Reservoir Hill Circle Trail

 By Joe Feeman

Reservoir Hill Circle Trail is 1.4 miles in length and runs from the west side of Reservoir Hill (where it intersects with Observation Point Trail) to the east side of Reservoir Hill (where it intersects with Reservoir Hill Trail). Beginning at Observation Point Trail, approximately 0.3 miles south from the top of Reservoir Hill, and just before the power line, the trail turns right, down the slope. This section of trail is relatively new and was constructed to add switchbacks and lessen the steepness of the original trail, which is an old logging road. Portions of this old road are still incorporated in the trail. The trail soon turns left and then back to the right, following the contour to the previously mentioned old road. Turning down the hill to the left, you will start to descend on the road for several hundred feet before the trail leaves the road to the right as a single track trail. After a short distance along the contour, the trail turns sharply to the left and starts descending again. This area of the trail is situated on a western aspect and has shallow, rocky soils that are low in productivity. Common tree species include red maple, white oak, beech, sourwood, and chestnut oak, all which can tolerate the hot, dry slopes. The trail crosses the old road again and continues on down the slope on another old logging road. As you descend, rather steeply, the road ends and the trail becomes single track. The trail reaches the edge of the power line and turns right and down the hollow. You will see a change in the composition of trees and plants because the aspect is now more northerly. Yellow poplar is now the dominant tree and there is lush black cohosh on the forest floor. The trail flattens as you pass a spring on the right and in a short distance you will reach the intersection with Dyer Hollow.  After descending about 230 feet from the trails start, this is the lowest point on the trail, which will now climb about 170 feet to its terminus.

The trail climbs a short distance, passing the old log road again on the right, before following the contour around the slope on a surface that has roots and rocks. Shortly, you will reach another old logging road that starts to climb. The Norris Watershed has been managed for sustainable yield forest products since it was transferred to the city in 1953. As a result of timber harvesting, there are numerous old logging roads throughout the watershed and many of these have been incorporated in the trail system. Most are small skid roads that were used to pull logs to a central log yard or portable saw mill. It was common in the 50s and 60s to use a portable sawmill instead of hauling out the logs because it was more efficient to truck lumber than logs. In those days loggers didn't have the large equipment and trucks that are used to harvest timber today. I met a man who logged in the watershed in 1955, Joe Riddle, from Tazewell. He told me they had a timber camp with tents to sleep in and a cook to fix their food. They used a portable mill and harvested along Freeway and Longmire Trails.  An area around Reservoir Hill was harvested in 1960, 63, and 67. It is hard to imagine that this area was cut, but in the 60s timber was harvested using a selection method which did not remove very many trees per acre. The old log roads that are part of this trail are from those harvests.

You will follow this old road for the remainder of the hike. After a short climb, on a rocky surface, the trail descends and then flattens out in a nice mixed hardwood stand of primarily, sugar maple, white oak, and yellow poplar, with umbrella magnolias in the understory. The trail parallels Lower Clear Creek Road to your left and Reservoir Hill to the right. Soon you will begin to climb again and will reach a small power line, which is also the pipeline from the water treatment plant to the water storage tank on reservoir hill. The trail becomes less steep and passes through old fields that were planted to shortleaf pine by the CCCs. Most of the pine is now gone and the area is occupied by yellow poplar, red maple, and sweet birch, an uncommon species in the watershed. Sweet (or black) birch is a medium-sized tree that is usually found on moist soils in more mountainous areas, like the Cumberland Plateau and Appalachian Mountains. This tree at one time was the only source for wintergreen oil, which is where it got its name, sweet. Crushing the twigs gives off a very pleasant wintergreen smell and a tea can be made from them. The origin of this species in the watershed is a mystery, because it is only found in a few areas. TVA conducted many plantings in the early years, so it could be that this species was planted. I have seen other species of trees that also seem to be out of place, like striped maple and mountain camellia.

The trail makes a steady rise and soon you will come to the junction with Reservoir Hill Trail, 300 feet from the terminus at Reservoir Hill Road. Most hikers turn onto Reservoir Hill Trail and continue up to Reservoir Hill or down to the pump house.

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