From the valley at the center of the farm at Southall, ridges soar to the east and the west, impressive elevation changes featuring mature hardwood forests begging to be explored.
Wandering off into unfamiliar woods can be intimidating, though, particularly when it involves climbing steep hillsides. Fortunately, the team at Southall has spent the last several months creating a five-mile trail system that winds throughout the property, tackling the hills in a smart and sensitive way.
Professional trailbuilders Barry Smith and Walt Bready knew intuitively where to start.
“A lot of times, the contours we end up following are the deer trails. They know the best path to take,” Smith says. “This land undulates, and you want to get to the top, so we focused on maximizing the trail opportunity to provide a nice pleasant walk that rolls gently and drains water slowly. It’s sustainable for generations to come.”
He points to trails all over the Southeast built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, still well utilized today. The objective is to leave a bench cut in the hillside, removing all of the organic matter while easing the uphill edge to flow with the natural downhill grade. The mineral soil left in the trail bed packs over time.
What might have taken 100 men and mules years to create has now been achieved with three team members working with hand tools and a small machine. Natural vegetation will quickly regrow and soon, the trails will look like they’ve been there forever.
Though the duo has constructed trail networks through national forests and private lands all over the country – even in the jungles of Costa Rica – they still marvel at the natural features unique to Southall. The geology alone is worth noting, with the rainbowed layers of dirt and rock ranging from black to white, with an array of yellows, oranges and browns between. Rock features jut out as milestones along the trail, many of them evidence of the phosphate mining done here decades ago.
Then there’s the tree inventory… “trophy trees” such as walnut, beech, buckeye and persimmon, a grove of black locust in one area, and a pocket of paw paw trees in another. A cedar glade showcases a rare ecosystem unique to middle Tennessee, where you’ll see incredible species of native cactus clinging to limestone outcroppings among the evergreens.
Several different trailheads throughout the farm intersect at a hub at the highest point, meandering back down and offering a chance to get “lost” for a few minutes without actually being far from familiar ground. One could take a 30-minute sunrise hike or spend hours exploring the entire system.
Along the way, unique wildflowers, fungi and edible fruits and nuts are everywhere, waiting to be found.
“We took the scenic route,” Bready says. “The result is an easy walk through a really diverse, mature forest, traversing the hillsides with switchbacks that allow a lot of gain in elevation without too much difficulty.”
In several areas, the trails empty into fields full of wildflowers that attract a range of feathered friends, from hummingbirds to red-winged blackbirds. At dusk, the evening bats scatter from their dens in the massive old hollow beech trees to feast on insects.
Whether guests are looking for photo opportunities or edibles to forage, a challenging run or a place to escape and meditate, the trails at Southall are soaked in natural beauty, spectacular vistas and surprises around every corner.