When visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park we see the park in its current state. Sometimes it is hard to imagine what the Smokies were in times past. Consider the Tremont area of the park, near Townsend, you could envision the time when the Middle Prong Little River was the forest primeval — a place where giant, old-growth giants stretched for the mountaintops, where the Lord’s hand placed a dizzying array of trees and lesser flora just so, where bear, elk, bison and red wolves vied for supremacy.
Or you might imagine Tremont when John Walker and his numerous offspring — and numerous wives — populated the valley near the town of Townsend and Cades Cove. Picture rude log cabins in sunlit clearings, where a hand built stone chimney pushed smoke above a plot of overturned soil, waiting for spring to begin.
Or you could conceive what took place just before this locale became part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — one of the first railroad driven, massive scale, no-holds-barred logging operations in the South, undertaken from the late 1920s to the late 30s, a forest takedown so complete and efficient for the time it shocked and stunned Smokies residents and even the loggers involved.
Today, you can see nature’s beauty standing the test of time, and the amazing recuperative powers of these Tennessee woods. In Tremont, you will also see remnants of the Little River Lumber Company and its push up the valley in a quest for some of the largest uncut forests in the country.
The access road through Tremont follows the old logging rail originally graded by Little River Lumber Company. Yankee timber interests had perfected railroad-based, steam engine powered logging and set their sights on the uncut verdant forests of the Smokies. It reminds me of how the North razed much of Georgia in the latter stages of the Civil War. And they came in using not only the latest machinery but also a new efficiency that moved loggers and their families wherever the cutting was to be done.
The end of the park road into Tremont was once the community of Tremont. After parking up here, walk around, picture a simple community building functioning as the school, the church and a movie theater — the center of group events. The employees lived in portable shacks that were moved by the railroad and offloaded by steam shovels. These steam-powered machines were primarily used to load cut logs onto the rail cars. There was a railroad siding area, where cars were taken on and off the train. The movable homes were located in a nearby flat. A water powered generator provided electricity to the community.
Leave the dead end road and walk up the Middle Prong Trail, crossing an arched steel bridge over Lynn Camp Prong, just above its confluence with Sams Prong. Together the tributaries form the Middle Prong Little River. Just across the bridge was another part of the Tremont community. Here stood the company store, where employees paid their bills in scrip, a unit of value issued by the company for employees to buy supplies. The post office was in the store as well. A rudimentary doctor’s office stood near Lynn Camp Prong.
Rail lines went up Sams Prong and Lynn Camp Prong. The Middle Prong Trail heads up Lynn Camp Prong. The grade is steep for a train. Gear-driven locomotives were used to push the railroad cars up empty, fill them with fresh cut behemoths and slowly work them back down to the sawmill in Townsend.
Imagine what a noisy, rumbling place this would have been. However, even amidst the logging chaos the splendor of the Smokies was undeniable. In the flat across the river, the Tremont Hotel was established. Originally built for employees of the logging outfit, it was later used by tourists, offering lodging and hot meals. The hotel was dismantled with the coming of the park. It is is now just a picture and a memory.
Leave the logging world behind, continuing uptrail. The forest is once again magnificent and should continue to flourish. The moist valley is an ideal wildflower habitat. The wide Middle Prong Trail allows hikers to trek side-by-side in conversation while appreciating the scenery. In less than one-half mile, you come to a contemplation bench facing Lynn Camp Prong Cascades. The cataract leaves an upstream pool, then fills a rock-lined channel, building up energy. It then is unleashed, tumbling down a sloped stone face in white froth.
A jumble of rocks, leftover from blasting the rail line, lies between you and the falls, but hikers make it to the falls base for an up close view of Lynn Camp Prong. Other walkers continue along the trail, and reach the upper end of the fall and the stone face over which it tumbles.
This upper vantage of Lynn Camp Prong Cascades complements the view from the bench. You will also see more cascades upstream of the main fall. Together they add up to over 80 feet of drop! When adding together the ceaseless waterfall flowing through all the changes of Tremont, the rising forests making a national park level comeback, and the pioneer lives led in this neck of the woods, followed by the loggers and their portable world, the locale truly is a place for contemplation.