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Tennessee Tree Toppers - Southeast Tennessee

In the heart of the Sequatchie Valley lies a 44-acre property dedicated to hang gliding and paragliding. This land, protected through a conservation easement with The Land Trust for Tennessee, serves as a vital landing zone for the Tennessee Tree Toppers, a club that has embraced both sports.

Tennessee Tree Toppers – Southeast Tennessee

In the heart of the Sequatchie Valley lies a 44-acre property dedicated to hang gliding and paragliding. This land, protected through a conservation easement with The Land Trust for Tennessee, serves as a vital landing zone for the Tennessee Tree Toppers, a club that has embraced both sports. The site is highly accessible, featuring a 12-minute paved road from top to bottom, and offers stunning views of the Sequatchie Valley.

We spoke with Mark Dunn, president of the Tennessee Tree Toppers, to learn more about their story and the significance of their partnership with The Land Trust for Tennessee.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Dunn spent his early 20s skydiving. He recalled being a self-employed carpenter’s helper making very little money, often spending more than he made in a week trying to skydive. “Back then, hang gliding was relatively inexpensive,” Dunn explained. “Life revolved around camping and being out in the country. Gas money and beer. It provided us with an opportunity to travel to beautiful places. Most hang-gliding sites are in a gorgeous area.”

Dunn moved to Tennessee because he often traveled to the western part of the country in the winter and would stop near Chattanooga on the way back home. “To me, it was one of the most beautiful places I had been, and very convenient for flying,” he said.

Dunn isn’t the only one who was drawn to Tennessee for this lifestyle. The Tree Toppers attract enthusiasts from all over the United States, drawn by the excellent flying conditions and strong community. “It’s more than just a hobby for us; it’s a lifestyle. We base our vacations on where we can fly and we check the weather constantly,” Dunn said. “The Sequatchie Valley also offers plenty of outdoor activities like boating, biking, and hiking, making it a great place to enjoy the outdoors even when flying conditions aren’t ideal.”

Protecting open spaces in Southeast Tennessee is crucial for both the sports and the region’s character. The Sequatchie Valley’s open landscapes are a key part of its charm. For the Tree Toppers, maintaining these spaces ensures safe landing areas and fosters good relationships with local landowners. Dunn explained that because the Tree Toppers sometimes end up 100 miles away from the launch site, if you don’t make it home, you land in some farmer’s field. Having enough space to land is a large part of why the Tree Toppers wanted to conserve open space in the Sequatchie Valley.

“It’s important to us to protect open spaces because we need safe places to land,” Dunn explained. “The residents of the valley have become very friendly to us. We participate in every 4th of July parade, every social function, we’re on the chamber of commerce. When we land in a farmer’s field, we’re welcomed with open arms, a glass of water, a ride back to town.”

Many Tree Toppers members live near the launch site and feel a strong connection to the valley and its surroundings. Dunn said, “I am very grounded with where I live. I live a few hundred yards away from our launch site. A sense of place means a lot to me. This is my place. This is my home. This is how I judge the rest of the world—against the place I am here. When I’m gone and I come back to the Sequatchie Valley, I think, ‘Wow, this place is awesome.’”

He continued, “Beauty is more than the green trees. It’s the ability to exist in harmony with nature, not just look at it, and that’s easy to do here.”

Dunn feels strongly about the importance of The Land Trust’s work and wants other landowners to understand what a conservation easement does. “I think a lot of people are concerned that they lose control of their property, that they’re giving up the value of their property. People need to understand that all they’re doing is preserving their wishes in perpetuity. They’re not giving up anything, just ensuring that even after their passing, their view of their property exists forever,” he explained.

The partnership between the Tree Toppers and The Land Trust for Tennessee shows how conservation efforts can benefit recreational activities and preserve natural beauty. By protecting these open spaces, we ensure that the unique character of places like the Sequatchie Valley endures for future generations.

“It’s been a pleasure dealing with The Land Trust because it opens your eyes to environmental conservation of open spaces not just for your property but throughout Tennessee,” Dunn said.

Learn more about the Tree Toppers.