Thursday, March 1, 2012

First Hike in the Smokies

No, not me, obviously. That would be my three-year-old nephew.

As you might expect, with raising a young child, it’s been pretty difficult for my brother and sister-in-law to get out and do any real hiking over the last couple of years. They finally got an opportunity when Kathy and I invited them to join us on our most recent visit to the Smokies a couple of weeks ago.

Although my nephew is quite active, and fairly athletic for his age, we still wanted to pick a short and easy hike so that he could enjoy his time in the woods. We thought the Little Brier Gap Trail might be a pretty good choice, especially since he would have an opportunity to check out some of the historical buildings. However, upon arrival, I realized that I forgot that the Little Greenbrier Road is closed during the winter. Although the walk up the road to the trailhead would add another mile to our roundtrip hike, we decided to go for it anyway. Despite the additional mileage, it all worked out fine. My nephew really seemed to have fun on his first hike in the Smokies. He enjoyed walking through the buildings, had a blast throwing rocks in the small stream that runs alongside the trail, and really thought the footbridge, about half-way up the trail, was really cool.

Below are a few photos from our hike.

Here's Nick standing in the doorway of the Little Greenbrier School. I didn't have the heart to tell him, but he has 12 to 16 years of passing through school doorways ahead of him. At least he didn't come out of there with any homework that day:

Here's what the students at the Little Greenbrier School saw while sitting in class more than 75 years ago:

Here's little Nick crossing his first footbridge. Hopefully he'll take up hiking like his uncle and cross many more in the years to come:

1.8 miles from the parking area on Wear Gap Road we finally arrived at the Walker Sisters Place. At one point the homestead consisted of several outbuildings, including a barn, springhouse, pig pen, corn crib, smokehouse, apple house, blacksmith shop and a small tub mill. Today, only the cabin, springhouse and corn crib survive at the site:

Nick striking a pose on the porch of the Walker Cabin:

After their father died in 1921, the farm was passed onto the five Walker Sisters. While the surrounding mountain communities began to slowly modernize after World War I, the Walker Sisters continued to cling to their old way of life, which emphasized self-reliance. The sisters raised sheep, grew corn and cotton, plowed their own fields, and made their own clothes from the wool and cotton they raised. However, in late 1940s, faced with a condemnation suit from the Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission, the Walker Sisters accepted $4,750 for their land, provided they were allowed to continue living on the farm. The last of the sisters, Louisa, died in 1964, at which point the national park would assume control of the 123-acre farm.

For more information on hiking the Little Brier Gap Trail to the Walker Sisters Place, as well as additional historical information, including an interesting letter written by Margaret and Louisa to the Park Superintendent in 1953, please click here.


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