KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — 1,500 acres from Monroe, Polk and Cocke counties are being added to Cherokee National Forest by the U.S. Forest Services thanks to a multi-year regional conservation effort by Volkswagen of America and The Conservation Fund.

The land is open to the public for recreation, including hunting, wildlife viewing and fishing. As a part of the 660,000-acre Cherokee National Forest, the three tracts near the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant will provide enhanced protection for waterways like the French Broad River, Little Toqua Creek and the Conasagua River.

The move also provides enhanced protections for 11 federally endangered fish and mussel species. It also secures habits used by black bears and federally endangered Indiana bats.

“Forests are one of the most important life-sustaining systems on the planet because they play an integral role in cleaning the air we breathe and water we drink, absorbing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and offering natural habitat for wildlife to thrive as well as opportunities for people to explore the outdoors,” said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “Our collaboration with Volkswagen continues to deliver tangible benefits for forests and wildlife, while supporting local communities.”

According to The Conservation Fund, this conservation is a part of an ongoing initiative to help protect and restore forestland in the United States starting with the Cherokee National Forest. Volkswagen donated $1.25 million to assist with the effort. The Conservation Fund used a portion to purchase the 1,500 acres while the remaining was given to five charities; Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, WaterWays, National Forest Foundation, Keep The Tennessee River Beautiful and Partners of Cherokee National Forest.

“Support from our local communities and partners enables us to better serve the public and protect important forest habitat,” said Cherokee National Forest Supervisor JaSal Morris. “We are grateful to The Conservation Fund and the other partners for their hard work on making this happen.”