Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 17, June 14
Fontana Shelter — Procter Fields (#86) 12 miles
The Smoky Mountain Park service requires permits and a specific itinerary. To finish by Saturday, I need to walk 15+ days, but filling out the form, I dropped five from first day, so my day was as pleasant and pressure-free as possible. Leaving from a shelter (that has a bathroom) is much quicker than striking a tent and digging a cat hole, so I was crossing Fontana Dam at 6:30. Beautiful morning. In the initial days across the Smokies, the Benton Mackaye follows the Lakeshore Trail, which, as you would imagine follows the northern shore of Lake Fontana, ducking down to some of the coves, and climbing up around the various micro-watersheds. As the people I met yesterday who had just walked this section told me, water is plentiful, so even though it was hot, there was no danger of dehydration. And I even stumbled on a patch of early-ripe blackberries.
The path is also designed for horses, which generally means a wider, smoother surface with climbs at a reasonable grade. (That is what makes long miles on the Pacific Coast Track possible). Much of today’s walk was on old logging or transport roads, particularly as I approached Procter. Though this area seems long-empty, around the turn of the 20th century, Procter was a logging boom-town with a population over 1000. Today, apart from the road, the most conspicuous evidence is one building—the Calhoun House, built in 1928 and maintained (somewhat) by the Forest Service. In the miles around Procter you can see the remnants of old cars (straight out of Bonnie and Clyde), an old stone mill, and a range of rusting metal debris. I will need to check to see if someone has written a history of this area. It has the poignancy of post-chestnut blight, depression, and federal buy-out darkness about it all.
The GSMP campsites are spacious—I currently have one to myself, so I took a dip in Hazel Creek, spread my stuff out to dry, and spent a quiet afternoon shooing the flies away.
T. Hugh Crawford