Lower Clear Creek Trail

 By Joe Feeman

Clear Creek Trail runs from the grist mill to Boundary Trail, a total of 4.1 miles. There are several access points and parking areas including at the Lenoir Museum, pump house (water treatment plant), and Upper Clear Creek Road. The first section that will be discussed is from the grist mill (Lenoir Museum) to Upper Clear Creek Road. This segment, which follows along Clear Creek, is 2.5 miles and is a foot traffic only trail because of the ecological sensitivity of the area. Since the trail is situated along the creek bottom it is basically flat with only a few small hills or rises. There are more historic sites on this hike than any other in the watershed. Clear Creek was the site of four water-powered mills that were used to power sawmills, wood working equipment, and a cotton gin, as well as grinding corn and wheat. One of the features of the mills that is still prominent, are the dug mill races; these are basically large ditches that carried the water to the mills (these will be referenced in the trail description). The only mill race that is still in use is at the first of the trail and provides water to the 18th Century Rice Grist Mill. Clear Creek was also utilized to power an electric generator.

From the grist mill to the water treatment plant (or pump house), which covers .9 miles, the trail goes either above the grist mill, along the stone wall and over the wooden gate on the mill race or below the mill along the creek and up the hill to the trail. This section follows the ditch-like mill race which brings water to the old mill. As you proceed up the trail you will come to the end of the mill race where water is piped down from the first mill pond (on up the trail). This segment of trail, from the mill to just past the end of the mill race, is on property that is under permanent easement (from TVA) to Norris Dam State Park. The trail then lies on TVA property all the way to the pump house. You will go under two transmission lines, which originate at Norris Dam, and reach a side trail to the left that goes down wooden steps to the creek and a picnic table. (This side trail continues a short distance and intersects back in with the main trail.) You will then come to the intersection with Dyer Hollow (mile 0.3), to the right, just before you cross a wooden bridge. Notice the large orange spot on the tree to the right; this is the boundary between TVA and the Norris Watershed. This first segment of Clear Creek Trail has some nice spring wildflowers; red trilliums, yellow trilliums, trout lilies, spring beauties, and bloodroot. Continuing across the bridge you will climb a small hill with lots of tree roots and then the trail levels out and becomes smooth. Notice the stone walls on the left side of the trail; these were constructed by the CCCs in the 30s when they built this and other trails in the area. A couple of benches are also situated along this part of the trail; these are memorial benches which have been donated by families and friends. You will see many of these along watershed trails.

At about .5 miles you will reach the first mill dam, a stone structure also built by the CCCs, which is the source of water for the grist mill. If you look just above the dam, in the middle, you will see the metal box that controls the water flow to the mill. In the late 70s, this pond (and the upper mill pond) was dredged by TVA as part of a public works project. Prior to the dredging, the pond was heavily silted in with very little water on the upper half. This created a wetland area with small trees and shrubs that was teeming with frogs, snakes, and other aquatic life.

It was at this point on Clear Creek where a water-powered mill once stood. According to an article by Earl Olson (‘The Clear Creek Mills, Near Norris, Anderson County, Tennessee'), the mill was owned by Doc Williams, who constructed the mill in the 1890s. The only evidence of this now is the dug mill race that runs from just above the dam, upstream to Lower Clear Creek road, just above the ford. The water to power the mill came from a small wooden dam (near where the upper stone mill dam now stands) and down the mill race. The mill itself stood across the creek from the raceway and water was run to the mill through a wooden flume. Williams used the mill for a grist mill, milling flour, sawing lumber, and blacksmithing. Williams sold the mill in 1915 to R. J. Osborne, from Chicago, who removed the flour milling equipment and put in a wood working shop where he manufactured chairs. You will notice posts with plaques on them along this trail. These are historical points and were installed as part of an Eagle Scout project.

The trail continues up along the old dug mill race next to the pond. You will see evidence of beaver activity with chewed trees. Also notice the fallen trees on the right side. These are mostly old beech trees that have been blown over by the wind. The right side of the trail from the grist mill to Lower Clear Creek Road is occupied by an older upland hardwood forest, comprised of mainly beech, white oak, hickory, red oaks, and red and sugar maples. This area was logged lightly in the mid 60s, but very few trees were harvested. Tree mortality is increasing because of the advanced age of the forest which exceeds 100 years old. You will see hepatica, mandarin, goatsbeard, and foamflower on this section.

From the upper end of the pond, up the old mill race, the trail can be very wet and sloppy after rains, but a narrow trail runs along the left side above the race so you can get out of the bottom. The trail reaches Lower Clear Creek Road just above the ford and then goes down the road to a low water dam, or weir, with a bridge across the creek. From here, the trail goes next to some old stone fish tanks and is often wet and has a rocky, rough trail surface. These old stone fish tanks were built to rear fish that would then be stocked in Norris Reservoir. Early fish biologist did not think fish would reproduce in the new reservoir so TVA made provisions for raising fish to stock. There was also a series of ponds below Norris dam and seven sub impoundments on the reservoir to raise fish. Biologist found that fish reproduced fine in the new reservoir and none of the structures were ever used for their intended use.

Past the fish tanks you will climb a set of steps to the top of the second mill dam. This dam is the site of the original wooden dam that was used to provide water to the Doc Williams mill. Around 1920, Osborne's son in law hired several local men to tear down the wooden dam and build a new stone structure. When TVA purchased the property, the CCCs reinforced the dam with more stone and mortar. The trail follows next to the pond on a grassy area where a couple of picnic tables are located. You will now reach the junction with Hi Point Trail (road) at 0.9 miles and the water treatment plant will be on your right. This is another access point for the trail, with parking on both sides of the creek. Cross Hi Point (take a right and then immediate left) and continue through the posts and up the trail.

After crossing Hi Point Road and passing through the posts you will hike up a short rocky section along the creek which soon gives way to a nice flat, smooth trail. In a short distance you will reach an old concrete gauging station and weir dam. This was built by TVA to measure the flow of water in Clear Creek (Wikipedia says this about weirs: "Since the geometry of the top of the weir is known, and all water flows over the weir, the depth of water behind the weir can be converted to a rate of flow.").  This is also the site where a wooden dam was built in about 1916 by Theodore Sheppard (son in law of Osborne) to power an electric generator to provide power to Sheppard's house and Osborne's mill.

Clear Creek lies in a large bottom in this area and the creek has changed courses over the years. You can see how much silt has washed in behind the weir dam and the creek actually runs around the opposite side of the dam than it did originally. This section of trail is flat and can be very wet in rainy weather. About .1 miles beyond the weir the trail splits; the original trail continues straight and a new trail cuts left up the hill (both trails join again further up the creek).The original trail passes through several wet areas in the creek bottom before it crosses Clear Creek on stepping stones. At the other side of this ford, the 2010 trail crew built up the trail with rocks, logs, and gravel so you can traverse this section and stay relatively dry. As you continue on up the trail there has been erosion which has washed away parts of the trail. The trail climbs a small hill after passing next to the creek (and another memorial bench) and then intersects with an old road, which is the junction of the new alternative trail.

Back at the trail split, the new alternate trail follows an old road up the hill, and then turns right, down a set of stone steps to enter another old dug mill race. The trail follows this mill race, overlooking Clear Creek, passing a small rock shelf on the left, to a breech (gap) in the mill race. A set of stone steps leads down to the creek and crosses on stepping stones to an old road leading up to the left; just up from the creek, the road intersects the original trail. This dug mill race was the source of water for another mill which was situated near where the ford on the original trail is now located. Earl Olson's report surmises that there was a wooden dam about 400 feet below the Big Spring and water was carried down the left bank and then crossed over to the right side through a wooden flume. This was probably the oldest mill on Clear Creek and was purchased by George Taylor in 1879. The mill was used primarily to grind corn but was likely used to power a cotton gin as well, and there is some evidence that it was used for a sash sawmill, prior to Taylor's ownership. On either of the trails, use caution when crossing the creek in high water; the stepping stones are not very tall and in high flows they are under water.

The trail continues up the hill on the old road for almost 0.1 miles to another split, where the road continues straight and a single-track trail cuts down the hill to the left.  The trail to the left goes down to the creek and next to Clear Creek spring.  After passing the spring, the trail becomes an access road for maintenance. A few hundred feet down this road you will come to the intersection with White Pine Trail on the left, 0.9 miles from the pump house. Continue straight when the road turns up the hill to the right; this is where the other trail (old road) comes back together. The road up the hill is the service road for the spring and goes out to Upper Clear Creek Road. At the time of TVA purchase, this road went all the way to the pump house. The trail is wide at this point but narrows down as you continue.

The creek bottom is broad in this area and was in agricultural use at the time of purchase. This was one of the most fertile spots in the watershed because of its location along the creek and was easy to plow because it is relatively rock free. The trees now growing on the bottom are sycamore, black walnut, yellow-poplar, and boxelder. The trail then crosses a wet-weather section of the creek which is dry except during high rainfall events. As the trail continues along this bottom, there are several invasive, exotic plant species including Japanese wineberry (most people think these are raspberries), multiflora rose, privet, Japanese honeysuckle, and ground ivy. The introduction of exotic plants in the watershed are from various sources; prior to purchase, many homesteads had exotic shrubs and flowers (forsythia, periwinkle, bush honeysuckle, daffodils, and others) which have spread in some areas, while after purchase TVA planted numerous species for erosion control and agroforestry studies (kudzu, multiflora rose, Japanese wineberry, and others). Many others have been spread by birds and other wildlife (privet, Japanese honeysuckle, and recently autumn olive and oriental bittersweet).  Exotic plants can become a real management problem because they often out-compete native species. The trail comes to a creek crossing, but a new, alternate trail cuts left to bypass the ford. If you choose the original trail you will cross the creek twice in a short distance. During normal flow, the creek is easily crossed. The alternate trail stays on the left side, traversing over a railroad tie bridge and some rock-enforced areas. After the two trails meet there is another alternate section to the left which was constructed to bypass the original trail during wet weather. The trail crosses the creek again, this time on a little wider part, with crude stepping stones. On your right you will see gray rock in the ditches; these were placed by the 2010 trail crew to control erosion coming off Upper Clear Creek Road. A trail takes off up the hill to the right and goes to Upper Clear Creek Road to access Gooseneck Trail (brush dump road). This small drain has an abundance of the exotic plants periwinkle (Vinca) and kudzu. The kudzu has been treated several times in the past and will be continued in future years. Clear Creek Trail continues on an old road up a slight slope. To the left you can see another concrete weir on the creek. TVA was diligent in their management of the watershed and efforts to stabilize the area. They also conducted many watershed studies to measure water yield and the effects of erosion.

The trail now enters a sparsely forested area that is mowed periodically. Scattered black walnut, sycamore, yellow poplar, and redcedar are present. The trail then intersects White Oak Spring Trail on the left (which goes to Red Hill Road) just before reaching Upper Clear Creek Road at 2.5 miles from the gristmill. This ends the section of Clear Creek Trail that is designated for foot traffic only. 

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