Thursday, August 30, 2007

Winged Deer Park

Yesterday morning I investigated another find from the Johnson City Parks website, namely Winged Deer Park. I found this park at the same time I found Buffalo Mountain park, which I visited just a few days ago (blog here), and once I had seen Buffalo Mountain, I feared I'd be disappointed by Winged Deer.

I was not wrong.

However, that does not mean that Winged Deer is not a more-than-adequate city park. It was just a bit of a comedown from Buffalo Mountain. I arrived a bit before 7am, not having been able to find a list of opening hours on the parks and recreation department's web site. Alas, the park did not officially open until 8am, but the gates were open, and there was no one around to stop me, so I went in and parked anyway. I should specify; I parked in the lot off of Carroll Creek Road, which is convenient to both the disc golf course (18 holes) and the hiking/walking trails. There is another entrance on Bristol Highway, which offers better access to the parks historical and athletic facilities. I did a drive-by of these on my way out, and they seemed nice, but they weren't my primary objective, hence my alternative parking strategy.

The first disappointment, which wasn't really any surprise, was that I saw considerably more litter on the ground, especially along the trails closer to the parking area. I expected this, but it still bums me out to see it. Secondly, I was a bit bummed that there was no trail map posted anywhere to be seen. The good news is that I had printed my own copy out before leaving home, and, as it turned out, I REALLY needed it. If you'd like to print out your own map, a PDF file can be found here.

The third disappointment was somewhat related to my need of the map. You see, the paved paths seem to get a decent amount of travel, and the sections of trail closest to the parking areas seem to see a reasonable amount of use as well. But once you get on up the trail, or in the cases of some trails, try to find them at all, you are in for some bushwhacking. And spiderwhacking, too. I found that the disuse of the trails had resulted in an intolerable number of spider's webs overgrowing the paths. After walking into/through a couple dozen of these, I finally got tired of collecting arachnids and found myself a long stick. This I used to bounce along the path ahead of me, from ground to about head height, and it did help. Even with this preventative measure, though, I still had more unwanted encounters of the 8-legged kind than I care to recount. Even on the paved paths, the webs encroached to the extent that I walked through a few. Sheesh!

As for the bushwhacking: I walked almost all of the trails/paths in this park. I started with the outermost loop comprised of both trail and path, and after completing that in far less time than I had anticipated (note that there are no segment lengths on the map; there are also relatively few mile markers along the trails), I purposely walked down huff and puff hill so that I could walk back up, and then did a few more fancy loops and double-backs until I had covered everything except a few short segments of paved path. What follows is the lowdown.

Beginning from the Parking lot near Tee 1, I headed up the paved path to the first right, which put me on Poplar Ridge Loop (note the misspelling -- Popular -- on the map). This was a nice trail, aside from the rubbish strewn about the first few hundred yards, and the downed limbs which made one short segment nigh impassable. There were also a few thorny bushes that enjoyed grabbing at my legs as I passed. If I had realized just how much bushwhacking I was going to be doing, I definitely would have worn long pants! Poplar Ridge is the outer loop, and has a nice amount of elevation change, and the trail varies from hardpack to roughly inch-deep leaf litter. Canopy is reliably shady, and the understory varies from almost nonexistent in the places where you seem to walking in a ditch, to quite brambly and grabby in other areas.

Once I hit the paved path, I made the aforementioned detour down and back up Huff and Puff Hill, then followed Cedar Trail back to the parking area, encountering only a few spiders along the way. Next I followed the unnammed inner loop trail that results from taking the first fork off of Poplar Ridge Loop, and then taking a left at the next intersection. Nothing too remarkable along that route, nor the section or Wise Oak Lane I followed to reach Bluebell Loop. Bluebell Loop seemed to be a bit overgrown, but not horribly so, although the few signs along it were all but unreadable. The first section was blazed in blue, but the return section of Bluebell was, oddly, blazed in the same white that Poplar Ridge uses. This made it a bit confusing for me, even though I'd already traveled Poplar Ridge. I just stayed left wherever it was an option, though, and managed to find my way back to Wise Oak Lane.

Next I continued along Wise Oak Lane and went for the next side trail after Bluebell Loop. This is where the fun really started! At first, I blew right past it. You see, none of the trails in this park are what you'd call "well marked," and this particular side trail was not marked at all. It diverged from the paved path at what appeared to be a slightly wide place, so if you're looking for it, hopefully that will help. I didn't realize I'd blown past it until I saw the signs telling me I had hit Hemlock Loop on the paved path. So I turned back and looked really hard, and eventually found this faint path through the underbrush. Very faint. Here begins the serious bushwhacking. So much so that I actually lost the trail at one point! I did eventually find my way back, though, and picked my way through to Poplar Ridge. Then I found the similarly overgrown short trail back to the paved path. Whew! No more of that for me. To try to round out something resembling a workout hike, I made a few more loopy loops around the paved trails, shook off a few more spiders (and spent a lot of time picking the hitchiking seeds I'd collected during my bushwhacking off my clothing), and made my way back to the car. At this point it was after 8:30, and the park was showing some signs of life. Several cars and trucks were there, and I even saw a couple humans heading off on the paved paths.

Alas, I saw nothing during my perambulations that struck me as worthy of preserving photographically. I plan on heading out for another hike tomorrow morning, though, so hopefully that will yield some Kodak moments.

Summary advice for this park: walk slowly, carry a loooong stick, pack your own trail map, and wear long pants!