Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Finding Outdoor Places to Visit and Enjoy--Part 1

Glen Falls in Virginia is a roadside attraction.

Finding Outdoor Places to Visit and Enjoy
Off-The-Beaten Track
Part 1

Dana Koogler

Wed. October 1, 2014

     I am motivated to write up this blog entry for several reasons.  People often 
fail to take advantage of outdoor opportunities right around them.  I'd like to 
see that change. Another pattern I have noticed in those who do get out and take 
advantage of the places around? They often go to the same places over and over
again as if there is no other way. Perhaps with some encouragement and instruction folks will get out and see and do. Lastly I am concerned at the current trend in our government and 
politics pushing  fees for all public lands.  I am not opposed to fees for front country areas 
where there are developed campgrounds and facilities that must be paid for and maintained. 
What I am concerned about is the possibility fees can and will be charged for all public lands 
even those that do not afford those amenities and improvements.   

   The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is already charging a $4 per person 
per night fee for back country camping.  These are campsites where I have to pay to spend the night out in the woods and sleep on the ground. The only man-made improvements are bear cables which have been there for a long time. I am usually the first one to discount the logical fallacy of "the slippery slope".  That argues that once the government gets away with charging fees for unimproved areas the trend will continue and worsen until ALL areas are fee use areas.   

     I cannot say this is a slippery slope logical fallacy situation this time.  What I am speaking
of is already happening in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It has already happened
in more than one location out in the western USA.  The Bureau of Land Management out there 
and the U.S. Forestry Service is becoming like a bunch of rogues.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that it was illegal for them to charge fees for a person to merely drive up to a trailhead at Mt.
Lemmon and hike to the summit.  Yet when the ruling came down they thumbed their noses at
the Supreme Court and the American public and said "We don't care. We're gonna do it anyway."

         I urge the public to monitor the situation. Write your congressional representatives
expressing your feelings about it.  Get out and make use of alternatives like State Parks, State Natural Areas, Heritage Preserves, City Parks and County Parks.  I will touch on another
alternative type of place.  They are places that are private holdings of logging companies, paper companies, mining companies, TWRA land that are not the usual places people think to go.
Many areas are places that fall into a category I call "Benign Neglect".  They are forgotten.
They lie in a county that is impoverished.  People go there and no one cares.  

       Places exist that are "off the beaten track" to explore and visit.  
We can spread the visitation around so that no one place gets fat by collecting fees.
We can improve the overall experience for ourselves and spice things up with variety.
We can increase the knowledge and number of visitors to a given area so that it is
a little more known.  It may afford those areas greater protection in the future if they are
known, visited and revered.  

Getting Started in Your Own Area

     I am going to pretend I still live in Virginia for the purpose of demonstrating how this process can work.
We lived in a very remote corner of Virginia on a farm that straddles the Rockbridge and Augusta County
line.   I can tell you that there are good places for outdoor activities there. I found so many I am still
enjoying them when I go back home to visit!

        I determined before we moved to Blount County, Tennessee that I wanted to get out and
visit things in our area before we moved. I loved hiking, exploring and outdoors. I did not want to only
exist for the times we went to the Smokies to do that sort of thing.   It turned out I didn't have to!

How Do I Find Things Near Me?

    I just wrote a blog series about waterfall hunting.  I mentioned in that a powerful tool for finding
places to explore.  It works for all sorts of things. Its the Virginia DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer   Here is the one for Virginia, but they are available for all states!  The link provided here is how you can purchase one
from They are also available in truck stops and book stores.  It will be some of the best money you've ever spent if you like to explore.   Maps do not list out of the way places real often.


  The front cover of the Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer. 

Using the Atlas & Gazetteer

     Now you've got a tool to use, but let's figure out how to use it.   Open the pages and there is an index
of towns inside.   It also has a grid that is numbered.  Each numbered grid you can look at to see if it is your
area or not?  Let's see if we can find my area. Zack, Virginia. I know from Google Maps that "Zack" is the nearest thing that has an official name for us.   Around where we lived we just called it Dutch Holler but that doesn't show up on a Google map.

Zack is on Grid box 54.  This grid is inside the cover on the second or third page.

1.Find your area on the maps in the gazetteer. 
2. Look around on that map for details and what you think sounds interesting
that you'd like to see!

What makes the gazetteer maps so much fun is that they include far
more detail than any other map!  They show even the tiny, usually nameless places.
Granted where I come from is so tiny even this map doesn't name it,but
it shows where we live!   It includes so much interesting detail you may find
it hard to put down!  Kenny and I are hooked on them.They are a great help
for exploring to hike or ride around on backroads or just visit pretty spots.

           What Are You Interested in Seeing?

  Another thing you'll have to decide for yourself is what are YOU interested in seeing and doing?
Do you like to hike? Would you rather ride around on backroads?  Do you like waterfalls? Do you like history?   Would you prefer photography?

We'll call that step #3 in learning to use the Atlas & Gazetteer-

How Can I Find Out More About It? 

     Today we live in the wonderful world of technology.  Its fair to say you might see something on that map
that sparks your interest close by you, but how do you know if it is really worth the time to check out?
Do an internet search!  Check your library for guidebooks on the subject matter like hiking guides, tourism books, history books, check with your local chambers of commerce if you live near a town or have a county government center. Talk to people in the area about it and ask them if they know? Keep your eyes peeled
when you are out riding around especially as a passenger.  Maybe something will spark your interest
and you can research it on the web and go back to check it out when you have a chance!?
Get on or the internet and search out guidebooks that are written for your area.
Check out Facebook and Social media to see if there are groups or communities for that area
where you can meet people who can share the experience with you and swap information.
Look for hiking clubs in your vicinity if you don't feel comfortable going alone. 

          I'm going to use a couple example from Grid #54 out in the boondocks where I am from.

         What does Dana like to see?  What is she interested in?  

  Well, I love waterfalls.  I love history.  I love old back roads.  I love old  grist mills. Great views. Lookout Towers. 
Boys howdy.. there is some of those in grid #54. 

     Looking on the map I see spelled out Statons Falls, Gibbs Falls, Panther Falls, St. Mary's Falls

I also see an interesting spot near Gibbs Falls called Wades Mill.    They are all close by.
I can sneak a trip in to visit these while the kids are in school one day.  

     What can I find out about these before I go? Gibbs Falls is closest.

This link gives me waypoints for my GPS! 
It also gives me a map.  

  Switch your search terms for Gibbs Falls on Google Search from "Web" to "Image" and if there is a photo
of Gibbs Falls out there on the internet it will bring it up so you can see it!  
       I went to Gibbs Falls and the drive was a beautiful, winding backroad.
I parked at a pull off and went down over the hill and found a series of three pretty cascades. Two main ones and one smaller. It is a pretty forest slope around them and a good path along Gibbs Run!
 One of the bigger drops of Gibbs Falls.  

        What can I find out about this place down the road from it?  Wades Mill

Glory Be! It's a grist mill that is open for tourism.  They still make flour and cornmeal.  
The website has pictures, hours of operation, shows what products they sell. They have a gourmet shop!
They have a garden.  They teach cooking classes!  It is by a stream. What a pretty setting.  It tells the history of the place.  What a neat find right near my home! 
Kennedy Wade's Mill in Rockbridge County, Virginia. 

     I found this place only about five miles from where I live.  I go there to walk around and take pictures. 
I go there to buy flour and gourmet cooking items.   Pretty sweet for the Boondocks! The drive is gorgeous
if you like back roads and with the use of the gazetteer you can vary the route there so you can see
different things.

             What about the rest of the spots mentioned?  Statons Falls, Virginia
This website has clear directions, photos, and info about accessing the falls. It is a roadside attraction with little or no hiking just across the line into Amherst County.  I ended up going to see it in the dead of Winter in ice and snow and again in Autumn. Both times were beautiful and easy.  Pretty drive the whole way.
I have misplaced my photos of it.    A worthy trip any time and very fun with the family.

        Panther Falls, VA .. was also a worthwhile trip. It is a popular spot in Summer for swimming.
I am again sorry, but my only photos of it would have to be hunted up and scanned.  It was Winter. The Pedlar River was frozen and I visited it with my husband. We took our picture standing on the frozen river
together. It was gorgeous. The white snow, the ice and the falls. The bright red Winter berries on the trees.
A round trip hike of 1/2 mile.   A pretty drive.

St. Mary's Falls, VA was worth the trip and I visited it three times total.   Winter,Fall, and Spring.
It was a challenging hike in a wilderness area and navigating was interesting.  It turned out to be interesting
history wise, botanically rich, great for seeing wildlife, pretty falls, beautiful stream.  It was interesting from the standpoint of the ecology of the stream.   Very close to home.

    All those possibilities exist from one grid search for a gal who lives in an Ag-Forestal District where
it is 25 miles in any direction to a town.   Are you beginning to understand the value of the Gazetteer
coupled with curiosity?

               Expanding Your Search for Destinations

   Once you've checked out some of the pretty places to visit in the grid where you live, 
the next logical thing is to expand your search outward to what else is nearby, but in the next grid.  
Look at the margin of the pages and you will see the inscriptions that tell you what page to turn to
to continue to the next grid.   Page 53 for the next grid to the west of me.  What is out there?

   Goshen Pass-- There is whitewater paddling, biking, hiking, backpacking, fishing, picnicking, swimming,
hunting, and great views available at Goshen Pass and in the Maury River.   It is fee free.

It is fifteen miles from my house.   We went there to swim, tube, and hike. 

I found this waterfall on Laurel Run on WMA land to one side of Goshen Pass in Summer about two years ago.   It is short hike of about 1/2 mile.   It is a beautiful drive.
View of Goshen Pass from one of the overlooks.

                    I have only scratched the surface of what there is to do in Goshen Pass and WMA.
I have yet to hike to the summit of Jump Mountain which I can see from my farm.    My husband has been and has promised to go with me.  The WMA is of course closed during hunting season also.  It does not
charge fees except for buying your hunting and fishing license if you plan to do those activities.

            I found so much to do before I moved to Tennessee I was busy hiking, camping, climbing
every weekend.   The point being that if you like outdoors there is a multitude of places to visit and explore.
Some of them were so great I would go back and visit them over again.

Elliots Knob Summit Hike
Falls Hollow
Todd Lake
Elkhorn Lake

Places I look forward to getting to visit that I did not take advantage of?  

Jump Mountain is the slanting peak in the center.

 Big and Little House Mountain peaks.

All these things are just about 15 miles or so from the farm in Virginia.

   Unless you live in a major metropolitan area I am betting there is a lot more in your area than you realize.
At least that is how it was for me.   None of these places carry day use fees, backpacking fees, or any sort of fees aside from the normal permits required for hunting and fishing.   I sincerely hope it remains that way.
Virginia has fewer areas of "benign neglect" because it has not been mined or logged as extensively as 
Tennessee.   I will address that topic more in Part 2 of this blog set.     

Get out there and explore.   You will enrich your life and enjoyment.    You will surprise yourself
at what a good time can be had if you will only look to see what you can find.  The techniques described
will work for any state or area.

   Virginia has a number of pumped storage electric projects that provide
permanent, fee free public recreation opportunities.  Several are located in Bath County, Virginia. Some are in West Virginia. Dominion Back Creek Recreation
Back Creek is one. Duke Power in North and South Carolina and the edge of Tennessee provides
free public recreation areas.   They have built river accesses, playgrounds, picnic shelters, bathrooms,
at some of their locations and they do not charge for the use.  Walters Dam area just outside Big Creek in the Smokies is one example.  

 Nearby is Falling Springs Falls and it is free and there is a picnic area right by the road.  You do not have to hike to see it, but you can.

    The Nature Conservancy is a great resource to check out in your area. They often set aside land and while it is not always publicly accessible it sometimes is!  It is usually a free hiking area.

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