New trail makes falls more accessible

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   Ever heard of Jones Branch Falls?
   Probably more people have heard about the falls than have seen them. The falls are located near the Elk River off the Appalachian Trail, and in past years have not been very accessible to hikers.
   The old trail to the falls followed a steep and eroding side hill in Sugar Hollow near Big Pine Mountain.
   However, the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club, working with the Appalachian Trail Conference and the U.S. Forest Service agreed to move that portion of the trail to a less steep, more sustainable, and more scenic alternative. The trail relocation was completed a little over a year ago.
   Prior to that time, Jones Branch Falls was only known to those who lived nearby or those who hunted along a ridge trail that skirted the hollow of Jones Branch. Even then, the falls were not very accessible. Now that the new trail relocation is complete, a new side trail has been added to make it accessible to those hiking in from the Tennessee or North Carolina access points.
   The falls are actually in Tennessee, and can be accessed from the Appalachian Trail road crossing at Walnut Mountain Road or a trail south from Campbell Hollow Road. Access from the North Carolina side can be made from the Big Elk Falls parking lot in Elk Park, N.C., and following the USFS road or the trail along Elk River.
   Larry Gobble, director of tourism for the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce, said, "It is a very beautiful beautiful spot, and can now be easily accessed with the relocation of the trail."
   While not as spectacular in beauty as the nearby Elk River Falls, Jones Branch Falls have their own particular beauty. They are over 100 feet tall with water shooting over high rocks in a frothy plume. The water then tumbles down short steps before sliding down a large rock face.
   Steven T. Perri, TEHCC Appalachian Trail Committee Chairman, who noted that Jones Branch Falls are in Tennessee - not in North Carolina, as some claim - said the new path takes longer to walk, but is more scenic than the old rugged path. It winds through hemlocks and rhododendron to a point above Jones Creek. "There is a sign that points to Jones Falls," he said.
   According to Perri, the path is in good condition and easy to follow. In steep places steps have been built to take the traveler safely up to the next level.
   Gobble said the Jones Branch Falls are located in one of the most secluded areas of the county, but also one of the most beautiful. "It's a great place to hike, and the falls are just an added attraction," he said.
   "We have so many great hiking trails in the county - Laurel Fork Falls, the Elk River Falls, the Appalachian Trail, trails in the Roan Mountain State Park. We want to make the public aware that the Jones Branch Falls can now be accessed more easily, and are right up there at the top when it comes to beauty spots," Gobble said.
   He also said that, with an increased emphasis on developing tourism in the county, hiking trails are just another drawing card. "They are just as much a drawing card as our lakes and boating and fishing," he said.