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Featured Hike: John Muir to O&W

The Independent Herald’s Twenty Week Hiking Challenge continues with a 4.6-mile hike from Leatherwood Ford to the O&W Bridge and back, along the John Muir Trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

The trail features 100 ft. of elevation gain and is rated moderate.

The newspaper features a hike each week as part of the challenge. The John Muir Trail is the ninth of the 20 planned hikes. Previous hikes can be found here.

According to the Independent Herald, “The hike to the historic railroad bridge from Leatherwood Ford is not difficult. Instead, this trail garners its moderate rating from its length. At almost five miles, round-trip, it is the longest of the hikes that have been featured through the first nine weeks of the hiking challenge. But the trail itself is mostly level, with the exception of a short climb a little less than halfway between Leatherwood and O&W.”

The trail features the river, a waterfall, and the historic O&W Bridge, as well as wildflowers and cliff views. It begins at the Leatherwood Ford parking lot.

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Saturday is Spring Planting Festival at Big South Fork

ONEIDA, Tenn. — Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be hosting the 17th annual Spring Planting and Music Festival on Saturday, April 29, near the Bandy Creek Visitor Center.  The festival celebrates the coming of spring and the Appalachian way of life that has been such an important part of the history of the Big South Fork area.

The plowing and planting with mule and horse teams, which take place in a field adjacent to a carefully preserved Upper Cumberland farmstead, is one of the primary focal points of the event.  At the same farmstead, the public will have the opportunity to gain new insights into gardening and get their hands dirty as they learn to plant a range of garden vegetables.  Visitors will also have the chance to experience close at hand forgotten arts such as blacksmithing, horseshoe making, split rail fencing, quilting, embroidery, marble making, woodworking, farmstead skills and trapping.

Toe-tapping mountain music will be performed throughout the event area by an array of skilled musicians, and the main stage will feature nonstop music from some of the region’s most gifted musical talents.  The young and young at heart will have the opportunity to play with a wide variety of old fashioned toys.  Park staff and volunteers will also be providing a variety of programs that celebrate the coming of spring, including a guided bird walk at 8:00 a.m. (ET), programs on owls and hawks, and a guided wildflower hike at Leatherwood Ford at 11:00 a.m.  In cooperation with the Knoxville Track Club, the park will be hosting a Kids Fun Run at 9 a.m., and the Oscar Blevins four mile and seven mile Trail Runs at 10:00 a.m. to help visitors actively participate in this season when the world is full of movement (sign up at https://runsignup.com).  Visitors are encouraged to join park staff and volunteers in a celebration of spring and of the self-reliant way of life that has been a crucial component of this region’s history and culture.

For more information about this all day special event, call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275.

Entertainment Lineup

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be hosting the Spring Planting and Music Festival on Saturday, April 29, starting at 9 a.m. (ET).  A diverse range of the region’s most talented live music acts are currently scheduled to perform.  Musical genres represented are to include bluegrass, traditional Appalachian, singer-songwriter, Americana and a flute circle.

Smoky Mountain Flute Circle and the Knoxville Area Dulcimer Club will be performing all day at the Lora Blevins Farm, and Gerald Hanwright will be performing throughout the day at the Oscar Blevins Farm.

Performers scheduled at the Bandy Creek big tent will include: 9:30 a.m. – Spruce Creek Ramblers, 10:30 a.m. – Spirit Winds, 11:30 a.m. – Standing Stone Bluegrass, 12:30 p.m. – Spirit Winds, 1:30 p.m. – Rusty Rooster Band, 2:30 p.m. – Slaven Sisters, and 3:30 p.m. – T.J. Fincher.

In addition to the music, there will be plowing and planting demonstrations, children’s activities, interpretative talks, fun runs, bird watching and wildflower guided walks, vendors demonstrating and selling their wares, and food sales.  Event activities will occur in the Bandy Creek Visitor Center area, the Lora Blevins home site, and the Oscar Blevins farm, and shuttles will run between the three sites every 15 minutes to allow visitors to experience all the activities.

This event is free to attend.  Bring a lawn chair or a blanket and enjoy a great day of good food and music. A designated bus parking area is available for large groups.

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Car show set for Saturday

ONEIDA, Tenn. — The Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau will host an antique car show Saturday, April 22, 2017.

The show will begin at 9 a.m. and continue until 1 p.m. The registration fee for all automobiles and motorcycles is $10. A free dash plaque will be presented to the first 25 cars, and each registration includes a free pancake breakfast.

Admission is free for spectators. There will be a pancake breakfast for $5, and bounce house admission will also be $5.

For more information, contact Christin Neal at 423-286-9500.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau is located at 17025 Alberta Street in Oneida.

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Spring Planting Festival is a step back in time

ONEIDA, Tenn. — Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be hosting the 17th annual Spring Planting and Music Festival on Saturday, April 29, 2017, near the Bandy Creek Visitor Center.  The festival celebrates the coming of spring and the Appalachian way of life that has been such an important part of the history of the Big South Fork area.

The plowing and planting with mule and horse teams, which take place in a field adjacent to a carefully preserved Upper Cumberland farmstead, is one of the primary focal points of the event.  At the same farmstead, the public will have the opportunity to gain new insights into gardening and get their hands dirty as they learn to plant a range of garden vegetables.

Visitors will also have the chance to experience close at hand forgotten arts such as blacksmithing, horseshoe making, split rail fencing, quilting, embroidery, marble making, woodworking, farmstead skills and trapping.

Mountain music will be performed throughout the event area by an array of skilled musicians, and the main stage will feature nonstop music from some of the region’s most gifted musical talents.  The young and young at heart will have the opportunity to play with a wide variety of old fashioned toys.

Park staff and volunteers will also be providing a variety of programs that celebrate the coming of spring, including a guided bird walk at 8 a.m. (ET), programs on owls and hawks, and a guided wildflower hike at Leatherwood Ford at 11 a.m.

In cooperation with the Knoxville Track Club, the park will be hosting a Kids Fun Run at 9 a.m., and the Oscar Blevins four mile and seven mile Trail Runs at 10 a.m. to help visitors actively participate in this season when the world is full of movement (sign up at https://runsignup.com).

For more information about this all day special event, call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275, or visit online at www.nps.gov/biso.

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O&W Bridge reopens

ONEIDA, Tenn. — The newly renovated O&W Bridge across the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River has reopened.

The historic bridge, located in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, spans the river from which the 125,000-acre national park draws its name. It is more than a century old, and was once a railroad bridge.

O&W stands for Oneida & Western, the railroad that once linked the small Cumberland Plateau towns of Oneida and Jamestown. The railroad was constructed between 1914 and 1920 as a way for coal and timber companies to reach the expansive reserves of natural resources in what is now the Big South Fork NRRA. Construction of the railroad began in Oneida and ended in Jamestown.

For decades, steam locomotives traveled the O&W, hauling passengers and supplies into the gorge area, and hauling coal and timber out. Eventually, mining and logging operations ceased, and the railroad was abandoned. The rail bed was transformed into a road for passenger vehicles.

No one is sure exactly when the steel whipple bridge over the Big South Fork was built. But it was more than a century ago, and it is one of the last remaining bridges of its kind that remain operable in the United States. The bridge was originally built in the late 19th century, and was later dismantled and moved to the O&W in 1917.

A need to restore the bridge was realized when the Scott County Road Department replaced some deteriorating flooring in 2015 and discovered that the wooden cross ties that served as the sub-flooring were rotten.

The Scott County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee, which had previously launched discussions about securing the materials and volunteer labor to complete a restoration project, began a conversation that eventually led to the Industrial Development Board of Scott County agreeing to facilitate a state tourism grant to cover the costs of the project. The Chamber of Commerce applied for and received the grant, in the amount of $50,000. The Road Department agreed to provide the labor, for a total project cost of $94,000. An anonymous donor provided the matching funds for the grant.

While the O&W Bridge was closed for nearly a month, every piece of wood on the bridge, as well as the fencing that provides security, was replaced.

The bridge reopened on April 10.

“All materials that possibly could be purchased locally were bought from local businesses,” said Stacey Kidd, executive director of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce. “The cross ties, decking and fencing have all been replaced.”

The project did not utilize any local tax dollars, Kidd added.

The O&W Bridge is used by horseback riders to access trails from the Cumberland Valley Trailhead, among other points. Hikers use the bridge as part of the John Muir Trail and the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, which span the Big South Fork NRRA from north to south. The bridge area is also a popular terminus for whitewater paddlers who begin their kayak and raft trips from the river confluence on John Long Road or from Burnt Mill Bridge further upstream. Motorists use the bridge to access popular fishing areas and swimming holes on the west side of the BSF River and along North White Oak Creek.

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Hiking challenge explores BSF and the Cumberlands

For the second time in three years, an Oneida newspaper is challenging residents and visitors of Big South Fork Country to get out and explore the region’s spectacular places by traveling where their feet will take them.

The Independent Herald‘s Twenty Week Hiking Challenge tackles a new trail each week, totaling nearly 90 miles over a five-month period. Hundreds of participants are taking part in the challenge, which visits such scenic vistas as Northrup Falls at the Colditz Cove State Natural Area and the Twin Arches at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

Ben Garrett, publisher of the Independent Herald, said the challenge is designed to be beginner-friendly, easing novice hikers into the popular form of recreation.

“Our first hike was to Angel Falls in the Big South Fork, which is two miles in and two miles out along a flat, easy trail,” Garrett said. Some of the other hikes totaled around two miles, round-trip.

“The trails will progress in difficulty as the challenge goes along, and we’ll eventually have hikes that are quite a bit longer,” Garrett added. “By that point, some folks who were beginners when the challenge began will be seasoned hikers, and they’ll be able to tackle longer hikes that they weren’t able to complete earlier in the spring.”

The trade-off for the longer and more difficult hikes, Garrett said, is seeing awe-inspiring scenery that is otherwise inaccessible.

“We have people who have lived in this region all their lives, or who have visited our area all their lives, and they don’t know that some of these places even exist,” he said. “They come back amazed, every single time.”

While most of the hikes are in the Big South Fork NRRA, which features hundreds of miles of hiking trails, the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge also visits Colditz Cove, Pogue Creek State National Area, Pickett State Park, Frozen Head State Park and Daniel Boone National Forest.

Each week, the newspaper profiles the trail of the week on its Outside page, giving participants directions to the trailhead and a thorough description of the trail, including hazards and interesting points along the way. Prizes are awarded weekly. Hikers log their participation by tagging photos on social media with the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag.

The challenge began in March, but late-comers can play catchup by finding all the trails listed online.

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Lee Brice to headline White Knuckle

HUNTSVILLE, Tenn. — Country music heartthrob Lee Brice will headline the 2017 White Knuckle Event, it was announced late Tuesday.

Brimstone announced on its Facebook page Tuesday that Brice will be the featured performer at the weekend-long event, which is held each Memorial Day weekend. Brice will take the Yamaha stage on Saturday, May 27.

One of the hottest acts in country music, Brice has seen his last seven singles reach the Top 10 on the country charts, dating back to 2011. Four of those singles went all the way to No. 1.

A noted songwriter in Nashville, Brice has been performing for a decade, and has never failed to chart a single. He gained notoriety with “Love Like Crazy,” which went to No. 3 on the charts in 2009.

In 2011, Brice began his string of success, when “A Woman Like You” became his first No. 1 hit. He had two more No. 1 songs the following year, “Hard to Love” and “I Drive Your Truck.”

After “Parking Lot Party” peaked at No. 6 on the charts in 2013, Brice topped the charts again in 2014 with “I Don’t Dance.” That same year, his “Drinking Class” peaked at No. 2 on the charts.

Brice’s most recent single, “That Don’t Sound Like You,” peaked at No. 10 in 2015.

Brice has released three studio albums, including 2012’s Hard 2 Love, which was certified gold. His latest album, I Don’t Dance in 2014, reached No. 1 on the U.S. country charts and sold nearly 250,000 copies.

The 37-year-old South Carolina native has also had songs recorded by Garth Brooks (“More Than a Memory”), Blake Shelton (“You’ll Always Be Beautiful”), Kenny Chesney (“Seven Days”), the Eli Young Band (“Crazy Girl” and “I Love You”) and many more.

White Knuckle Event is billed as the Woodstock of ATV events, and is one of the nation’s premier festivals for off-road enthusiasts. It is centered around the Vanderpool Event Area on River Road in Huntsville, and Brimstone’s 20,000 acres of trails and resort lands are open for riders during the event. Tickets will go on sale soon at www.whiteknuckleevent.com.

Need a room? Check out our lodging options!

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How Bronco Overlook got its name

Step out onto the unprotected outcropping at Bronco Overlook and you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular views in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

You’ll see the craggy rock outcroppings that stand sentry over the mouth of Mill Creek, a rugged drainage that serves as a watershed for much of the south side of Station Camp Road from Williams Creek Road to the horse camp. You’ll see much of the gorge that encases the Big South Fork River between the big bend just below the John Hawk Smith Place and the Station Camp crossing. And, far below, you’ll see the river itself.

One thing you won’t see is the overlook’s namesake — a twisted, now rusting hunk of metal that rests at the base of the cliff. It’s obscured by trees and growth, which have long since healed from the scars that were left when the Ford Bronco plunged through them on its way to its final resting place some 30 years ago.

Historically, the ridge that ends at this rock outcropping was known as Sheep Ridge. Most folks who grew up in the area still call it that, and the road that runs the length of the ridge is still known as Sheep Ridge Road.

But Bronco Overlook earned its new name in the mid 1980s, when someone rolled a Ford Bronco II over the cliff.

The national park was still in its infancy in those days; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was just completing its park-building tasks and preparing to turn the 125,000-acre national river and recreation area over to its sister agency, the National Park Service.

Only a few years before, this ridge was privately-owned. The view from the rock outcropping was just as magnificent, but it was not free for all. A log home was perched on the edge of the cliff, owned by MP Estes. The house was destroyed when the federal government began buying up land in the area in the 1970s, but part of its concrete foundation can still be seen at the end of Sheep Ridge Road, where horseback riders tie off their horses before stepping out onto the overlook.

At some point after, someone drove the Bronco to the overlook, rolling it over the edge of the cliff. It tumbled to the forest floor below, landing upright but destroyed.

No one seems to remember exactly who rolled the vehicle over the cliff — or even if their identity was ever known. Donny Kidd, who has spent his entire life around the Station Camp area, recalls that it was stolen from North Carolina.

Bronco1

In its day, the vehicle was a nice one. The vehicle identification number, still visible on the dash, reveals it to have been a 1986 Ford Bronco II, Eddie Bauer edition. In 1986, the Bronco II was in its third year of production as Ford’s compact SUV. A precursor to the Ford Explorer, the Bronco II was built on a modification of the Ford Ranger chassis.

Ford marketed its Bronco II to young men, calling it a “John Wayne vehicle.” One of the automaker’s marketers, Martin Goldfarb, said that the vehicle “gave people the sense they could conquer anything; it could go anywhere.” Not quite anywhere, as it turned out; the Bronco II couldn’t conquer the cliff at the end of Sheep Ridge.

Until recent years, Sheep Ridge Road remained open and accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Nowadays it is closed to motor vehicles and is designated as an equestrian trail. The Bronco Overlook Trail is a short, 1.2-mile ride or hike from the Station Camp Equestrian Trailhead.

Because the ridge is mostly level, Bronco Overlook is easily accessed, and makes for an excellent Sunday afternoon hike any time of the year. Its namesake, however, is a different story. It is very difficult to access, which explains why the federal government decided to leave it be rather than remove it.

Today, the old ‘86 Bronco II at the bottom of Bronco Overlook is one of several hunks of rusting metal in the BSF backcountry that were once someone’s automobile. They were driven into what we now know as the backcountry when it was still sparsely civilized, then simply left. The National Park Service has removed several of them in recent years — such as a vehicle just west of the Station Camp river crossing, and an old T-model Ford along No Business Creek — but many more remain.

Most of them, of course, are different. They’re automobiles that harken back to a different era, in the ‘50s and ‘60s; cars that, if they had been properly cared for, would have likely been restored and today been the apples of their owners’ eyes. Like the old autos that can be seen along the Big Island Loop Trail near JD Burke’s old cabin, or just over the bank along the road to John Hawk Smith’s homestead, or a vehicle that is in the middle of the woods near an old homeplace on the edge of the gorge above Angel Falls. But whether they’re old or relatively modern, like the ‘86 Ford Bronco, they all have their own story to tell.

And, in some cases, they lend their names to incredible vantagepoints that help define the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

Bronco-II

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oandw

Improvements are coming to the historic O&W Railroad Bridge in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

The Scott County Chamber of Commerce announced in July 2016 that it has received grant funding through a tourism grant to fund a $97,000 project to replace all timbers on the century-old bridge. The grant was facilitated by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County, and supported by the Tourism Committee of the Chamber of Commerce.

Work on the bridge was originally expected to begin at the conclusion of the fall tourism season in November. However, an unexpected delay in the release of funding has resulted in the project being delayed.

Stacey Kidd, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that the funds are expected to be released at any time, after which the Scott County Road Department will immediately begin work on the project as weather permits. The O&W Road will be closed for three weeks once construction begins, and the goal is to be finished with the project by the start of the spring tourism season.

No local tax dollars are being spent on the project.

The O&W Bridge was originally constructed in 1917 as part of the Oneida & Western Railroad, which was built from Oneida to reach coal and timber reserves in the modern-day Big South Fork NRRA. Once completed, the railroad linked Oneida and Jamestown. The bridge itself was actually built in the late 1800s. It was disassembled and moved to the Big South Fork River when the O&W Railroad was being built. It is one of the last bridges of its kind remaining in the United States.

At one point in the 1990s, the National Park Service proposed to close the O&W Road at the bridge, using the bridge for foot traffic and equestrian traffic. Scott County ultimately persuaded the NPS to leave the bridge open, and to leave the road open to White Oak Creek approximately two miles beyond the river crossing.

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Stand on the edge of the cliffs that line the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and a few of the small streams flowing into it between Leatherwood Ford and Station Camp, and it isn’t hard to imagine the Cherokee Indians that once inhabited these lands before the white man arrived standing on the rock outcroppings, scouting the river valley below.

When it comes to aerial views (from foot) of the Big South Fork, it’s hard to beat any one of the dozen or so marked overlooks scattered about the rim of the gorge north and south along the river. But if your idea of taking in the scenery and getting away from the day-trippers that head to places like East Rim and Blue Heron, it’s hard to beat a hike along the Grand Gap Loop.

A 6.8-mile loop trail along the west rim of the river gorge, Grand Gap Loop offers views that are simply spectacular — especially during the winter months, when there is no foliage to limit visibility.

Named after Grand Slaven, who lived nearby, Grand Gap was one of the few access points from which residents and other travelers could leave the plateau and reach the Big South Fork River, an elevation change of nearly 500 ft. and often lined by sheer cliff lines.

The hike itself is relatively easy, with no major inclines or rough terrain. Compared to several of the other trails the park offers, it’s a leisurely stroll, though a little difficulty can be added by approaching the loop trail from Leatherwood Ford, and a little length by approaching it from Bandy Creek.

The highlight of the loop trail is Angel Falls Overlook, which offers probably the most spectacular view in all the 115,000-acre park. From the rock outcropping 500 ft. above the Angel Falls river rapid, visibility extends several miles up and down the gorge, offering scenery that is eye-popping in any season. The overlook is just one of a number of spectacular gorge views along the route.

The loop trail is accessible by vehicle along the graveled multiuse road behind Bandy Creek Campground, but there is no marked trailhead. The nearest trailheads are at least three miles away.

Some other considerations: On weekdays, the trail is shared by mountain bikers. For camping hikers, there’s no source for water along the route. And the trail often travels alongside the sheer cliffs, which are unprotected.

The best ways to hike to Grand Gap Loop are from the trailheads at Leatherwood Ford and Bandy Creek. The Leatherwood hike makes it a 12.4-mile trek (2.8 miles each way from Leatherwood Ford to the loop trail at the top of the gorge), while the Bandy Creek hike makes it a 17-mile hike (5.1 miles each way from Bandy Creek to the loop trail).

For even more spectacular views of the river gorge, the John Muir Trail exits Grand Gap Loop and continues along the western rim of the gorge, eventually descending to the river bottom at Laurel Fork Creek near the Station Camp crossing.

The John Muir Trail begins at Burnt Mill Bridge in the southern section of the Big South Fork and traverses much of the park before ending at Pickett State Forest (sans an uncompleted segment between the Honey Creek Loop Trail and O&W Bridge).

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The Latest News

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ONEIDA, Tenn. — Big South Fork National River and

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