East Trail

 By Joe Feeman

East Trail begins at Clear Creek Trail, about 1.0 mile up from Upper Clear Creek Road and is a purple trail, open to all but motorized users. It is 1.4 miles long and climbs about 200 feet in the first third of the trail and then descends 200 feet over the remaining two-thirds. The trail is on parts of several old farm roads that traversed five different farms prior to TVA purchase. Although the trail is situated in forest today, much of the area was previously in pasture and grazed woodland. As you begin up the trail there is a large pipe gate to restrict vehicles and then you will make a sharp turn to the left. The trail then starts to climb, rather steeply, up a cherty rock surface that is somewhat slick. You will then turn sharply to the right and continue to climb steeply. The area on the right was the first clearcut timber harvest in the watershed, totaling 50 acres and was cut in 1971 as part of the Longleaf Contract. Forest composition varies with the aspect and slope position, but former hardwood stands that were cut are comprised of primarily white oak, red maple, yellow poplar, and various red oaks. Virginia pine and dogwood dominate several small areas that were in pine when harvested. The left side of the trail, which is a low ridge top, is dry and rocky and is occupied by large chestnut oaks, white oak, and red maple with farkleberry, wild azaleas, and moss underneath. Pink lady slippers were once found along this section, but I haven't seen any in recent years.

As the trail flattens, you will notice a change in the forest composition on the left side; this was a field when purchased and most likely planted to pine. Most of the pine has died and yellow poplar, hickory, red maple, and sourwood have taken over the site. The trail follows along the crest of a low ridge for a distance before climbing again to the highest point on the trail. Notice that the clearcut is still on the right side. This early ‘experimental' harvest was found to be too large, so subsequent clearcuts were kept to a maximum of 25 acres. Since 1971 the practice of clearcutting has been controversial, primarily because of the extensive harvests that were conducted in the western U.S. and the conversion of hardwoods to pine in the east. Clearcutting has often been called ‘deforestation', which is a completely erroneous statement in eastern hardwood forests. Conversely, an area which is clearcut and allowed to regenerate naturally becomes a dense young forest with thousands of saplings per acre. The goal of clearcuts in the watershed is to promote the establishment of oaks in the future forest. Oaks have been a dominant tree in the watershed but have reached physiological maturity and are declining in health and vigor and mortality increases each year. If left to natural forest succession, oaks will be a small percentage of the future forests. This is because oaks need sunlight to regenerate and grow while other species such as red maple, sourwood, beech, and blackgum can tolerate the shaded condition. If you look under an older forest in the watershed which has many large oaks in the canopy you will see an abundance of the shade tolerant trees, but few oaks. Clearcutting takes down all of the shade and gives the oaks a fighting chance to be a part of the new forest.

The trail turns left and stays flat for a couple of hundred feet before starting to drop. If you look to the left you will see a tree with three orange stripes and a concrete post below it. This is a property corner, number 2401-1; the watershed goes left and straight (a tree with three stripes is called a witness tree and points toward the property corner which is usually a concrete post or metal stake). The private land has been what is commonly called ‘high graded', where loggers cut the best trees (oaks and other high value trees) and leave the unwanted trees which have little value. This practice leaves a stand of low quality and undesirable species of trees with poor genetic traits and little future wildlife and economic value. The trail follows along the property line for a short distance before turning to the right. A small wildlife opening is situated on your left and is maintained by periodic bushhogging. The original road went straight, down the property line, but was moved during a timber harvest in the late 70s. Another road was built for that harvest and it became very eroded and rutted over the years so we moved the road to its current location in the late 90s. The trail makes a moderately steep descent down a cherty, clay hill in a rather open forest. As you reach the bottom, the forest is much denser, with large oaks and hickories. You will see a road going up the hollow to your left which is the original road that was closed a number of years ago. The trail now follows the bottom of a wide hollow with a shaded canopy. Soon an old road will cut to the right which was used in a timber harvest in 1999. Notice the number of standing dead trees along this area. Just before an opening you pass another road that cuts back to the right. This road has been used for several timber harvests over the years. After the 1999 harvest, a wildlife opening was cleared about 0.1 miles up the road, on top of the ridge. Although originally planted in orchard grass, the opening has slowly transitioned into a field of the native warm season grass, broomsedge, a very beneficial wildlife plant. Unfortunately, on a recent hike up this road I discovered another highly invasive exotic plant that can be very prolific. Its common name is miniature beefsteak (Mosla dianthera) and it is listed as a significant threat in Kentucky, although Tennessee has not listed it as yet. The small plant is in the mint family and has very pretty, small purple flowers that are apparently attractive to bees (the day I saw them they were covered and abuzz with bees). I am not sure how it got on this road but I suspect it came in with some winter wheat we planted on the road after it was regarded last fall. I will keep an eye on it and see if spreads significantly.

The trail now reaches an opening which is periodically mowed. Originally the trail went along the outside of the field but over the years people started driving through the middle of it. In the fall of 2011 we regraded the road and it was moved back to the original location along the edge. It seems this section of the watershed has become the ‘breeding ground' for exotic invasive plants. I discovered a patch of Japanese knotweed in the middle of the road in the summer of 2011, oriental bittersweet seems to be increasing significantly, autumn olive is popping up along the trail, bicolor lespedeza is spreading through the field, and miniature beefsteak is now present. Control of exotic plants is going to be an increasing challenge in years to come and it is unrealistic to believe we can eradicate them all. The new species we are trying to control are a greater challenge than some of the old nemesis like kudzu because many of the new species are spread by animals dispersing seeds. Kudzu is not easy to eradicate but can be easily contained because it spreads by vines, not seeds. In many cases we are our own worst enemy when it comes to exotic plants; TVA promoted autumn olive as a wildlife food, bicolor lespedeza was also introduced for wildlife, kudzu and muliflora rose were planted for erosion control, and many other species were imported for the nursery trade. As you leave the opening the road climbs a short distance to another pipe gate at the intersection with Gooseneck Trail (Brush Dump Road).

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