Ridgecrest Trail

By Joe Feeman 

Ridgecrest Trail is one of the steepest trails in the watershed, climbing 340 feet in the first 0.5 miles before leveling out and climbing just 60 feet over the final 0.4 miles. This trail is open to all but motorized vehicles (purple trail). The trail begins on Hi Point Road, taking off to the left, about 0.1 miles up from the pump house. You will cross a stone bridge over a muddy area that was constructed by the 2010 trail crew. This bridge is constructed with large rock on the bottom to facilitate movement of water, and is capped with cut limestone rocks that were recovered from an old section of the wall at Reservoir Hill which had fallen. Across the bridge you will climb an old rocky road that was the access road for a CCC camp which is located a short distance ahead. As the trail bends to the right you will see old concrete steps and a concrete post. This is the site of the CCC camp; the concrete post appears to be a historical marker that was placed some time after the camp closed. Engraved in the metal plate on top of the post is: "Site H, CCC Camp  TVA P1,  1934, Formerly,  Camp TVA-8 in 1933". The only evidence of the camp, besides the steps, are several excavated flat areas that were likely the location of buildings or planned buildings and a hole on the left side of the trail with remnants of a concrete structure. Over the years I have tried to get more information on the CCC camps on Norris Reservoir but have not been able to find much. The TVA library has little material, so most of the old records must have been sent to the national archives. I will discuss more about the CCCs in future articles.

The trail narrows and starts to climb, before turning left in a switchback. This trail was originally an old farm road and went straight up the hill. Several years ago the watershed board put in switchbacks to help control erosion. The trail is located along the convergence of two ridges and runs over a half mile up this ‘nose' before turning away. As you travel up this section, notice the stark difference in the forest on the two sides of the trail. The left side is an old forest with large white oak, black oak, northern red oak, and chestnut oak. The tree health is declining and you will notice many down trees. On the right side of the trail you will see primarily yellow-poplar, hickory, and maples. This was an old field at the time of purchase and much of it was planted in pine.  Most of the pine was killed by pine beetles in the mid 70s and was hit again by beetles in the early 2000s. After the pine died, hardwoods that were in the understory took over the site.

The trail climbs through several switch backs before straightening out. Numerous dips have been constructed in this steep section to control erosion. As you approach the top of this climb you will pass a pile of cut stone on the right, probably an old barn or other field structure. Ridgecrest Trail is on the former property of W.H. Longmire, by far the largest landowner on what is now the Norris Watershed. TVA purchased over 1100 acres of the farm which was roughly located from Norris Dam, downstream to below the weir dam, up to Eagle Trail, over observation point and below reservoir hill, then up clear creek to the trail ford and then paralleling White Pine Trail to the reservoir (originally went to the Clinch River).  The trail bends right and starts to level out along a very nice lane through the forested old fields. Notice on the left that the large trees have given way to a younger forest. This lane was probably the dividing line between the two fields; the left side has a high bank with a row of trees (sassafras and larger yellow poplar) that was obviously the fence row.  In spring, this long alley-like section has a good coverage of sea oats (a bellwort) and wild comfrey. As you hike this section in the winter you can see Hi Point road at the bottom of the slope.

After about 0.3 miles, the trail makes a sharp left turn, up a slope and through some large oaks (you can see the old trail go straight at this point). This small pocket of large trees is a mature oak stand that is in declining health. If you look straight ahead you might notice a timber harvest up the slope. This area was cut in 1992 and contained similar trees; very large oaks in declining condition. The trail quickly switches back to the right and continues a short distance before turning left and back on the original trail. A short climb takes you up to the end of Ridgecrest at Freeway Trail. 

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