Picturesque panoramas easily accessible at Great Stone Door 

With more than 30,000 acres under its auspices, South Cumberland State Park isn’t merly Tennessee’s largest state natural area. It’s also as remote, rugged and optically grand a place as you are likely to find within a day’s drive.

Fortunately for people fortunate enough to find themselves visiting or living near Center Hill Lake, it’s in fact hardly more than a 90-minute hop.

Several State Parks in One

South Cumberland State Park is actually a cluster of scenic getaways. Consisting of 10 different natural-area tracts in Grundy, Franklin, Marion and Sequatchie Counties, it’s more like a small subsystem of state parks than a single large one.

“A popular destination for hikers and campers, nearly 100 miles of trails and 13 primitive campgrounds service the area,” the Friends of the South Cumberland State Park website reports. “In addition to hiking and camping, the park offers opportunities for picnicking, swimming, fishing, caving, visiting historic ruins, rock climbing and rappelling, viewing spectacular rock formations, wildlife and waterfalls.”

It’s a region full of history and natural wonder that many a Middle Tennessee outdoor enthusiast has never properly discovered or adequately explored.

Just a few of the popular destinations are places like Foster Falls, Denny Cove, Grundy State Forest, Grundy Lakes and Sewanee Natural Bridge.

The 12.5-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail features “cascading streams, numerous waterfalls, panoramic overlooks, extremely rocky gorges, gentle slopes and lush woodlands,” thus undoubtedly placing it, in Friends of SCSP’s estimation, among “the most diverse and beautiful in the state.” For that matter, it has been ranked among the best in the United States.

Named, as legend has it, by Davy Crockett after he bit into an overly hot mouthful of victuals while camped in the vicinity, the Fiery Gizzard trailhead is located about three miles from the South Cumberland Visitor Center outside the tourist-friendly mountain hamlet of Monteagle.

Stone-Cold Stunning

Nearest to I-40 and Center Hill Lake, and offering epically expansive rimrock vistas, is the primally untamed Savage Gulf Natural Area. It consists of a trio of 5-mile-long canyons cut ruthlessly over the aeons into the western edge of Cumberland Plateau. The yawning canyons — or “gulfs,” in the parlance of the gobsmacked Scots-Irish settlers who happened upon the realm — converge together into the Collins River Valley.

In the Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau” installment of  his popular series of outdoor guidebooks, prolific trail-trekker Johnny Molloy describes Savage Gulf’s thousands of wild acres as “an area of waterfalls, bluffs, human history, and all around beauty.”

The July 2000 issue of Backpacker magazine assessed Savage Gulf as “one of the last true wilderness areas left in the South.”

“If you like the rugged beauty of the Smoky Mountains but can do without the legions of car-driving windshield tourists who invade Great Smoky Mountains National Park, head for Savage Gulf Natural Area,” declared a writer for the magazine. He added, “The view from these cliffs rivals any you will find in the Smoky Mountains.”

Located just 20 miles southeast of McMinnville, Savage’s Gulf’s remarkable Great Stone Door is a masterwork of patient geological artistry.

Stone Door is just an hour’s drive from Smithville, or a pleasurably scenic hour and a half from Cookeville. It gets its name from a narrow, deep, steep and traversable crack in the sheer outcrops overlooking a Collins headwater tributary.

Described in the pages of Backpacker magazine as “truly breathtaking,” the Great Stone Door overlook boasts what veteran state park naturalist Randy Hedgepath proclaims is “the best view anywhere in the state of Tennessee.”

Unlike some of the hikes in Savage Gulf, getting to the Stone Door overlook doesn’t necessarily require a heroic demonstration of physical stamina. It’s a fairly flat and mild mile-long stroll from the ranger station parking lot.

The magnificent immensity of the view one encounters immediately upon emerging from the woods-enveloped Stone Door trail onto the wide-open cliff-top overlooks can be a little disorienting. Coming up all at once against so much soaring, multi-directional vastness can literally result in not knowing which way to turn next. Best, though, to avoid swiveling and whirling about uncontrollably, as that could lead to a steep fall in the event one’s equilibrium is compromised by vertigo near a high ledge.

Another impressive canyon-viewing vantage along the trail, though not quite so dizzying, is Laurel Gulf Overlook. At just of a quarter mile from the ranger station, and situated on a wooden deck at the end of a paved walkway, it is comfortably accessible to wheelchairs.

Beyond Laurel Gulf Overlook in the direction of Stone Door, the footpath transforms fetchingly into a tramped-and-trodden mulch of forest-floor soil and fine, boot-milled sandstone.

Hikers possessing of hardy constitutions can descend from the Stone Door into the chasm floor and explore a network of demanding but highly rewarding trails. If unsullied solitude is what you seek, this may be your best option. Although owing to the area’s size and general seclusion, it is not entirely uncommon to find yourself agreeably alone along the rim trails and overlooks, particularly on weekdays.

MTSU professor Carroll Van West, Tennessee’s state historian, has written that the Savage Gulf region “is perhaps the most isolated place in the state.”

“Over one hundred years ago, the rugged landscape of Grundy County attracted entrepreneurs who wanted to exploit the minerals underground and the timber on top, as well as entrepreneurs who wanted a respite from their industrialized towns and cities to breath fresh mountain air and enjoy the plateau’s breathtaking scenery,” West wrote in his “Tennessee’s Historic Landscapes: A Traveler’s Guide,” a 1995 survey of noteworthy Volunteer State settlements, communities and architecture.

Periodic Pruning

Savage Gulf’s 800-feet-deep ravines and shelter some of Tennessee’s most pristine stands of old-growth timber outside of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

But even though the indigenous hemlock and various native hardwoods are now protected from commercial logging, Mother Nature employs clear-cutting techniques of her own on occasion. Massive rockslides will, from time to time, crumble violently away from the bluff faces. The downhill-hurtling boulders often sheer away considerable swaths of virgin forest before coming to rest far below.

In his 1999 book,“The Historic Cumberland Plateau: An Explorer’s Guide,” Russ Manning described how the precipitous crags are prone to intermittent paroxysms of savage remodeling.

“The Savage Gulf forest is kept relatively young by the unstable walls of the canyon which periodically send an avalanche of boulders tumbling into the gorge, cutting down the trees as efficiently as a giant scythe,” wrote Manning. “Even so, the forest is impressive.”

Ranger Hedgepath said he’s witnessed the cataclysmic results firsthand. One morning he said he was gazing out from a rim overlook when he observed what appeared to be a sizable “gash” in the forest across the canyon. “It looked like a big piece of the mountain had disappeared,” he said.

Certain it hadn’t been there the day before, Hedgepath hiked in to investigate, whereupon he discovered that, indeed, “part of the bluff had broken off and fallen down.

“That’s what caused the big gash. Just one morning, there it was,” Hedgepath said. “It happened during the night, I guess.”

For bluff buffs who love everything about Savage Gulf, the fact that it’s still a work in progress just adds to the mystique and majesty of the place.

“The canyons are getting deeper and wider all the time,” said Hedgepath.

PRESS RELEASE from Tennessee Tech University:

The Sandbox Percussion quartet will perform in the Wattenbarger Auditorium of Tennessee Tech University’s Bryan Fine Arts Building Friday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Sandbox Percussion has established themselves as a leading proponent in this generation of contemporary percussion chamber music. Brought together by their love of chamber music and the joy of playing together, Jonathan Allen, Victor Caccese, Ian Rosenbaum and Terry Sweeney seek to engage a wider audience for classical music through collaborations with composers and performers.

In addition to their concert schedule, Sandbox has also participated in various masterclasses and coachings at schools such as the Peabody Conservatory, Curtis Institute, Cornell University and Furman University.

This is a Center Stage Event made possible by the university’s general education fund. It is free and open to the public.

Wattenbarger Auditorium is in the Bryan Fine Arts Building located at 1150 N. Dixie Ave.

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, Oct. 11, 2017:

Goal to Help Users Easily Discover Outdoors Opportunities

NASHVILLE — For nearly a quarter-million users of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s ‘On The Go 2.0’ smartphone app, finding a place in Tennessee to hunt, fish, boat, and view wildlife has become easier than ever. “We have put a lot of time into improving our app and we are happy to announce it is now available and free to all who enjoy our outdoors and want to learn more,” said Michael May, a TWRA assistant director.

“If you want to find a boat ramp, public land to hunt on, a convenient way to check-in big game, places where you can view birds and other wildlife, or keep up with news that pertains to the outdoors, this updated version of our app offers unlimited sources of information,” said May.

The upgrade is easier to navigate. Users can buy licenses, check big game while afield, view interactive maps, apply for quota hunts, and visit the TWRA website. One new feature includes a “Stay Connected Page.” It provides easy access to TWRA’s social media, Tennessee WildCast podcast, newsroom, outdoors and event calendar, and more.

Smartphone users should visit TWRA’s website by clicking here. If the current version is already installed, Apple users can easily upgrade via their app, while Android users will need to uninstall their current app before uploading the new one.

Hunters will have the opportunity to report big game harvests while in the field. There is also an interactive map to find TWRA wildlife management areas (WMAs), physical check station locations, and duck blind locations.

Another special feature is the “Hunter’s Backpack” where hunter education courses, a summary of hunting seasons, and full versions of the agency hunting guides are available.

For anglers, “Fisherman’s Tacklebox” includes, fish identification, interactive maps to find boat ramp and fish access information, fish attractor locations, trout stocking locations, and trout stocking schedules.

On the app’s boating page, the “Boating Locker” includes boat regulations, safety checklists, boating education information, navigational aids, and recommended boating equipment.

For wildlife watchers, there is information about where to view watchable wildlife across the state.

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association, October 9, 2017:

Nashville Public Radio reports today that Senator Mae Beavers is the only candidate for governor of Tennessee in 2018 who supports adoption of Constitutional Carry in Tennessee. A growing number of states have adopted constitutional carry in the last few years – 14 have adopted constitutional carry and approximately 30 have no permitting or training requirements for “open carry”. Despite having a super majority of Republican legislators since 2011, Tennessee is now “behind the pack” of states moving forward on this issue.

What the responses of the candidates – except for Mae Beavers – is that they do not make their policy decisions based on what the constitutions say. They want to “rule” our lives based on what “big government” and “law enforcement” thinks is best for you without regard to constitutional limits or requirements.

The Nashville Public Radio story reports:

Q: Do you believe Tennesseans should be able to carry handguns without getting permits?

Republicans:

Randy Boyd: So, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with law enforcement agents, and most of them are opposed to it, and I want to support law enforcement. However, I do believe that the carry permit process is maybe extraordinarily burdensome. I recently got a carry permit about four months ago. It took me eight hours and cost $85. I personally think it could’ve been free and done in an hour. So, I think maybe there’s some happy medium there where we can do it more efficiently and still meet the requirements that law enforcement officers are wanting us to meet.

Beth Harwell: I think our permit system has worked very well in this state. It’s certainly is, I think, good for gun-carrying permit holders to have a reciprocal agreement with states around us, which they would lose if we went to “constitutional carry.” So, it actually could hold back some rights that we have given to people in the state of Tennessee to bear arms. However, I will say I understand the constitutional argument for it, and should the legislature in its wisdom pass it, I would sign it as governor.

Bill Lee: I don’t. Primarily because I’m a guy who’s listening to law enforcement and what they believe, and law enforcement is very much against that. I do however believe in Second Amendment rights, and I truly believe we ought to expand those Second Amendment rights by reducing and/or eliminating the fees associated with a carry permit. So, I believe we should expand Second Amendment rights, but I believe we ought to keep in place background checks and safety requirements.

Mae Beavers: I believe in constitutional carry, if you legally own a gun, because I think our Second Amendment rights guarantee us that. Remember, I’m talking about when you legally own a gun — not if you stole it — but if you legally own a gun, you’ve gone through the background checks. They’ve found out you’re not a criminal. So why shouldn’t you be able to.

Diane Black: Well, I do think the current system is working. I think that we should continue the current system, but if the legislature sends me a bill, I will sign it. I do believe there is a constitutional guarantee to a right to defend yourself. And, again, I think our system is working well, but I certainly would sign a bill if it comes to my desk.

Democrats:

Karl Dean: I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, but I believe the gun laws that we have right now are adequate. I think they cover what needs to be covered and I don’t see a need for a change.

Craig Fitzhugh: Well, I don’t know about that. That’s what you’d call anybody carries for any purpose. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think there should be some control so that we can try to have for the ability of people who are not qualified for whatever reason — no fault of their own, maybe some mental issues or health issues and physical issues like that — they just can’t handle a firearm. So, I do think there does need to be a permit process.

If you want to wage in on the battle to elect someone to the office of governor who puts the constitution first and is a true public steward of your rights, please take a moment and go to the TFA’s PAC website and make a donation so that we can raise the funds to restore our rights.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that he will not seek Tennessee’s United States Senate seat in 2018.

Former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker has occupied the office since 2006.

Corker announced last month that he won’t seek re-election next year. His decision has set in motion a scramble among prominent state Republicans looking to replace him.

Among those expressing interest or who’ve already announced they are joining the GOP’s 2018 U.S. Senate primary are Andrew Ogles, Tennessee’s Americans for Prosperity chapter president, state Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville, former state Rep. Joe Carr of Rutherford County, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher.

Haslam issued the following statement on Oct. 5:

“While Crissy and I will always be grateful for all of the encouragement and support to run for the United States Senate, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for Senate in 2018. The primary reason is that I want to remain completely focused on my job as governor. I know that being a candidate for the Senate during my last 15 months as governor would be a distraction from the task at hand. And, while I have loved being a mayor and a governor, I don’t feel the same call to run for Senate at this point. At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen.”

PRESS RELEASE from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, Sept. 30, 2017:

Center Hill Lake volunteers convert campground into tobacco-free trail

By Park Ranger Sarah Peace

Lancaster, Tenn. (Sept. 30, 2017) – About 30 volunteers converted the former Hurricane Bridge Campground today into the new “The Old 56 Trail” at Center Hill Lake in support of National Public Lands Day.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District coordinated with the DeKalb County Health Department on the development of the trail, and garnered additional support from Tennessee Tech University’s Fisheries Society, DeKalb County High School, and other volunteers and partnerships.

The volunteers installed trail signage, distance markers, and benches. Small brush and overgrowth were taken out that revealed scenic views. Parking spaces were created at the entrance of the trail and debris and trash from years of runoff from State Route 56 were removed.

Prior to the National Public Lands Day event, decades of extensive overgrowth and debris were cleared thanks to a grant from the DeKalb County Health Department.

“The project (The Old 56 Trail) is the result of the Tennessee Department of Health Rural Access to Health and Healthy Active Built Environments grant recently awarded to DeKalb County.” explained DeKalb County Mayor Tim Stribling during his opening remarks.

The grant focused on improving health outcomes by enhancing access to free physical activity, and the county looked for areas that meets these qualifications.

A new trail at the Hurricane Bridge Recreation Area met these qualifications, and a portion of the grant helped clear the decades of overgrowth and debris, the first step to converting the campground into a paved trail.

In addition to overgrowth removal, the DeKalb County Health Government donated two new benches. The reason? The new trail at Hurricane Bridge is also the Corps’ first tobacco free area on Center Hill Lake, made possible by additional funding though a tobacco free grant.

National Public Lands Day served as the official opening of the trail, and the announcement of the trail name, “The Old 56 Trail,” voted on by the public via a Facebook contest, “Name that Trail.”
“This trail is made by the community, for the community,” said Park Ranger John Malone, lead coordinator of Center Hill Lake’s National Public Lands Day activity. “Volunteers and community members can take pride in knowing that the trail and its name would not have been possible without them.”

The 25 sites at Hurricane Bridge Campground closed nearly 30 years ago, with just the picnic areas and two launching ramps remaining. Since that time the campground became an equipment storage area, and fell into disrepair, leaving only a slight glimpse of what was once there. Now all visitors, new and old have a trail they can use for walking, bicycling, or simply to relax and enjoy the outdoors, free of charge. They also have an outdoor area that they do not have to worry about cigarette butts, and other tobacco products. This trail is proof that through partnerships and the hard work of volunteers, great things can happen.

National Public Lands Day began in 1994, focusing on education and partnerships to care for the nation’s natural splendors. In 2016 NPLD volunteers saved taxpayers an estimated $18 million though volunteer services to improve public lands across the country. For more information on National Public Lands Day, visit: https://www.neefusa.org/public-lands-day.

(For more information about the US Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and http://www.facebook.com/centerhilllake, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)