Grist Mill Trail

 By Joe Feeman

Grist Mill Trail is a short, but steep hike from the Lenoir Museum to Observation Point Trail, just below Observation Point. Originally called Ole Mill Trail, the trail is only 0.6 miles but climbs 420 feet.  Use on the trail is all but motorized use (purple trail), but be prepared to walk your bicycle or horse through the Lenoir Museum parking lot per park rules. Starting at the museum, the trail goes up directly behind the building, next to a picnic table. You will enter a heavily wooded forest on an old road that starts to climb very quickly. On your right you will see the trail head for Cliff Trail. This old road was drivable many years ago, before the museum was constructed, but was always a scary drive because of the out sloping of the road which made rolling over a distinct possibility.  The first section of the trail is very shaded and stays relatively cool because of the large beech, yellow poplar, hickory, and red and white oaks which occupy the slope. Notice how large these trees are; there hasn't been any harvesting in this area since TVA bought the property and it appears to have been cut very little, if any, prior to then. As you climb you will cross over old concrete water diversion curbs and some large boulders. Erosion has taken its toll over parts of the trail and the 2010 and 2011 trail crews have worked to control further damage by placing rocks in gullies and cleaning old water bars.

Soon you will emerge from the woods and be under a power line, a stark difference from the section of trail you just left. If you look closely, just before you leave the woods, you will see orange painted trees on the right which mark the TVA/Norris Watershed boundary. The trail follows under the power line for the next 0.4 miles or so. The trail is on a grassy surface and can be overgrown, but is a priority of the trail crew to keep mowed. If you hike this trail when the sun is shining the climb can be brutally hot. There is no shade because the line is kept mowed. You will see heavy oriental (Asian) bittersweet, an exotic invasive plant that is listed as ‘severe threat' by the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council and I also just discovered Japanese spiraea along the trail, another exotic plant listed as ‘significant threat' by the council.

If you get through this open section when the berries are ripe, there are Japanese wine berries (another exotic plant) along the road as well, but the black berries have just about been taken over by the exotic plants. As you climb, take time to look behind you from time to time to see a somewhat nice vista, albeit the power line is the main view. The power line section gives way to a welcome relief when you re-enter the woods and a shady walk to the junction of Observation Point Trail in a little over 200 yards.

You can hike the trail in reverse and have a whole different perspective. The climb up will definitely get your heart pumping, but the downhill route may get your knees aching. This is one of my least favorite trails in the watershed and I only hike it when I have to. It is also one of the least favorite trails for the trail crew because they have to weed eat it and it seems like it is always a hot day. Grist Mill Trail can be combined with a number of the other trails around Observation Point and Reservoir Hill to create some nice loops.

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