A nationally prominent hotelier, J. Wesley Gardner, purchased and reestablished the Dayton Coal and Iron Company in 1945, while managing the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville. As self-taught industrialists, Gardner and his son, Charles William Gardner, reopened mines and quarries, and recycled furnace slag for the manufacture of cinder blocks. Out of concern for the mountainous beauty, they forbade strip mining on the property.
The Gardners turned the land towards timber in 1957, leasing 17,000 acres to the daring British industrialist, Sir Eric Bowater. Eventually, Bowater Southern Paper Corporation and Hiwasse Land Company regionally held 900,000 acres in multiple-use forest management. As Tennessee’s largest private landowner, Bowater opened its lands to the public for hunting, horseback riding, fishing, and other recreational use.
Unprecedented in commercial forest management, Bowater announced the development of a Pocket Wilderness system in 1970, identifying Laurel-Snow, Virgin Falls, and Stinging Fork Falls as the first “Pocket Wilderness” areas, “Bowater Trails” were established at these and additional sites, earning national awards from conservation agencies and praise from President Richard Nixon.
Under Bowater management, The Laurel-Snow Trail became Tennessee’s first designated National Recreation Trail in 1971.
Bowater transferred their lease of the Laurel-Snow area to the State of Tennessee in 2007, along with a donation of 3,560 acres of wild forestland along the Cumberland Trail.
In August 2011, the Gardner family agreed to full acquisition of the property by the State of Tennessee, fulfilling earlier efforts to permanently protect and present the exceptional natural and historical features of the area.
“No logging, planting or other forest management will be permitted nor will access be provided for motor vehicles. These restrictions are to protect them from change, overuse and abuse.” –Bowater Southern Paper Corporation