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Prentice Cooper State Forest and WMA

Birding Seasons:
Spring A
Summer B
Fall A
Winter B

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Site Description and Habitats

Prentice Cooper State Forest is located in southeastern Tennessee, in Marion County. The forest is approximately 10 miles west of Chattanooga. It is situated on the scenic Tennessee River Gorge. Approximately 6,939 acres are designated as unregulated scenic zones that protect this view shed and other scenic areas of the forest. Hicks Gap Natural Area (350 acres) also occurs in the forest and was developed to protect the federally endangered Large-flowered Skullcap. The forest also includes several in-holdings owned by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and 3 cemeteries. Management activities of the forest focus primarily on sustainable timber management, forest management demonstration and wildlife habitat improvement while maintaining recreational opportunities for the public.

There are 35 miles of hiking trails, including the south end of the Cumberland Trail State Park. There also are two designated camping areas. Hunting has been a traditional use of the forest. Other recreational activities include OHV use in designated areas, rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching, and camping.

Bird species of interest

Spring and Fall Migration: Warblers, vireos, and thrushes are often common across the area. Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Nashville, Cape May, Cerulean and Blackpoll (spring only) Warbler, American Redstart, Swainson's Thrush, and Blue-headed Vireo can be common. Eastern Whip-poor-wills can be very abundant (mostly heard only) in spring and early summer at dusk and especially on nights with a full moon.

Summer: Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Eastern Wood-pewee.

Woodland birding can be slow, but look for Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet, and sparrows may occur along forest edges. Golden Eagles are possible in winter as GPS tracked birds have passed by this area.

Barred and Eastern Screech-Owl are regular, resident species including Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, among other residents are common.

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Detailed directions for birding Prentice Cooper State Forest and WMA
From Chattanooga, take Hwy 27 to Signal Mountain exit. Turn right onto Signal Mountain Rd. Turn left onto Hwy 27 (Suck Creek Rd.) Do not go up the mountain on Hwy 127. Continue on Hwy 27 for approximately 8 miles (into Marion County). Watch for sign of your left that says Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area. Turn left at that sign. Bear to left again at junction, and turn left at next road. Small sign says Prentice Cooper WMA. Go about one mile to check-in station on your left. Park at check-in station.

The main road through the WMA is several miles long. Near the very end of the road is a pull off and a very short walk to a overlook of the gorge (definitely check this out!). Bird along the main road and check out trails. There's no specific spot to look for birds, but drive slow with your windows down and stop often.

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Near entrance to main road through WMA: 35.167046,-85.418349

Fees and Hours
No fees are required to access these areas. The areas are accessible during daylight hours year round accept for camping. Check hunting guide as access is limited or not recommended during some hunts.

For tips for safely watching wildlife during hunting seasons and year round please refer to TWRA Hunting Guide about hunting seasons and public access dates.

There are no restroom facilities or designated birding observation areas.

TWRA Region 3 Office
464 Industrial Blvd.
Crossville, TN 38555
931-484-9571, 800-262-6704

Info for other sites
Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife web site