This year’s challenge recognizes State Naturalist Emeritus Mack Prichard.

For the past several years, Friends of South Cumberland has presented a hiking challenge each year, designed to encourage visitors to exploreSouth Cumberland State Park’sover 25,500 acres scattered across four counties. Last year’s challenge was calledHike Into Historyand focused on historical aspects of the park. This year’s challenge, Hiking in Mack’s Tracks, is dedicated to Tennessee’s well-known and admired State Naturalist Emeritus Mack Prichard. It recognizes the extensive work he has done across Tennessee, but especially in the South Cumberland region, as an advocate for nature.

The Friends of South Cumberland will host a kickoff event Feb. 25 at theDutch Maid Bakeryin Tracy City. At a 9:30 a.m. brunch ($12, payable at the door), memberships (new or renewing) will be offered with a $5 discount. Following brunch, you can head over to the South Cumberland State Park visitors center on Highway 41 in Monteagle to catch a shuttle to Raven Point for a hike on the newly rerouted section of the Fiery Gizzard Trail. This will save you 8 miles of hiking in and out from the Grundy Forest trailhead just to get to that section of trail.

Ranger Creek Falls. (Photo: Bob Butters)

A variety of hikes planned for 2017
Again this year, there will be two categories of hikes: the Discovery Series and the Adventurer Series. The Discovery Series hikes are family-friendly, easy-to-moderate, self-guided hikes that follow some of the same routes where Prichard led expeditions in the 1970s when generating support for the creation of the park. As self-guided hikes, they can be done at any time. See maps and directions to the trailheadshere.

Discovery Series hikes will also be offered periodically as guided hikes led by park rangers or experienced hike leaders from Friends of South Cumberland or the Tennessee Trails Association. For the scheduling of guided versions of the Discovery Series hikes, check under “upcoming hikes” on the Friends of South Cumberlandwebsite.

The Adventurer Series hikes are by reservation only and have a $25 per-hike fee. This includes a sack lunch and any off-trail equipment needed, with the exception of appropriate shoes and clothing, which are the hiker’s responsibility. Adventurer hikes are more challenging, ranger-led hikes and are often off-trail, exploring areas you don’t normally see from the trails. Scheduling is not yet finalized for these, but you’ll find that information as it becomes available, along with locations and registration, at the Friends of South Cumberlandmeet-up page.

The following hikes are planned with both Discovery and Adventurer versions:

Sewanee Natural Bridge. (Photo: Bob Butters)

-Where Horses Went to Hide,Collins West trailhead
Experience Suter Falls and Horsepound Falls, and learn about their roles, and the role of this entire area, in the Civil War.

-Springs and Caves and Sinks, Oh My!, Collins West trailhead
Discover Schwoon Spring, Peter Rock Cave and Fall Creek Sink in Collins Gulf.

-Disappearing and Reappearing Water, Stone Door trailhead
Visit Ranger Creek Falls, where the water disappears at the base of the falls, and Big Creek Springs, one of the places that water re-emerges.

-Greeter Place,Greeter Falls trailhead
Explore the 1800s homestead of the family for which Greeter Falls is named.

-All Aboard the Savage Gulf Railroad, Savage trailhead
Trace the route of the “Dinky Line” and learn about the role of logging in the history of Savage Gulf and this region.

-Beware of Runaway Stagecoaches, Savage trailhead
See the remarkable engineering of the McMinnville-Chattanooga Stage Road.

-Herman’s Hideaway,Stone Door trailhead
Explore the area below Stone Door, one of Herman Baggenstoss’ favorite places.

-Saluting the Men of the CCC,Grundy Forest trailhead
Prowl the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite at Grundy Forest and learn about the young men who built the first trails in South Cumberland State Park,beforeit was a park.

-Head for the Hole,Grundy Forest trailhead
This will be an exploration of the classic summertime swimming holes along the Fiery Gizzard Trail, Blue Hole, Sycamore Falls and Foster Falls.

-Who BuiltThatBridge?, Sewanee Natural Bridge trailhead
Experience the remarkable geologic formation known as the Sewanee Natural Bridge and discover the unexpected reasons behind its formation.

The following are Adventurer Series-only hikes:

-Retracing the Governor’s Expedition
In 1971, former Gov. Winfield Dunndid it by jeep, horseback and foot. You’ll do it all on foot, from Stone Door, through the Werner Big Timber area and up to Savage Falls.

-The Peak Mountain Wetland
Explore a small wetland on the plateau, near the confluence of Savage Creek and the Collins River, home to rare grasses native only to Tennessee.

-There’s a Bulldozer in that Gizzard!
Discover evidence of prepark industry-bulldozers, stills, abandoned buildings and antique cars-all in the Fiery Gizzard basin.

-The Moveable Trail
Experience the newly rerouted portion of the Fiery Gizzard Trail; learn how it was built and what it takes to properly construct an all-new trail.

-Let’s Get Vertical
Try your hand at sport rock climbing on the cliffs of the park’s newest addition, Denny Cove. This program is designed for beginners of all ages and is a great way to learn and get started in this exciting sport.

Denny Cove. (Photo: Bob Butters)

-Finding Your Way Through Lost Cove
Discover another new area of the park: the Sherwood Forest, below Buggytop Cave, where you’ll see Native American pictographs, rare land snails and more.

More about Prichard
Following Dunn’s signing of the Tennessee State Natural Areas Act in 1971, Prichard worked tirelessly to persuade the governor and others of the need to preserve the Savage Gulf area as a wild and special place. Over a lifetime of working for the state of Tennessee, Prichard served as state archaeologist, state natural areas administrator and state naturalist.

Learn more about Prichard,Hiking in Mack’s Tracks and the kickoff eventhere.

Bob Buttersexplores nature and the outdoors,prmarily in and near theSouth Cumberland region,and publishes The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, notNooga.comor its employees.