The Girl Trail

Photo courtesy of Wild Trails
Photo courtesy of Wild Trails
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 The Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Centeris tucked back on the west side of Lookout Mountain about 15 minutes from downtown.  The Arboretum and Nature Center is a 317-acre nature preserve and educational facility. Most of the approximately 15 miles of trails resemble dirt roads and have a tradition of use by horseback riders, although certainly hikers and runners use the trails as well. Half of the trails are located along Lookout Creek and others wind up the lower hillside of Lookout Mountain. A few years ago, a group associated with the center built the Perimeter Trail to highlight some of the nature opportunities available when one ventures off the beaten track.

Photo courtesy of Wild Trails
Photo courtesy of Wild Trails

Recently, Randy Whorton, founder of the trail advocacy non-profit Wild Trails , proposed an addition to the existing Perimeter Trail. The addition branches off of the Cisca-St. Augustine trail, the original footpath of the Catamba, Algonquian, Cherokee and Iroquois on their travel route from Florida to Kentucky, and connects with the Perimeter Trail near the bottom of Susan’s Curves. Whorton walked the proposed trail a few times to study the line and flow of the trail. He tagged the route then brought the Center’s administrative staff out to the trail to get approval.

When Summer Wofford learned she could use community service hours to complete her graduation requirements, she approached Whorton about doing some trail work. Wofford, enthusiastic, young and a fairly new trail runner wanted to be outside and to do something that she and her friends could use and enjoy.

The bamboo forests at Reflection Riding
The bamboo forests at Reflection Riding The Pug Father

Whorton had the perfect project for her--a ¼-mile section of single-track trail that crosses a slope and drops into a bamboo grove. The bamboo section is the highlight of this short but pretty trail. At 60 feet high, some of the trunks are two inches around; it is possible to see the sky above and enjoy the odd groaning of the grasses at ground level.

Two weeks ago Wofford worked with several classmates to remove debris and expose the trail bed. Brenna Kelly, president of The Southeast Youth Corps and Wofford began the bench cutting of the trail. Anywhere the trail has too sharp of a slope, they cut into what is called the hinge of the trail (the backside where the trail edge meets the surrounding hillside). Kelly described the process of trail building using a crew. “Usually a trail crew is something like a chain gang,” she said. “Although I’ve never been on a chain gang, I’ve seen movies and certainly understand the concept.”

Kelly said one person grubs and removes all the surface debris and duff (the sticks and broken down organic material), the next person begins the bench cut, and the next contours and tamps or compacts the surface of the trail. When a small section is finished, the crew “bumps” or moves up the trail another foot or two and the process begins again.

Photo Courtesy of Wild Trails
Photo Courtesy of Wild Trails

“There's more to building a trail than moving rocks and dirt,” says Wofford. “I learned about the different parts of the trail, and techniques for building a sustainable trail. I assumed that you clear a path and you have a trail, but there's a lot of planning involved. For instance, if a trail is not located on a slope, then there is the potential for the trail to become a collection basin for water. The trail tread must always be slightly higher than the ground on one side so that water can drain properly.”

The new trail will be an extension of the Perimeter Trail built exclusively by girls. There’s plenty left to do, so if you’re a girl, come out and help.

For more information visit the Chattanooga Nature Center online.

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