Elevation gain: 150 ft.
Trailhead: Bandy Creek
For the second time in three weeks, the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge visits one of the few farmsteads that have been preserved in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.
The Oscar Blevins Farm is the destination of a 3.6-mile loop trail that begins and ends at Bandy Creek Trailhead, offering an easy and gentle hike that is suitable for hikers of all ages.
The original cabin at the Blevins farm was built in 1879 by John Blevins, a direct descendant of Jonathan Blevins, who is believed to be the first white settler in what is now the Big South Fork. That cabin is still standing, along with other structures that were added later, including an impressive barn. The pastures are still enclosed with the original log fences, and are occupied by the National Park Service’s horses. Standing in the shade of the walnut trees that grow in the middle of the farm and watching whitetail deer or wild turkey feed in the edge of the pastures, it’s not hard to find one’s self transported back in time to the frontier days of Big South Fork Country.
The hike to the Oscar Blevins Farm begins with a good example of forest aging. The area closer to the trailhead was farmland itself not too long ago, and hikers will find themselves traversing thick, young forest growth before suddenly plunging into much older-growth hardwoods.
The hike to the farm is mostly unspectacular, but the farm itself more than makes up for what the walk into it lacks. In addition to the structures that remain at the farm, an old root cellar is located along the path.
From the farm, the trail follows an old roadbed that was once the main route of transportation through the area, before the days of automobiles. Part of that portion of the trail is shared with the Collier Ridge Loop Trail, a popular trail for mountain bikers.
Along the walk, hikers will notice the farm of Billie Blevins along the old road. The fields and homesite have mostly been reclaimed by nature, but it is obvious that a farm once existed there.
From there the trail follows a portion of Bandy Creek, the scenic stream that lends its namesake to that part of the national park. Eventually, the trail crosses the creek and begins a gentle climb back towards the trailhead.
Along the way, hikers can take a short spur trail to Muleshoe Shelter, a natural rock shelter that was used by early settlers as a barn. Mules were shoed there, giving the shelter its name.
As the trail continues back to the trailhead, examples of the southern pine beetle infestation of the late 1990s can be observed. Some of the massive tree trunks of white pines that once dominated the forest are still standing, while many other white and yellow pines have fallen and are decaying on the forest floor. Restoration is occurring in their absence in the form of mountain laurel thickets.
While signs of the southern pine beetle infestation can still be seen, nearly two decades later, some hemlocks along the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop Trail are currently suffering damage from the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation. Hikers will notice brightly-colored blue swaths on some of the hemlocks, which denote trees that have been treated by park service personnel to defend them against the woolly adelgid.
The hike to the Blevins farm is an easy one, and a shorter hike than last week’s trip to Fall Branch Falls. It offers novice hikers another tune-up before the trails begin to become progressively more difficult in a few weeks.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west to Bandy Creek Road on the west side of the Big South Fork River Gorge. Turn right onto Bandy Creek Road, and continue straight past the Bandy Creek Visitor Center and the Bandy Creek Campground. Once past the visitor center, take the next left and park at the restroom facility to access the Bandy Creek Trailhead.
Be Careful For: There is a set of steps that can be slippery in wet weather, and a couple of foot bridges that can also prove slippery. Parts of the trail section that parallels Bandy Creek can be soppy in wet weather.
Look For: If you’re hiking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, you’ll find the farmstead of Billie Blevins just a short distance beyond the Oscar Blevins Farm. The fields and the structures are long gone, but you will still see evidene of the old farm if you look closely enough — including newer-growth forest that is reclaiming the fields, parts of an old rock fence, metal from the old home, some foundation stones, and non-native flowers that were planted by the Blevins family.
Make It Better: The Oscar Blevins Farm is an excellent spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. It is so scenic that it’s little wonder it is a popular location for weddings and portraits. Spread a blanket along one of the split-rail fences and soak up the sunshine for a while before completing your hike.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the names of all members of your hiking party, in order to log your miles.
Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you packed it in, please pack it out!