bluff
Poplar Creek Bluff is a steep, southwest-facing slope in the water gap that bisects Blackoak Ridge. It is located a short distance upstream from the East Fork Poplar Creek confluence with Poplar Creek. Small limestone cliffs occur near the stream. Many species that are unusual within the ORR occur here, including hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), spider lily (Hymenocallis occidentalis), and mock orange (Philadelphus hirsutus). Pink lady's-slipper (Cypripedium acaule) and spreading false-foxglove (Aureolaria patula) also occur at this site. This site was one of the eight Registered State Natural Areas established in 1985 at the ORR.

Blackoak Ridge Site 2: McKinney Ridge Hemlocks
The McKinney Ridge Hemlocks site is northeast of the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) facilities on the slopes of McKinney Ridge overlooking Poplar Creek. This site is the most extensive area of hemlocks and rhododendrons on the ORR and represents a rare forest community type in the Ridge and Valley Province. Two small cave entrances are found near Poplar Creek.Spreading false-foxglove (Aureolaria patula) and whorled horse-balm (Collinsonia verticillata) are found here. This was one of eight original Registered State Natural Areas established at ORR in 1985.

Blackoak Ridge Site 3: East Fork Poplar Creek Floodplain
This site includes the "exclusion area" from the Horizon Center industrial park, as described in the Parcel ED-1 Mitigation Action Plan. Rare species here include goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), the southeastern shrew (Sorex longirostris), and pink lady's-slipper (Cypripedium acaule). This area includes floodplain hardwood forest (sycamore, ash, box elder) with an abundant understory of giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea) in places. Floodplain forests with canebrakes are rapidly disappearing in the southeastern U.S. because of development. A sycamore grove that includes specimens of very large, hollow trees is also found within the floodplain. The site also includes adjacent upland areas with rare plant communities, including cedar barrens and beech-maple forest. The Tennessee dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis) occurs in small tributaries in the floodplain.

Blackoak Ridge Site 4: Blackoak Ridge Forest
This site northwest of Lambert's Quarry is a large forested area of mature mixed hardwoods and pines. Much of the forest is oak-hickory-tuliptree, but native forests of shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) and white pine (Pinus strobus) dominate some areas. This large forested area includes commercially exploited pink lady's-slipper (Cypripedium acaule). The white-topped sedge (Rhynchospora colorata) occurs at the edge of the pond in a quarry located within the site. This is the only confirmed site for this sedge in Tennessee.

Blackoak Ridge Site 5: Leatherwood Bluff
This is a largely mature forest of hardwoods and hemlocks with an understory of rhododendron, maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), buffalo-nut (Pyrularia pubera), and leatherwood (Dirca palustris). This understory assemblage is not found elsewhere on the ORR and, indeed, is rare within the Ridge and Valley physiographic province. The site is on a steep north-facing slope overlooking Poplar Creek in an area of limestone outcrops and three cave entrances. At least four plant species found here are found nowhere else on the ORR. These are a milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia), purple sedge (Carex purpurifera), buffalo-nut (Pyrularia pubera), and Vasey's trillium (Trillium vaseyi).


The Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley unit comprises 4,584 acres adjacent to the northern boundary of the DOE Reservation. Prominent topographic features include Pine Ridge and the western portion of East Fork Ridge. There are extensive unfragmented forest and a variety of wetland habitat types, including headwater wetlands, seeps, marshes, and forested wetlands. Sandstone outcrops are another special habitat present.

Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley Site 1: Bear Creek Forested Wetland
This is a large forested wetland located in the Bear Creek floodplain immediately downstream of the Pine Ridge/Bear Creek water gap. It contains abandoned stream channels or high water channels and seeps. Rare species include the tubercled rein-orchid (Plantanthera flava var. herbiola) and the golden club (Orontium aquaticum), which is an uncommon wetland plant of the Ridge and Valley Province in Tennessee. This site is one of eight Registered State Natural Areas established in 1985 on the ORR.

Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley Site 2: Bear Creek Tributary and Floodplain
This area extends eastward about 0.6 miles from State Highway 95 at the interchange with State Highway 58. Community types found here include oak-hickory forest, red maple-sweetgum woodland, bottomland hardwood forest, a limestone sinkhole, forested wetland, scrub-shrub wetland, emergent wetland, and canebrakes. Rare plants include the tubercled rein-orchid (Plantanthera flava var. herbiola) and Canada lily (Lilium canadense).

Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley Site 3: Bear Creek Springs
Bear Creek Springs is located on the north slope of Chestnut Ridge. Rare plants that occur here include tubercled rein-orchid (Plantanthera flava var. herbiola), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), and whorled horse-balm (Collinsonia verticillata). Community types found here include mesic hardwoods, mixed pine and hardwoods, white pine forest, and meadows. Landscape features include forested wetlands, springs, seeps, a spring-fed pond, mature forests, and rock outcrops. Tennessee dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis) are abundant in the associated section of Bear Creek.

Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley Site 4: East Fork Ridge Mesic Forest
This site is on a portion of East Fork Ridge, bounded on the east by the DOE service road known as Midway Turnpike and on the south by the service road called Hot Yard Road. An unnamed East Fork Poplar Creek tributary and its watershed support a moist, maturing woodland that contains many species, including American beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), and American basswood (Tilia americana). The woodland area is notable for a variety of woodland sedges and spring wildflowers, and Tennessee dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis) is found in the tributary. Forested wetlands are also present, including one area that appears to be unusually undisturbed. Rare plants in these areas include goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Canada lily (Lilium canadense). The sandstone ridge tops, outcrops, and adjacent talus slopes found on the west side of the area form the largest area of their habitat type on the ORR.

Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley Site 5: Pine Ridge Wetlands
Pine Ridge Wetlands is located in the upper reaches of eight headwater tributaries of Bear Creek. Much of this area is forested bottomland wetland where red maple, green ash, and ironwood are common. The Canada lily (Lilium canadense) occurs in this area. Purple fringeless orchid is found in emergent wetlands under power lines. Northern tubercled rein-orchid is found in one emergent wetland, and in five forested wetlands. Nodding lady's tresses (Spiranthes cernua) is found only at this site on the ORR. The area is adversely affected by the invasive exotic Nepal grass (Microstegium vimineum).

Pine Ridge-Bear Creek Valley Site 6: Hembree Marsh
Hembree Marsh is located between Highway 95 and Old County Road. This wetland complex consists of emergent, scrub-shrub, and forested wetland located in a wide level area on the northwest side of Bear Creek East Tributary 3. It is a unique wetland on the ORR because of the combination of its hydrology, species diversity, and rare species. The water source appears to be perennial seeps and deep groundwater springs, but no hydrologic studies have been done to verify this. During most times of the year standing water can be found in the herbaceous portion of the wetland. Under normal circumstances these wetlands do not appear to be influenced by stream flow in the adjacent Bear Creek tributary. Sweet flag (Acorus americanus) is one of the dominant species in this open area. Rare species include fen orchid (Liparis loeselii), small-head rush (Juncus brachycephalus), four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum), Tennessee dace (Phoxinus tennesseensis) and the southeastern shrew (Sorex longirostris). This site was one of eight Registered State Natural Areas established in 1985.


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