MC biology professor creates “Maryville College History Hikes”

Dwarf crested irises are among the many native wildflowers that can be found along the Spruce Flats Falls trail. Photo courtesy of MC Office of Communications

Situated in Maryville College’s backyard, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) has served as a favorite hiking destination and outdoor classroom for Maryville College students, faculty and staff for many years.

But many don’t realize that several of the Park’s trails have special connections to the 200-year-old liberal arts college—some dating back to the 1830s and MC founder Rev. Isaac Anderson. In honor of Maryville College’s Bicentennial celebration this year, MC Professor of Biology Dr. Drew Crain has created “Maryville College History Hikes,” a pamphlet that can be downloaded from the Maryville College website.

It features five trails that have MC ties: Schoolhouse Gap, Bote Mountain, Gregory Bald, Spruce Flats Falls and Thunderhead Mountain. Each hike description includes trail information (including alternate hike options) and brief explanations of the trail’s connection to MC.

“I love hiking in the national park, and before I go on a hike, I read up on the trail in several hiking guides,” Crain explained. “My favorite guide is Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains by Kenneth Wise, because he describes both the topographic information, as well as the history of the area that the trail traverses. After doing many of the hikes, I realized that some of the trails had direct ties to Maryville College, and that gave me the idea to compile a list of several hikes that have special MC links.”

Each trail has its own story. Schoolhouse Gap and Bote Mountain trails are remnants of the MC founder’s vision to link the Hazel Creek area in North Carolina with the Maryville area, in an effort to promote mission, work, education and commerce in the early 1800s.

Gregory Bald was a favorite of former MC Biology Professor Dr. Randolph Shields, who was born and raised in Cades Cove. In the 1960s and 1970s, he took MC students on hikes in Gregory Bald, where he had experiences herding cattle in the summers during his youth. Spruce Flats Falls is located in Tremont, which was established by MC as the Maryville College Environmental Education Center from 1969 to 1979. Margaret Henry, who was born in the Smokies, graduated from Maryville College in 1904 and served as MC’s first “Scholarship Secretary” from 1903 to 1916, often took hikes and horseback rides to Thunderhead Mountain.

Crain, who often takes his students to the Park, said the purpose of “Maryville College History Hikes” is simple: “to get people out hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

The two-mile roundtrip Spruce Flats Falls hike includes clear signage to the Falls. Photo courtesy of MC Office of Communications

“At Maryville College, we are located at one of the most beautiful locations on planet Earth,” the professor said. “Individuals can experience this beauty with half-day or full-day excursions on these hikes.” Additionally, the project supports MC’s “Fit. Green. Happy.” initiative. The program was developed by Mountain Challenge, the outdoor adventure and team-building corporation on MC’s campus, and focuses on improving the fitness of the Maryville College community, getting people outdoors, contributing to environmental sustainability, and fostering happiness.

In developing content for the pamphlet, he obtained trail information from Wise’s trail guide and Hiking Trails of the Smokies (published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association), and he consulted with volunteers in the Maryville College Archives.

“The trail guide by Kenneth Wise documents the way that Isaac Anderson established the ‘Anderson Trail,’ now known as Schoolhouse Gap and Bote Mountain Trails, so those were easy to select,” Crain explained. “Also, I am very familiar with the legacy of Dr. Randy Shields at MC, and I wanted to feature his adventures to Gregory Bald with his Maryville College students (as an aside, I wear Dr. Shields’ gown at Commencement, Baccalaureate and Convocation).”

For Thunderhead Mountain information, Crain contacted MC alumna and former MC registrar Martha Hess ’67, who volunteers in MC’s Archives and was familiar with the story of Margaret Henry. Spruce Flats Falls was “an easy selection” for Crain, since he knew about Tremont’s longtime ties to MC that continue today with the Great Smokies Experience summer program, a one-of-a-kind, credit-bearing, introductory college experience for rising high school juniors and seniors, as well as recent high school graduates, that is held on the MC campus and at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

It’s also his favorite of the five hikes in the pamphlet. “That is because of the emotions that surround the Falls,” Crain said. “When my children were young, we would swim at the base of the falls, and I vividly remember squeals of laughter that the frigid waters emitted. I’ve also taken this hike with many Maryville College faculty, staff and students through the years. We even took an adventure to the falls on a few Maryville College faculty retreats!”

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