ONEIDA, Tenn. — The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area will offer a ranger-led hike to the Oscar Blevins Farm on Saturday as part of its year-long Centennial Challenge.
The Big South Fork’s challenge encourages visitors to the park to hike, bike, paddle or ride 100 miles as part of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. The self-paced challenge relies on the honor system, with participants downloading a form from the BSF’s website, nps.gov/biso, to keep track of their miles. A ceremony will be held in December to cap the challenge and celebrate those who completed the 100 miles.
While the challenge is self-guided, the BSF offers ranger-led hikes twice monthly as part of the challenge. This week, the hike is an easy stroll along the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop to one of the few preserved homesteads that remain within the national park’s 125,000 acres.
The 3.6-mile hike begins and ends at the Bandy Creek Trailhead, just past the park’s visitor center, and is rated easy.
The original cabin at the Blevins farm was built in 1879 by John Blevins, a direct descendant of Johnathan Blevins, who is believed to be the first white settler in what is now the Big South Fork. That cabin is still standing, along with other structures that were added later, including an impressive barn. The pastures are still enclosed with original log fences, and are occupied by the National Park Service’s horses. Standing in the shade of the walnut trees that grow in the middle of the farm and watching whitetail deer or wild turkey feed in the edge of the pastures, it’s not hard to find one’s self transported back in time to the frontier days of Big South Fork Country.
The hike to the Oscar Blevins Farm begins with a good example of forest aging. The area closer to the trailhead was farmland not too many years ago, and hikers will find themselves traversing thick, young forest growth before suddenly plunging into much older-growth hardwoods.
The hike to the farm is mostly unspectacular, but the farm itself more than makes up for what the walk in lacks. In addition to the structures that remain at the farm, an old root cellar is located along the path.
From the farm, the trail follows an old roadbed that was once the main route of transportation through the area, before the days of automobiles. Part of that portion of the trail is shared with the Collier Ridge Loop Trail, a popular trail for mountain bikers.
Along the walk, hikers will notice the farm of Billie Blevins alongside the old road. The fields and homesite have mostly been reclaimed by nature, but it’s obvious that a farm once existed there.
From there the trail follows a portion of Bandy Creek, the scenic stream that lends its namesake to that part of the national park. Eventually, the trail crosses the creek and begins a gentle climb back towards the trailhead.
Along the way, hikers can take a short spur trail to Muleshoe Shelter, a natural rock shelter that was used by early farmers as a barn. Mules were shoed there, giving the shelter its name.
As the trail continues back to the trailhead, examples of the southern pine beetle infestation of the late 1990s can be observed. Some of the massive tree trunks of white pines that once dominated the forst are still standing, while many others have fallen and are decaying on the forest floor. Reforestation is occuring in their absence in the form of mountain laurel thickets.
While signs of the southern pine beetle infestation can still be seen, a decade and a half later, some hemlocks along the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop Trail are currently suffering damage from the woolly adelgid infestation. Hikers will notice brightly-colored blue swaths on some of the hemlocks, which denote trees that have been treated by park service personnel to defend them against the woolly adelgid.
Saturday’s hike will depart the trailhead at Bandy Creek at 9 a.m. eastern. Hikers are encouraged to take comfortable shoes for walking, snacks and water.