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A coalition of supporters worked to pass Tennessee's Real Estate Transfer Tax to purchase land for state parks and natural areas; fund improvements at local parks; and clean up streams and protect wetlands.

arrowThis project was nominated for a Partnership Award as part of the 2010 National Trails Awards, announced at the 20th National Trails Symposium in Chatanooga, TN.


Forever Green Tennessee tax funds parks and open space

From Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation

Photo of two people with TV camera

Tennessee Governor Bredesen holding his "Forever Green Tennessee"
bumper sticker, with Kathleen Williams of TN Parks and Greenways Foundation

When the 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on May 21, 2011, they left a FY 2011-2012 budget in place that INCLUDES all four of the Tennessee Real Estate Transfer Funds! This is $16.5 million for clean water, woods and wildlife.

The Transfer Funds will receive:

Successes of the Programs: These funds have leveraged investments from numerous sources including federal, city and county, non-governmental organizations, and private philanthropy. Approximately 240,000 acres have been acquired. These places make our communities more livable, more attractive to industry and tourism. Conservation projects make our environment healthier and our economy stronger.

The history of Tennessee’s Real Estate Transfer Tax dates to 1986 when it was first designated to protect wetlands. In 1991 the tax was renewed and increased with passage of the “State and Local Parks and Recreation Partnership Act.” This created a dedicated fund (generated from the .08 cent tax on $100 of assessed value for realty transfers) to conserve land for parks, wildlife areas, and greenways, and to provide cost-share incentives to farmers for clean water projects. These programs preserve the natural beauty of Tennessee. The dedicated funds generated from the transfer of real estate make sense. As real estate is developed and new residents move to Tennessee, a small portion of the transfer tax is re-invested in protecting a Forever Green Tennessee. However, in 2003 and again in 2008, this “designated” fund was taken to help balance the State’s general budget.

The Need: We need the approximate $16 million each year to keep Tennessee forever green and beautiful. We need it to ensure a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Farming employs about 342,000 Tennesseans, contributes $64 billion to our economy and 44% of our land area is in farms. Cost-share incentives for Tennessee farmers help keep our drinking water clean and help farmers who feed us all with practical, on-the-ground projects that protect rivers and streams. More than 25,000 projects have treated more than 720,000 acres! Tourism is the second-largest industry in Tennessee, employing 181,000 Tennesseans and contributing $14.4 billion to our economy and $1 billion in local and state tax revenues. People come to Tennessee because it is green and beautiful.

Project Goal: Unite a broad constituency to Restore the Tennessee Real Estate Transfer Funds in 2010. Present our case to the General Assembly through local constituent contact, touting successes and expressing needs. This is Phase 1 to create a Forever Green Tennessee

The campaign will provide current and future generations of Tennesseans with a more beautiful and healthy environment. By conserving woods, wetlands, rivers and mountains, and by aiding our Tennessee farmers, we will provide cleaner water to drink, purer air to breathe, reliable food sources, and opportunities for scientific discoveries that can provide future solutions to unknown risks, as well as a beautiful homeland with nearby outdoor experiences. These benefits are worthy of this relatively small investment. The return is priceless.

graphic for Forever Green Tennessee

Bumper sticker for Forever Green Tennessee campaign





1. Assembled Task Force to develop and guide strategy.

A. Recruited a high-profile republican to assist efforts to restore the Tennessee Real Estate Transfer Funds. (We did NOT recruit a democrat and instead considered Gov. Bredesen to be our democratic ally.)
• Gov. Winfield Dunn recruited as committee member (Jan. 2010; during the campaign, Governor Dunn wrote letters to ALL Senate & House Finance Committee Republicans on our behalf, and spoke to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey AND the press corps at the Environmental Day on the Hill 2/23/10)
• Met with Tennessee Farm Bureau – 1/4/10
• Met with Tennessee Forestry Association
• Recruited high profile steering committee (roster attached)

B. Secured support from Governor Bredesen to reaffirm commitment in budget. Individual letters were sent and signed petitions were mailed to the Governor. Thank-you notes were sent to the Governor after his initial budget included reinstatement of the Transfer Funds.

C. From constituent groups, continued to identify and assemble leadership in key legislative districts. Compare – donations to candidates with Forever Green Database of members to identify leadership. (Legislators targeted with high-profile constituents included Glen Casada [Williamson Co.], Jamie Woodson and Tim Burchett [Knox Co.], Jason Mumpower [Sullivan Co.], Ron Ramsey [Sullivan Co.], and Mark Norris [Shelby Co.]

D. TN Parks & Greenways Foundation hired a part-time employee (Ashley Heeren), whose main priority was to assist KW with all Forever Green Tennessee-related tasks. (December 2009)

2. Built a broad constituency of supporters both individuals and groups. The memberships of the 52-member supporting organizations represented tens of thousands of Tennesseans. Used petitions or other mechanisms (paper and electronic) to enroll individual supporter names.

A. Collected endorsements and memberships from important stakeholders including watershed groups, conservationists, local park enthusiasts, farmers, fisherman and hunters, archeologists, cavers, ornithologists, and business and community leaders.
• Summary of Supporting Organizations attached as network to reach 30,000
• Individuals collected through paper petition (festivals and meetings resulted in some 700+ signatures)
• Individuals recruited through electronic media (525 Forever Green Tennessee “fans” on Facebook; 1,835 TN Parks & Greenways “fans” on Facebook)
• Forever Green Tennessee is at the top of the Priority Agenda for Tennessee Environmental Council, Tennessee Conservation Voters, and Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association

B. Coordinated partner organizations through electronic communication and direct response. Met with Mike Kopp (social media expert) to establish electronic campaign tools:
• Facebook: (search for Forever Green Tennessee)
• Forever Green Tennessee Blog:
• YouTube:
• Flickr (streams into Blog):
• Enrolled in MyEmma; sent out 20 e-mail “blasts” totaling more than 20,000 e-mails (the majority were sent in April and May)
• TEC, TCV and TRPA also did their own “blasts” to their memberships regarding the Funds and the status of the campaign.

C. Secured commitment as priority initiative during 2009-2010 for Tennessee Environmental Council’s Policy Agenda (Sept. 10, 2009) and Summit for a Sustainable Tennessee (Nov. 13, 2009) and Tennessee Conservation Voters
• Key session at TEC’s Summit for a Sustainable Tennessee
• Wrote and mailed 75 letters to Governor Bredesen – 11/13/2009
• Forever Green Tennessee selected as a top priority for TEC, TCV and TRPA

3. Public Relations

A. Gather data for advocacy and education
• Compiled history of Funds – Wetlands, State Parks, Local Parks: Assembled in one database by county. (this was a summer-long endeavor that was completed by a FREE intern at the TN Parks & Greenways Foundation)
• Publicized Agricultural Resources Conservation Fund success

B. Present at largest gatherings/events.
• Scott’s Gulf Donor Appreciation Picnic – (9/27/08)
• Tennessee Environmental Council’s Legislative Event – (3/18/09)
• $20,000 to Knox Wilderness Corridor to Legislative Delegation, May ‘09
• Tennessee Land Trusts Meeting – Pot Point Cabin retreat center, 9/3/09
• Tennessee Watersheds Summit – 9/15/09
• Task Force Meeting at TWRA Headquarters – Nashville, 10/12/09
• Summit for a Sustainable Tennessee (150) – Lebanon, 11/13/09
• Sustainable Tourism Summit (75) – Jackson, 11/16/09
• Sustainable Tourism Summit (75) – Memphis, 11/17/09
• Regional Greenways & Byways Meeting (100) – Memphis, 11/18/09
• Second Presbyterian Church (150+) – 2 services, 11/29/09
• Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, Reception at Randolph – Tipton County, 12/4/09
• Teaming with Wildlife, TWRA (75) – 1/11/10
• Sierra Club, Radnor Lake Member Meeting (30) – Nashville, 1/14/10
• Tennessee Conservation Voters Press Conference – Nashville, 1/25/10
• Chattanooga Committee Meeting – Chattanooga, 1/28/10
• KW spoke at Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation (AFORR, 1/28/10)
• Daniel Reese at Kiwanis Club – Johnson City, 2/3/10
• Daniel Reese at Erwin Kiwanis Club 2/16/10
• TPGF Board Meeting and Reception – 2/22/10
• Alliance for the Cumberlands Fall Members Meeting – Nashville, 2/22/10
• Forever Green Tennessee “Day on the Hill” – 2/23/10
• TN Association of Conservation Districts (Feb. 28-Mar. 3); Danny Sells showed DVD
• Governor Forum: Rural Issues – 3/1/10
• Mound Bottom Dedication
• Tennessee Native Plant Society (winter/spring 2010)
• Tennessee Garden Club (winter/spring 2010)
• Mossy Creek Network Land Trust & Conservation Easement workshop (and Forever Green TN talk) ¬– 3/14/10
• Oak Ridge Earth Day Festival (Pat Morales organized and attended for us; 4/17)
• Nashville Earth Day Festival (Ashley, KW, Patricia, Jeanne worked event 4/17)
• Memphis Earth Day Festival (KW and Steve attended, 4/25)

C. Assemble resource materials. All were created:
• PowerPoint (which became a top-quality DVD produced by Todd Maszaros at TWRA -- $50,000 value)
• “Legislators” movie was created to show legislators holding their FGTN bumper stickers
• Key talking points/Fact Sheets
• List of funded projects organized by county
• Model resolution
• Letter to governor
• Letter to legislators
• Petition & Volunteer Roster
• Full-color poster: “Why Tennessee is Special”

D. Purchased bumper stickers and yard signs for visibility
• 250 yard signs
• 5,000 bumper stickers

E. Recruited 30-minute per-week volunteers
• Coordinating major park visitation by volunteers (32) for visibility with business cards: “green cards” were distributed at Burgess Falls State Park, Radnor Lake, Long Hunter State Park, Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Cumberland Trail State Park, Edwin Warner Park, Percy Warner Park, Harpeth River State Park, Shelby Bottoms

F. Distributed and showed PowerPoint Presentation and DVD – recruited photographer Joe Allen.
• TWRA-prepared DVD (Steve Hall, Renaissance Center for voice-over)
• Finished DVD was mailed to ALL members of the Senate & House Finance Committees with a letter from former Gov. Winfield Dunn (April 2010)
• DVD was given out at the legislature, at Nashville’s Earth Day Festival and at other FGTN meetings
• DVD was shown to the House Environment & Conservation Committee (Rep. Rob McCord, Chair) at the “Day on the Hill” on February 23, 2010

G. Recruited concerned citizens to speak on our behalf:
• Pat Morales (upper-East Tennessee)
• Michele Carratu (Middle TN)
• Dan Reese (upper East TN)

H. Prepared materials to articulate the most persuasive messages.
• “Fact Sheets” for handouts, posting on the Blog, talking to Legislators:
Successes: City and County Parks, State Parks, Wetlands and Wildlife, Farm Projects
Economic benefits and jobs
Flood Control
For Farms and Farmers
Water quality and quantity
Wildlife. Hunting and fishing
Recreation and health: 30.2% of Tennessee adults are obese.
Leveraged Federal Funding Opportunities: Forest Legacy (75/25), Farmland (50/50) Transportation Enhancements (80/20), Scenic Byways (80/20) Nawca (2:1)
• A huge bulletin board was created for the Day on the Hill on Feb. 23 showing treasures to preserve (Millikan’s Bluff, Cummins Falls, etc.); this became our display during our 6-week “tenure” on the Hill
H. Prepared inexpensive fliers/business cards (8,000+) for festivals to explain campaign. (see: Promotional Materials)

I. Developed website for campaign (blog:

J. Identified reporters, editors and newscasters to cover the issue. Wrote columns and issued press releases in key districts addressing needs/successes.
• Priority issue on agenda at Tennessee Conservation Voters press conference – 1/25/10
• Statewide and Senate Finance District Media lists were created with the help of McNeely, Piggot & Fox; these journalists received MyEmma blasts and invitations to the statewide FGTN meetings
• Letters to the Editor were written and sent in Middle and East Tennessee
• KW had columns in the Tennessean (January and May, 2010); other numerous newspaper articles appeared throughout the Spring
• Publications:
- Tennessee Parks and Greenways Annual Report – May 2009
- Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning Newsletter – September 2009
- TEC newsletter
- The Nashville City Paper ran a full article (March 8, 2010)

K. Identified free television and radio opportunities.
• Featured in NPT’s “Beautiful Tennessee, Parks & Preservation” documentary, quoted about Forever Green Tennessee
• Kathleen and the Forever Green Tennessee campaign were featured on the Nashville NBC affiliate (WSMV) evening news in May 2010
• NPR had multiple stories about the Transfer Funds throughout the spring

L. Phone campaigns:
• A robo-call campaign was generated with the help of TN Conservation Voters and used to get the word out about our Knoxville meeting in March; Will Skelton helped and was the “voice” of the call
• Members and top donors of the TN Parks & Greenways Foundation received personal calls from the staff in mid-May in an effort to “get out the vote” and have people call their legislators.

M. Recruit corporate communications
• Beth Tanner/Kathy Keyes of Tanner Corp.
• McNeely Piggot & Fox chose us for pro bono work

4. Enroll Commitments for Support from Governor, Legislature and Gubernatorial Candidates

A. Scheduled meetings with members of House/Senate to review 20 year successes of Funds for the Environments and for Jobs! Economy! Tourism!
• ALL members of the Senate and House Finance Committees were visited at least once by Kathleen (see list below)
• The “Successes of the Funds” list was divided by district and distributed to ALL members of the Legislature (April 2010)
• Legislators who voted FOR the original legislation in 1991 who are STILL in office received a special phone call and visit from Kathleen
• Flood control and “What Makes Tennessee Special” handouts were distributed to ALL members of the Legislature (May 2010)

B. Identified key legislators and collected signatures or testimonials from elected officials who will commit to support. On camera and off.
• Sen. Norris, Sen. Henry
• Rep. John Tidwell
• Speaker Naifeh
• Meeting with Lt. Gov. Ramsey – 2/22/10
• Meeting with the following on 2/23/10: Mike Turner, Jack Johnson, Joe Haynes, Mark Norris, Joe Armstrong, Doug Overbey, Jim Kyle, Jason Mumpower
• Target finance committee
• March 2-3: Reps. Charles Curtiss, Brenda Gilmore, Richard Montgomery, Joe Armstrong, Harry Tindell, Harry Brooks; Sen. Tim Burchett
• March 9-10: Reps. Bill Dunn, Tommie Brown, Kent Coleman, Mike Turner; Sens. Bill Ketron, Jamie Woodson
• March 23: Rep. Lois DeBerry, Speaker Kent Williams
• March 30-31: Reps. Jimmy Eldridge, Dennis Roach, Steve McManus, Mark Maddox, Mike Harrison
• April 1: KW met with Pat Miller (Bredesen’s office)
• April 6-7: Reps. Johnny Shaw, Larry Miller, Kevin Brooks, Michael Harrison
• April 13-14: Reps. Jimmy Naifeh, Janis Sontany, Glen Casada
• April 15: Comptroller Justin Wilson (KW, accompanied by CTC Ray Garrett)
• May 10-12: Reps. Jason Mumpower, Frank Nicely, Gary Odom, Les Winningham

C. Set dates for “Forever Green Tennessee Day on the Hill,” secure display space with House Speaker’s office
• Our February 23, 2010, “Day on the Hill” was a success!
• We also enlisted the help and support of the Historic Preservation and Archaeology communities and attended a “Historic Day on the Hill” on April 7; working with Doug Jones and Dan Brown, we visited with Sens. Jack Johnson, Steve Southerland, Doug Overbey, Eric Stewart, Doug Jackson and Reps. Dennis Roach and Craig Fitzhugh
• “Forever Green Tennessee” lapel stickers covered volunteers, visitors and legislators

D. Presence at the Legislature
• Ashley & Kathleen set up a booth for approximately 6 weeks straight in the hallway outside Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey’s office. The “Forever Green Tennessee” DVD and “bumper sticker video” (set to the tune of “Davy Crockett”) were shown alternatively. Wore green every day to remind the legislators of the “Forever Green Tennessee” campaign. This constant presence – we feel – was crucial to the success of the campaign. We had instant knowledge of roadblocks, issues and news (both good and bad) and could react accordingly.

E. Organize 25 tours/meetings in key districts. Identify historic land acquisitions, greenway, or farm projects and invite state, county, and local politicians, and surrounding landowners/farmers involved and impacted by those efforts. “Grass tips” are attracted by location or celebrity. (these types of meetings did not occur but would still be a great thing to do in “Phase 2”)

F. Use $25,000 - Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation small grants as incentive to get conservation groups to events.
• $20,000 awarded to Knox Wilderness Corridor to Legislative Delegation (May, 2009)
• $10,000 awarded at West Reception, Tipton County (12/4/09)
• $15,000 awarded to East Tennessee recipients (2/22/10; this also encouraged people to attend the “Forever Green Tennessee Day on the Hill” on Feb. 23.)

G. Conducted regional public meetings in/near Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Tri-Cities connecting the concept of land conservation with a strong economy, benefits to community and individual health, water quality, air quality, agricultural production, and education. Piggy-back on existing events.
• Successful events were held in Chattanooga and Oak Ridge (Jan. 28), Knoxville (March 8), and Memphis (April 26)

H. Met with Gubernatorial Candidates for endorsement of Forever Green Tennessee.
• Ltn. Governor Ramsey: met with John Noel and Kathleen Williams and pledged support – January 2009
• Mayor Haslam: met with Will Skelton, Kathleen Williams, Mary Lynn Dobson and was briefed.
• Senator Kyle (gubernatorial candidate at the time): met with members of Tennessee Conservation Voters and was briefed. He said he would “try to support it” – 10/12/09


For more information:

Kathleen Williams, Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation - 615-386-3171 -

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