Officials hope new state natural area will attract more tourist dollars to region

The Window Cliffs Natural Area in Putnam County is now open for the business of public recreation.

State park officials, local politicians, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts gathered for a commencement celebration and an inaugural round of guided hikes at the 275-acre scenic refuge on April 7.

The opening of the area was also scheduled to highlight and coincided with this year’s State Natural Areas Spring Celebration Week, which is used to raise public awareness about Tennessee’s 85 state-owned natural areas.

The state’s Natural Areas Program “seeks to include adequate representation of all natural communities that make up Tennessee’s natural landscape, and provide long-term protection for Tennessee’s rare, threatened and endangered plant and animal life,” according to the Department of Environment and Conservation.

“I can really think of no way to better honor this week than the opening of Window Cliffs State Natural Area,” Roger McCoy, director of TDEC’s Division of Natural Areas, told the crowd of 100 or so people gathered for the kickoff event. “This is a big deal.”

The area’s plant diversity and craggy beauty are sure to entice visitors to Window Cliffs, said McCoy. “We’ve got mature forests, the free-flowing Cane Creek, and an amazing geologic formation that really is like no other in the state.”

The Window Cliffs trailhead is located about seven miles south of Exit 280 on I-40, at 8400 Old Cane Creek Rd in Baxter. It’s also just a couple miles from Burgess Falls State Park. The Window Cliffs trail includes a total of 20 bridgeless stream crossings and some pretty steep climbs, so don’t expect to have dry feet or fresh legs by the end of the day.

Bill Summers, head ranger at Burgess Falls State Park and Window Cliffs State natural Area

“Burgess Falls offers a relative short, scenic hike, and Window Cliffs is a little bit more of a challenging hike, which will be more rewarding to some visitors,” said Bill Summers, the chief state park ranger in charge of both areas. “I truly believe that both will compliment each other in what they offer to the public, and what they protect for future generations.”

Brock Hill, deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Bureau of Parks, said Gov. Bill Haslam has sought to place a “special focus on rural economic development,” and the opening of Window Cliffs is aligned with that priority.

Like with the opening of Cummins Falls State Park north of Exit 280, the Haslam administration’s parks and recreation planners believe taking a “businesslike approach” to designating and promoting exciting new outdoor-activity destinations will enhance local economies.

“A lot of communities, particularly here in the Upper Cumberland, are still struggling in some ways,” said Hill. “What Tennessee state parks can bring to that is what is called ‘place-based economic development.’ When we have beautiful landscapes like we do here in the Upper Cumberland, we have been able to identify places that will add a lot in terms of value to local economic development with tourism and job growth, as well as an opportunity for healthy lifestyles.”

This is the 46th year of Tennessee’s Natural Areas Program,” and the 80th year of the state park system.

Of the hundreds of cattle breeds raised on farms and ranchlands throughout the United States, few are more striking and recognizable than Texas Longhorns.

Longhorns have earned distinction not just for their ability to survive and thrive in arid, barren and otherwise inhospitable wilderness environments, but as a cultural and historical symbol of the Great American West itself.

They’ve been described as the “original bovine” in North America.

Today, longhorns represent just a fraction of the total number of cattle raised in America — especially outside Texas — estimated at less than one percent of the total population as a whole. The Fort Worth-based Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America reports about 80 registered commercial longhorn ranches are operating in Tennessee.

Even though their relative population is small, Texas Longhorns maintain a sturdy niche market, both for breeders and direct-to-market meat growers, said Roger Townsend, president of the Tennessee Valley Texas Longhorns Association.

Unlike cattle stocks that predominate today, “no one set out to develop Texas Longhorn cattle as a breed,” according to an informational webpage set up by a professor and longhorn conservationists at the University of Texas. “Instead, they evolved in North America from descendants of cattle brought into the Americas by the Spanish in the late 1400s and early 1500s.” Early herds roamed wild for centuries, and “underwent intense natural selection.” Descendants of the original stocks developed robust disease resistance, enabling them to flourish in harsh range conditions. With their prodigious, spike-tipped headgear, worn by bulls and cows alike, they could formidably defend themselves and their young against predator threats.

Owing to their natural evolution, Texas Longhorns today are capable of ingesting a much wider array of plants than other cattle.

“A lot of people compare them to bison or even goats,” said Townsend, who runs about 250 head of purebred Texas Longhorns on his ranch in Giles County. “They will graze and forage and go out in the woods and eat vines and things that other breeds nowadays won’t.”

Most all today’s cattle varieties have been bred “for one particular thing, be it for beef or milk,” he said.

Preeminent congenital trait among longhorns are endurance, stress tolerance and vitality, but were engineered by the hand of nature, not man.

“Longhorns are a beef-type cow, but because they are rangier and leaner, the meat is low fat and low cholesterol,” Townsend added. “It is very similar to eating bison.”

Meat from longhorns “is very profitable and definitely sells,” he noted.

Steer By Silver Point

If you’ve ever found yourself moseying along Highway 141 just west of the little hamlet called Silver Point, you may have observe a stately herd of the regal beasts grazing along a rolling parcel of highland pasture.

Randall Fedon, with his wife, Rosemary, has run a herd of purebred Texas Longhorns on their R&R Ranch property there for more than a decade.

Fedon, who lived as a child in Arizona, said he’s always loved the majestic look of longhorns, and both he and his wife “came from farm people.” When they bought land in Putnam County more than a decade ago, they knew they wanted to run cattle on it.

Texas Longhorns, said Fedon, fit the bill.

“We just like to let them roam out there, like they did in the West,” he said.

Despite their imposing appearance and reputation for stubborn perseverance in hardscrabble domains, Texas Longhorns typically display a placid temperament and exhibit docile behavior.

“They are really easy,” Fedon said of caring for his herd. “You can pet them and everything, as long as they are not mating. Then you need to watch out.”

No Bull, Longhorns Aren’t Dull

Texas Longhorns possess unusually sharp minds between their colossal horns. They’re among the most intelligent of cattle breeds.

“Longhorns are very inquisitive,” said Townsend. “If you go out and sit in the field on my ranch, it will be no time before you are surrounded by 20 calves. If you sit still, they’ll come up and start nudging you. If you have a cap on, they’ll nudge it off your head and start licking on you. It’s just how they are. They’re nosy and inquisitive.”

Townsend warns those who buy calves from him to raise for beef that they’ll nudge their way into your heart if you’re not careful.

“I tell people not to take a calf home and let their wife or kids make it into a pet, because if that happens it’ll never make it to the freezer,” he said. “I’ve then had those same people come back later saying that’s exactly what happened, the family wouldn’t let it be killed. They’ll grow on you, for sure. People love them.”

Visitors to the area and passersby along Highway 141 are welcome to use the R & R Ranch pull-out area on the north side of the road to view and photograph the longhorns over the fence, as long as they’re respectful of the property and animals.

Another pullout is located along Buffalo Valley Road, about a half mile past the Silver Point Baptist Church at the bottom of the hill. The R & R Ranch is a little under a mile and a half west of I-40’s Exit 273

“They are really neat. They’re a different kind of breed than you see much around here, that’s for sure,” said James Jones, a resident on the R & R Ranch who helps the Fedons look after the cattle. “You wouldn’t believe how many people stop and take pictures. Sometimes, people will stop right on the road and I’m like, Oh gosh, that ain’t good!”

To contact the Tennessee Valley Texas Longhorns Association, email Roger Townsend at tnman37_38478@yahoo.com. His number is 931-309-9480.

Visit the Texas Longhorns Breeders Association of America at tlbaa.org.