Upper Clear Creek Trail

By Joe Feeman 

Clear Creek Trail follows an old farm road after it crosses Upper Clear Creek Road. The trail becomes a green trail that is open to all users, including motorized vehicles. As the trail leaves Upper Clear Creek Road, it travels up a rocky surface with several wet seeps along the way which keep parts of the trail wet year round. The first mile or so of the Trail (road) lies in the bottom of a hollow and is susceptible to washing during heavy rains. A small, ephemeral (wet-weather) drainage, will be on the right for about 0.2 miles before crossing a culvert to the left hand side. This trail (road) goes up what was known as Robinson Hollow by locals because it lies on the former 206-acre farm of J. M. Robinson. Because of the topography of the land, all of the structures (houses, barn, smoke house, shop, etc.) were located along the road in the bottom.

At 0.6 miles, you will reach the recently gated Belmont Trail (road), which turns to the left. On the right side of Clear Creek Trail is the first area of the watershed where timber was harvested by clearcutting. The 50-acre area was cut in 1971 as part of a 10-year contract with Longleaf Timber Company to harvest 3 million board feet of timber from the Norris Watershed. I actually helped mark this timber sale in 1970; I was working for the City that summer and assisted TVA forester Ben Cobb and city maintenance worker Bill Hutchison. It was a very nice stand of big oaks and Bill and I would measure the diameter while Ben calculated the height and tallied the trees. We used the old method of marking the trees that were tallied by hitting them with a sock filled with chalk. After harvest, TVA did several inventories to see how many, and what kind of trees regenerated. The first counts of trees found 20-40 thousand trees per acre in the first few years. The trees came from root and stump sprouts, seedlings, and saplings. A later count found that the canopy was comprised of over 20 percent oaks, which was the target species for regeneration. The whole 50 acres was not large hardwoods when cut, but had several areas of Virginia pine as well. Looking at the site today you will see many oaks that exceed 12 inches in diameter. TVA foresters decided that the size of the clearcut was rather large, so future clearcuts were kept to a maximum of 25 acres. From these post-harvest inventories, and other studies elsewhere, clearcutting looks like the best option to regenerate oaks trees. During the Longleaf Contract, both clearcutting and selective harvesting were used to achieve the 3 million board foot target.

On your left you will pass a large wildlife opening and small pond. The opening is bush hogged periodically to create a grassland/early successional habitat for deer, turkey, songbirds, and small mammals. There are several openings on the watershed, but this is the largest. This type of habitat is important, creating diversity and providing feeding and hiding areas for various species of wildlife. The watershed has become primarily hardwood forests of varying sizes with only scattered pines and limited grassland/open lands.  At about 1 mile you will pass East Trail, a gated road to the right. The trail climbs a small rocky slope, and then flattens out in a nice older forest that is situated on a dry, west-facing slope. Tree species on this rather poor site are scarlet oak, chestnut oak, sourwood, red maple, and white oak.  You will curve right, then left, before climbing another short slope. As you climb, the right side of the trail has increasing numbers of white pine. When you hit the top of the slope there is a nice white pine stand that is approaching sawtimber size. This was a poor hardwood stand with white pine saplings underneath in the late 80s. A timber stand improvement operation was conducted to release the white pine by cutting the hardwood for firewood. Although the hardwoods have regrown somewhat, the pine is now tall enough to grow unimpeded.

You will descend into a small, wet drainage before climbing the final grade, which is moderately steep. At the top of the slope you will reach Boundary Trail and the terminus of Clear Creek Trail, 1.6 miles from Upper Clear Creek Road, and 4.1 miles from the Grist Mill. The elevation gain from Upper Clear Creek Road to Boundary Trail is about 350 feet. Clear Creek Trail is integral to users on the east side of Upper Clear Creek Road and can be used in conjunction with Belmont, Boundary, and East Trails to create some excellent loops.

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