One of South Cumberland Park’s most popular trails, Fiery Gizzard, faces an uncertain future. A dispute over access to the trail could cause the closure of the recreational area as early as December 1.
Jim Southard, Jr., owner of property used by hikers to enter the Gizzard, says he has offered to sell the property to the park, but the state was unable to come up with the money. He complains of people walking all over his property, resulting in an inability to sell it in the private sector. With four children in college, Southard feels he would benefit from the sale of land.
“What we have is, as land gets sold or passed down to heirs, that handshake agreement, that verbal agreement can change overnight,” said George Shinn, park manager at South Cumberland State Park.
Banning access to the Fiery Gizzard from Southard’s land will result in a complicated redirecting of traffic. Raven’s Point campsite will be forced to close and the 12.5-mile trail will have to be rerouted. The new hike would no longer follow along the Plateau, but drop into a steep gorge and require a steep climb back up.
Shinn hopes people will come forward and help, and says there is still hope for the trail.
Fiery Gizzard was named the sixth best hiking trail in the United States for fall foliage by Backpacker Magazine.