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    Cheatham Lake biologist tuned into environmental projects

    Cheatham Lake biologist tuned into environmental projects

    Photo By Leon Roberts | Park Ranger Steve Acuff, biologist and natural resources specialist at Cheatham Lake,...... read more read more



    Story by Leon Roberts 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 4, 2023) – A conservation biologist at Cheatham Lake is very much in tune with the significant environmental projects related to overseeing the conservation, preservation, restoration and use of natural and cultural resources.

    Park Ranger Steve Acuff performs traditional ranger duties, routinely engages the public, and provides visitor assistance and water safety initiatives during the recreation season. But like a musician, he performs on a grand stage and remains focused year-round on the management of natural resources and leading interpretive and outreach programs.

    The project he serves is near Music City in Ashland City, Tennessee, and his family name is familiar to music fans. He is distant kin to the “King of Country Music,” Roy Acuff. As a biologist, however, he is more in harmony with the environment at Cheatham Lake than songs performed by his famous relative.

    “We come from the same Acuff that came over from Scotland in the late 1600s,” Acuff said. “I half joke he’s my grandpa’s 32nd cousin as I receive no fame or fortune for sharing the name. It’s cool to be related though.”

    In his daily duties, he is more of an environmental artist, and stays focused on the great responsibility of managing ecological resources at Cheatham Lake. He collaborates with the park ranger staff to manage 83 acres of wildlife management areas, which include the lock and dam pollinator gardens, and resources at Sycamore Creek, Harpeth River, Marrowbone Creek, and Sam’s Creek and TSU Trail. He also interacts and partners with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which leases and manages 5,298 acres of land and 2,796 water acres for wintering waterfowl and fisheries at Hudgen’s Slough, Pardue Pond Wildlife Refuge, Dyson Ditch Wildlife Refuge, and Marrowbone Creek.

    A certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture, Acuff says he loves trees way too much. He oversees project forest resources to assure sustained yield timber production, develops short-and long-range forest management plans, and prescribes timber stand improvement projects and forest management practices.

    In a 50-year-old pine forest nearby Cheatham Dam, Acuff has singlehandedly planted 1,500 seedlings in hopes that at least 10 percent of them would survive and thrive to keep the forest viable well into the future. He also conducted prescribed burns in the pine forest to restore its understory to provide habitat for a number of plant and animal species that are restricted to or found in longleaf pine communities.

    “I’m in charge of a lot of the environmental stewardship business lines,” Acuff said. “Primarily the biggest ones would be shoreline management, safeguarding the navigation channel, and allowing for private exclusive use for residents that are adjacent to public lands or waters. Secondary stewardship activities that we do are wildlife management, forest management, and fisheries management with installation of artificial habitats. A lot of our wildlife management and environmental stewardship tasks are still mostly devoted towards enhancing natural resources for recreation.”

    A recent project Acuff has taken on involves the reclamation of a park that had become overgrown by vegetation. He is still in the process of restoring the two-mile TSU Trail at this location that meanders and loops through open fields, pollinator and prairie habitat, bottomland forest, and includes a viewing stand overlooking a wetland. It is adjacent to the 124-acre Tennessee State University Agricultural Research and Education Center on the banks of the Cumberland River in Ashland City, Tennessee.

    Tadd Potter, Cheatham Lake resource manager, said Acuff does a great job of working to enhance natural resources, which is one of their broadly stated environmental management goals.

    “Steve serves as our technical expert and leads our environmental stewardship program by executing conservation and wildlife management programs throughout the year,” Potter said. “He is passionate in his work and has been successful in various projects in helping to reclaim public lands to a healthy manageable wildlife habitat.”

    With shoreline management and permit actions for development along the shoreline and in the waterway, Acuff said he adheres to the lake’s masterplan and collaborates with the Nashville District’s Regulatory Division to adhere to lawful environmental requirements and interests.

    “We try to manage competing interests to protect natural resources to best serve the entire population, whether that be a commercial entity or private citizen,” Acuff said.

    Acuff first served the nation in the U.S. Marine Corps as a combat cameraman from 2009 to 2013. After being discharged honorably, he really wanted to manage public lands, so he earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University in 2017, and a master’s degree in 2018.

    His environmental journey with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers actually began while pursuing his graduate degree when he accepted a position as a pathways intern park ranger and forester with the Rock Island District. He joined the Nashville District in his current position at Cheatham Lake in May 2021.

    “I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do, manage public lands. At the end of the day that gives me a lot of pride to be able to manage these areas for the public and to provide safe and healthy spaces for people to enjoy. It really does put a smile on my face,” Acuff said.

    He stressed that he relishes his job and his current position because he loves conservation, rolling his sleeves up, and working on environmental projects.

    “I love my role here as a conservation biologist at Cheatham Lake specifically because we do have some areas that require a little bit more environmental stewardship than some of our other recreation areas,” Acuff said. “Recreation and the safety and health of the public obviously trumps everything, but when I can get out here and put on some old clothes and roll around in the dirt, you best believe I’ll be out here.”

    (For more information about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at on Facebook at, and on Twitter at The public can also follow Cheatham Lake on Facebook at Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at



    Date Taken: 04.04.2023
    Date Posted: 04.04.2023 15:24
    Story ID: 441971
    Location: NASHVILLE, TN, US 

    Web Views: 85
    Downloads: 1