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The Visitor’s Center of the South Cumberland State Recreation Area is about 50 miles northwest of Chattanooga and 85 miles southeast of Nashville and is located between Monteagle and Tracy City. It became the centerpiece for the massive South Cumberland Recreation Area in 1973. The Visitor’s Center, formerly a golf course, serves as a hub for the eight separate park areas that are managed as a single park. It has a picnic pavilion, a wooded picnic area, tennis courts, basketball course, and a softball field. The center offers a great place for an afternoon retreat, hosting many family reunions. The golf course is no longer maintained. However, it has become what is known as the meadow trail. The hike through this meadow allows nature lovers to see a variety of wildlife and wildflowers, not to mention a plethora of birds that make the Cumberland Plateau such a unique place.
The Grundy Forest originated in 1935 when a group of Tracy City residents donated a tract of 211 acres to accommodate a camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The residents formed a group called the Grundy County Forest Association. This group, headed by Herman Baggenstoss, deeded this tract over the State of Tennessee, requesting that it become a state forest and site for the camp.
Soon after becoming a park, a trail was built to the “Fruit Bowl” and a picnic area was constructed. The place soon became a popular attraction in the region.
Grundy Forest now serves as the northern access point of the Fiery Gizzard Trail. It offers picnic shelters and restrooms. There is also a short day hike that measures approximately two miles. This trail offers a beautiful sample of what South Cumberland has to offer. Hikers pass numerous waterfalls, a plunge pool, old growth trees that include a massive Hemlock and a cascading stream.
The Fiery Gizzard Trail is one of the most diverse and beautiful trails in the state. Backpacker magazine has ranked it as one of its top twenty-five backpacking trails in the United States. This 17-mile one-way trail features cascading streams, numerous waterfalls, panoramic overlooks, extremely rocky gorges, gentle slopes and lush woodlands as well as four primitive campgrounds. The south entrance to the Fiery Gizzard Trial is the Foster Falls Small Wilds Area. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) owns this area, but the South Cumberland Recreation Area manages the 550 acres of Foster Falls.
Foster Falls has become a world-class destination for sport rock climbing. The falls, which lend their name to the area, still dominate the landscape. The 60 foot drop marks the southern end of the Fiery Gizzard Trail, and remains a popular spot for people to view and relax from the strains of life. The Foster Falls Area offers restrooms, a picnic pavilion, and a wooded picnic area. It also offers a camping area for overnight visitors from April through October. A resident manager employed by TVA manages these facilities.
The Grundy Lakes conclude this elegant grouping of the South Cumberland Recreation Area. This area offers a paved walking trail and picnic facilities as well as other outdoor activities such as fishing and wildlife viewing. The park offers canoeing at various times throughout the year. The Lone Rock Coke Ovens make this an area of prominence. In fact, the entire area is on the National Historic Register.
The Grundy Lakes much like the Grundy Forest was donated for a project for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. The CCC provided a livelihood for many Grundy Countians during the Great Depression. The Lone Rock Coke Ovens were run until 1896 by convict labor. At these facilities, locally mined coal was turned into coke, which was used in the steel industry around South Pittsburg, Tennessee. These ovens remain intact today and can be viewed as a reminder of times past.