Charit Creek Hostel
Stand beneath the towering sandstone bluffs 400 ft. above and let the peaceful silence of a snow-covered winter's morning engulf you where the cold, clear waters of Charit Creek flow into Station Camp Creek, and one can't help but feel that he's discovered the very same thing that Jonathan Blevins discovered when he decided to settle in this valley almost 200 years ago.
The first white man to put down roots in this rugged country that lies beyond the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, Blevins built his cabin here in 1817, at the age of 37.
Blevins was a longhunter, not a farmer, and he carved out a life for himself and his family in what is now the Big South Fork backcountry by pursuing the whitetail deer, black bear and other wild game animals that inhabited the forests. The meat was consumed for nourishment, while the furs were made into clothing or sold for supplies.
His homestead was located nearly three miles west of the Big South Fork River, where Station Camp Creek and Charit Creek converge in western Scott County.
Blevins' children turned to subsistence farming at the homestead to help support the growing family. Over the years, they cleared the fields that exist today around the homestead. Using lumber from the oak and hemlock trees that grew in the valley surrounding the creek, more buildings were constructed, including a two-story, four-crib barn.
According to writings by long-time Big South Fork Ranger Howard Duncan, Charit Creek is said to have drawn its name from a girl named Charity, who drowned in the creek's shallow waters. Another girl, Julie King, whose father built a cabin near Blevins' homestead, also drowned in the creek while suffering an epileptic seizure. She is buried in the small cemetery where Blevins and his wife are buried a short distance downstream from the farm.
While Blevins was the first white settler in the greater Station Camp Creek area, he certainly wasn't the last. By the mid 19th Century, the population of the valley had swelled to more than 100. The community grew large enough to support a grist mill, school and, eventually, a post office.
The next chapter in the long history of the Blevins farm came in the 1960s, more than 100 years after Jonathan Blevins had passed on. In the aftermath of World War II, families along Station Camp, No Business and Parch Corn creeks began moving away from the river and closer to town — Oneida to the east; Jamestown to the west. It is said that soldiers who lived their lives in the sheltered valley before being called into service realized that a more expansive world existed and wanted to move out of the rugged bottoms.
With homesteads rapidly diminishing in the area, Joe Simpson purchased the Blevins farm in 1963 and opened a hunting preserve. For the next 19 years, the Parch Corn Creek Hunting Camp — known then and now as "The Hog Farm" by locals — attracted hunters in pursuit of the wild boar that Simpson stocked there.
After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purchased the farm in 1982 as part of the acquisition for the newly-formed Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, the Parch Corn Creek Hunting Camp became Charit Creek Lodge. It was operated as a youth hostel for much of the '80s.
Today, the lodge provides overnight a accommodations deep in the backcountry for horseback riders, hikers and hunters. Accessible only by foot or horseback, with the nearest trailhead being nearly a mile away at the top of the ridge, Charit Creek does not have the modern luxuries of electric lighting or air conditioning.
In the spring and summer, a volleyball net and horseshoe stakes call from the green meadows along Charit Creek. In the winter, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces provide heat for the bunking areas and for the dining room — which is built around the original cabin Blevins constructed 1994 years ago.
The lodge is gradually being modernized: gas powers the cook stove in the kitchens and fans cool the sleeping quarters on summer nights. But, for the most part, Charit Creek remains today as it was when the Blevinses and Kings and other families settled here generations ago.
There's never a bad time to visit the remote farm. But in the aftermath of a winter's snowfall might be the best time of all. Equestrian and foot traffic — which peaks in autumn when nature displays her colorful call foliage — is at a minimum and the valley along Station Camp Creek and Charit Creek is engulfed in solitude.
Hot meals await paying guests in the mornings and evenings — menus might include such fixings as bacon, eggs, ham and pancakes for breakfast, and chicken-n-dumplins, turnip greens, beans and cornbread for supper. There's water and hay for the horses, which can be stabled in the barn across the field from the lodging area.
There's no wrong way to approach Charit Creek. The easiest — and quickest — is from a trailhead on nearby Fork Ridge Road, a 0.8-mile hike to the bottom of the gorge. A slightly longer, more scenic route is from the Twin Arches Trailhead. Hikers can travel about two miles from their vehicle to the lodge, stopping to take in the beauty of the massive sandstone arches for which the BSF is best known.
Yet another alternative is to cross the Big South Fork River at Station Camp and make the three-mile hike along the creek, past now-recalimed subsistence farms and homesteads where some of Scott County's earliest settlers once carved out a way of life. (The trail involves some creek crossings that aren't bridged.)
Visit www.charitcreeklodge.com for more information and reservations.