This history is adapted from an article, Tennessee Trails Association Celebrates 40 Years of Trail Work, which appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of the Tennessee Conservationist.
The Tennessee Trails Association is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote a state wide system of hiking trails. Members in 13 active chapters across the state enjoy the many hiking opportunities afforded by hundreds of miles of Tennessee trails, as well as volunteer their time for trail building and maintenance activities on both public and private lands throughout the state. Officially organized on December 7, 1968, the Tennessee Trails Association celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008.
TTA traces its origins to the interactions of three men with different backgrounds but a common interest. Mack Prichard, from West Tennessee, was serving as naturalist with the Tennessee State Parks division. The late Bob Brown, a chemical engineer turned banker from Nashville, was an avid hiker and outdoorsman. The late Evan Means, from Oak Ridge, was the outdoor editor for the Oak Ridger newspaper. Prichard felt that Tennessee needed a state trails system patterned after the National Trails System Act that had been signed into law on October 2, 1968. Brown wanted the opportunity to do some serious hiking without having to travel from Nashville to the Smokies. Means, as president of the Clinch and Powell River Valley Association in 1965, had proposed the establishment of a long distance trail from Cumberland Gap to Oak Ridge, to be called the Cumberland Trail.
Prichard recalls that he and Brown were meeting in Nashville to discuss the possibilities for a state trail system, when Prichard suggested they call Means to gauge interest in such a project. In a March 1972 article in the Tennessee Conservationist, Means remembers this conversation. When asked about the idea for a state trails system he said “I’m for it, and I have a trail project waiting for you.” After an initial flurry of recruiting volunteers to scout possible trail routes and making plans to contact landowners, there had been a change in leadership of the CPRVA organization and their Cumberland Trail project have been allowed to languish. Clearly, Means saw a chance to re-start his project.
An initial meeting of interested parties was held at Cumberland Mountain State Park on November 16, 1968. Bob Brown’s notes from this meeting relate that topics such as landowner permissions and liabilities were discussed as well as trail design and potential routing. The Cumberland Trail was selected as a pilot project to develop and fine tune the process of establishing a statewide system of trails. It was decided that the southern terminus of the trail should be extended to the vicinity of Chattanooga. Potential side trails to Fall Creek Falls and to Scott’s Gulf were also discussed.
A subsequent meeting was held at Cove Lake State Park on December 7, 1968. It seems, from Bob Brown’s notes of this meeting, that most of the state’s conservation and environmental groups were represented, as well as various state and federal agencies, and landowners. The Tennessee Trails Association was officially formed to serve as an umbrella organization to coordinate work on a state trails system. (According to Donald Todd, in a paper presented at the 1971 National Trails Symposium, the TTA name was chosen over the Cumberland Trail Association to demonstrate the organization’s intended broader scope.) Bob Brown was elected the first TTA president. After reviewing plans for a statewide system of trails that had been developed in 1965 by the Planning Division of the Department of Conservation, the new organization formally designated the Cumberland Crest Hiking Trail as its pilot project. The development of other trails would follow, as reported by Evan Means, “as more people joined the movement.” The organization also decided to defer state trails system legislation to a later date, and pursue the development of the Cumberland Trail effort on a private basis.
The minutes of the annual meetings during the next couple of years or so show progress being made on the establishment of the Cumberland Trail. The trail had been divided up into sections, with various individual members responsible for work in each section. The standards used in building and marking the Appalachian Trail were being employed on the Cumberland Trail.
During this same period, TTA took a leadership role in promoting a state trails system by organizing state and regional trail seminars that brought together governmental agencies, other environmental groups, and representatives from the private sector to discuss trail issues. A bill for a state trails system did not make it out of committee in 1970, and it wasn’t until April 1971 that Tennessee became the first state to enact legislation establishing a state trails system. Seven scenic trails were designated as part of the initial state system, including the Cumberland Trail.
Initial support from the state after the passage of the State Trails System Act was strong. Monies were appropriated and Joe Gaines was named as the first State Trail Administrator. Trail supervisors were assigned for the Cumberland Trail and several other designated scenic trails. The TTA annual meeting reports of this period continued to tell of progress being made by both state personnel and TTA volunteers.
Amidst all this on-the-ground activity, TTA was looking for ways to expand the base of support from its membership. The TTA leadership had recognized a need for local chapters early on, and in 1971, the organization’s constitution was amended to allow the formation of local chapters. The Tennessee Trails newsletter for June, 1973, reported that the first local chapter had been formed in Oak Ridge. However, there is no further mention of this chapter’s activities, and it was not until November 7, 1975, that the first sustained local chapter was organized in Nashville.
No other chapters were added until 1981, when chapters in Murfreesboro and Memphis were chartered. The Cumberland Mountain chapter was organized in 1982, and renamed as the Big South Fork chapter in 1998. A chapter in Chattanooga was formed in 1983, but was inactive by 1989. The Clarksville and Cookeville chapters were started in 1989. The Cookeville chapter was later renamed as the Upper Cumberland chapter. An East Tennessee chapter was added in 1995. The Plateau chapter, serving Crossville and Cumberland County was added in 1996. The Cove Lake and Columbia chapters were formed in 1999. The Northwest chapter was started in Martin in 2000. The Highland Rim chapter, serving primarily Coffee and Franklin counties, was chartered in 2002. A third west Tennessee chapter was started at Jackson in 2003. Attempts were also made to form chapters in Soddy-Daisy and at Cumberland Gap, but these efforts were unsuccessful.
In 1975, a change in state government administration occurred and funding for the state trails system was frozen. The state had also encountered unexpected problems in the process of trying to secure trail easement agreements with landowners. Together, these factors led to a change of direction within the Department of Conservation. Instead of putting resources into the acquisition and development of new trails, the state shifted its focus toward the development of recreational trails in existing state parks, resulting in a slowdown in the development of the Cumberland Trail.
TTA’s emphasis also moved away from the Cumberland Trail as volunteers from local chapters became involved in nearby trail projects. At the 1980 annual meeting, the Nashville Chapter reported on its efforts on the Volunteer Trail at Long Hunter State Park. Other chapters followed suit as they were chartered. The Adopt-a-Trail program was started in 1982 as a way to regularly assist trail managers with maintenance.
By 1994, the only part of the Cumberland Trail that was officially open and maintained by the state was in the south, in the Prentice Cooper State Forest. Other segments remained on the ground, unpublicized by the state, and receiving occasional maintenance from TTA and local civic groups.
At about this time, there was a renewed interest in the Cumberland Trail within TTA, thanks to the proactive leadership of Rob Weber as president. After first-hand exploration of the remaining sections of the trail, Weber asked the TTA board to make the Cumberland Trail its priority for 1995, with the objective of determining if TTA should push for its completion.
TTA recognized that it probably couldn’t handle the completion of the Cumberland Trail on its own, and that state funding would not be forthcoming. In the spirit of the state trails seminars of the 1970s, TTA organized and hosted a meeting in February 1995 that brought together its members with other interested groups and individuals outside TTA to discuss the feasibility of completing the Cumberland Trail. After the favorable response from this meeting, the TTA Cumberland Trail Committee was reformed to coordinate efforts to complete the trail. With the help of volunteers from TTA and other organizations, and with a partnership with the BreakAway alternative spring break organization, work started anew in 1996 to restore existing trail, as well as to build new trail.
It was apparent that financing the completion of the trail would be a major issue. It was also apparent that the Cumberland Trail committee structure within TTA did not adequately address this issue. A special TTA board meeting was called in April 1997 to review organizational options and alternatives for dealing with funding requirements.
In November 1997, the TTA bylaws were amended to allow the creation of Associate Organizations within the TTA membership. The intent of the Associate Organization structure was to provide a means for bringing a very strong focus to a specific trail or trail related issue. The AO would be free to define its own mission statement relative to its project or issue, subject to approval by the TTA board. Once these basic objectives were agreed to. the AO was free to move forward with developing and executing strategies to fulfill its mission. Most importantly, the AO was free to secure whatever level of funding it deemed necessary for its goals. The TTA board would be removed from day to day operations, but retained overall fiscal responsibility for the AO, through quarterly financial and operational reporting.
The Cumberland Trail Conference became the first Associate Organization, replacing the Cumberland Trail Committee. Rob Weber became the first director of the CTC. Under his leadership, the CTC was able to marshal support for the Cumberland Trail from the communities and land-owners in the 11 counties along the trail route. Over the years, the CTC has been able to attract hundreds of volunteer workers through the annual BreakAway programs, and other working programs. These efforts have been supported by volunteers from all TTA chapters, as well as from other groups. Monies have been raised to buy land along the corridor. The CTC entered into formal agreements with the state defining the development and maintenance responsibilities of the organization. In June 1998, the Cumberland Trail was designated as a linear state park. Today, the state provides day to day management with Park Manager Bob Fulcher and his staff of rangers, with the CTC, under the direction of the current general manager Tony Hook, still responsible for the design and construction of the trail.
Much has happened over the past 40 years. Although the Cumberland Trail is not yet been completed, the end is in sight. As Bob Fulcher says, “Nothing is harder to stomp out than a great idea.” The Cumberland Trail has certainly been a great idea. TTA has proven itself with its perseverance and with its energy and efforts on this trail, as well as on numerous other, less ambitious trail projects. As Fount Bertram, a former president of TTA has claimed, “TTA is the foremost trail building volunteer organization in the state.” There are many more organizations now that are interested in preserving the state’s wild places, and TTA stands ready to partner with those organizations in building whatever trails are necessary.
Note: Several significant changes have occurred since this article appeared in 2008. Notably, the Cumberland Trail Conference has been dissolved and re-formed as a completely independent organization. However, TTA still strongly supports the efforts of the CTC in completing the Cumberland Trail, both financially and with volunteer efforts from TTA members.