Hike Into History | “Old Growth Forests in the South Cumberlands”
Highlights for a self-guided hike
Trailhead: Savage Gulf East trailhead (at the Savage Ranger Station, off TN 399) Palmer, TN [map]
The timber industry was an important part of the South Cumberland economy for many decades. In the deep valleys, well-watered by year-round streams, trees grew to impressive size. Unfortunately, most of the original "old-growth timber" has been harvested; much of what you see today in the Park is secondary re-growth, dating from the early 1900s. On the "Old Growth Forests of the South Cumberland" hike, however, you'll be able to catch a glimpse of some of the few areas untouched by the lumberman's saw. One such location is the grove of short leaf pines on the north side of Savage Creek, where red cockaded woodpeckers, now endangered, once nested. In the Savage Creek gorge below, the Werner Big Timber Tract is one of the largest old-growth stands of virgin forest in the region. It is named after Bud Werner, 4th generation descendant of the Werner family who emigrated here from Switzerland in the 1860s. It was Bud who made much o the land in the Park available for purchase by the State of Tennessee in the 1970s. The Werner family, at one point, held over 15,000 acres of timber, and operated a sawmill and railroad in the area between 1890 and the 1930s.
Leaving the Savage Gulf East trailhead, here are some of the trail highlights:
» 0.4 miles | Suspension bridge above Boyd Branch
» 2.0 miles | Rattlesnake Point overlook
» 2.2 miles | Junction with North Rim Trail; bear left
» 2.5 miles | Suspension bridge across Meadow Creek
» 2.6 miles | Junction with North Plateau Trail; bear right (alternatively, here you can bear left approximately 2.8 miles, along the rim of Savage Creek Gulf, and look down into the Werner Big Timber Tract below; there you can also pick up the Mountain Oak Loop Trail, in lieu of following the Dinky Line railroad grade).
» 3.6 miles | Trail follows the old grade of the Dinky Line railroad
» 4.8 miles | Junction with Mountain Oak Loop trail; bear left
» 5.6 miles | Virgin groves of short-leaf pine throughout this area
At this point, you can turn around and retrace your steps to the trailhead. When you get back to the Savage Day Loop trail, you can take either fork; both bring you back to the trailhead.
Total trail distance: about 11.2 miles (without detour to Werner Big Timber Tract) | mildly to moderately strenuous
Enormous trees, like this 500+ year-old Hemlock, can still be found in the old-growth forests of South Cumberland State Park.