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Proctor Bridge over Hazel Creek, site of the town of Proctor

Proctor Bridge over Hazel Creek, site of the town of Proctor

Four years ago, I hiked the eastern half of Lakeshore Trail (17.9 miles). Over the next two days, I will complete this roughly 35-mile trail (16.9 miles), walking to Chesquaw Branch and returning to finish at the dam. I’m on my way Sunday morning before most campers at #86 are even awake. With the majority of my gear secure in a bag on the bear cables, I can more comfortably tackle the 12.8 total miles to and from Chesquaw plus the 0.6 mile out and back on Ollie Cove Trail.

Struttin' Street

Struttin’ Street

A kiosk next to Proctor Bridge tells of the area’s evolution over two centuries. Wilderness largely untouched for thousands of years began to harbor settlers farming the land in the 1830s. It became the town of Proctor in 1886 with the establishment of a post office. Twenty years later, W.M. Ritter Lumber Company turned sleepy Proctor into a booming “company town” complete with cafe, barber shop, movie theater, and its own dentist. Twenty years after that, Ritter left town having harvested the timber, and Proctor became a quiet farm community once more. World War II sealed its fate with impoundment of the dam and Tennessee Valley Authority deeding land north of the lake to the new park.

Ollie Cove Trail

Ollie Cove Trail

Images of the town 100 years ago on the kiosk are hard to reconcile with the bucolic scene today. A wide grassy avenue that is now Lakeshore Trail was once Struttin’ Street. The only things struttin’ here this morning are American Plantain and White Clover. Lakeshore exits the grass-covered roadbed and starts uphill following another old road that had connected farmsteads and small communities near the Little Tennessee River, now Fontana Lake.

At 0.7 mile, Ollie Cove Trail drops to the right along another old road ending at the lake. This 0.3 mile route is often used by boat shuttles when lake levels are too low to access Hazel Creek. Steep and eroded, its utilitarian purpose is all that recommends this trail. There are some colorful Indigo Milky mushrooms fruiting here, and the lakeside view has merit.

Fontana Lake at Ollie Cove

Fontana Lake at Ollie Cove

These old roads expose a soil type that is prone to serious erosion, particularly when the grade and trail trajectory provide a perfect sluice for rain water. Add the churn of horse hooves, and deeply trenched, rocky trail sections are insured. This is the case climbing Welch Ridge. It’s a short but steep half-mile haul. Following a one-mile descent, Lakeshore Trail bottoms out below 2,000’ and remains there the rest of the way. Small stream crossings like Whiteside Creek, Mill Branch, and Calhoun Branch plus low mucky areas dot the next 1.5 miles.

Fairview Cemetery

Fairview Cemetery

Before Campsite 81, Lakeshore crests two small ridges. Spur trails follow these ridges to cemeteries, Fairview and Cook. Fairview sits on a small knob overlooking the lake and ringed by trees that obscure the view in summer. The access trail just outside the cemetery is lined with three long picnic tables. Graves in these small cemeteries typically face east, an orientation that places the approach to Fairview from behind. Each site is graced with colorful plastic flowers.

Naked-flower Tick-trefoil

Naked-flower Tick-trefoil

A half-mile past #81, the trail no longer follows old roads and becomes a pleasant footpath through the forest, rising and falling with each hillside wrinkle. The area between Calhoun and Chesquaw branches was farmed using stone terraces. Despite vigilance, the only evidence of terracing I can see comes just before Chesquaw, where at least three levels of stone walls can be detected.

Chesquaw Branch is somewhat unique, its waters sheeting down a narrow rock slide for almost 30 feet, one of a few such stream conditions found during my hikes and, interestingly, most on the North Carolina side of the park. I sit next to Chesquaw to eat lunch and rest before heading back. I’ve seen this lovely little stream twice and may never have occasion to visit again.

Naked-flower Tick-trefoil fruit

Naked-flower Tick-trefoil fruit

Yesterday at Proctor Bridge, today walking to Chesquaw, and again on my return trip, I encounter an older man (father or grandfather) and his teenage son (grandson). Both look tired and the teenager also looks bored and sullen. They are hiking an ambitious loop from Clingmans Dome following the A.T., Hazel Creek, Lakeshore, and Forney Creek. The man’s maps are so tiny as to be worthless, not even realizing he’s looking at them upside down. He knows little about the trails, and I suspect has no camping permit from the park. I show him my National Geographic map so he can get a better idea of where he is and what is in store. He’s a nice guy, but what makes this duo stand out is the teenager’s hair. This skinny white kid is sporting a massive reddish-brown afro that reminds me of the movie Naked Gun’s club scene flashback with O.J. Simpson character Nordberg’s “doorway-wedging” do. The kid needs a two-person tent to accommodate his hair!

Strangulated Amanita

Strangulated Amanita

Naked-flower Tick-trefoil’s (Desmodium nudiflorum) tall racemes of pinkish purple flowers and strings of triangular seeds are a consistent presence on trail, joined sporadically by Sweet Joe Pyeweed. A few mushrooms, False Fly Agaric and Strangulated Amanita, can be found. Otherwise, it is an uneventful stroll through the summer forest.

Back at Campsite 86, I filter water (it’s hot and I’ve been drinking a lot), eat a snack, and load up to move 1.4 miles further down Lakeshore to Possum Hollow, Campsite #88. Across Proctor Bridge and past the Calhoun House, Lakeshore is a gravel road (formerly Calico Street) heading uphill a quarter mile then dropping slightly past Proctor Cemetery. In this section, Lakeshore Trail moves away from the lake and cuts straight across a thumb of land between Hazel and Eagle creeks, working its way up Shehan Branch through Possum Hollow for the first half. A tall chimney rises from a flat bench just below the road surrounded by lush greenery.

Chimney in Possum Hollow

Chimney in Possum Hollow

Campsite #88 hides off trail 0.1 mile, camouflaged amid a resurgent forest. Look carefully for the small wooden sign as the faint access trail will escape notice. This isn’t helped by the fact that you must cross a tiny walled creek, then meander aimlessly a bit before reaching the campsite. This site is listed for 12 people, but there was only one tent location anywhere in the vicinity. It would be hard pressed to accommodate 2! Heaven knows when the last person camped here. The water source is that little trailside creek. Its walled sides make access more difficult than it needs to be. I feel more ‘stuck in the boonies’ here than at any other time on trail. I hang my gear on the cables and half-joking think it might be a good move to hoist myself up there too. However, the night is quiet aside from a coyote yipping around 5:00 a.m.

Hiker Sign

Hiker sign

Monday morning I’m off early for the final day…10 miles to my car. Lakeshore climbs the side of Pinnacle Ridge and joins the ridge line during a 3.5-mile stretch to Eagle Creek and Campsite #90. The fallen tree that blocked Lakeshore and Eagle Creek trails on Thursday is still there. I snack at #90 and keep going, 5.6 trail miles to go. Lakeshore continues to do what it does best…up and down, up and down, up and down…working its way around the bases of Snakeden and Shuckstack ridges and major draws in between.

Three miles past #90, the trail’s route mirrors old North Carolina Highway 288 for 1.5 miles. The road must have been a tempting alternative to the trail at one time. NPS posted a little metal hiker sign with an arrow to indicate the true path. The road behind the sign is now dense with impenetrable vegetation. No one could mistake it for a viable route. Yet the sign remains, bearing all manner of scratches, including a rather devilish looking smily face.

American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry

The 288 stretch is level and wide, though vegetation is trying to reclaim the inner half. One plant proves a shocker, American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). I would never have anticipated finding this southeastern native species in the Smokies, but it is healthy, happy, and flowering. The park lists it as a rare plant at low elevation. Its clusters of pink flowers will result in thick bracelets of magenta purple fruit encircling the twigs at each foliage node. Mockingbirds love the fruit.

An abandoned car on trail

An abandoned car on trail

Old Highway 288 boosts some interesting cultural artifacts as well. World War II not only necessitated electrical generation through impoundment of the Little Tennessee, it also made rubber a scarce commodity. Some locals leaving their homes before the dam was closed did not have tires for their vehicles and were forced to abandon them. Scavenged car bodies litter the trail. I find 5 chassises in varying states of disassembly.

Hog trap art

Hog trap art

I don’t see very many wild hog traps on trail these days, but here is one with its door raised close to the path.  Someone has exercised artistic license to decorate the solid door panel with a cute cartoon rendering of this exotic animal.  This will be the only time “cute” and “wild hog” occur in the same paragraph.

A bit more up and down, then the trail levels out through a groundcover of Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) and slips into the trailhead at Lakeview Drive West. It’s 1:35 p.m. My car is at the dam visitor center one mile (25 minutes) away. On the road is a doe and her fawn. The little spotted deer is frisky, prancing and dashing about on the asphalt, as mom stands like a statue, giving me an unwavering stare.

Doe and fawn on Lakeview Drive West

Doe and fawn on Lakeview Drive West

Fontana’s bathroom facilities provide an opportunity to shower away the stink and grime and don fresh clothes before my five-hour drive home. It’s a fantastic feeling to have this trip successfully behind me!

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Deep Creek Quiet Walkway

Deep Creek Quiet Walkway

There are five Quiet Walkways along Highway 441 on the North Carolina side of the park. The first four past Newfound Gap are located at pull-outs along the highway. The final QW, Collins Creek, begins at the back side of the Collins Creek Picnic Area located midway between Kanati Fork Trail and Smokemont Campground. On a gloriously sunny, cool, and breezy morning of the pilgrimage, I set out early to visit as many as I can before my afternoon program through the AT beech gap and manage to complete all but Collins Creek.

View from DCQW

View from DCQW

Deep Creek Quiet Walkway: Just 1.2 miles past Clingman’s Dome Road, Deep Creek QW is an unassuming and easy to miss wide spot in the road that could accommodate a few cars but in no way resembles an official pull-out that might tempt visitors to leave their cars. Not until you spot the equally unassuming Quiet Walkway marker at the edge of the forest is it apparent that there might be something to do here.

Emerging Hayscented Fern Frond

Emerging Hayscented Fern Frond

Deep Creek QW descends rather steeply for a quiet walkway. At just 0.3 mile, it angles down slope to join Deep Creek Trail 0.4 mile from its Hwy. 441 trailhead. From all indications, some people must stop at DCQW because the first part of the walkway is clear and appears well used. This condition peters out before long, however, as herbaceous and small woody vegetation invades the path and downed trees and limbs present impediments. Nothing is significant enough to prevent following the intended route to Deep Creek Trail, particularly at this time of year, but very few people do.

Junction with Deep Creek Trail

Junction with Deep Creek Trail

By the time the walkway reaches the real trail, it has become so well camouflaged as to be nearly indecipherable from the forested hillside. Only the sharpest eyes looking carefully for the QW at this end could tease out the faint wrinkle and recognize it. I bet most people who begin the walkway descent from the road realize quickly that all this trekking downhill means quite an uphill haul whenever they turn around and in short order determine to do so. Thus the clear upper third and nearly obscure lower two-thirds.

Erect Trillium

Erect Trillium

The sharp elevation drop has one advantage: the road and its noise are immediately left behind in a thicket of Rosebay Rhododendron and Red Spruce. A leafless view through the trees into the valley of Deep Creek imparts a total sense of wilderness. In late April, Spring Beauty, Fringed Phacelia, Halberd-leaved Violet, Erect Trillium, Dwarf Ginseng, Star Chickweed, Trout Lily, and Common Blue Violet are in flower. Early foliage of Bee Balm and Cutleaf Coneflower in the path portend color and impenetrability in summer. Juncos are flitting about, and a reasonably fresh pile of bear scat has me scanning the landscape.

For good exercise and an instant into-the-backwoods experience, stroll down Deep Creek Quiet Walkway on a mild day in winter or early spring.

View of Cherry Creek from Swinging Bridge parking area

View of Cherry Creek from Swinging Bridge parking area

Swinging Bridge Quiet Walkway: Travel 0.8 mile down 441 from Deep Creek QW to a major parking area and overlook. Marked with an interpretive sign “Spared the Saw,” the Swinging Bridge QW starts to the right and climbs onto a ridge. Shot Beech Ridge extends nearly two miles due south from the highway before dropping sharply to Deep Creek. One side of the ridge drains into Deep Creek, the other into Cherry Creek. Looking at a topo map, the ridge gently undulates for most of its length with one 375-foot decline in the middle. The final 0.5 mile drop to Deep Creek Trail, however, falls a precipitous 1,000 feet.

Shot Beech Ridge

Shot Beech Ridge

This QW is listed as a half mile, yet that straight shot along the ridge line continues well beyond this point to beckon and lure the more adventurous in spirit. Small piles of deadfall provide most people sufficient incentive to turn around. Those that keep going must negotiate the increasing presence of briars and other understory growth.

Painted Trillium

Painted Trillium

I have no clue on the origin of this QW’s name. There is no bridge, ‘swinging’ or otherwise, and Place Names of the Smokies does not mention it. The walkway is relatively level with good footing. At this time of year, I find a few Thyme-leaved Bluets and violet species in flower plus an occasional Painted Trillium.

Large oak

Large oak

The parking lot view spans Cherry Creek’s watershed. The interpretive sign informs visitors that only a small percentage of the park’s forest is “old-growth.” Most trees were logged for timber or cleared for agriculture in the early twentieth century. The majority of the forest today is relatively young second growth. There are some old trees nearby, and the sign notes that a few on the ridges though small in diameter could still be hundreds of years old. Large diameter oaks dot the QW.

Beech Flats Quiet Walkway

Beech Flats Quiet Walkway

Beech Flats Quiet Walkway: Continue down Highway 441 another 2.7 miles and look left for a paved pull-out parallel to the road and a wide grassy area funneling toward an orange and white gate. The QW sign stands alone in the middle of the flat lawn to draw people from their cars. That colorful gate prevents vehicular access to an old road winding toward Newfound Gap, and Beech Flats QW travels that road.

Ravine stream

Ravine stream

Grab a topo map of the park and follow Hwy. 441 down the North Carolina side from Newfound Gap. At Thomas Divide Trail, the road makes a wide switchback leaving a ridge to descend into the broad valley carved by Beech Flats Prong. About 0.3 mile before the second, much sharper switchback is Beech Flats QW snuggled at the base of a steep ravine. The QW strikes a northwesterly course across the mountainside running parallel to and well downslope from Hwy. 441. The old road rises steadily along the mountain’s flank, above the prong and below the new road. At Luftee Gap, it makes a sharp curve right to run alongside 441 and hit Newfound Gap at the back end of the parking lot. People can hike down the old road from NFG.

Moss-covered asphalt on Beech Flats QW

Moss-covered asphalt on Beech Flats QW

Could someone hike all the way from Beech Flats QW to NFG? I haven’t done it and cannot say for certain; however, I walked much further than the 0.6 mile listed for the QW with no trouble at all and found it to be quite pleasant. Might be fun to start a friend with her car at BFQW and another at NFG to meet in the middle and exchange car keys. I roughly put the distance estimate at a minimum of two miles, probably more, but certainly less than three. Climbing a road grade is heaven compared to some trails in the park, and walking down would be delightful. Patches of old asphalt are clearly visible and often felted with a green layer of moss. Hydrangea shrubs, tree saplings, and loops of grape vines dangling from young trees encroach. Nature is doing her best to reclaim what she can, but the road remains wide and inviting for foot traffic.

Confederate Violet

Confederate Violet

Today’s sunshine reflects in the bright blossoms of Fringed Phacelia, Creeping Phlox, and Squirrel Corn. This is only place I recall seeing the Confederate Violet (Viola sororia forma priceana) though it is likely to be in other disturbed areas. Dandelion is here too.

Eroded pit with Waterleaf

Eroded pit with Waterleaf

At the walkway’s start a small stream cascades down the steep ravine and works it way into something of an eroded pit that flows under the old road and emerges far below on the other side. Walking up the road, the right side falls away steeply toward Beech Flats Prong and the left side rises equally steep often featuring large moss-covered boulders and more small streams that have begun to cut through the roadbed. This side of the mountain faces northeast and remains cooler and more moist.

Short-winged Blister Beetle

Short-winged Blister Beetle

I find one of those bright blue oil beetles, the Short-winged Blister Beetle, and stoop to take its picture. It seeks refuge in an unfavorable camera angle. Hoping to get it back on track, I offer one little poke of my finger, at which it instantly flops on its side, curls up, and starts oozing orange liquid from its leg joints. Nothing I do now will get that possum-playing insect to cooperate, so I photograph its faux demise and leave it in peace to ‘revive’ and get on with its day. (See Smokies Manways, March 2012, for more on the oil beetle.)

Steps at Kanati Fork QW

Steps at Kanati Fork QW

Kanati Fork Quiet Walkway: Drive 3.6 miles further into North Carolina to the Kanati Fork Trailhead parking area. On the left side is the QW marker, and several stone steps lead down to a path crossing a wooden bridge. Here the path splits; turn left for a short meander through the woods to a dead end or turn right to reach Beech Flats Prong. This part of the prong is just above its confluences with Kanati Fork and Kephart Prong, after which Beech Flats Prong becomes the Oconaluftee River.

Little bridge

Little bridge

Kanati Fork QW is just 0.2 mile. Perfect for visitors who aren’t prepared for or interested in the 2.9 mile Kanati Fork Trail and its 2,000-foot elevation gain located across the road. The QW provides easy access to the prong for a little toe-dipping and a taste of Smokies flora.

Water Strider's shadow

Water Strider’s shadow

Water Striders ski against Beech Flats’ flow in the shallows, casting shadows on the sandy bottom. Canada Mayflowers are in bud as the Painted Trilliums fade. They are joined by Trout Lily, Sweet White Violet, Indian Cucumber Root, Lady Fern, New York Fern, Hearts-a-bustin’, Witch Hobble, Witch Hazel, Striped Maple, Yellow Birch, and a large colony of Buffalo Nut among others.

Beech Flats Prong

Beech Flats Prong

I don’t have time to hike Collins Creek today, but an upcoming Smokies trip will include a few nights stay at Smokemont to hopefully complete all remaining trails in this vicinity except ill-fated Sweat Heifer. My co-leaders Paul Durr and Larry Pounds have promised a raincheck for the 2016 Pilgrimage.

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