Photo courtesy of awjphotography.files.wordpress.comlandowners
By Maria Baker
Chances are, if you’ve been at Sewanee for any amount of time, you’ve heard of Fiery Gizzard. Whether you’ve been for a science lab, a relaxing morning hike, or an adrenaline-filled afternoon spent jumping from waterfalls, Fiery Gizzard appeals to a wide variety of people. For years it has been a spot beloved by Sewanee students, Marion County residents, and skilled hikers alike. It is also world renowned, having been named by Backpacker Magazine one of the best trails in America to see fall foliage. During the Great Depression, a group of successful Monteagle businessmen pooled their resources and purchased 200 acres of land in the area, which they donated to the state. It was then designated for use by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which created jobs for young, unmarried men sent to work so they could provide for their families.
The South Cumberland State Park as we know it today was not formed until the 1970s. Although the land was privately held, each of them gave their approval for the trail to cut through their property. According to Interim Park Manager, George Shinn, “Since the 70s, the park has operated this trail in partnership with numerous private owners, and we have worked hard to maintain strong relations. However, as land is sold or passed on to heirs, these long-standing verbal agreements can change overnight.” In decades past, handshake agreements have been sufficient. Beginning in the 90s, there was a huge push to draft contracts and make these arrangements official in the eyes of the law. Now, this 12.5-mile stretch is at risk of losing a significant portion of the trail where it crosses through private property. Along with closing a portion of the trail, a popular campground on the hike has been closed since early September of this year. Raven’s Point campsite has been a stopping point for countless overnight hikers over the years, as well as Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.
Mack Pritchard, Tennessee State Naturalist Emeritus is quoted as saying, “This is clearly an emergency…to lose a trail like Fiery Gizzard and this key campground is unthinkable. We need to mobilize whatever support we can to mitigate this….For many years the Friends of South Cumberland members have done miracles and pulled rabbits out of hats. We are going to need some miracles here again.” George Shinn believes that there are ways to recoup after the loss of part of the trail: “The only practical solution is to reroute that section of the trail into the cove. But this is not easy to accomplish and will significantly increase the difficulty for hikers.” However, there are ways to make a difference. The Friends of South Cumberland are always looking for student input and participation. Mary Priestly, former president of the Friends of South Cumberland, described the purpose of the organization in three simple words: recreation, conservation, and economics. To lose part of Fiery Gizzard would likely compromise these commitments. According to a statement released by the Friends of South Cumberland, “The FSC is committed to raising awareness about this recent development at Fiery Gizzard and to partnering with others to find solutions.” Currently, the FSC is recruiting volunteers to help reroute the trail and to raise awareness about the future of Fiery Gizzard. Questions can be directed to Lathem Davis, the president of FSC: firstname.lastname@example.org.Special thanks to Mary Priestly and the Friends of South Cumberland for providing information, and maintaining the well-being of our favorite Sewanee trails.