By Heather Mullinix
After more than 1,800 miles, nine states, and several pairs of shoes, Joanna Swanson and Bart Houck have blazed a new trail, becoming the first hikers to complete the new Great Eastern Trail.
In January, the two set out from Flagg Mountain, AL. They passed through Cumberland County in February, hiking along the Cumberland Trail as they made their way through Tennessee. June 18, they were posing for photos at Finger Lakes, NY, the northern terminus of the new trail.
But it hasn't been all wooded trails and mountain climbs. In April, the two returned to Chattanooga for a celebration. The Great Eastern Trail Conference proclaimed the city its first official "Trail Town."
That's fitting, according to Levonn Hubbard, Ph.D., with the board of directors of the Cumberland Trail Conference, and it's something Cumberland County could aspire to in the future.
"As we look down the road, with the [Big South Fork] visitor's center and our proximity to Interstate 40, it will bring people through Cumberland County, either on the trail or as a place to start and go either direction," Hubbard said.
Chattanooga's "Trail Town" designation doesn't carry with it any monetary awards, but it will build awareness of the Great Eastern Trail and the other outdoor adventures available in and around Chattanooga. The Cumberland Trail and the Georgia Pinhoti Trail are major portions of the GET, and Chattanooga's Riverwalk, the North Chickamauga Creek Greenway trail, Guild Trailhead and Lookout Mountain trails are all links on the new trail, which isn't 100 percent complete yet.
In fact, Swanson and Houck had many instances of "choose your own adventure" trails along the way and had to do a bit of improvising. There's still some gaps in the Cumberland Trail, too, and when the two hit Legget Rd., they had to choose left or right. They took the left trail and walked through the Sequatchie Valley to Lowe's Gap Rd. There, Hubbard met the two and offered them some hospitality, including a roof over their heads for the night, hot, running water and some good, filling meals before they set out for Brady Mountain.
In addition to the name recognition that can come from being a "Trail Town," there's also the potential for increased tourism revenue, outdoor recreation opportunities and even grant funding.
To learn more about the Cumberland Trail, visit www.cumberlandtrail.org.