Return to Shady Valley

Once drained to create farmland, the lush mountain bogs in Shady Valley are slowly being restored, bringing one of our most unique natural ecosystems back to life.


The word “bog” is of Gaelic origin and refers to something soft and spongy. Which is exactly what you will get when you mix small seeps and springs with lush vegetation…soft spongy ground that can be awfully hard to walk on. Or grow crops, which is why most mountain bogs in East Tennessee were ditched and drained back in the 1960’s. In the end fewer than 10 acres of mountain bog habitat remained. As the bogs disappeared, so did many of the wild things living there. Then The Nature Conservancy got involved, spearheading an effort to restore one of the most unique natural ecosystems in North America. Wild Side Guide Ken Tucker takes us to a peaceful place called Shady Valley, where wetlands once lost have found new life.

Although this lush wetland lies on a valley floor, it is actually a mountain bog, nestled 2,800 feet above sea level among the southern Appalachians. Unique plant and animals species can be found there due to the wetlands high elevation…cranberries, cotton grass and a tiny terrapin called the bog turtle. Once plentiful in the valley, the turtles almost disappeared when the wetlands were drained. While they turtles are doing much better as a result of The Nature Conservancy’s preservation work in Orchard Bog as well as other nature preserves in the area, the bog turtle population has had a hard time growing due to limited habitat as well as natural predators such as raccoons and coyotes eating their eggs. Researchers are optimistic that as the restored wetlands age and become more boggy, the turtles will eventually return to the numbers they enjoyed prior to man’s intervention.

The Knoxville Zoo has been collecting data on bog turtles since 1986, trying to find ways to help this endangered species survive. This year zoo researchers were able to sample over 50 turtles in Shady Valley and another site on private land in Carter county. Over the past 2 years the zoo has collected a total of 114 genetic samples from Tennessee that, along with a wide range of samples from other researchers across the eastern United States, will be used in a study conducted by Cassie Dresser, a PhD candidate from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, to better understand how these populations should be managed long-term throughout the species range.

In 2016 the zoo will track 10 more juvenile turtles to gather more data on their movements, as well as searching the bogs for turtles to collect more genetic samples for research. The Nature Conservancy also plans to release cattle into Orchard Bog for the first time to help control the invasive Reed Canary Grass.

From show 3006

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