Our Story

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It all started when...

Dr. Jonathan Oppenheimer recalls:

" When it was time to leave the small rented apartment that had become my cave while suffering through a painful divorce. I contacted a realtor to find a happier location where I might lick my wounds - someplace with water nearby.  After visiting a few gated communities with swimming pools and manicured ponds, nothing seemed fitting. Would I consider someplace in the country? Sure, especially if there was water running through it.  So I the realtor drove me from charming Franklin, past verdant farms along a narrow country road that snaked up, up into the forest. Several minutes later we had ascended Backbone Ridge and crossed the Natchez Trace. Then a slow, winding descent into the Big East Fork Valley, the forest embracing, a welcoming long arcade of trees.  More light filters through. The road straightens. Blue sky vaults upward. The valley opens. I feel joyous opening in my chest.    

Is it possible I might live here ???  We pull up next to an old barn and next I am sitting on a weathered wooded bench next to a small waterfall.  Over the steady gurgling of water, the call of a red-tailed hawk lets me know of my intrusion upon his domain.  I am in love again."


          The youngest of three sons born of Jewish refugees from Hitler's Germany, Jonathan Oppenheimer was raised on Long Island, New York. A National Merit Scholar, he received his BS in Biomedical Sciences, his MD at the University of Michigan, and then specialized in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Rochester. He became an expert in prostate cancer at Johns Hopkins University, then founded and directed the world's first private national urologic laboratory. Eighteen year later, after living on Big East Fork Road, he sold his lab to a wealthy investor who asked him to  help run a billion dollar multi-national diagnostic and pharmaceutical corporation. The stock-price doubled. But corporate life at a publicly traded company was never what Jonathan had in mind. It was time to start a new chapter.

          At Big East Fork, Dr. Oppenheimer experienced how such a beautiful space could offer respite from the hustle of everyday life, reconnect with nature, and be a part of a larger community committed to conservation and sustainability. In his own words, he wanted to create a space that would, "Preserve the natural jewel of Big East Fork." The property, which is located in Franklin, TN (Williamson County), lies directly in the path of the most rapidly growing areas of Tennessee and the United States.

          Upon moving to Big East Fork in 2005, Jonathan bought several adjacent properties to protect two major portions of the valley. He then sold his laboratory in 2012 and focused his efforts on protecting the Big East Fork Valley. In 2013, the vision became a reality when he donated  1,363 acres of old growth wooded habitat as a conservation easement to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TENN Green), a state-wide non-profit land trust. Along with forested areas, the property backs to the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, connects a trail network at Williamson County's Timberland Park, and contains over 9,000 linear feet of streams that drain into the South Harpeth River. The conservation easement provides a refuge for wildlife, protects biodiversity in perpetuity, and guarantees the preservation of this sacred space.

         In 2015, the non-profit Center for Sustainable Stewardship was founded at Big East Fork, to assist groups and individuals manifest their positive intentions. Additional land was purchased in 2016, creating a protected space of over 2000 acres. In 2018, CSS entered into a long-term agreement to lease and operate Big East Fork Retreat. It is from this beginning, that with your efforts and generous support, we have the opportunity to build a legacy for our generation and for generations to come.


          The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) holds the conservation easement protecting much of the forest and waters of the Big East Fork Valley.  TennGreen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1998 and has a mission to conserve Tennessee's natural treasures.  TennGreen completes this mission through voluntary private conservation easements as well as conserving land for public access.  For more information, visit their website at www.tenngreen.org or call 615-329-4441.