Ultimately, it will run from Cumberland Gap National Park (KY) and travel through 11 Tennesee counties along the eastern escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau, ending in Signal Point National Historic Park and Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area near Chattanooga. With secondary and connector trails, a total of 370 miles of recreational trails will be available. Only foot traffic is allowed on the main trail segments.
Our American Hiking Society volunteer crew met in a state park. Several others and I had 4-wheel drive vehicles which we all piled into, and the backroads we drove really needed such vehicles. At one point our leader, Andy, made a left turn into a creek, drove up it a hundred yards, and then turned right back onto dry land. The three photos below show some of our wet driving adventures.
Eventually we reached a small clearing where we parked, and from there had to backpack our gear, food, and tools in another mile or so, including a creek we had to ford. Talk about a remote region! Then we reached the point where the trail corridor was roughed in which was the only open and flat space around, and that was where we set up base camp -- right on the trail, tent next to tent, etc. as seen below. Each day we hiked the flagged trail route over to where the trail then ended, and worked all day building new trail back towards camp.
Here are (nearest to farthest) Clyde, Jimmy, Andy (our CTC leader), Joellen, Sue, and Ray digging new trail tread which is laborious work, and the high humidity in Tennessee made it even more difficult. The temperature reached 90 degrees on several days, with humidity even higher. Staying hydrated was crucial, and I carried and drank four or more quarts of water daily, and each day, several of us would hike back to the only available spring and filter more water for everyone. All the top duff (leaves, branches, and other organic material) has to be removed so the actual trail tread will be built on solid mineral material (soil and rock.)
The next step in trail construction is seen below as Sue, Joellen, Alison, and Faith use fire rakes to smooth the new tread and remove roots to prevent new vegetation from sprouting in the trail. After this final raking, someone would get down on hands and knees with clippers to cut out any remaining roots.
In case you were curious: The orange vests and caps were required since this section of trail is in the Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area and it was turkey hunting season. Hikers are similarly required to wear orange gear during hunting seasons. To protect ourselves, we wore this orange gear whenever we were out of our tents. And yes, we did hear gunshots on occasion.
Jan, Clyde, Andy, and Ray hack out new tread on this segment of steep mountain slope. We often had to dig a foot or more into the mountainside to create a 36 inch wide trail tread, and downed tree trunks as in the photo below had to be moved to the downhill side (except on flat, wide sections of the trail where tree trunks were occasionally left to inhibit use by ATVs which are not allowed on the trail).
Here you get a better idea of what I said above -- in order to get a trail tread of three feet in width, I have to dig out a good deal of the side hill and push the soil off on the downhill side. We always left a slight tilt to the trail tread so water would run off downhill. When working with sharp tools, the crew wears long pants for protection, even though it is so hot and humid.
This typical backcountry bridge crosses Montgomery Fork of New River. Notice the stone staircase on the far side beyond the bridge beginning the uphill climb on the first of several switchbacks. Numerous stone stairways have been built to assist hikers. Though the Cumberland Trail only reaches an elevation of 3000 feet or so at its highest point, it is like a roller coaster, traveling along a ridge line, then down to cross a drainage, then up again -- over and over. The Cumberland Trail sign is visible on the tree on this side of the bridge. White paint blazes are used to mark the trail along its entire length. Remember: fires are not allowed on state scenic trails. In fact, we were not even allowed a fire while backcountry camping during construction of the trail.
This next photo shows one of my constructions on this project. The trail comes uphill and makes this 120 degree turn to the left around the tree and begins heading uphill to a section built on an old logging road. I had to make certain that rain water would stay to the right of the trail tread and not erode the trail. A pink flag can be seen in the photo toward the back. These flags were used to mark the proposed trail corridor we were to follow. I built the rock retaining wall (seen on the right side of the trail tread) to stabilize where I filled in dirt to build up the trail above the drainage level. All water will flow to the right side of the rocks and the trail will remain high and dry.
One day, Andy showed us the orange wheel seen in the photo below and asked if any of us knew what it was. Since I had coached high school cross country for 16 years, I knew it was for measuring distance. I had used ours often to check distances on new courses we were competing on and also when I was creating new courses for our home meets. So Andy gave it to me and tasked me with measuring the new trail we had built and also the trail section leading to ours from the bridge you see below, which I gladly did since I got to hike another section of the trail we hadn't been on.
Here is the entire volunteer crew:
top row (l to r): Sue, Ray, Alison, Jimmy, Chuck, and Clyde
seated: Joellen, Anas, and Jan
It was great trip. The people, leadership, scenery, and camaraderie were all exceptional. And I got to 4-wheel drive, backpack, and build trail -- all in one trip!