The Perimeter Trail: An Appreciation


(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reprinted by permission.) 

Some time in the late 90s, I said to Susan, “Okay. I want to live in a small Southern college town where I can do the outdoor thing.”

That eventually led to our move to the Mountain, where we were lucky enough to find teaching jobs, friends, and a great community. And lots of the outdoor thing.

Looking back on the times since then, I realize that the Perimeter Trail has become a focus for most of the outdoor stuff I’ve done here. Bouldering, climbing, dog-walking, mountain biking, stream hopping, sightseeing, wildflower hunting — it’s all on the PT.

Only once in that time have I covered the entire trail in one go. A few years back, my friend Pratt and I decided to see whether we could do the 20 miles in under seven hours. We started in downtown Sewanee, took a counter-clockwise route so we’d be going down the Shakerag section instead of up, and finished in 6:45. Burgers at Shenanigans were our reward.

A few years before that, Pratt and I and our friend Mark left St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School one December day planning to camp on the trail. We clomped past the Sewanee Market with full backpacks and made it to the Forestry Cabin before dark. Inside, we kept a fire going as big and hot as possible and had to rotate in relation to the flames as we played cards. The temperature on my watch inside the cabin the next morning, after we stoked the fire all night, was 36.

Taking students to the Perimeter Trail often led to cool adventures and discoveries. Once, near Bridalveil Falls, we discovered a huge logjam twenty feet up among the boulders of a steep stream. The logjam created a crysal-clear pool that could have held a dozen people, an ephemeral wonder. 

Another year, a winter hike took us past the Equestrian Center to Cedar Hollow Lake, where a hard sheen of ice covered the surface. One of us skipped a rock across it, creating a loud, crazy descending pew-pew-pew sound as it went out over deeper water. We spent a good half-hour playing the ice, experimenting with naturally-created sound.

Two rock-climbing routes at Morgan’s Steep, within view of the parking area, have introduced hundreds of young people to the terror and elation of making one’s way up a rock face. Total elapsed time from getting out of the vehicle to climbing: about ten minutes. More than once, while setting up, I have remembered the predawn, four-hour drives that we took from Mississippi to northern Alabama in order to climb.

There’s so much more to the Perimeter Trail: the old homestead sites on the western side, the wooden bridges over trickling streams, and the overlooks at Dotson, KA, and Otey Points…not to mention the occasional weird sight (how did those two cars end up down there?…) We’re really fortunate to have this resource so close to town, so accessible, so abundant with opportunity.