The Bud Ogle Trail is just off Cherokee Orchard Road south of Gatlinburg and past the park’s Twin Creeks Science and Education Center. It is a self-guided nature trail that explores both the cultural and natural history of the Southern Appalachians. The Ogle farmstead was settled in the early 1800s and farmed for a century. It is hard to believe anything could grow in such rocky ground, but corn and apples were produced. I’ve heard corn from these mountains likely made it to market in liquid form. That may have been the case with apples too!
Original settler William Ogle cut logs for a cabin here in 1802 then returned to South Carolina for his wife and children, describing this new place as “The Land of Paradise.” He died before they could return, but his widow, five sons, two daughters, and his brother-in-law’s family, followed William’s directions a few years later, found the hewn logs, and built what is believed to be the first home in the Gatlinburg area. Generations of Ogles lived there until 1910. The remaining structures – farmhouse, barn, and tub mill – are open to visitors, providing a sense of the simple, often hard life eked out of this beautiful yet unforgiving land. The loop trail is about 3/4 mile and doesn’t change much in elevation, but sections are very rocky with a jumble of small and large boulders to navigate that could pose a challenge for those less sure of foot.
Forests have reclaimed the area, known in William’s day as White Oak Flats. Squawroot or Bear Corn, a parasitic plant associated with Oak species, is a sign of their return. Along with the Oaks, Tulip Poplar, Eastern Hemlock, Sugar and Red Maples, Silverbell, Hophornbeam, Umbrella and Fraser’s Magnolias, American Beech, Black Locust, Rosebay Rhododendron, Witch Hazel, and Dogwood have obscured the Ogle’s farmland and created a welcoming environment for herbaceous species in the understory. There are several ferns including Silvery Glade Fern, Marginal Wood Fern, and Appalachian Rockcap Polypody. Sweet White Violet, Dwarf Cinquefoil, Woodland Stonecrop, Two-leaved Toothwort, Brook Lettuce, and Vasey’s Trillium are in flower. Speckled Wood Lily or Clinton’s Lily (Clintonia umbellulata) looks lovely – yet another wildflower most typically found in bud during the Pilgrimage. The Witch Hazel plants play host to a leaf-rolling insect, likely a moth caterpillar, who neatly rolls the leaf from the tip to the middle creating a safe place to feed and grow.
As with many homesites in the park, there are some nonnative species present. A couple of them are invasive. Periwinkle (Vinca minor), sometimes called Cemetery Vine since the blue-flowering evergreen creeper was often planted on graves, and Chinese Yam or Air Potato (Dioscorea oppositifolia), whose tubers were used for food, are lurking near the house. Daylilies, less problematic than these other two, are also on site. Halfway around the loop trail, I spot a very unusual plant with a thick red stem, stiff reddish hairs, and large green leaves. It looks like nothing I’ve ever seen in the Smokies. From a quick iPhone snapshot, fellow leader and botanist Derick Poindexter identifies it as Kiwi Vine (Actinidia sp.). How did it get there? Was a visitor eating Kiwi fruit on the trail last year? The vine grows rampantly, and the park does not need yet another troublesome plant. I take more photos to send park Supervisory Forester, Kristine Johnson. She’ll have it removed promptly. Some native species can get out of hand as well. Lyre-leaf Sage (Salvia lyrata) is a native plant that seeds weedily in lawns, around old cabins, and along roadsides. Its blue tubular flowers have lured unsuspecting gardeners to invite this plant into their backyards.
During our walk along the Ogle Nature Trail, my group of Pilgrims spots a large animal in a small tree eating leaves. He is close enough to observe without binoculars, but not close enough to easily note details. A discussion ensues as to which mammal this might be, focusing on two possibilities – Groundhog (Woodchuck) or Porcupine. Some are convinced it is a Porcupine since it has climbed several feet high in pursuit of foliage. Others feel his coat is not coarse enough to be a Porcupine. After quite a bit of back and forth, one Pilgrim opines that we should just call him a Porcuhog. Our confounding problem is that we aren’t sure if Porcupines are found in the park (they aren’t) or if Groundhogs climb trees (they do). Park guide Mammals of the Smokies, lying in my room at Arrowmont, would have settled the debate quickly. I regret not bringing my camera along, too. When I walk through a second time to note and photograph the sights and plants, this arboreal Groundhog had returned to earth and moved on.