The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Cumberland Trail is nearing the end of its 50-year hike

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IMG_20201018_115753614_HDR.jpgThis is a view from the Cumberland Trail atop Brady Mountain. The complete trail, 50 years in the making, is almost done.  Ben Pounds   

The Cumberland Trail is nearly complete between Chatty and Cumberland Gap. That’s just the beginning.

Volunteers are putting the finishing touches on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail, which will run from Signal Mountain near Chattanooga to Tristate Point near Cumberland Gap. 

Cumberland Trail Park Manager Bob Fulcher said in a phone interview he hopes to acquire the last pieces of private land for the trail within about two years. He estimated there were about 40 miles of trail that would be left to build before a grand opening, and it’s possible these sections will be ready within two to four years.

“I’m thrilled with where we are. I mean, it’s taken a long time to get here, 50 years. And it won’t take us 50 more to finish,” Fulcher said. He was speaking of the designation of the trail as a state scenic trail in 1971, although he pointed out efforts to build the trail predate that point.

He said the trail’s completion may depend on the availability of state funds, but in recent years the state of Tennessee has been supportive.

“We’ll have some hurdles that we may not see ahead. We don’t know where they are,” he said. “I believe. I’m optimistic that we have a clear path toward opening the Cumberland Trail.”

Many segments of the trail already exist, going up mountains and down into gorges, letting hikers see sandstone cliffs, roaring rivers and grand vistas.

These stretches are available for both backcountry camping and for day hikes, even if there are still some pieces left to assemble.

The Cumberland Trail is just a small part of the Great Eastern Trail, which is also a work in progress, and will eventually connect New York to Florida. It will serve as an alternative north to south route to the Appalachian Trail and connect to several other long-distance routes. Here in Tennessee, the trail is designated a Tennessee state park, specifically the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Scenic Trail State Park.

Fulcher said various volunteers with groups like Cumberland Trail Conference and Tennessee Trails Association, the state park service, the Tennessee National Guard and Americorps had been working on the trail.

“There are just very short sections of trail that have not been built,” he said.

These sections include two miles between the Piney River trailhead and Ozone Falls trailhead, for instance. Another area in which more trail will need to be built is around Crab Orchard Mountain — commonly called Lone Star after the limestone company that owned it. The trail will go along the mountain’s base and to the crest. Fulcher said he preferred to use the older name, Crab Orchard, for the mountain.

He also described “quite a few miles” in the Piney River Gorge area that have yet to be completed.

Fulcher said that even after a grand opening of the trail, there could be more rerouting, as has happened with the Appalachian Trail.

Some recent segments

The official Great Eastern Trail newsletter this spring announced several recently completed sections of the trail. They include a new segment in the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area on the west side of Daddy’s Creek. It runs between the Devil’s Breakfast Table — a large mushroom-type rock formation — and Peavine Road. Hikers can walk the road from there along Hebbertsberg and Keys roads from where the previously open trail continues.

Another section between Black Mountain and Ozone Falls is open. This entire section is 6.7 miles, CTC chairman Frank Jamison confirmed by email.

Yet another new piece runs from Hall Road to Barker Pounds, which includes views of Hellican Peak.

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