My husband asked me, “So how was your field trip this morning?”
As I started to tell him, I realized no one word, no one description could possibly convey the magical beauty of the place I had just visited, right here in Cumberland County.
A few months ago, my friend Jim McCullough asked me if I wanted to do another story about the Cumberland Trail, and March 23 was the day we had selected, convenient for Kenny Matthews, park ranger, and us.
Our drive through the Linary neighborhood off 127 South on Old State 28 led us on a steep switch back road down into the valley below and to a mailbox with Tranquility Lane on it. We turned in there, and crossed over a brook by an old cabin into a pastoral clearing where three modern buildings now stand. We parked and were greeted by three rangers, Anthony Jones who lives there, Kenny Matthews and Herb Roberts.
This new acquisition of the Cumberland Trail has ecological, archeological, geological and historical significance worthy of a National Park. It is here that clear water gushes straight out of a small cave to form the headwaters of the Sequatchie River, the Head of Sequatchie Spring. Research has shown that this water has its origins in Grassy Cove and makes its way under the mountains to this outlet.
As we walked up the meadow, Anthony stopped to show me the ancient gravestone of Craven Sherrill, the first sheriff of Cumberland County, born in 1801. But our real destination lay ahead, Devil’s Step Hollow Cave, a cave that is concealed from the rim. Here the sandstone cap has worn away to reveal a sheer limestone wall and a blue-green pool 150 feet below. The drop-off was too steep for me, but expert hiker Jim McCullough, armed with his camera, made the trip down to the bottom.
The cave is now securely gated. Archeologists, including Jan Simek, now acting president of the University of Tennessee and his students, have declared this to be a ceremonial cave used by Indians at least 1200 years ago, based on carbon dating of charcoal drawings in the cave. The cave has three different kinds of drawings, petroglyphs, pictographs and mud glyphs. Depictions show an eagle-like bird with tears holding a mace in each hand, a woodpecker and a dog-like animal. This cave and pictures will be featured in either the April or May 2009 issue of National Geographic Magazine.
While the rangers and I were waiting for Jim to return from his photography expedition, we noticed at our feet several about-to-bloom Trillium, the single white flower of Twin-leaf, plus flowering anemone, hepatica and violets. The rangers noted that Trillium pusillum, or “least” or “dwarf” trillium has been found in an adjoining property. Carman’s Wildflowers of Tennessee calls it “infrequent.”
In the opening above the abyss below we saw flycatchers darting to and from a tree snag, catching an insect, over and over. Other birds were flying into an opening in the wall, perhaps a swallow. Anthony said he has seen woodland birds of all kinds such as hooded warblers, plus beavers, river otters, raccoons and deer, of course, which is why a previous owner had erected a chain-link, barbed wire fence enclosure for his raised gardens and fruit trees! Butterflies moved before us as we descended back down the meadow, a Mourning Cloak, Sulphurs and a white Cabbage Butterfly.
On Monday, April 20, Devil’s Step Hollow will be open for visitors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The rangers invite you to bring a picnic. They plan on taking visitors to find the Trillium pusillium which they hope will still be blooming by then. One warning: the bluebird box in the gravel drive is occupied; bluebirds are territorial, and thinking their reflections in my side view mirrors were invading their space, left many poopy reminders on the sides of my car!
Right now, the Cumberland Trail is not linked to this 385 acre tract, but eventually it will be. This beautiful site was purchased with the help of the prior owners, the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation and Tennessee state funds appropriated by Governor Bredesen. On-going support for the CT is being provided by a new organization, Friends of the Cumberland Trail. Membership is only $5 a person, and their first newsletter is now available. It says, “This is an affordable rate opening the doors of the Friends Group to any who have an interest in the Cumberland Trail, its recreational potential, the protection of its resources and the completion of its corridor.” Already there are two local chapters, Hamilton County and Cumberland County! It has a Web site where you can get its newsletter, www.friendsofthecumberlandtrail.org, or mail a check for FOTCT, Inc. to 220 Park Road, Caryville, TN 37714.
My husband asked me, “So how was your field trip this morning?”
Nearly 100 come out for community dinner
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