March 29, 2008
I love winter backpacking! In the mountains here in the southeast, the views can be great, the insects non-existent, and the days can be mild. I've hiked some great trails in the winter including the Alabama section of the Pinhoti Trail and South Carolina's Foothills Trails. In January 2005, I assembled a group of friends, and we headed south from Tennessee for a different kind of hiking experience - Florida Trail style! We walked about 45 miles over three days in Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Florida. During that trip, I kept hearing about the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, and what a great place it is for hiking. It took me three years, but I finally got down there to experience it first hand. Simply put, it is one of the best places that I've ever backpacked!
The Florida Trail is designated as a National Scenic Trail. With this being the 40th anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968, and the 25th anniversary of the Florida Trail's designation as a National Scenic Trail, I couldn't think of a better way of celebrating than hiking part of this great trail. Joining me on this trip were my good friends Mark Stanfill and Sue "Hammock Hanger" Turner. Mark manages the Tennessee Youth Conservation Corps, and Sue is Chair of the Florida Trail Association's Long Distance Hikers committee.
Mark and I headed down to Florida on Sunday January 20th. We drove down to Ecofina State Park where I had booked a room. After dropping off our gear, we made the 20 minute drive over to the town of St. Marks to eat dinner and watch my NY Giants beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.
The next morning we rendezvoused with Hammock Hanger, and by mid afternoon we found ourselves at the trailhead ready to begin our hike. Our plan was to start our hike in the Apalachicola National Forest at the western boundary of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness. Bradwell Bay is a unique area that is often inundated by water, causing hikers to slog their way through Cypress Swamp. Unfortunately the area was dry, so we didn't get to experience this incredible ecosystem in all it's glory. March is a much more reliable month for water.
We made our way through the Wilderness area, and only managed to get lost briefly. It is clearly an easy place to get turned around. A quick map and compass check got us back on track, and we soon emerged out of the Wilderness area into forest dominated by Longleaf Pine. As night began to fall, Mark & I setup our tents in an established campsite just off the trail - and a few hundred yards from a water source. Sue strung her hammock, and we had a pleasant night under the stars.
Our plan for today was to get across the Apalachicola National Forest and into the refuge. The Forest Service had plans for a controlled burn, and we didn't want to find ourselves caught in the smoke and flames. During the morning, the trail followed the Sopchoppy River for a number of miles. The Sopchoppy is a beautiful blackwater river lined by oaks and cypress. The sandy trail was so pleasant in the morning, at one point I took off my trail runners and walked about 3 miles barefoot. It was great!
Barefoot on the Florida Trail
Photo by Sue Turner
The only downside of the day is that we miscalculated water availability, and after we left the Sopchoppy, we didn't see another water source the rest of the day. By the time we reached camp - about two miles from US 319, we were all out of water - even though some occasionally fell from the sky. It was a dry dinner and night.
Our challenge when we awoke was clear. Find water! We broke camp quickly and walked briskly through the chilly morning air. We soon reached US 319, and decided to walk up the road until we found a store or a spigot. Thankfully, we didn't have to walk far. About a quarter mile up the trail, we found a seafood shack - Nichols & Sons - nestled under some stately Live Oaks. The place had both a spigot and a soda machine. Pay dirt! We dropped our packs and filled our bottles and our bodies with water and soda. It was just what we needed.
As we reentered the forest, we found ourselves in the wildlife refuge for the first time. Sue's knee seemed to be acting up, so we took a number of breaks and enjoyed the area. The sandy trail was great for tracks, and we saw all kinds of evidence of wildlife. I spotted the first of what would later prove to be many sets of Bobcat tracks in the sand. What was especially cool about the Bobcat tracks is that it rained last night into the early morning, and these prints were made after the rain stopped, making them only a few hours old! We also came across the carcass of an armadillo, and passed many Live Oaks covered in Resurrection Fern.
As the day grew on, we entered an area bordered by salt marsh. We were close to the Gulf of Mexico! Unfortunately, Sue's knee seemed to grow crankier with each passing mile, and soon it became clear that she was in some serious pain. This would be her last day on the trail with us. Sadly, she would have to get off the trail and rest her knee.
We ended up at a road crossing, and walked a couple of miles to the small fishing village of Spring Creek. There, Hammock Hanger found someone to take her to her car while Mark and I waited outside the Spring Creek Restaurant. When Sue returned about an hour later, she bought Mark and I a sumptuous seafood dinner. I had mullet, a local favorite, and it was fresh and tasty! Afterwards, we decided to get a hotel room for the night in nearby Panacea, Florida.
After checking into a motel that had definitely seen it's better days, we all decided to sleep on top of the bed spreads in our sleeping bags. I fell sound asleep after a shower, and soon Sue was waking us up. Time to go! It was 5 AM, or so we thought. We dressed, threw together our gear, and headed out into the inky blackness. I drove Sue's car to the nearby breakfast nook, and when we got there, it was closed up and dark. I looked at the clock on Sue's dashboard, and asked her why it said 1 AM. We quickly realized that Sue had set the stopwatch on her wrist watch for 5 hours instead of setting the alarm for 5 AM. We had gotten up 4 hours too early! We howled with laughter and went back to the room to snag another 4 hours of sleep.
In the morning, Sue dropped us off where we left off, and Mark and I headed up the trail while Sue drove back to her home. It was sad to lose her as a partner. Not only is she good company, but she knows the trail well.
A couple of miles into the hike, we had a really cool wildlife sighting. A River Otter was smack dab in the middle of the trail in a pine forest - with no water anywhere within sight! We watched the otter for a few minutes until it walked off into the underbrush. Very cool!
The day was fairly uneventful, but we did pass a really cool spring, and finally cut our day short when we arrived at the Wakulla Field Campsite. Camping in the refuge is only permitted in designated campgrounds (permit required), so that dictated our mileage for the day. As dusk fell, we had a small herd of wild hogs walk into our camp.
Without question, this was our longest (20+ miles) and best day of the hike. In fact, it was one of the best days I have ever spent backpacking! The morning was quite chilly, and required us to walk for several miles along US 98. As we neared the road crossing, I found what I initially thought was trash on the trail, but it turned out to be a note from Hammock Hanger wishing us well. She's such a sweetie! Once on the road, we crossed the Wakulla River and refilled our water bottles at the spigot of the local canoe outfitter.
A few miles later, we were on a paved greenway walking steadily towards the village of St. Marks. We were on a collision course for lunch, so we stopped at the Riverside Cafe for a cold beer and a grouper sandwich. It was great! While we ate, we watched pelicans, gulls, herons, and a wide assortment of shore birds fly up and down the St. Marks River.
After lunch, our challenge was to get across the St. Marks River. That required hailing down a boater and asking for a lift. Thankfully, it took less than 5 minutes, and we were soon on the other side and hiking along a beautiful trail.
The boater who took us across the river
At one point we passed an alligator nest from the previous year. You could see the shell fragments mixed in with the grass of the nest! That's a first for me while hiking!
As the day wore on, the hike got better and better. We saw alligators basking in the sun, Bald Eagle, Osprey, endangered Wood Storks, dozens of Belted Kingfishers, and too many wading birds to count! Virtually every kind of heron you can find in Florida, we saw. The trail in this part of the refuge travels along levees making wildlife viewing really easy.
Otter tracks along the trail
At the end of the day, we camped at perhaps the prettiest campsite I have ever had the pleasure of staying at. Ring Levee Campsite is surrounded by water, palms, and salt marsh. It is indescribably beautiful. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Campsite at Ring Levee
View from my tent at Ring Levee Campsite
Getaway day was finally here. We had about 11 miles to go to reach our car, so we walked briskly all morning. It was a fairly uneventful day on the trail. We saw some wild hogs and beautiful forest, but we were focused on finishing up and driving back to Tennessee.
We reached the car around lunchtime, and Mark kindly drove me to Panacea where I spent about $50 on fresh seafood to bring home. We feasted for three days on all that Apalachicola Bay goodness that I brought home.
In conclusion, I couldn't recommend the Florida Trail in St Marks National Wildlife Refuge any more highly. I saw more than 70 species of birds during the trip and all kinds of wildlife sign. In fact, I can't ever recall seeing more tracks, scat, and evidence of wildlife along a trail.
When it was all said and done, we walked a total of about 70 miles, give or take. I'm definitely looking forward to hiking it again. You'll need a permit to camp in the refuge, and I would suggest a winter hike to avoid the bugs. I guarantee that you won't be disappointed! The area lends itself well to some great day hikes. Especially out on the levees near the waterfowl impoundments. That's where we saw gators and incredible bird life. Checkout the Florida Trail Association's website for more information! There you can purchase maps and guidebooks for the trail.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 06:25 PM | Comments (2)
March 23, 2008
Recently several Staff members at American Hiking Society were contacted by a reporter from Forbes who asked us about some of our favorite day hikes. I spoke with the reporter for quite a while, and I rattled off some of my favorites around the U.S. including climbing Mt. Katahdin in Maine, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. The result of this chat, and the reporter's discussion with a host of other hikers appears is an online article.
Here is an excerpt from the piece;
In one memorable exchange on "Sex and the City," an ex-boyfriend tries to coax the entrenched urbanite and inveterate indoorswoman Carrie Bradshaw into accompanying him on a hike. "I don't really hike," she says. His reply? "Neither do I. But I will fill you in on something I discovered. Hiking is walking."
Well, yes and no. For many city-dwellers, a stroll through a nearby park will do just fine. But for those who have discovered the well-earned pleasures of climbing mountains, crossing rivers, traversing canyons, hopping boulders and dodging bears, en route to a particularly spectacular view or awe-inspiring natural wonder, hiking counts as a sacred pastime. And the journey is every bit as important as the destination.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)
December 25, 2007
I found this video online chronicling a walk/paddle across Alaska. Enjoy!
To read more about Buck Nelson's adventure, visit his journal. What an adventure!
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)
December 11, 2007
With 2007 nearly finished, I have started to look ahead to plan some hiking and backpacking for next year.
First on deck is the Florida Trail in January. A few friends and I plant to hike approximately 90 miles of the trail over a 6 day period. This includes all of the Florida Trail in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the Bradwell Bay Wilderness (part of Apalachicola National Forest). As a birder, I'm really looking forward to the hike in St. Marks NWR. An employee at the NWR informed me the other day that ducks should be plentiful in the refuge in January.
Bradwell Bay is normally a 19 mile slog through a marsh, with water up to ur waist or higher. Because of a drought, the area is dry, so that should speed our progress, but make the hike less interesting.
In late July my daughter Martha and I plan to hike the John Muir Trail in California. I hiked the JMT in August 2006, and it was nothing short of amazing. Martha graduates from high school this year, and wants to do a big trail with me. At approximately 221 miles, which scenic beauty everywhere, this should be a blast.
I just picked up the new trail guide from Wilderness Press entitled "The John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America's Most Famous Trail." The guide is a big improvement over the book I used to plan my hike in 2006. I also just received the Tom Harrison map set for the trail.
Next step? Training! Martha and I hiked 4 miles from our cabin at Reflection Riding to Sunset Rock located in the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park. The route is approximately 4 miles, and we hope to hike it 100 times between now and our JMT hike. I'm really thrilled to share this goal with my daughter, and look forward to the next few months. I'll share some photos from our training hikes in the coming months. In the meanwhile, you can look at the trail map for Lookout Mountain (PDF 153 KB) to get an idea where we'll be training.
So where are you planning to hike in 2008? The Bartram Trail? In the Great Smoky Mountains? The Pinhoti Trail or out on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia? Please take a moment to tell us where you plan to hike by posting a message in the comment box below.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:22 AM | Comments (1)
November 11, 2007
The lovely Jocassee Gorges area is profiled in an article appearing in The State. Jocassee Gorges is home to both the Foothills Trail and the Palmetto Trail. It is one of my favorite places to hike - hands down. You can read the article about Jocassee Gorges at the link below.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)
November 01, 2007
The Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park offers more than 50 miles of great hiking (157KB PDF) through an amazing park. You may not be aware, but the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park was the first National Park dedicated to studying the Civil War.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:34 AM | Comments (0)
October 23, 2007
Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand
The past 8 days I have been in Washington, DC to attend the fall 2007 meeting of the American Hiking Society Board of Directors meeting. While in town sandwiched around work, I managed to get out and about and enjoy some of the many wonderful things that DC has to offer. That includes museums, hiking, cycling, movies, and fine dining.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the exhibit entitled Kindred Spirits: Asher B. Durand and the American Landscape at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was a spectacular exhibit containing more than 50 paintings from this master of the Hudson River School of Art. It will remain on display in Washington through January 6, 2008. If you plan to be in the vicinity of our Nation's Capitol, I highly suggest that you carve out some time to see this spectacular exhibit of landscape paintings from the 1800s. The museum's permanent collection includes a number of treasures including works by William Merritt Chase, Jasper Cropsey, Edward Hopper, and so much more.
The Goat (L) and Seth Levy (R) along the Potomac Heritage Trail
Yes, that's Kudzu along the trail.
I was also able to spend a little time hiking with some Kindred Spirits along the Potomac Heritage Trail in NW Virginia along the banks of the Potomac River. We got together for a leisurely hike, a few laughs and some good conversation. The Potomac Heritage Trail is one of 8 trails to receive the designation of National Scenic Trail. That's the same status bestowed upon the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails. Although not nearly as long or as well known as some of those longer trails, the Potomac Heritage Trail is definitely worth the hiker's attention!
Jeffrey Hunter on the C&O Canal along the Potomac River
Early morning light on the C&O Canal
On Sunday morning I took in an adventure of a type that I haven't undertaken in perhaps 30 years. I rode approximately 30 miles on a bicycle with my co-worker Seth Levy! We started at Seth's apartment in the chilly pre-dawn hours and made our way to the C&O Canal by way of Rock Creek Park. Once on the canal, we rode 13 miles to the Billy Goat Trail. Once there, USGS Trail Ecologist and American Hiking Society board member Dr. Jeff Marion led us on a tour of the Billy Goat Trail. Jeff has been performing research to try and minimize user impacts upon this biodiversity hot spot where more than 50 rare plants are found. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Marion's work to protect biodiversity along the Billy Goat Trail you can download and read his progress report on the project. (PDF 1 MB)
Dr. Jeff Marion's work along the Billy Goat Trail is protecting rare native plants from trampling
A hiker's view of the Potomac River Gorge from the Billy Goat Trail
They don't call it the Billy Goat Trail for Nothin'!
After 8 days in DC it was finally time to head back to Chattanooga. My flight out of DC was delayed because some much needed rain was falling in the southeast.
So here I am back in Chattanooga. After work I head to Nashville to see Ryan Adams live at the Nashville War Memorial. I just finished downloading the new Neil Young record Chrome Dreams II, so that'll tide me over on the ride to Music City. Yes, the American Hiker lifestyle is good!
If you're not already a member of American Hiking Society, I hope you'll start your adventure with us, and become a member today. After all, every great hike starts with a first step.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:02 AM
September 28, 2007
Congratulations to Mike Carlton and the rest of the Team at Tennessee State Parks!
TENNESSEE WINS GOLD MEDAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN PARKS MANAGEMENT
Nashville, Tenn. – Governor Phil Bredesen and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke announced today that the Tennessee State Parks System has been named the best state parks system in the country by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association.
The 2007 Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management in the state parks category was presented to Fyke today at NRPA’s annual conference in Indianapolis.
“This award affirms the steps we’re taking to protect special places and to offer a wide range of recreational opportunities to both Tennesseans and visitors to our state alike,” said Bredesen. “I’m particularly pleased to see Commissioner Fyke and his dedicated team of parks professionals receive this recognition, and I urge all Tennesseans to get out and take advantage of our award-winning parks system.”
Tennessee has 54 state parks and 77 natural areas with a wide range of recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, swimming, golf, boating, whitewater rafting and more. The state parks system includes resort parks with inns, conference centers and restaurants. Tennessee State Parks and natural areas also play an important role in environmental protection of ecologically significant land and preservation of cultural and historic sites.
“Governor Bredesen continues to be instrumental in protecting lands with ecological, scenic, historic and cultural significance for the enjoyment of future generations of Tennesseans,” said Fyke. “I’m proud of all we’ve been able to accomplish in the areas of land conservation and parks management under his leadership.”
Some of the key accomplishments of Tennessee State Parks since 2003 include:
- Immediately reopening 14 parks that had been previously closed;
- Removing access fees from the 23 state parks that had instituted them;
- Acquiring properties with exceptional conservation value from Bowater;
- Partnering with the Nature Conservancy and conservation-minded timber companies to protect 124,000 acres on the Northern Cumberland Plateau;
- Working with community organizations and other partners to open the first Boundless Playground at a state park anywhere in the country at Warriors’ Path State Park;
- Purchasing renewable “Green Power” in all state parks where it’s available.
Bredesen also announced in 2006 plans to pursue the construction of a scenic state park lodge in Southeast Tennessee and to add a new state park in Middle Tennessee during his second term.
“Tennessee’s park professionals take pride in their parks and in being able to interpret these special places for the public who enjoy them,” said Fyke. “This wonderful accomplishment is a tribute to their dedication, expertise and commitment.”
In addition to Tennessee, the states of Georgia and Utah were finalists for the Gold Medal Award. In grading award entries, a panel of judges comprised of parks and recreation professionals reviewed application materials with an emphasis on long-range planning, resource management, citizen support systems, environmental stewardship, program and professional development and agency recognition. State parks systems are judged every two years, and Tennessee was also a finalist for the Gold Medal Award in 2005.
For more information about the Gold Medal Awards, visit NRPA’s Web site at: www.nrpa.org.
To learn more about what’s available at Tennessee State Parks, visit the Web site at www.tnstateparks.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:57 AM
May 23, 2007
Blue Mountain Shelter on the Pinhoti Trail
The following is an article that appears in todays Anniston Star newspaper, and was written by columnist Joe Medley. This is one segment in a series of stories entitled the Pinhoti Project. Additional stories on Section 1 and Section 7 are available for you to view on the Anniston Star website. Enjoy!
12-mile hike on Section 6 of Pinhoti Trail
turns into a winding, all-night odyssey
SOMEWHERE — I never thought I could feel such peace while lost in a forest at night. Cleburne Search and Rescue had pinpointed my location way off Section 6 of the Pinhoti Trail. After nearly seven hours of hiking toward my planned takeout and two more hours hiking to get anywhere, I finally could rest my aching lower legs.
All I had to do was sit on a dirt-and-gravel road and stargaze until rescuers arrived.
I listened as what sounded like a squirrel stirred in a tree behind me. The distant baying of coyotes reminded me of a wide-eyed night at Grand Canyon; they sounded much closer then.
Back to the present, I gulped my last bottled water and thought, “At last, the peace hikers seek.”
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 01:07 PM
May 20, 2007
The Benton MacKaye Trail Databook
A new databook for the Benton MacKaye Trail is now available! Put together by volunteer Bill "Hatman" Ristom, this book is a must for all who seek to backpack on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
Weighing in at just a couple of ounces, this handy little book fits in your pocket or your backpack. It lists all road access points, campsites and water sources for the hiker.
Don't delay! Pick one up today for $5.95 at the Benton MacKaye Trail Association website. All the cool cats have one!
Jeffrey Hunter's cat "Chuka" with his databook
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:40 PM
May 18, 2007
On Thursday May 3, the conservation group Southwings provided an overflight of the Pisgah National Forest and Fontana Lake adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are some photos that were taken that day. They provide a unique perspective on a beautiful area. Enjoy!
American Hiking Society Southeast Trail Programs Director Jeffrey Hunter
The Blue Ridge Parkway snaking through Pisgah National Forest
The vast Pisgah National Forest from above
Fontana Lake with the clouds reflecting in the water
The Hazel Creek Watershed in Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park
Another view of Hazel Creek. The Benton MacKaye Trail is at the head of the cove.
Fontana Dam from above. The Appalachian Trail runs across the top of the dam.
The storm clouds built as we flew back to the airport over the Pisgah
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:18 AM
April 02, 2007
On Sunday April 1 I visited the Osborne Tract, a newly constructed accessible segment of the Appalachian Trail in NE Tennessee. This trail was designed and constructed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and volunteers from the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoe Club. Please take a moment to view the 1 minute 45 second video below to learn more about this trail.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 07:08 AM
April 01, 2007
You are here! Or maybe you wish you were!
Today I found myself in NE Tennessee after attending a trail meeting in Blowing Rock, NC. As I drove home to Chattanooga, I decided to take a detour near Elizabethton, Tennessee and drive up to visit a newly constructed segment of the Appalachian Trail. This segment of trail crosses a historic farm on a parcel of land commonly referred to as the Osborne Tract. This new section of trail was designed and built by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and their local trail maintaining organization, the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoe Club.
After stashing my valuables out of sight in my trunk, I walked across the road and checked out the new handicapped parking lot for the Osborne Tract. I was also struck by the fact that the access trail for the Osborne Tract was graded and sloped for access by wheelchairs. There was also a beautiful stile that was wheelchair friendly. For those of you who don't know what a stile is, it's a structure that allows hikers into an enclosed area, but either keeps livestock in or out, depending upon the situation.
The view of the Osborne Tract from near the trailhead
Continuing along the trail, I was greeted by the song of the Song Sparrow. The field that the trail passed through was surrounded by fencing. A hardwood forest bordered the trail to the west, and to the east, Shady Valley rolled out and offered majestic views. About a quarter mile from the parking lot, a series of old farm buildings were scattered across the landscape. While I was taking in the scene, a hiker made his way south along the trail, and passed me with a nod and a "hello." As he passed me, I noticed that he had a large Volkswagen hubcap affixed to his pack. I can only assume that he picked it up along the trail, and is carrying it out to the next trash receptacle.
While out on the trail, I recorded a brief audio dispatch (620 KB) explaining a bit about the trail.
A fence and some old structures on the Osborne Tract
After spending about 45 minutes walking the property and shooting some video and photographs, I headed back to the parking lot. As I arrived in the lot, a hiker emerged from the woods. Daniel Morrell is a 17 year old from Albany, New York who is attempting a northbound thru-hike. He started hiking in late February with his best friend Dean, but his buddy dropped off of the trail at Fontana Dam. His trail name is "Carefree", but he is also known online as Grandma Dixie. I asked Carefree if he'd mind spending a few minutes and allow me to interview him about his trail experiences. To listen to this 6 minute interview, please click here. (3 MB)
To see additional photographs of the Osborne Tract, and to read a recent newspaper article about this new segment of trail, please visit the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoe Club Osborne Tract web page.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:19 PM
March 22, 2007
The beautiful Florida Trail inside Eglin Air Force Base
On Sunday March 18 I took a few minutes to sit down and chat with Florida Trail Association member and volunteer Tom Daniel. Tom is active with the Western Gate and Choctawhatchee Chapters of the Florida Trail Association. He is a regular volunteer helping to layout, construct, and maintain the Florida Trail in and around Eglin Air Force Base.
Please take a moment and listen to this 7 minute 45 second interview. (3.6 MB) Afterwards, if you're interested in getting involved with helping to build or maintain the Florida Trail, please send Tom an email.
Another image from along the Florida Trail
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 01:23 PM
March 11, 2007
Benton MacKaye Trail Overview Map - Click map for full-size image file (412K)
The red line is the BMT. The broken orange line is the Appalachian Trail
Map courtesy of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association
Four years ago next month, I completed a thru-hike of the Benton MacKaye (pronounced Mac-Eye) Trail (BMT) from Springer Mountain, Georgia to the Ocoee River in SE Tennessee. At the time, the trail was 93 miles in total length.
Since then, the trail has been extended north through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, and into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is now nearly 300 miles in total length! In addition to the 93 miles that I walked in 2003, last March I walked a 28-mile segment of the Benton MacKaye Trail in the Smoky Mountains. That segment of the trail is dual designated as the Lakeshore Trail. Combine the 93 miles from 2003 with the 28 miles from 2006, along with the 17 miles from yesterday, and I have completed nearly half (138 miles) of the entire trail. My goal is to walk the remainder of the trail in 2007.
Our hiking day began at 8:20 AM at the Ocoee #3 power station along the Ocoee River. Earlier my hiking partner Randy & I had dropped off my car at the Hiwassee River in Reliance, Tennessee. It took about 25 minutes to drive around from Reliance to our starting point.
The initial climb up the Benton MacKaye Trail occurred on the dual designated Dry Pond Lead Trail. I was initially a bit apprehensive, as I haven't hiked much recently, and our planned 17-mile hike seemed like a daunting challenge. Plus, I'm just getting over the flu, and I've been battling a persistent cough for about two weeks. Soon however, we had gained the ridge and my sweating and breathing slowed as we walked through a beautiful hardwood forest on a level trail.
The Benton MacKaye Trail skirted the Little Frog
Wilderness for the first few miles of our hike
We moved steadily throughout the day, taking a few breaks, but maintained a 2 MPH pace throughout. During our hike we flushed two large flocks of Wild Turkey. Although we saw no mammals, we saw plenty of sign, including lots of scat (including Bobcat scat), some Bobcat scrapes (on a closed logging road) and many different tracks. We were hoping to encounter a Black Bear, but unfortunately, that didn't pan out. Below you can see a photo I took along the road of Coyote and Bobcat tracks in the same place. I verified the tracks with Kim Cabrera who is a charter member of the International Society of Professional Trackers. In fact, she's going to add the photo below to her website to demonstrate the difference between a bobcat and a coyote track. How cool is that?
Coyote tracks (with nail marks) heading left, and smaller Bobcat tracks (lighter colored) heading right. Photo was taken in a dried mud puddle on a logging road.
Click on the image to see the tracks in greater detail
Continuing along, we eventually reached the Lost Creek Campground at around 3:30 PM. This marked the 13 mile mark of our hike. We sat at one of the picnic tables, ate the last of our food, and then continued on the final 4 miles towards my vehicle. Three of the last four miles followed beautiful Lost Creek. The trail was flat and the creek was never more than 50' off the trail to the right.
A small cascade along beautiful Lost Creek
Finally, we reached a trail junction where the Benton MacKaye Trail climbed steeply out of the Lost Creek watershed. There was only one mile to go to reach my vehicle and the end of the hike. As we climbed away from the creek, the sweat flowed, the muscles creaked, but the knowledge that the hike was almost complete propelled us onward. When we reached my vehicle at about 5:15 PM, it was a good feeling!
Self portrait at the 16-mile mark. Notice that Tennessee has a John Muir Trail too!
If you're interested in learning more about the Benton MacKaye Trail, please visit the Benton MacKaye Trail Association's website. The BMT is a great trail! If you plan to hike it, I strongly encourage you to bring a map, and consider hiking with someone who knows the general area. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, the BMT is a primitive trail and trail blazes can be scarce in places. That being said, the experienced hiker should have no difficulty following the trail.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:25 AM
March 02, 2007
Round Bald along the Appalachian Trail in NE Tennessee
Seven years ago this week I set off from Springer Mountain, Georgia headed towards Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Five and a half months, 14 states, and 2,167 miles later I was standing atop Mt. Katahdin, and my hike was over. I had accomplished my goal and completed a thru-hike of the A.T. Three years later in March 2003, I would find myself resigning from Verizon Corp. after a 19-year career, after accepting a job offer from American Hiking Society.
A strange phenomenon afflicts many thru-hikers this time of year. They develop a malady known as Springer Fever. This affliction has a number of symptoms including a strange compulsion to travel to the mountains of North Georgia for some backpacking.
After receiving a call this morning from my colleague Shad Baker, who is the President of the Pine Mountain Trail Conference in Kentucky, Springer Fever hit me hard. You see, Shad invited me to join him and his friends for a hike of the A.T. in Georgia, starting next October. Although October is many long months away, that call set my mind in motion, and soon I was thumbing through an old copy of the Appalachian Trail Databook, looking at the place names, trail towns, and the mileage between campsites and shelters.
Having another backpacking trip on the horizon is always helpful for me. It tides me through difficult days, and provides me with something to dream about and look forward to.
If you'd like to take a glimpse into the world of the thru-hiker, you can do so by visiting Trailjournals.com. There, you'll find all kinds of hiker journals, including mine from the year 2000. It's a great way to experience trail life vicariously. But I warn you. I will not be held responsible if you suddenly develop a fever. Springer Fever, that is.
PS: If you see my wife, please don't tell her about my hiking trip next October. I'd like her to hear it from me first.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 08:20 PM
February 21, 2007
Wild Florida - near the southern terminus of the Florida Trail
The article interviews Florida Trail founder Bob Kern, Florida Trail Association Board Member Pete Durnell, and Florida Trail Association Staff Member Kent Wimmer. discussing the challenges associated with acquiring land to complete a long distance trail.
If you'd like to read the entire article, you can do so by clicking on the link below.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:19 AM
February 20, 2007
Snowshoeing at Winter Park - Photo by Chad Stallings
On Sunday February 18, I took a trip to Winter Park Ski Resort in the Colorado Rockies for a day of snowshoeing with my family. Instead of driving, we took the Ski Train from downtown Denver, directly to the resort. The train ride cost $49 and took 2 hours 15 minutes to reach the resort. Along the way, the train passes through beautiful gorges and offers spectacular views of the Colorado Rockies. It was a very enjoyable way to travel into the mountains from downtown Denver!
The Ski Train working its way into the mountains
Photo by Chad Stallings
Looking out the window of the Ski Train - Photo by Chad Stallings
Snowshoeing is an excellent winter alternative to hiking, a great family activity, and also provides a great aerobic workout. After debarking at Winter Park, I rented a pair of snowshoes ($19/day) and joined my wife, two of my daughters and my Son-in-Law for a 3-4 mile hike on the Serenity Trail.
At over 9000' in elevation, Winter Park can be a challenge for someone accustomed to hiking at or near sealevel. We took it slow though, and enjoyed the scenery of the snow in the pines. Sign of small mammals was everywhere as animal tracks laced the snow in many directions. At one point we were following the tracks of a mouse, and suddenly the track ended, and we saw evidence that an owl had landed in the snow and made a kill. If you look carefully at the photo in the preceding link, you can see where the owl's wings swept the snow as it landed to snag a rodent.
If you ever have the opportunity to go snowshoeing, I highly recommend it! It's a fun activity for hikers of all ages and ability levels.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 07:47 AM
February 10, 2007
Florida is a fantastic place to hike. And there is perhaps no better time to enjoy hiking in the Sunshine State than in the winter. Recently Governor Charlie Crist declared February Florida Hiking Trails Month.
Our good friends at the Florida Trail Association do a wonderful job building, promoting and maintaining the Florida Trail for all to enjoy. In late January - early February 2005 I hiked a section of the Florida Trail in Eglin Air Force Base, and had a fantastic experience.
A hiker signing in at the trailhead at Eglin Air Force Base
I plan to try and get down to Florida to hike some of the Florida Trail in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge before the month is over. Whether you're looking for a short walk in the woods, a lengthy day hike, or a backpacking trip, Florida offers it all! After you've checked at the Florida Trail Association's website at the link above, please take a look at the Florida Trail Association blog. The site contains a variety of interesting information about the trail.
Here's a few photos from my trip in January 2005 to whet your appetite for your trip to hike in Florida.
Hiker Mark Stanfill from Tennessee on the Florida Trail
An inquisitive squirrel along the trail
Jeffrey Hunter crossing one of the many crystal clear
creeks along the Florida Trail in Eglin Air Force Base
A hiker around the evening campfire on the Florida Trail
American Hiking Society Staffer Jeffrey Hunter
after a satisfying day of hiking and birding in Florida
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 03:22 PM
February 08, 2007
Former American Hiking Society Intern Hilary Browder
on the Tennessee Riverwalk on Thursday February 8.
Lookout Mountain is off in the distance.
After a brief cold snap, warmer temperatures seem to be heading Chattanooga's way. This morning I took a short walk/hike on the Tennessee Riverwalk with my friend and former intern Hilary.
As we walked along the Riverwalk, cold winds out of north and off of the river made for some chilly moments. Eventually the Riverwalk moved away from the Tennessee River, and the trees acted as a wind break. That seemed to raise the temperatures a solid 10 degrees.
At a small pond adjacent to the greenway, Hilary and I watched 5 Northern Shovelers (3 males, 2 females), some Canada Geese, a couple of American Coots and a pair of Hooded Mergansers. The geese were acting somewhat territorial, indicating that the mating season is nearly upon us. Several of the geese tried to chase off the Shovelers, to no avail.
As we walked further along the greenway, we passed beneath a pair of Red-tailed Hawks roosting in a tree directly above the path. The larger of the two birds - the female - flew off and perched in a tree above the pond where we had been watching the waterfowl frolicking moments before. Mama Red-tail sat perched within 10' of what appeared to be an abandoned Great Blue Heron nest. The hawks could very well be preparing to take over the nest this season, so I'll be interested to return and see if that’s indeed the case in the coming weeks.
Female Red-tailed Hawk roosting above pond
By 9:30 AM we were back at our vehicles and our walk was over. We saw perhaps 25 different species of birds in the hour that we were out on the Riverwalk. Those numbers will only increase in the coming weeks as migration and the local climate heats up.
If you're interested in exploring the Tennessee Riverwalk, you can download a map here. (PDF - 200K)
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 12:29 PM
January 25, 2007
Morning breaks over the frosty Cumberland Plateau
I set out early at 6:30 AM (Eastern Time) and drove for the first hour in the dark. As I climbed (in my vehicle) up out of the Sequatchie Valley onto the Cumberland Plateau, the day's first light began to shine. The Cumberland Plateau is simply gorgeous, and reminds me of my former home in the Hudson Valley area in New York.
Mist rises off the lake at Fall Creek Falls State Park
I finally arrived at Fall Creek Falls State Park shortly 7 AM (Central Time) and found my host. After a quick breakfast I gave a one-hour presentation on Best Practices for Volunteer Program Management (PDF 1 MB). The presentation and the document it was based upon were developed by Mayes | Wilson Associates for American Hiking Society.
After the presentation I headed back to my office in Chattanooga. Along the way I saw a large fire tower off of HWY 111, so I followed some side roads until I found myself at the base of the tower.
I had to take great care climbing up the wooden steps, because I was wearing loafers, and the steps were still slick with the morning's first. Although the entrance to the tower was locked, I was afforded great views in all directions from the tower. What remains of the hardwood forests of the plateau harbor an astonishing array of biological diversity. Much of the original hardwood forests have been cut and replaced by pine plantations. Currently, the paper industry is divesting much of their lands on the plateau, so the future of this area is unknown. Thankfuly, the State of Tennessee is acquiring some of the land that has has been sold by one of the largest paper companies - Bowater. Some of this newly acquired land will become part of the Cumberland Trail State Park.
The view of the Cumberland Plateau from the fire tower off HWY 111
Heading home, I took my time and stopped to view a beautiful cascade alongside the highway. I also stopped to look at and photograph the beautiful Sequatchie Valley. On the home stretch, I passed where the Cumberland Trail crosses over HWY 111 at Jones Gap Road. This is right near the Soddy Mountain Hawk Watch that I've written about in the past in this blog.
The Sequatchie Valley with the Cumberland Plateau looming in the background
All in all it was a great day. I wish I had more time to hike while I was up near Fall Creek Falls. Just the same, it's nice to get out of the office from time to time.
I hope you enjoy the photos!
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 05:47 PM
January 21, 2007
Our group starting up the Chunky Gal Trail
Across America, there are hundreds of hiking clubs that lead outings every week. Hundreds of thousands of Americans belong to these groups - and for good reason. Yesterday, I led a 9-mile hike for the Chattanooga Hiking Club along the Chunky Gal Trail in Western North Carolina. Here's an overview of that trip, along with five reasons why you should consider joining a hiking club and actively participate in the club's activities. To find a hiking club near you, please visit the American Hiking Society Alliance of Hiking Clubs database.
#1. Meet new people
The day started at 7:45 AM when I met Sharon, Tim, and Hoss in Ooltewah, Tennessee. After our introductions, we parked the cars in a safe place, and everyone piled into my Jeep for the 2-hour ride to the trailhead. Although the price of gas was as low as I've seen it in over a year ($1.88.9), our ride share allowed us to save money and resources, and get to know one another.
Our route to the trailhead took us through the Ocoee River Gorge and past the Ocoee Whitewater Center - where the kayaking events for the '96 Olympics were held. We also crossed over the Benton MacKaye Trail, and this sparked conversations about getting together to hike a stretch of that trail at a later date.
We made a quick pit stop in Ducktown, Tennessee where we used the facilities, filled our coffee cups, and met Randy who followed us to the trailhead in his own vehicle.
At 10 AM we met my hike co-leader, John Ray. John left his car along HWY 64 and rode with Randy to the trailhead.
#2. Hiking is a healthy activity
We finally arrived....
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:55 AM
December 02, 2006
Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness - looking up at the steep walls in the gorge
This morning I was joined by my former intern and friend Hilary Browder for a hike in a new place. We let Chattanooga at about 8:30 AM and headed up to Dayton, Tennessee to try and find the Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness. Eventually, more than 30 miles of the Cumberland Trail will be built in this area heading in a north-south orientation. Currently, about 5.5 miles of trail are on the ground.
We arrived at the trailhead in about 45 minutes to find ourselves the only ones there.
This walk was interesting for a couple of reasons. Within a short distance of the trailhead, we found the entrance to an old coal mine, which we briefly explored. A coal seam was visible along the walls of the cave. We then followed a large creek on our left as we made our way up the gorge. This area is obviously a popular swimming hole in the heat of the summer. Deep pools and waterfalls abound just a short distance from the trail.
Map of Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness
We walked for perhaps 1.5 miles until we reached the first 50' bridge indicated on the map above. There we met a lovely couple from Harrison, TN who were out with their two dogs doing some geocaching. After chatting for a while, Hilary and I headed back to the car.
The only disappointing aspects of the trail were the graffiti that we found, along with a fair amount of trash. The trails also need some TLC. Several of the switchbacks have been cut so regularly, that it's hard to distinguish between the official trail and the herd path. Several blowdowns are also awaiting a chainsaw.
I'll be back sometime to try and hike all the way to the waterfalls. Here are a few more photos from the day.
Entrance to an old coal mine just off the trail
Coal seam inside the mine
The creek from just off the trail
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 06:29 PM
November 30, 2006
Looking North from near the top of Kennesaw Mountain
On Thanksgiving Day, instead of sitting around watching football, I decided to take my daughter and two of her cousins for a short hike. Since we were in Marietta, Georgia, I decided to take them to the closest National Park - Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.
The park itself is an island in a sea of sprawl. New housing developments are popping up all around - like mushrooms after a spring rain. This development places tremendous stress on the park in the form of added visitation, and degredation of park resources.
Thankfully, the trails inside the National Park are maintained beautifully by a local volunteer group. The Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club is a member of the Southeastern Foot Trails Coalition, and they have done some fantastic work relocating old eroded trails, and working regularly to ensure that park visitors can have a pleasant experience on the trail network. The club is always looking for volunteers, so if interested in participating in a half day of trail maintenance or helping to eradicate invasive species, please send them an email.
We drove over to the park, only to find that the parking lot was closed, so we parked on the street with the rest of the visitors, and walked into the park. We chose to hike a short one-mile trail from the Visitors Center up to the summit of Kennesaw Mountain.
Since the park is located close to Metro Atlanta, it receives a tremendous number of visitors. More than 1.2 million visitors are estimated to visit the park each year! The primary purpose of this National Park is to protect and interpret the Civil War history of the area. According to the National Park Service, “over 5,350 soldiers were killed in the battle fought here from June 19, 1864 through July 2, 1864."
As we climbed Kennesaw Mountain, evidence of the hostilities could be found in the form of earthworks (fortifications), and old cannons. We stopped occasionally at the benches that lined the trail, and took in the views which included downtown Atlanta to the south, and Stone Mountain off to the east. One of the most heartening aspects of our visit, was the fact that so many families were out enjoying the day. Unlike many backcountry trails where diversity is sorely lacking, the visitors to the park actually looked like a microcosm of America.
I'll end this entry with a few photos taken during our short visit. We'll be back to explore more of the park. I hope you'll take the opportunity to do the same.
Cannon and earthworks near summit of Kennesaw Mountain
Stone Mountain off in the distance
Post-war carving atop Kennesaw Mountain. According to Park Historian Willie Johnson, the carving predates the establishment of the park. Today this would be considered vandalism.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 12:31 PM
November 27, 2006
View to the Southeast from Potrock Bald
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of exploring a new area here in the Southern Appalachians. The 25.5-mile Fires Creek Rim Trail is an area that I've been planning to hike since 2004, and I finally took the time to get out there and hike it.
The Fires Creek Rim Trail is a rugged loop trail located near Hayesville, North Carolina in the Tusquitee Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest. The beauty of a loop trail, is that you can park your car at the trailhead where you begin your hike, and walk the trail (without retracing your steps) right back to where you started! Joining me on this hike was John R. Ray, and my regular hiking buddy Dave "Youngblood" Womble. John, a retired Physicist from Clemson University discovered this trail about 6 years ago, and has since developed a comprehensive hiking guide for the area. He has also spent a considerable amount of time clearing brush and downed trees, and placing blue plastic trail markers on the trail. Dave is a friend that I met while hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2000. We have since hiked a number of trails together.
We started our 3-day trek on Friday November 24, and it was great to know that while most of America was jostling for their place in checkout lines at the mall, we were out hiking on a glorious fall day.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:33 AM
November 10, 2006
The Tennessee River Gorge from the Cumberland Trail
The southern terminus of the Cumberland Trail is located inside the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park at a place known as Signal Point. This morning while driving home after allowing my 16 year old daughter to drive herself to school in my Jeep, I saw an amazing sight. The Tennessee River Gorge was filled with fog, light, and amazing foliage!
I quickly ran home, grabbed my camera, and headed to Signal Point. Once there I set out on the Cumberland Trail. The trail was slick with leaves, but I was only traveling less than a half mile to an overlook.
Instead of waxing poetic about the beauty of the area, I'd prefer to let the photos tell the story. They were taken this morning at about 8:30 AM.
If you'd like to hike in this area, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has GPS route files available for download. If you decide to take a young person with you (and I hope that you do!), be sure to watch them like a hawk. There are steep bluffs on this section of trail. Enjoy!
View from a lookout on the Cumberland Trail. Edwards Point is at the top right.
Julia Falls from the lookout
Close up of foliage and fog from lookout
Returning to the trailhead from the lookout
Staircase on the Cumberland Trail - leading to the trailhead
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 10:04 AM
November 07, 2006
View from Mt. Mitchell State Park
On Saturday while in the Asheville area, I decided to head up to Mt. Mitchell State Park. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and I had never been there before. With glorious fall weather, and some time on my hands, it seemed like the right thing to do.
To reach Mt. Mitchell from Asheville, you hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive north. The views from along the Parkway were spectacular, and many folks were out enjoying the day looking at the last of the fall foliage.
Sign at entrance to Mt Mitchell State Park
Once inside the park, I decided to take a short hike along the Balsam Nature Trail. The trail wound through a dense Fir forest, with the fragrance of Christmas Trees filling the air. There were also Mountain Ash trees with their glorious red berries set against a backdrop of a beautiful blue sky. Unfortunately, many of the Fraser Fir trees along the flanks of Mt. Mitchell are dying due to a combination of air pollution and an exotic insect known as the balsam woolly aphid. As a result, the situation atop Mt. Mitchell was chronicled in the book The Dying of the Trees by Charles Little.
The trail led me about .3 miles to where the trail to the summit of Mt. Mitchell was closed.
The summit was closed as they reconstruct an observation tower. Since I have still not been to the highest point east of the Mississippi, I'll have to return to Mt. Mitchell again. The next time I do so, I'll be sure to walk there on the Mountains to Sea Trail.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 07:03 PM
October 08, 2006
A beautiful waterfall found along the Cumberland Trail
in the newly opened Possum Creek segment
Chattanooga is a great place to live if you're a hiker. The city and the surrounding area abound with natural areas to get out and stretch your legs. There's the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park, Reflection Riding, Lula lake Land Trust. Savage Gulf Natural Area, Cloudland Canyon State Park. And then there is the vast Cherokee National Forest which lies less than an hour to the east of Chattanooga.
The Cumberland Trail is one of my personal favorites. Stretching from Signal Point
all the way to Cumberland Gap National Historic - this linear state park is a work-in-progress. It's actually part of a much larger trail system - The Great Eastern Trail - which will eventually stretch from Florida to New York! 35 miles of new trail is recently opened to hikers just north of Chattanooga. This includes the Rock Creek, Possum Creek , and the Soddy Creek segments of the Cumberland Trail. Each of these trail segments traverses steep gorges containing a dizzying array of wildlife.
The Soddy Gorge segment begins less than two miles from where the Soddy Mountain Hawk Lookout is located - off of HWY 111 atop the Cumberland Plateau. For a map and directions that will help you find the trailhead, please take a moment to visit the Cumberland Trail Conference website.
Later this month the Cumberland Trail Conference will be hosting volunteers from all over the USA to help build and maintain this magnificent trail. The trail club will be housing, feeding, and entertaining volunteers in exchange for their volunteer time. It's a great way to meet new friends, visit beautiful places, and help build a trail for future generations. For information on how YOU can become a trail volunteer, please visit this link, or contact Tony Hook at 931-456-6259.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 07:44 PM
March 10, 2006
Eagle Creek inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Day three on the trail was a cold one - at least in the morning! As I walked along the old woods roads inside the park, past the rusting hulks of old cars and chimneys from homes long abandoned, I got to thinking about the many reasons why a road along the north shore of Fontana Lake would be a disaster.
Let's look at some of the many problems facing Great Smoky Mountains National Park today. The park is home to non-native wild boar, which are wreaking havoc on the park's ecosystems. With their tusks, the boar tear up the soil in their search for roots. Since the hogs are omnivorous, they also eat snakes, salamanders, young birds, and basically, anything they can find. The park has an ongoing effort to trap the hogs to remove them from the ecosystem. In addition, the park's air quality is in dire shape. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, Great Smoky is one of the most endangered parks in America. According to the NPCA website, "Named in 2002 as the most polluted national park in the country, poor air quality in the Smokies often rivals urban areas. Park visitors seeking pristine mountain air find that their health may be jeopardized in summer months." Why in the world would we want to add more vehicles to this type of environment?
Additional threats include invasive species such as the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, which is killing off the park's giant hemlock trees. The high elevation Balsam Fir trees have already been killed off by a similar pest - the Balsam Woolly Adelgid. The park's pine trees are also in bad shape from Pine Beetle damage. A road into the park will help facilitate the movement of additional non-native species into the park, AND add additional pollutants to an already stressed environment. That simply makes no sense.
There are two primary reasons why the road is being considered. The first is economic development. North Carolina would like to see a greater share of the tourism dollars from visitation. They don't have anything to rival Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (thank goodness for that!) and would like a bigger piece of the economic pie. But does it make any sense to cook the goose that lays the golden eggs? The other reason is access to the cemeteries. When the land was taken in 1943 in preparation to dam the Little Tennessee River to create Fontana Lake, the government promised to build the road. Bear in mind that this was during WWII, and this was a national security issue at the time. 63 years later, the road has still not been built and the Commissioners from Swain County, North Carolina have voted to accept a $52 Million cash settlement from the US Government in order to let this issue die. That is the primary alternative to spending $590 Million to build the road.
Continuing to mosey along the trail, we came to the beautiful Eagle Creek (see photo above). What an incredible area! The creek was crossed on an old metal bridge, and wound through tunnels of Rhododendron. Wow!
Moving along, we finally left the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) as the Lakeshore Trail veered to head towards Fontana Dam, and the BMT continued along the Lost Cove Trail towards Shuckstack Mountain. Finally, we arrived at Fontana Dam and our 3-day, 36-mile hike was over. What an amazing trail!
Please take a moment to visit the final audio dispatch from the hike. I hope that you can make the time to visit this area to hike some or all of the Lakeshore Trail! Perhaps our paths will cross somewhere along the way. Until then.... Happy Trails!
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 11:39 AM
Day two on the Lakeshore Trail started out slowly as we walked along an old woods road on the contour just above Fontana Lake. A few miles further up the trail we stumbled upon evidence of settlement from the early 1900s. A long unused woods road led uphill to a series of rock walls terraced on the hillside in a lovely cove. We dropped our packs and explored the area for perhaps 20 minutes. The area was riddled with signs of former inhabitation including old rusted buckets strewn about the landscape.
Onward we walked until we came upon a vernal pool alongside the trail. Vernal or temporary pools are vitally important for amphibian populations. Because they dry up in the summer, these areas hold no fish, and thus make ideal locations for frogs, toads, and salamanders to breed. I checked out some salamander larvae wriggling about in the ooze for a few minutes, and then continued onward.
A few miles down the trail we came upon an old woods road that had been freshly graded and had gravel recently laid down. One of the issues that is driving the possible road development in the park is access to cemeteries by the descendants of the settlers in the parks. Since 1976, the National Park Service has been taking visitors to each of the 22 cemeteries found in the park. Each cemetery is visited once a year. The families arrive by boat and visit the graves to re-mound them, place decorations, and honor their ancestors. Alongside the freshly graded road was an orange road construction sign that hopefully is NOT a portent of things to come.
The remainder of the day was a pleasant stroll with a tough climb over an unnamed ridge as we approached Hazel Creek. Once at campground 86 along Hazel Creek I strung my hammock between two trees, settled down for dinner, and then crashed for the night.
In the morning, I recorded an audio dispatch from Hazel Creek. Take a listen!
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 09:26 AM
March 09, 2006
Accompanied by a good friend and hiking companion Dave Womble, we arrived in Bryson City, NC early Thursday morning March 2. By 9:15 AM we were at the trailhead parking lot and our hike was underway. From the Bryson City end, the Lakeshore Trail enters a long unlit tunnel completed in 1969, and emerges out the other side. Within another quarter mile, the pavement ends and a narrow hiking trail begins.
For nearly 30 miles, the Lakeshore Trail is dual designated as the Benton MacKaye Trail. The walking was quite pleasant, and within a few minutes we flushed a pair of White Tailed Deer. Through the course of the day we wound through the hills, catching occasional glimpses of Fontana Lake, and flushing about a half dozen Ruffed Grouse.
We crossed a number of gorgeous creeks including Forney Creek and the North Fork of Chambers Creek. At the outlet of Forney Creek we caught sight of an adult Bald Eagle soaring high above Fontana Lake.
The thought that kept crossing my mind was how much blasting would be required in order to build a road into this area. In addition, how could a road be built through these drainages without causing permanent irreparable damage to the area, including the pristine streams that are home to native trout? The answer is pretty simple. It can't be done.
Finally, we arrived at our campsite after a 12-mile hike. I have prepared an audio dispatch from campsite 76 for you to listen to. So turn on your speakers, sit back, and take a listen.
Posted by Jeffrey Hunter at 03:48 PM