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North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area

Location: Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Morgan and Scott counties in Tennessee.

Acreage: 146,000 acres.

Activities: ATV riding, bird-watching, wildlife-viewing, hunting, hiking, camping.


The North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area began as the Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area, consisting of more than 45,000 acres of the approximately 53,000-acre Koppers Coal Reserve in Campbell and Scott counties. The mineral rights to the Koppers Reserve are owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Royal Blue WMA was established in 1992, when the TN Wildlife Resources Agency purchased the surface rights to most of the Koppers land.

In 2003, the state purchased another 74,000 acres of land adjacent to Royal Blue and established the Sundquist Wildlife Management Area, named for then-Gov. Don Sundquist.

In 2007, the state purchased the recreational rights to another 40,000 acres of land from New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber Co. The land had previously been owned by The Brimstone Company. 

By 2008, all of the lands had been merged to form the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, which includes the original Royal Blue Unit, the Sundquist Unit, and the New River Unit. The latter consists of the lands purchased in 2007. The North Cumberland WMA adjoins Frozen Head State Forest to the south. Together, the lands make up the largest tract of contiguous public land in Tennessee.

In 2001, the TN Wildlife Resources Agency — in conjunction with the University of Tennessee, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and others — began an elk reintroduction program, through which elk were brought to the Cumberland Mountains from Canada and released. Today, the North Cumberland WMA is home to the second-largest, free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi River.

In latter years, the North Cumberland WMA has become a popular destination for ATV riders. 

Ride, Hunt & Watch

The North Cumberland WMA is home to a wide variety of recreational uses, but they can be grouped into three main categories: off-road riding, hunting and wildlife viewing.

Off-road riding: The North Cumberland is home to hundreds of miles of ATV trails, ranging from easy to difficult. A growing number of private businesses around the region cater to ATV riders, which has given rise to campgrounds, cabin rentals, restaurants and more. The state requires a high-impact usage permit for riders who do not have a valid hunting license and appropriate supplemental permit. For more information, see tnwildlife.org.

Hunting: The North Cumberland’s hunting seasons are open with the statewide hunting seasons. It is a popular destination for deer hunters and turkey hunters. The WMA also hosts a quota elk hunt each October, and it is one of only two WMAs in Tennessee with an established hunting season for wild boar. The pig season runs concurrent with deer season. 

Wildlife viewing: Elk are drawing a growing number of wildlife enthusiasts to the North Cumberland. The best place to see them is at the Hatfield Knob Viewing Tower near LaFollette, Tenn. There are also black bear on the North Cumberland. What makes the area especially unique, though, are its feathered residents. It is home to the Golden-winged warbler and the Cerulean warbler, two prized songbirds. Also found on the WMA are neotropical migratory songbirds like the wood thrush, scarlet tanager, ovenbird, black-throated green warbler, Kentucky warbler and others.

Ben Garrett
Ben Garretthttp://gocumberlands.com
Ben Garrett is publisher of Go Cumberlands. He lives in Oneida, Tennessee with his wife, three kids and dog, Boone.

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