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Boogerman Trail Classic Hike provides history of Cataloochee

October 4, 2017

log bridge on Boogerman Trail

Mike Knies, a backcountry explorer who lives in Asheville, was the leader for the September Classic Hike. Mike has hiked and written extensively about the trails of Cataloochee Valley.

by Mike Knies

Mike Knies leads Boogerman Trail hike

Mike Knies explains the purpose of stone walls for farmsteads. Photos by Linda Spangler

The September Classic Hike of the Smokies provided hikers with the opportunity to hear about the history of former residents of Cataloochee and visit some of their homeplaces, farmsteads and a cemetery as the group travelled along the Boogerman Trail.

I enjoyed leading the hike, as I’m an avid student of the life of the settlers in the Smokies and an explorer of their former home sites. The hike was originally scheduled for Sept. 12, but the Park roads were closed that day due to Hurricane Irma. So the hike was rescheduled for Sept. 18.

Along the way up the old trek hacked out by John “Boogerman” Palmer for whom the trail is named, discussions were held about the creation of roads by the early inhabitants and their use of sleds rather than wagons as well as the severe problem the Park now has with hog infestation.

Boogerman Trail massive tulip poplar

Record tulip poplar in Eastern US

The trail passed by Boogerman’s homesite where all that remains is about half of a standing chimney. He got the nickname of “Boogerman” when he was asked in grade school what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded “I want to be the Boogerman.”

Besides the human element, the trail is a bit unique for having the tallest tree in the Eastern United States — a pine over 180 feet tall — and a grove of about ten huge tulip poplars, including the largest tree in the east by mass of timber and 150 feet tall.

Many of the poplars were six feet in diameter and more. On the way to the grove, we saw one poplar with a hollow core that had room for about six people to stand inside.

There are many stone walls along the latter portion of the trail that are in amazing condition. Contrary to most people’s notions, the walls were not to keep livestock penned up but to keep livestock, such as cattle and hog, which mostly roamed free in the forest, out of gardens and crops.

Boogerman Trail - standing inside tree

Hikers could stand inside some of the huge tulip poplars.

At the Carson Messer farmstead, the timber of his barn can still be seen and a heavy iron element used by portable saw mills is nearby. When portable saw mills — really steam tractors with belts attached to run the saws — entered Cataloochee around 1880, people covered over there former log cabins with lumber they called “weatherboard.”

After exiting the Boogerman Trail, the group passed the site of Carson’s mill on Snake Branch. Mills were in many places so as to not be far from the farms and convenient for grinding mostly corn, which was a staple of almost every meal. LeConte Creek by Gatlinburg was said to have as many as 13 mills at one time.

Returning by way of Caldwell Fork was interesting, as flooding has taken out about half of the ten bridges over the years. The Park has created two marvelous high bridges at the first crossing of Cataloochee Creek and then the one before the Boogerman Trail Head.

The Park now has been repairing the other crossings with large boulders for rock hopping which should be impervious, for the most part, to future flooding but still will be wet crossings in times of higher water. There is still some work to be done so everyone got their feet wet a few times.

It was a beautiful day with perfect weather.

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Thanks to Linda Spangler for the photos from the hike. You can see more photos on the FOTS Facebook Classic Hike photo album.

The October Classic Hike is on Oct. 10 to Purchase Knob. The monthly guided day hikes in the Classic Hikes series are $20 for members. New and renewing members may join Friends of the Smokies and hike for $35. Donations benefit Friends of the Smokies’ Trails Forever program, which provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park.

You can register online for Classic Hikes or contact Marielle@FriendsOfTheSmokies.org