Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bay's Mountain Park, Kingsport, Tennessee

Bays Mountain city park, on the southwestern edge of Kingsport, is a great place to visit and spend some time. They have trails, a planetarium, nature center, captive animals, picnic area, gift shop, an observatory, and a small lake. The lake and dam were the city's water source many years ago and were privately purchased to form the park. It is as good a cross section of southern Appalachian flora and fauna as any in the mountains. It is the hiking that really makes Bays Mountain more than just a city park with a few animals to stare and gawk at.

We hiked the Lakeshore Trail, 2.3 miles, on a hot August afternoon. That was most of the reason we didn't add any new birds. But we did get visited by a Red admiral which feasted on the salt on our fingertips. It tickled! The proboscis is about 1-1 1/2" long and it just checks out every whirl and loop on your fingertip.

There are plenty of side trails (be cautious that the park is edged with private properties). Because there are many roads around the edge of the park bike riding would probably be a lot of fun with the hills and few cars to worry about. The signage was good and with the map we never were concerned about our location.

For Kingsporters, Bays Mountain would be probably a good place to get out of the heat of the bowl that is Kingsport. And into some fresh air.

Getting there is another matter. There's one route leading from Wilcox Road exit off I-26 and one from the Meadowview exit farther up the road from Wilcox. Check google maps for "bays mountain kingsport tenn" for directions.

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The Virginia Creeper Trail

One of the successes over the years has been the Rails-to-Trails program. Locally, in Johnson City, we're going to try it, too, with Tweetsie (East Tennessee and Western North Carolina; ET&WNC) track from Johnson City to Elizabethton being bought by the city. I have had the luxury of hiking part of the Virginia Creeper trail east out of Abingdon, Va., towards the Mt. Rogers Recreation Area and beyond to the North Carolina border.

The trail is smooth, flat, with lots of shade and bridges. The Creeper was a railroad that ended service in the 1970s. The state and local governments secured access to the right-of-way although the literature says the property is still privately owned. The path is wide enough for a pick-up truck to transport mowers and pick up the trash. The bridges are on old trestles. The landscape is beautiful. It's all pasture and we went from near Abingdon to the confluence of the middle and south forks of the Holston where the South Holston Lake backs to just under the trestle. You can't camp. It is a day hiker's and biker's dream.

Whether the Tweetsie plan works like the Creeper is unknown but it could. With plenty of effort and commitment at least there'd be some legacy for the ET&WNC and perhaps a new look and feel to that part of the county.

Our second trip to the Creeper Trail was much shorter (and hotter) but nonetheless quite nice. You can park at various spots along the trail, sometimes on private property and sometimes on public land. So a person could hike various sections. The drive up from Johnson City is quicker each time you make the trip, too.

This time we parked at the Alvarado Station at the very tip of the South Holston Lake backwater. Alvarado is four miles from Mendota Station which is about three and a half miles from Abingdon. What we did was to hike back up the trail to finish up the previous hike and return to Alverado and put in one more mile down trail. Two new miles. Four miles round trip.

By the time you get to Alvarado you're 8.5 miles out from Abingdon.

So the tally now is five miles on the Creeper. I'm sure some readers will scoff and that's okay with me. It's five miles one way and ten miles round trip and that's a lot of walking for me. If you go really early you could hike from Abingdon to Alvarado and back fairly easily.

The entire trail runs from Abingdon through Damascus to Whitetop Mountain below that little notch of Tennessee that sticks into Virgina. You're almost in North Carolina, at the finish. A total of about 34 miles. The map is printed on two sides so I guess the first milestone is to get off page one. The leg between Alvarado and Damascus is seven miles and, having not been on the trail, I can't tell you where you could park between the two for section hiking. Once pass Damascus the trail starts uphill gaining 1,600 feet in 18 miles, or so. Also, despite the legends on the map, do not presume the toilets will be to your liking.

We skipped the trip out from Abingdon partly because the trailhead was slightly difficult to find and we didn't really want to hike in the town.

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