Move Your Trail Off Of My Land

By Ashley Cabrera

After two years and more than 15,000 hours of labor, the rerouting of Fiery Gizzard Trail in Tennessee has been completed. The project began in June 2015 after two landowners asked South Cumberland State Park to move the parts of the trail that were going through their land. The first landowner asked that the trail be removed from his property by December 2015. As the rangers and other volunteers worked on the first reroute, another landowner asked that the part of the trail on his land be removed as well, by December 2016.

No More Handshakes
As the park received these requests, it consulted with Parks and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill and other Tennessee State Park and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation management on how to approach the situation. “When the trail was created in 1973, to bring more visitors to the area, there were only handshake agreements between the park and the landowners,” says Hill. Since those handshake agreements, things have changed. People have moved and landowners have changed, leaving those agreements null. 

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“If I could give any advice to other parks, it would be to check your maps and see where your trails land, and if you don’t have any agreements, get them in writing as legal documents,” says George Shinn, Park Manager at South Cumberland State Park. The two parts of the trail may be off private property, but that might not be the end of the trail reroute. There are six miles of trail still on private land, which is owned by four different landowners. “Any one of them could write a letter tomorrow saying they want the trail off their land, which could lead to the trail being closed. We are working with the Land Trust for Tennessee, Friends of South Cumberland, and other partners to get easements, purchase land, and do other things to ensure the Fiery Gizzard Trail stays open,” says Shinn.

Navigating Rocky Terrain
When park staff members began to construct a plan for how and where the trail would be rerouted, they wanted to find the best and easiest way to get from one point to the next. The segment of the trail on the first landowner’s property was on flat land, so it was pushed back, just to the edge of the property. The second segment for rerouting was on property with a shelf below it and was soft below the bluff line. The staff began flagging the land and checking land boundaries. The first trail reroute crosses McAlloyd Cove near Raven Point, which has a rugged descent. It crosses over a creek and then climbs back up to the rim. The second trail reroute dips into a cove right past the first reroute and is not as steep as the first descent. This section crosses a stream that gives a new view of a waterfall.

Due to the steep slopes of the new trail route, park rangers and volunteers had to use some different techniques and mechanisms to complete it. In order to put together the rock stair to assist in climbing the steep incline, rangers used cables, ropes, pulleys, and a grip hoist to make a zipline of sorts for the rocks. This made it easier to send the rocks down the slope, rather than carrying them. “This was one of the hardest parts of building the trail, especially along these 60- to 100-foot cliffs. We didn’t just scrape the leaves off and make a foot-wide path. At many of the areas, we had to build bridges, stone stairs, stone drainages in some places, and even water bars,” says Park Ranger Park Greer. At one of the cliffs, with a 100-foot elevation, the staff built a wooden staircase to keep people from having to scramble up the hillside.

Banding Together
Contributions from the community significantly helped the process of the reroute. The Lyndhurst Foundation gave the park a $25,000 grant, which helped pay for the bridge materials over McAlloyd Cove and other materials for the trail. The Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative donated two electric poles for the bridge, put into place by helicopters with the help of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Other financial help came from the Tennessee Trails Association for the hoist system to get the rocks and stones down the cliff.

Then, of course, there were the volunteers. “The trail work had awesome volunteer support from all over the state, and even outside the state. There were some days where 40-plus people would show up to help build the trails,” says Greer. Throughout the trail reroute, more than 10,000 hours of volunteer work were logged. The Friends of South Cumberland State Park has been a crucial part of making this trail reroute happen, from obtaining financial help to gathering volunteers. “At first we thought this was a disaster, especially when we found out the price of the land was more than us or anyone was willing to pay. Despite all of that, this reroute has changed the character of the trail and made it into something so much greater than we ever thought was possible,” says Latham Davis, President of the Friends of South Cumberland State Park.

New Routes, New Views
Before the reroute, the Fiery Gizzard Trail was 12.5 miles one way. Now, it is roughly 14 miles long and includes three new waterfall sites. “Visitors will find that the trail is a little more steep and difficult, but there are so many more beautiful sights to see, and it’s worth it,” says Greer. Hikers can now see Anderson Falls at 80 feet, Crocket Pine Falls at 30 feet, and the Cascades in the gorge at five to six feet, stretching to 25 feet. Other beautiful sites on the trail are the wildflowers, trilliums, and pink lady slippers.

Though this reroute started with various trials, the process has left the trail more appreciated by the public. Randy Hedgepath, who is currently the Tennessee Naturalist, was a park ranger at South Cumberland State Park for 16 years; he helped build some of the trail reroute and recently hiked the new section, along with a 5th-grade class. “This trail reroute has nothing but improved the Fiery Gizzard Trail,” he says. “There are all sorts of waterfalls and things you could not see before. Everywhere you look it’s like a postcard, and it is absolutely spectacular.”

Ashley Cabrera is the Creative Services Coordinator 1 for the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation’s Office of Sustainable Practices. Her responsibilities include working with publications, editing articles, working with the Office’s social media pages and newsletter, and working with the Legislative Liaison to provide the Legislature with TDEC information. Reach her at ashley.cabrera2@tn.gov.