Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding Outdoor Places to Visit & Enjoy--Part 2

Blue Hole Falls in Overton County, TN

Finding Outdoor Places to Visit and Enjoy--Part 2
Areas of Benign Neglect

Dana Koogler

Monday October 6, 2014

       I began writing this blog entry as a way to instruct and inform people about ways to find
outdoor places to visit. It was a response to a growing threat by the Federal Government of the U.S.A.
to levy fees on all public lands.   My thought was that I would bring to light places that exceed the reach
of the federal government in hopes that people would boycott the areas where these fees exist should it 
come to pass.  It also would provide options for those on a tight budget to find areas of still free access.
Last of all it provides a means for those who are just worn out with the same old same old to broaden
their horizons.    It was supposed to be a single blog entry.  I decided about 3/4 of the way through entry
#1 that it was growing too lengthy and the subject matter too meaty to address in a single blog post.
Part 2 addresses a type of area found more in Tennessee than I have seen in any other place.  Check
in your area where you live or visit, because I am sure it is not unique.    Let us look at "benign neglect".
         What does the term benign neglect mean?   It can mean a variety of things. It can mean avoiding
addressing an unpleasant situation and thus just deciding to let it go.  It relates to the care of human beings
by doctors and their choice of care plans of very infirm persons.   They can choose instead of great heroics
that will keep a person alive, but will prolong the inevitable death to merely not do much of anything and thus
allow death to come sooner and perhaps more mercifully.    My use of the term relates to areas in Tennessee
where it is private property, but it is alright for people to visit. Why are these private areas OK for folks
to visit if they are private?  The reasons are many and varied as the definition of the term.   
           During the real estate boom back in the nineties and early 2000's many land speculators 
thought they'd build grand housing developments.   The tendency of humans in general and real estate
speculators in particular is to build these areas near spots of great natural beauty.  Lots of housing develop-
ments are constructed where waterfalls and great views exist.  The real estate bust came and consequently 
there are lots of housing developments and areas of land speculation sitting abandoned.   No houses got built.   No buyers came.  They just went belly up, but the pretty land with good views or waterfalls or special features did not disappear.  Its still there if you know where to look.  Another unique challenge the 
Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee presented to the land speculators?  The lack of an infrastructure!
The lack of electricity, the inability to find ample water, the distance from town.   Out in some of the
 far flung regions along the rim of the Cumberland Plateau these speculators and builders met their defeat
at the hands of several factors.  They could not find water.  They had no way to get electricity in.
No phone lines or cell phone service.  No easy disposal of sewer or putting in of septic fields.
Last of all they failed to take into account how many people really are unwilling to drive great distances
to take care of doctor visits, grocery store trips, get their car serviced, etc.  

        Another reason for the presence of "benign neglect" in Tennessee is that unlike Virginia and 
North Carolina they have permitted more logging and mining.   I am not a proponent of those things, but
I do see that the upside to it is that it opens up areas to be reclaimed for recreation possibilities.
Many folks own land where they are using the OTHER definition of benign neglect and simply procrastinating in their clean up of by products of mining, logging, or failed real estate ventures.
They ignore it hoping it will go away.  They mostly don't care if people visit there, but don't call it to 
my attention because I lost my shirt on it. Last of all is simple poverty.  Some of the poorest counties
in Tennessee are the richest in natural beauty.  They have done the least to restrict access because
nature restricts access on its own.  Nature and the lay of the land is what kept out industry.
Lack of industry keeps an area locked in a cycle of poverty and keeps the population generally low.
Areas where there are gulfs, caves, rivers that go subterreanean, and few people are full of potential
for outdoor activities. 

Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer

 Tennessee Landforms 

 Garmin GPS unit

Tools for Finding These Places

   I have in previous entries listed tools for finding waterfalls and places using the tools shown above.
The Atlas and Gazetteer, the Tennessee landforms database, and a GPS unit to plug waypoints into.
You can do a google search for databases of directions or waypoints for areas where you either live or plan
to visit to see if anything akin to Tennessee landforms exists for other areas.   Google maps and Acme Mapper are some other good tools to try. Sometimes they'll provide a photo of an area, waypoints or directions how to drive or hike to a certain spot.

How to Know Where to Go?

 Finding really out of the way areas takes work   It also takes persistence and a bit of  luck.
I will attempt to show you what I mean.  Let's look at the Atlas and Gazetteer and get familiar 
with how to use it to find these places.    Cities and towns are shown in light orange.  These are developed 
places so you can mostly eliminate those.  You want to look for areas that are undeveloped or shown in light green.  Big areas of light green mean lots of undeveloped space. That is always good and to be looked at closer.  Tennessee also has lots of areas designated as "oil fields" and those can be a good starting place.
Access to them is often open.  They are not like the bleak, oil fields in Texas or the Middle East. They are areas real often where it is  kept open to four-wheeler traffic and foot traffic because as long as you are
not interfering with the oil wells or gas wells or pipelines they don't care if you're there.  

 Step One--Finding Lots of Green  Space
  Looking at Morgan County, Tennessee I notice a huge area of light green!
I also notice no areas of orange.  I see oil fields.  I see a state park, a state natural area, 
a former prison site, and the Obed Wild and Scenic River.   Sounds promising!  Not many people.
Lots of open space and many of the earmarks of access!

 Step Two--Look Closer
Go to the Tennessee Landforms Database and see what lies within the county?
Click on the map of Tennessee over Morgan County which is abbreviated Mo. 
It will give you a pop-up list of "Nearby Landforms" not only waterfalls.

The list gives me links to each page of waypoints, maps, directions of various points of interest
in Morgan County, TN.  Rocks, arches, waterfalls, tunnels, etc.
I can go to the list of lookout towers in Morgan County if I am interested in those spots.
In my case I am mainly interested in waterfalls so I will start with those.

Say.. I see on here there is one called Mill Creek Falls. I like the sounds of Melton Mill Falls.
Here is a listing for something intriguing.. Nemo Tunnel?  What is that?
I can see photos of each of the waterfalls on the page for them.  There is also a photo image for
Nemo Tunnel. It says its an abandoned railroad tunnel.

They are all near one another. I bet I could string together a days outing visiting these!

Step Three--Do More Research Before You Go 

Before I head out there with my driving directions, maps and waypoints I want to know
if other people are visiting these places? Are they really accessible? How can I find out about these
places that are off the beaten track?

What can I find out about each one? 
Melton Mill Branch Falls searched on google turns up photos of it, trip reports, blog pages,
where people are visiting it.  Looks promising.  It is near a picnic area and overlook at the base
of a cliff for Lily Bluff. It appears to be a side attraction for the Obed Wild & Scenic River.
It is pretty safe bet it is OK to visit here.

Mill Creek Falls.. I don't see any trip reports or photos of it.  I did find a You Tube video of it.
It says its ok to visit, but to stop at the property owners house to ask permission.
So I will add that to my list to visit, but be prepared with a backup plan in case the owner is not home,
I can't find it, or he says No!

Nemo Tunnel... again it looks like from peoples videos and trip reports and web pages it is part of the side
attractions for Obed Wild & Scenic River.  I found a guy's webpage with directions. I have the GPS coordinates.  It appears to be fine to visit.

Step Four--Forming a Backup Plan

Visiting out of the way places is a crapshoot.  You may find all you looked for and more.
You may not find anything. You may find access is no longer permitted when it used to be.
Always have too much to fit in a day in case part of the stuff you plan to visit doesn't work out.

Let me look a little further at Morgan County or its periphery.
Looking at the Nearby landforms list for Morgan County I see Four Mile Creek Falls is supposed
to be a sixty foot falls!  Wow. That sounds interesting.  Four Mile Creek Falls
The photo of it is impressive! I want to visit this one.  If I don't fit it in today.. I will do it soon.

Step Five--Dig a Little Deeper
You've decided where you want to go and what you want to see.
Its probably a good idea to take a look at google maps before heading out.
Do a reality check on the driving directions and/or help pick your approach.
Taking time to dig deeper before leaving home will give you a greater chance at success.
Remember--It is OK to plug GPS coordinates into a Tomtom navigation system.
However it will try to take you via the closest ROAD access to a location such as 
a waterfall which you will have to walk to no doubt.  

Take another, closer gander at the google map for Four Mile Creek Falls before you go.
Four Mile Creek Falls Map

The closest road access is via "Four Mile Creek Road", but look where it comes out?!
You've got to have sense enough to read the topography.

Four Mile Creek Road comes out at the top of a cliff. So at best you'd be approaching the waterfall from the brink most likely.

It is almost never a good idea to approach a falls from ABOVE it.

What is the next closest road access that is realistically going to get you to a point where you can come to see the waterfall from alongside it or below it?

Luke Hall Road.   It fits the topography to bring you in from below the falls. It dead ends on the map.

Check out Google Earth satellite view before you bother driving there in real time.
Google Earth sattellite view can tell me more.

Aha!  Google Earth Maps tells me the road is actually Luke Hall/Hall Cemetery Road!
Good news?  Cemetery roads and their accompanying parking areas are almost always public access.
This is a good sign.

Why does the Hall Cemetery Road appear as a see-thru line on google maps?
Because it is probably not a real road!  It is more than likely an old four-wheeler trail or foot path through the forest.  It would be something to take a high clearance vehicle on or be prepared to walk it.
Other roads.. even dirt roads show up looking more like what they are.

So trace the distance track on Tennessee landforms and see how far you'll have to walk?
Once that is done note that it looks like part of the trek will be off trail with NO ROAD.

Go prepared that there may be a trail or it might be you have to use some dead reckoning and find your way off trail.

It looks like perhaps a mile on the old road. Possibly on foot.
It also looks like its possible that about 1/2 mile of it will be off trail.
All told you've got 1.5 miles one way to walk and of that 1/2 mile with no trail.
That's not too bad, but it might be better to wait and devote that trip to a day all its own.

Step Six--Putting the Plan Into Action--Go See For Yourself!  

Take along your waypoints, maps, and directions from home.
Take along your tomtom and/or GPS system.
Gather whatever supplies you tote along and head out.

Your tomtom got you to the trailhead for Lily Bridge and Melton Mill Falls.
Park here and use the GPS coordinates or directions to lead you to the falls.

Above: Melton Mill Branch Falls

Two drops. Easy hike.  Fee free. Publicly accessible.  Worth the visit!

Above this was Lily Bluff Overlook. Picnic tables. Toilet Facilties.  A beautiful view.

View from Lily Bluff.  A few yards out from your parking spot!

What about Nemo Tunnel? Let's find that.
GPS coordinates lead us several miles out into the country and follow the directions to find this old rail tunnel.  The trip report says my jeep can go through it if I want to, and I want to!

Looking out of Nemo Tunnel.  I found that it was doable. I saw other people there. About two other vehicles in the area.  Of them only one other was doing what I was doing!

Nearby were picnic facilities. River access, Pretty views. Nemo Bridge.  Toilet facilities. It is a good
area for swimming and fishing.   There is a rope swing or two. There are sandy beach areas along the river.
It is OK too for kayaking or canoeing.

No Fees!

The Historic Nemo Bridge

On to Mill Creek Falls. I use my GPS coordinates and at LAST wend my contorted path around to
this falls on private property.   There is a house here at the end of the drive with the stream flowing along to my left. I go up to the house and knock.  Mr. Hill comes out to great me and says he is fine with me visiting the falls. I have my GPS coordinates to lead me there, but he even provides me with some general directions.
His two grandsons end up walking with me to make sure I find the falls with no problem.

Mill Creek Falls is beautiful!  There is a good swimming hole at the base.
Ask Mr. Jack Hill for permission to visit.  Respect his wishes and leave no trace.

So now I've seen waterfalls and tunnels, views and it has all been fee free and accessible.

Do I have time to visit Four Mile Creek Falls? Even if I have to walk it it is only 3 miles round trip.
One mile of that will probably be off trail.

Sure. I'll go for it.

First I found out that 1. It is accessible. 2. Parking at the Hall Cemetery is fine. 3.  Luke Hall Road is a rough dirt track that I cannot get my jeep down.

I had to walk the red dirt road on foot,and it was about a mile down to Clear Creek. From there I had to
follow the GPS coordinates off trail and sure enough it was a somewhat rough 1/2 mile.

But I found it.  There was NO Path once in the woods.  It is seldom visited, but I did find a little bit of survey tape flagging closer to the falls.
Four Mile Creek Falls is about sixty feet high.  Partly on a trail. Partly off trail to visit.  Fee Free.
Saw no other hikers or people.  No facilities at all.

  Nothing Like Success! So you've taken the waypoints, the research and found what you sought.
Free, publicly accessible areas.

           Keep your eyes open for old housing developments, oil fields, mining areas, logged areas of what I described as benign neglect.    Check especially in areas where it is remote and impoverished.
 Ask other people.  Do google searches on areas that grab you when you look at these addictivly detailed pages in the Atlas and Gazetteer.   Take it with you when you visit other destinations that are better known.
Branch out and see what is around you?  It takes some doing and some getting used to, but you will find it
rewarding when it works out.

         We have visited waterfalls and arches on an abandoned golf course in Tennessee.
We visited waterfalls and caves in an abandoned housing development in Tennessee.   We have found
six waterfalls in a deep, isoated canyon in Tennessee that is TWRA land and Nature Conservancy land.
It is fine for people to visit, but it is hard to locate and navigate.  Getting off the beaten track in search of
these treasures can be rewarding, but be prepared for frustration as well.   It doesn't always work out.
I have experienced the depths of despair and the heights of glory.    It is always a learning experience.

Rainbow Falls and Cave. I have made multiple trips to this area. Some have been wildly successful.
Others have blown up in my face. Access to these areas changes. Be prepared and have a backup

I failed to add something significant to this blog entry.   It goes back to the assumptions thing.
Don't assume no guidebooks exist for off the beaten track areas!
One example of such is Just Over the Next Ridge by Carson Brewer
I purchased it for 1 penny plus $3.99 shipping =$4 used copy in good condition.
Previously I had to check it out of the library to use it!

More importantly was a recent query I put before Emily Felty regarding the Fires Creek area.
I was asking her if she knew of any waterfalls on Bald Spring Branch? She responded in the negative, but
asked if there was any info on it in the "Skove Guide". It is another book she pointed me in the direction of on I got it for $10.   Casey McMahan also knew of it and provided me with an email address
for Johnny Ray one of the authors.  It is an obscure hiking guide that is specific to the Chunky Gal Trail and
Fires Creek Rim Trail.   You could have bought me for a nickel when I realized there was a guide for
two trails!  In reading it I did not find what I was seeking, but I did learn something valuable!
My premise that  unless a person is specifically searching for a waterfall it may go unnoticed and unmentioned proved true!  The authors expressly state that the "Bald Spring Branch Trail is as yet unexplored".

With these ideas in mind I will check online especially for guides for a particular area
EVEN IF the likelihood of finding one for that area seems slim.  One never knows!

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