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From The Tennessean, Sunday, September 29, 1996, Local News section, page 1

Letter Stirs Fear for Wilderness:

Potential buyer seeks bids for timber at Scott's Gulf

Staff Writer

Overlook PhotoA potential buyer of Scott's Gulf near Sparta, Tenn., recently solicited bids to sell most of the timber in the 15,OOO-acre forested wilderness beloved for its trees, rugged gorges and icy streams.

The move appears in violation of a restrictive covenant that owner and seller Bridgestone-Firestone Inc. says will be part of any sale.

The letter, written on behalf of Tennessee Valley Resorts, specifically says "we are pleased to offer for sale all merchantable pine and hardwood timber and pulpwood..." It sets terms of the sale at $12 million at closing, which must be on or before Oct.15, 1996."

A group, including the Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce, hikers and environmentalists, also wants to acquire the land for public use. Members expressed shock that loggers and timber companies were asked forbids.

"It's effectively clearcutting the land," said Marvin Bullock, a Nashville hiker and White County land-owner who is on the Scott's Gulf Committee to protect the land.

Letter Stirs Fears for
Wilderness, Continued from Page 1A

"It would destroy Scott's Gulf."

Charles Doyle, a Michigan entrepreneur who has an agreement with Bridgestone to buy the land, has said he would not do wholesale cutting.

"We did not send those letters. It was not us," Doyle insisted. "We are very upset by the way that was done."

But he offered little explanation of why a consultant group used one of his company names In soliciting bids. Doyle would not say who asked the consultant for the bids.

Doyle, however, said the bids were requested to determine timber value so that the property worth is known and a mortgage can be arranged.

The request for bids should have mentioned covenants, he added.

MapThe land, which is crossed by the Caney Fork River and wraps around the popular 317-Acre Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness, is viewed as a potential $10 million annual tourist boon if made a park. It lies 110 miles southeast of Nashville.

Bridgestone spokesman Trevor Hoskins said the Nashville-based company was surprised by the letter and called it "misleading."

"The proposed purchaser of this property knows very well that Bridgestone-Firestone requires restrictive covenants ... regulating timbering and limiting the land uses and activities.

"Obviously, the purchaser would have to conform to those covenants before the contract would be complete."

Although privately owned, the rough land, with its waterfalls and dense stands of trees, is a favorite of locals for hiking and fishing. It has been for sale for many years with a $12 million price tag.

Doyle, of Doyle Hardwood Lumber and Veneer of Grand Rapids, Mich., first entered a contract with Bridgestone last year to buy the land for an exotic animal hunting reserve.

Doyle said Friday, under the current contract, he wants to build a golf course, condominiums and some rustic cabins at Scott's Gulf.

More than a year ago, local interests and hikers banded together and have since garnered support statewide to acquire the land.

Bridgestone has said it will negotiate with others if the pending contract falls through.

The solicitation letter, sent by Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc., was dated Sept. 11. It asks for bid on all trees 12 inches at breast height and larger. Hickory, maple and oak are some of the trees lining the gulf.

The recent disclosure that restrictive covenants would be part of any contract only has slight comfort for Bullock.

"It's good to have covenants, but who's going to enforce them?" Bullock asked.

It might be profitable to clearcut the trees and face whatever music there is, he speculated.

Doyle, who has tried other real estate deals, has litigation pending with the U.S. government over scenic land he bought overlooking Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.

The government decided to acquire the land, so he couldn't develop it. But he went bankrupt before that could happen and sued.


[Any typos in this article are my own and not those of The Tennessean or its staff. - Editor]

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