A local attraction just off the Appalachian Trail...
A very small strip of sheer rock that connects two ridges in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in extreme northeastern Tennessee just south of the Virginia state line and Damascus VA, known as ‘the friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail.’ This area of the Cherokee National Forest that is often overlooked because of its isolation is popular to hikers, fishermen, hunters, rock climbers, bikers, campers, and kayakers, as well as birdwatchers.
‘World’s Shortest Tunnel'
“Pay attention son, if you sneeze you might miss it…” I remember my dad saying that the first time I viewed the ‘World’s Shortest Tunnel’ also known locally as ‘Backbone Rock’ as we drove right through it on TN Hwy 133 just north of Shady Valley TN. “It used to be a railroad tunnel”, he said. Seems like around the turn of the twentieth century the railroad blasted a hole in this narrow ridge and placed a spur line through so that the timber in the mountainous area of Johnson County TN could be harvested and transported north to connect with the Virginia-Carolina Rail Line (known now as the Virginia Creeper Trail).
The timber was all harvested within ten or twelve years so the saw mill at Sutherland community was closed and eventually the railroad was replaced by a road bed, so Shady Valley and northeast Tennessee became easily accessible from Damascus VA.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built stairs and a trail around the tunnel so visitors could climb and walk cross the ridge of rock in the 1930’s. They also built shelters and a picnic area just north of the attraction. Today visitors can actually walk across the rock and see the highway directly below them.
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Backbone Rock Recreation Area
you may have to stop and ask...
You can find this wilderness area, but you have to look for it. Even though it’s within fifteen miles of Interstate 81, there are no large billboards or flashing lights to get your attention pointing the way. Like many other beautiful sites in America, one has to search out and maybe even ask a question or two, but the search is well worth it. I think one reason these pristine areas are not displayed any more than they are is for a good reason. That nature and its beauty can thrive without so much interruption of the public and that the habits and mannerisms of those that do visit appreciate and clean-up after themselves more than the average American tourist of today.
Don’t sneeze or you’ll miss it...
Many of those that find this small unobstructed area stumble upon it as they come down off the Appalachian Trail for a rest stop or maybe to get their mail and a few supplies needed for their journey. Sometimes local families may gather for a day of hiking or a family picnic or reunion but other than that, unless you were looking or knew in advance you could pass right through it and never be the wiser. Remember, don’t sneeze or you’ll miss it…
© 2011 SamSonS