Eli Nine Sinkhole Trail

 By Joe Feeman

Eli Nine Sinkhole Trail is one of the nicest hiking trails in the watershed. It starts at a small parking area just off Upper Clear Creek Road, next to Mockingbird Trail, which is just beyond the rifle range. Gaining about 240 feet in elevation, the foot traffic only trail (red trail), is 0.8 miles long and ends at Hi Point Road, near the junction of Red Hill Trail. Taking off to the left (from Mockingbird Trail/Road just before the gate) the trail crosses through a post and cable exclusion to deter horses and bicycles. The trail goes through a bottom with a drainage that carries quite a bit of water in heavy rains. This property was owned by A. H. Metzger at the time of TVA purchase and was occupied by several houses, a smokehouse, and several other sheds. If you look to the left of the trail you will see old foundation stones from one of the houses and an old concrete structure. The trail map shows a post office in this area (Peril, TN), but it is not marked on the TVA sale/acquisition map; it actually could have been in one of the houses or may have predated Metzger. This bottom, which was an open area at purchase, was planted to loblolly pine in the 60s.

After crossing the drainage you will start to climb on a narrow trail through a mixed hardwood stand with white oaks, sugar maple, white ash, northern red oak, and beech. Although, this forested area was probably grazed prior to purchase, it was woodland grazing, not open pasture, and represents one of the oldest stands of trees in the watershed. Woodland grazing was a common practice in East Tennessee at that time and is still practiced today, even though it can cause many problems to the forest such as trampling of desirable young seedlings and saplings (which decreases forest stocking), root compaction, and grazing of beneficial shrubs and flowers. As you climb you will see a pile of rocks on the left; these were probably removed from a nearby field. The geology of this small valley is primarily sand stone, an oddity in the watershed; most of the underlying geology is limestone.

The trail climbs for about 0.1 miles before you reach the top of the slope, then starts down and passes a small sinkhole on the left before flattening out. As you continue, you will come to a large sinkhole on the left; the name of the trail comes from this sinkhole and the person who previously owned the property, Eli Nine. The sinkhole itself was not forested at time of purchase and the vegetation is much smaller than that along the trail.  In the early 90s, several black oak trees died along the trail in this area and were cut for safety considerations; a count of the annual rings showed the trees to be over 210 years old. ADD SAF NATURAL AREA DESIGNATION Because of this advanced age, you will notice many dead and declining trees on the trail. The trail meanders with slight climbs, passing another sinkhole on the right, then one on the left. This is an especially tranquil trail, winding through the large trees. However, your peaceful experience will likely be interrupted by gun shots from the nearby rifle range; rarely do you hike in this area when there is quiet. I have hiked this trail in driving rain and still heard gun shots. As you hear the gun shots, just remember that the watershed is a multiple use area and the rifle range has been in existence from the beginning.

As you continue on up the slope you will notice that the older forest with large trees gives way to a younger forest. This area was a pasture at the time of purchase and was planted to pine by the CCCs, but southern pine beetles killed the pines years ago. The forest is now primarily yellow poplar, hickory, dogwood, and other hardwoods. If you look up on the right side of the trail you can see an old fence line or field edge, with a row of larger trees. The trail climbs a little steeper, passing a tree with yellow paint. This yellow marks the safety zone for deer hunters along Hi Point Trail, so you know you are 300 feet from the trails end. Passing through a rocky area in a pocket of older trees you soon reach Hi Point Trail and another post and cable exclusion.

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