Photo Credit: Tom Wood
Coffee County

Gilliam Forest at Lusk Cove


For more than a century, the Gilliam family owned and tended to nearly 500 acres of forest and farmland in Lusk Cove in Coffee County, Tennessee. In 2020, Nancy Gilliam generously donated the Gilliam Forest—258 acres of heavily wooded wilderness—to TennGreen Land Conservancy. Her visionary contribution will protect this unique landscape forever.

The property lies along the edge of the Cumberland Plateau—a landscape of unrivaled ecological richness. Spanning across eastern Tennessee, the Cumberland Plateau is the world’s longest hardwood-forested plateau. It’s a significant migratory corridor for species moving throughout the southeast, and it serves as a haven for many animals and plants found nowhere else.

Wandering through the woods on this property, keen observers will marvel at whimsical-looking trees with bright green leaves and billowing pink hairs covering the foliage branches with fluffy, hazy, smoke-like puffs. These are a unique species, known as the American Smoketree (Cotinus obovatus).

In Tennessee, the American Smoketree is considered a rare, imperiled species. During the Civil War, extract from the tree’s inner heartwood was used to make yellow and orange dyes, so much so that it almost drove the species to extinction. Luckily, the American Smoketrees in the Gilliam Forest avoided dye extraction, and these trees remain to provide stunning seasonal displays. 

TennGreen Land Conservancy will place a conservation easement on the land to protect its important conservation values before it’s sold to a conservation buyer. Conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements designed to forever protect important natural resources from detrimental land practices. By conserving a property with a conservation easement, landowners can preserve their vision for the land and create a lasting legacy.

I’ve always known that I wanted something good to come from this special place, which is why the decision to donate it to TennGreen Land Conservancy was such an easy one. . .In deciding to donate this property to TennGreen, I sought the recommendation of several people familiar with the organization. Additionally, I spent some time on TennGreen’s website, reading its Strategic Plan and conservation success stories. The organization’s mission statement, “to conserve land where people and nature can thrive,” spoke to me. I was pleased to see an emphasis on accessibility to our lands and the recognition of the importance of working with local communities, state agencies, and other nonprofits to realize these goals. At a time when we often feel helpless to do anything about the careless disregard and exploitation of our precious lands, TennGreen provides us with an opportunity to make a difference. Several years ago, I decided to make TennGreen a beneficiary in my will. I’m amused whenever I hear someone start a sentence with, “IF I die . . .” but I become concerned when that sentence ends with the hope that their family or friends will see that some individual or nonprofit will receive a portion of their estate. While we’ll all surely die, it’s far less certain that others will carry out our wishes. We must make a will, set up a trust, or make that donation we’ve been contemplating. We think we have all the time in the world, but we don’t. The time is now, and the need is urgent. I believe that if all of us do whatever we can, it just might be enough.” —Nancy Gilliam, Land Donor