An early spring stroll at Buffalo Mountain Park isn’t a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
The bright green moss covering the rocks and dead tree trunks is the most colorful feature along Hartsell Hollow Trail. Everyone from runners to dog walkers to mixed martial arts fighters is soothed by the sounds of water trickling down the mountain.
“I don’t enjoy running on the roads, I enjoy it here. It’s cooler,” said Rick Gray, who trail runs at Buffalo Mountain Park with his wife, Tammy, on a regular basis.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, the couple spent more than an hour on Buffalo Mountain. They say trail running is a way to see a lot of scenic spots on the mountain in a short period of time, but they’re always prepared to fall or tumble since it’s easy to get tripped up on a rock or a root.
When the temperatures really heat up, Rick says they’ll splash around in the creek to cool off after making the trek to one of Buffalo Mountain’s main attractions — White Rock and Tip Top, each at elevations above 3,000 feet.
The Tuco O Tapa Mixed Martial Arts Team occasionally runs to White Rock and Tip Top as an alternative training method.
“It’s a nice day, so why train inside?” said Jason King, a member of Tuco O Tapa.
With their next fight three weeks away, six of the MMA fighters pushed one another up the gravel road/trail that winds up to White Rock. Kings says a couple of the fighters need to lose weight, and a long, calorie-burning run is a good way to do it.
They got to White Rock in about 30 minutes, but by the time they wandered back to the trailhead, the guys were ready to visit a local sandwich shop before heading to the gym.
“This is fun and we don’t get to do it often,” John said. “It’s good for team building and camaraderie.”
Rick and Tammy Gray say Buffalo Mountain Park is a nearby hiking destination that a lot of locals don’t take advantage of simply because they don’t know it’s there.
“Everyone can enjoy it, and you can’t get lost,” Rick said.
A map of all the available routes is posted at the trailhead of the park, 5070 Highridge Road, and online at www.myjcparks.org. Johnson City Parks Naturalist Brad Jones recommends Huckleberry Knob for anyone looking to do a shorter, less strenuous hike than the march to White Rock.
Even though it took the MMA team a mere 30 minutes, Jones says it normally takes about an hour and an additional 30 to 40 minutes to get to Tip Top.
“Gosh, it’s just beautiful up there,” Jones said.
Jones recommends leaving for a long-distance hike early in the day in order to arrive back to the parking lot before the park closes at sunset.
“A lot of what the draw is to Buffalo Mountain is getting exercise and getting into the mountains and just going for a nice hike,” he said.
Though much of the beauty is a result of the spectacular views from White Rock and Tip Top, the wildflowers, such as Jacob’s Ladder, are another Buffalo Mountain Park attraction. Jones says there are about 210 species of plants on the mountain, more than any other city park. The Friends of Nature group has put all the plant varieties together in book form and will be selling them at Buffalo Mountain Park Days on May 18-20.
A forest fire consumed about 400 of the 723 acres of the park almost four years ago, yet many species of plants continue to flourish.
“It knocked down a lot of the shrubs,” Jones said. “The big trees seemed to survive. The fire literally almost came down to the road that goes around picnic area. If you look around there at times you will see burnt pieces of tree. The fire at its peak was incredible.”
Other than spotting the rare charred remains of the 2008 blaze, Jones says this is a perfect time to see migratory birds on Buffalo Mountain.
“They come up over the mountains and settle back down into the valleys,” he said. “We have so many birds that live here all year round.”
When summer arrives, Jones says trail users should be aware that Buffalo Mountain does have a snake habitat.
For more information about Buffalo Mountain Park, call 283-5815.