A new hiking trail climbs the eastern edge of Prentice Cooper State Forest, ascending more than 1,000 feet with two main water crossings and several smaller ones sprinkled throughout. The climax of the rocky hike comes in the final mile: a 30-foot waterfall that rains down before the trail connects to the Cumberland Trail System's Pot Point Loop.
The "moderately strenuous" 2.5-mile Ritchie Hollow Trail connects the Tennessee River to the top of Suck Creek Mountain. It opens with an 11 a.m. ceremony and hike Saturday at the trailhead near Pot Point Cabin. However, while trail builder Mariah Prescott believes the hike is challenging, that shouldn't scare beginners, she said.
"It's a moderately strenuous hike. It's not necessarily geared toward a beginner, but a beginner could do it. It just takes time," she said.
› What: Ritchie Hollow Trail grand opening, 2.5-mile hike
› When: 11 a.m. Saturday
› Where: Trailhead near Pot Point Cabin
The project adds to the growing trail network in the area and gives hikers a more advanced hiking opportunity. That's something Southeast Conservation Corps director Brenna Kelly believes the area could use.
The corps helped build the trail. The group did much of the technical work that would have been too difficult for most volunteers. For instance, the group helped create a path through a rock garden.
"It's a little bit of a technical trail close to an urban center, which is unique," Kelly said. "It adds another level of opportunity for hikers. We're getting a nice, wide variety of trails within reach of the bulk of Chattanooga's population."
The trail goes through a historical moonshine-making area. Several moonshine stills remain in the woods along the trail and can be seen on the hike. Eventually, Prescott wants to add more signs to highlight the history.
The trail was dedicated to Carl Lawson, the caretaker of Pot Point and a reformed moonshiner. Its creation was due primarily to partnerships and volunteers.
"It's a trail that was built on local partnerships in Chattanooga and some sweat and hard work," Prescott said.
The Tennessee River Gorge Trust led the project and received a memorandum of understanding allowing the trust to build the trail on state forest land.It received funding for the project from the Riverview Foundation, Benwood Foundation, Rock/Creek and others. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Interdisciplinary Geospatial Technology Lab built the trail map. Representatives from TVA, the Chattanooga Hiking Club, Rock/Creek and others volunteered to help build the trail.
"The Ritchie Trail is a great complement to the larger network of outdoor recreation resources we have in Chattanooga and the surrounding region," said Bruz Clark, executive director of the Riverview Foundation. " Numerous volunteers from a variety of backgrounds have also coalesced around this project, which is one of several criteria the Riverview Foundation takes into consideration when funding outdoor recreation initiatives."
The Southeast Conservation Corps was primarily paid for its work but also volunteered for part of the process to use the area for training.
The trail has been several years in the making, but the brunt of the work was done in 2017.
"We wanted to build something that tied the river into the trail system at the top of the mountain," Prescott said.
Prescott, who is the business and community access director for the river gorge trust, plans to extend the trail later this year to Davis Pond campground and parking lot. That will give trail access at both the top and bottom of the mountain.