Sunday, April 27, 2014

BOWX Weekend: Charit Creek Lodge

by Stephanne
I had the amazing opportunity this past weekend to participate in the BOWX ("Becoming an Outdoors Woman Extreme") event that took place in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (NRRA) at The Charit Creek Lodge.  This amazing place is steeped in history and provides a delightfully sensory experience.  There's so much to tell, it's hard to figure out where to start!  I guess from the beginning (history)?!

Charit Creek Lodge
While the trip itself will spur a few blog posts, the first thing I have to tell you about is the VENUE:

The Charit Creek Lodge is peacefully nestled in a very appealing valley bordered by the Hatfield Ridge and the confluence of both Charit and Station Camp Creeks. The lodge is ripe with history that you can't help but want to know more about even before you get there.  For example, the creek that the lodge is named for (Charit Creek) is named for a young girl named Charity who drowned in the creek during a flash flood.  On the road in (which is only used by horses and by the lodge manager or park staff for specific purposes) you pass an old chimney, now the last visible remnants of a homestead from an age past.  I asked one of the staff I was riding with about the chimney and she provided an abbreviated history... while I trusted her story, it was so fantastic that I had to verify the event and her details were very close to accurate! So, apparently the Tacketts lived (and died) here.  During the civil war, when both sides were looking for "new recruits" that were close enough to whatever age was deemed worthy to fight, the Tackett brothers - who were being cared for by an elderly relative - were told to hide under a feather mattress during a rushed decision when soldiers were seen headed their direction.  The elderly woman then laid upon the bed and feigned a horrible illness that wouldn't allow her to get up.  When the soldiers were gone, convinced it was just her and not wanting to catch whatever ailment had her bedridden, she rose, lifted back the mattress, and found that both boys had been smothered by the mattress.  Their graves - headstones hand carved - are still in the park today, located near the Cherit Creek Lodge.

The lodge itself is nestled in the valley mentioned above which was used as a shelter to travelers even in the Native American days. By 1850 there were just over 125 residents in the valley, but by  1930 it was down to just a few remaining homesteaders.  Currently Charit Creek Lodge is the only remaining building from the community.  The oldest part of the lodge was built in 1816 (the one-room portion with a chimney which makes up the western side of the lodge).  Other additions were added later by pulling in rough-hewn logs from other local cabins.  It's rumored that the lodge (or another area slightly further) were the homesite of Jonathan Blevins, one of the earliest settlers in the region.  While the barn, corn crib, and a few other structures around the lodge were built in the 1920-1930's, they were all done in a similar style which was no longer used in other areas of the country because they had been replaced by more "current" styles.   The lodge and some of the outbuildings - including the bathhouse which was a smokehouse before being converted to its current use - are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In the 1960's a man named Joe Simpson purchased the property from the last homesteading owners (Phillipses) and used the lodge as a hunting lodge for imported Russian Wild Boar (which - along with feral hogs - are still an invasive nuisance species within the park).  During that period the lodge was known as the Parch Corn Hunting Lodge (or "Hog Farm") until the park renamed it the Charit Creek Lodge when it purchase the property in 1982.  From that time on it has been a sometimes operational, sometimes not respite for hikers, backpackers, horse riders, and people just looking for a way to escape from the world and embed themselves in nature.

Southeast Pack Trips
Currently the lodge is managed by Larry McMillian, owner of Southeast Pack Trips.  He and his staff are great people who - in a matter of 3 days - I grew to really enjoy.  Christy, Keisha and Larry made this trip even more enjoyable than it otherwise was! They really went above and beyond to make the trip enjoyable for our very large group of attendees.  Home cooked meals were served twice a day and utterly delicious - including amazing tasty tid-bits like fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits, pancakes, and sausage for breakfast topped only by the ribs and bar-b-que with all the sides and desserts for dinner.  I have never 'had it so rough' when roughing it... if only the rest of life could be such a sweet lie.  Between the food, the company, the area, and the expertise... well, the trip was amazing.

The only thing I don't like about the Charit Creek Lodge is the fact that I didn't know about it before! 

The Park Service doesn't do nearly enough to publicize the place... a place which inherently appeals to so many different personalities (history buffs, civil war buffs, nature buffs, equestrian buffs... should I keep going?!).  I hadn't heard of the lodge before now though I had heard of a few others "in the same region" (which I add quotes to because they really aren't - one is in the Smoky's while the other is down in northern Georgia).  This place could really be a success with just the smallest push as long as the service that I experienced remained a solid component.  I'll gladly sacrifice a "in my own bed type of comfort" sleep to experience what I enjoyed during this trip and plan on returning soon and sharing the experience with friends and family.

History verified via "Exploring Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area"  By Todd S. Campbell, Kym Rouse Campbell. The Globe Pequot Press. 2002. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I Write - by Stephanne

Untitled Document

I was asked why I like to blog... why I don't write something more "substantial". It was a good question... a valid question that deserves an honest answer. After I emailed the answer back to the inquiring mind, I opted to post my response here. After all, it's not a bad thing to let everyone know why I feel drawn to blog.... So, below is my (only mildly altered to remove personal tid-bits) response:

Let's see… usually when I write – as much as you don't like blogging – it's a blog. Blogging provides an option to write small, random stuff that rattles around in my head until I have a chance to get it out (then it doesn't seem to consume my mind anymore). It's an outlet. To write something more meaningful [length] I'd have to have ideas that I currently lack – things that are full stories built in my head. I do 2 blogs now… one is a personal blog where I just blather on about whatever I feel like doing while the other is primarily for the TWRA/TWRF. That's the one they have the ability utilize at their discretion where I write about things they are involved in (in one fashion or another). For example, this Friday I'm leaving for a weekend-long "BOW (Outdoors Woman) Extreme" event that is hosted by the TWRA… I'll show up at a trailhead and then take a horse a mile or so in to a rustic lodge and the weekend is full of hiking, horses, kayaking, fishing, and archery. I bring my notebook and a pen and write about the enjoyment and comraderie that surrounds sharing my weekend with a bunch of fellow outdoors-loving women in the woods.

As far as why I write: On good days I get to write about things like… how the Apps don't get their due credit because they were once the most colossal mountains on our planet and how they turned from a prize heavy weight champ to a little old man in a wheelchair. I speak about how, if you give him [the Apps] some time, he has some of the best stories to tell. I get to write about leaning against a tree that was present when settlers were first taming the land that became the State of Tennessee and how easy it is to dream of the years that tree witnessed. I get to write about how, if you sit still enough in a tree stand, the Northern Flickers will harass you in an effort to make you reveal that you're not part of a tree. I get to write about the serenity that you experience when you sit next to a mountain stream on a moss-covered rock and listen to the stream whisper with murmured trickles and the hushed secrets the wind shares with the trees. These are the moments I live for, everything in between those moments is just mundane ol' life. I dream... to be the Joyce Kilmer or Aldo Leopold of our age… to write words that would make a city-girl ache to know this world, to make a poet cry while I simply retell the wonders that my eyes behold, that my body takes respite in, and that my soul longs to be part of.…

Yes... that is why I blog. To share those moments I often spend alone with people who may not get to be there; to get them to see, in their minds' eye, and spur in them a desire to go and be a part of our world.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nature beckons company...

Mother Nature is perfect in every way. She is the epitome of extremes. Her grand design allows her to be peaceful and serene, lying disguised as a motionless pond awaiting the first ripple of life as a new day dawns. Yet in a blink, she can also be violent and eruptive, uprooting a majestic oak from its staunch and steadfast earthen hold. She can be compassionately harsh, beautifully grotesque, piercingly quiet, and inconsequentially grand. She sometimes offers everything but reveals nothing. She is a canvas awaiting paint, allowing each and every person to make whatever masterpiece their imaginations and dreams desire.

Is it any wonder why she calls outs to so many?

I am drawn to her.

I listen to her invitations.

She calls to me daily but like her gamut of extremes, her solicitations appeal to me in various ways.

Sometimes she invites just me and me alone, yet sometimes I can’t help but show her off to the masses.

Don’t get me wrong, Mother Nature has bestowed upon me many wonderfully lonesome memories that I alone will cherish. As a young boy, no one else can even begin to understand the significance of seeing that snowy owl perched on a snag in the midst of a desolate swamp and watching in wonderment as she flew off in graceful yet stunning silence. And yes, snowy owls are ALWAYS female! Something so beautiful can only be realized by that gender (in my mind at least). That single experience helped shape who I am today. I wanted… no… I needed to learn more about this “nature”.

As rewarding as those solitary moments are, when it comes to Mother Nature, more often than not, I want to share her. There are not enough fingers and toes of my closest kin to count how many times I have seen or experienced something wonderful from her and thought to myself, “If only _________ could see this now.”

To me, it seems as if my humble soul is not worthy enough to be the sole benefactor of Nature’s beauty. Why is it that I should be the only one blessed by her glory? This is why, if I have the option to share her gifts, I plan on taking those closest to me so I can bestow upon them those same favors.

Such was the case a few days ago.

Though my outdoor exploits predominantly don’t involve the report of a gun to conclude my experience, I had the opportunity to introduce our newest employee to his first ever Tennessee-style turkey hunt. Did I have a good farm where I knew there were birds. Yep. Could I have gone there alone to improve my odds of coaxing in the potentially call-wary gobblers? Probably. Did I make the right choice by bringing “Joe” along to feel the hallowed reverberations as the two long-beards strutted and announced their dominance to my decoys? Absolutely.

To say I enjoy experiencing Mother Nature with someone else is an understatement. There is something magical about sharing her splendor with another soul. It’s akin to writing a book where the reader can not only empathize with the words, but they can be washed away in that experience with the simple closing of their eyes.

I hope to continue to share those experiences, whether or not it’s on a hunt or after summiting a tall lonely mountain that’s been on my “to do” list. Oh well, after a long day on the trail in the heat and sweat, I often times find myself aromatically putrid. Hey, you know what? ….I guess I sometimes have a lot in common with that girl I love.



Daryl Ratajczak is the Chief of Wildlife and Forestry for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. He is an avid outdoorsman enjoying all forms of outdoor recreation from hiking and kayaking to hunting and fishing. He is dedicated to protecting and managing all of Tennessee's wildlife resources and bringing the outdoors to all citizens of Tennessee.