By: Veronica Burniston
After a bitter winter with temperatures as low as -12 degrees Fahrenheit, the warm month of May couldnt come soon enough. As schools prepare for summer vacation and families plan for their annual trips to the beach, the east Tennessee wildflowers are beginning to once again shower the hills, fields, trails, and roadsides with a glorious display of the coming summer. Along the Laurel Creek Trail in Laurel Bloomery, blossoming plant life, such as violets, trilliums, Cut-Leaved Toothwort, Creeping Phlox, and vibrant Irises, paint the land into a mosaic of color that walkers and wildflower enthusiasts alike dont want to miss.
Beginning in 2001 with the gathering of a small Johnson County group focused on economic revitalization, the first sparks of the Laurel Creek Trail idea took root. From this small group, the Johnson County Trails Association (JCTA) emerged, bringing with it hopes and dreams of creating a county wide trail system that would one day connect all of the local communities. Partnered with the Cherokee National Forest and the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest, JCTA has worked diligently over the last decade to make the Laurel Creek Trail project a reality. This endeavor, conducted passionately by Howard and Linda Moon, who have patiently endured numerous bureaucratic setbacks and roadblocks and emerged victorious in finally making the trail a reality, provides a wonderful recreational opportunity for Johnson County natives and visitors.
Today, the three-mile trail stretches alongside the beautiful Laurel Creek, following a historic trail that was once used by pack mules to carry freight through the mountains. The current trail begins just south of Camp Ahistadi and reaches north all the way to the Virginia border. Featuring several scenic picnic areas, a restroom facility, masterfully built bridges and landscaping, the Laurel Creek Trail is sure to become a favorite location for families and friends to enjoy the outdoors.
Currently, JCTA is performing some finishing touches at Laurel Creek, installing a final gravel layer on the parking area and constructing an informational kiosk where visitors will find a variety of information on the local wildlife, plant life, and available trails.
JCTA hopes to host an open house for the public by this coming July.
Although the Laurel Creek Trail is an independent project, JCTA has been speaking with the George Washington/Jefferson National Park and Virginia commissioners to eventually connect Laurel Creek Trail to the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail. To the south, JCTA hopes to one day bring the trail all the way to Ralph Stout Park.
According to Howard Moon, an instrumental leader of JCTA and a strong advocate for creating mountain trails in Johnson County, Laurel Creek Trail is only the first step in an eight-phase plan to create a network of paths in the county. Phase One connects Damascus to Mountain City, Moon said, describing the groups current plans. These projects take a long time…Phase One C we hope to connect with Ralph Stout Park and the Goose Creek Trail. [In the future, these trails] will have a tremendous effect on the economy of our community.
The Goose Creek Trail is a trail the city has been working towards for numerous years, which will run from Ralph Stout Park to the Mountain City Welcome Center, then towards the Shouns Crossroads near Food Lion.
The Goose Creek Trail is the most important trail that we could have from an economic standpoint, Moon commented. The second most is to [unite] the trails from the Virginia state line to Ralph Stout Park. In the near future, JCTA hopes to see more victories on the trail, eventually uniting the famous Virginia trail with the new, breathtaking Tennessee trail in Laurel Bloomery.
So be sure to invest in some excellent walking shoes this summer and be ready for Laurel Creek Trails official opening in the coming months.