Observation Point Trail

 By Joe Feeman

Observation Point Trail starts at Reservoir Hill and goes to Observation Point. The trail is an old road, open to all but motorized traffic (purple trail). If you start at Reservoir Hill, the elevation is 1360 feet and then descends to a low point of about 1190 feet before climbing back to 1380 feet at the top of Observation Point. The trail distance is 1.1 miles, which includes the loop up and back down Observation Point. 

There are two ways to access the trail from Reservoir Hill; you can take the old road on the right side of the circle or take the steps down through the center of the wall. The trail descends from Reservoir Hill on a moderately steep grade through a rocky, dry slope that is facing west and south. Forest vegetation is primarily chestnut oak, red maple, sourwood, blackgum, and scattered shortleaf pine in the overstory with inedible blueberry, pinxter-flower, and saw brier in the understory. At one time there was a population of pink lady slippers as well, but like several other spots in the watershed they seem to have disappeared. This lovely native orchid has declined throughout its range for several reasons; digging for commercial sale and by home gardeners; deer browsing; and changing ecological conditions (they need some direct sunlight and as the forest becomes denser the plant populations decline). It is very tempting to dig up the beautiful pink-flowered orchids, but they are extremely difficult to successfully transplant because of their specific needs for highly acidic soil, certain soil fungi, and preferred forest light conditions. It is best to enjoy them in nature and take only pictures, especially since it is unlawful to dig plants in the Norris Watershed and other public lands. This species is now listed as endangered in Tennessee because of commercial exploitation.

The trail begins to flatten on a surface with numerous roots, and runs parallel to a power line. In a short distance you will see the Baxter Blueberry farm on the left; the Norris Watershed boundary is on the far edge of the road under the power line. In 1999, the watershed board purchased a 3.6-acre parcel from Paul Baxter that ran across Observation Point Trail. As the trail smoothes out you will come to the junction of Reservoir Hill Circle Trail on the right. The trail then crosses under two power lines separated by a short section of woods. These are main power lines from Norris Dam. You will enter a woodland of large oak trees and pass a house on the left. Gristmill Trail then branches off to the right as the main trail turns left and then back right before reaching Eagle Trail on the left. You now reach a split in the trail; both options go up to Observation Point. It is nice to go up one trail and then back down the other. The straight option is the steeper of the two, climbing up a moderate to steep slope. The trail to the right is a more gradual climb that is slightly longer. If you want an aerobic workout go up the first (straight) option which climbs steeply for the first two-thirds before leveling out somewhat before reaching the top.

Once you reach Observation Point the view is very nice. In 1970, the trail crew enlarged the vista, cutting several large chestnut oak trees. It has been maintained periodically over the years and was opened up significantly by the 2010 trail crew to provide better views of the dam and Walden's Ridge, in the distance. There are some incredible sunsets from this viewpoint. Also, notice the large horseshoe bend in the river. The CCCs built a shelter at the top in the mid 30s that was still standing in the 80s. But because of deterioration, the shelter was dismantled. In the early 90s a group of men from Norris, who called themselves the ‘knights of the round table', rebuilt the shelter on the original stone foundation, using redcedar posts cut from the watershed. In the spring of 2013 the Norris Lions Club did significant reconstruction on the shelter and installed a metal roof which should insure the structure's survival for many years. There is also a memorial bench that looks out over the river below.

Notice the very large chestnut oaks around the top. These trees are very old and many have fallen in the last 10 years or so. After a stop at the top proceed on around to the right to make the descent on the other trail. This old road was grown up and not used when the 1970 trail crew came through. We opened up the road and it has been used ever since. A nice option down, it goes through an old field that is now in yellow poplar, hickory, red maple, and sugar maple. We seldom go down this trail without seeing numerous squirrels and often see deer as well. According to old maps, this was the original road up to the top. Prior to the subdivisions that are now on Butternut, Hickory Trail, and other newer connecting roads, there were old woods roads that ran from CCC Camp Road and Eric Harold Park to Observation Point.

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