The Oscar Blevins Farm wasn’t originally a destination on the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. But that was before Big South Fork Ranger Mary Grimm found glow worms along the trail leading to the historic farm.
June is the time of year when the magical glow worms — the bioluminescent larvae of fungus gnats — emerge. Said to be found on the northern Cumberland Plateau in greater abundance than anywhere in the world outside New Zealand, glow worms were long thought to be limited in this region to Pickett State Park. More recently, they were discovered in Big South Fork — including the rock shelters along the Oscar Blevins Loop Trail.
The BSF’s biweekly ranger-led hike will be to the Blevins Farm Saturday evening. And, as was the case with the Middle Creek Loop hike two weeks ago, it’ll be a night hike — meaning hikers will get to experience the glow worms along the route to the farm.
The Blevins Farm Loop is 3.6 miles in length, beginning and ending at Bandy Creek, and features just 150 ft. of elevation gain, making it a gentle, easy trail that is perfect for hikers of every age group and every skill level. It’s one of those trails that is unique in every season of the year. With the history it features, a daytime hike to the Blevins Farm is essential for exploring what was once among this region’s most prominent subsistence farmsteads. But a mid-summer nighttime hike adds a special twist, making the hike to the Blevins Farm an unique adventure.
From the trailhead at Bandy Creek, the hike begins with a good example of forest aging. The area closer to the trailhead was farmland itself not too many years ago, and hikers will find themselves traversing thick, young forest growth before suddenly plunging into much older-growth hardwoods. At that point, the trail forks; it is best hiked in a counter-clockwise direction, which means taking the right fork towards the farm.
The hike to the farm is mostly unspectacular, but the farm itself more than makes up for what the walk to it lacks. In addition to the structures that remain at the farm, an old root cellar is located along the path.
The original cabin at the Blevins Farm was built in 1879 by John B. Blevins, a grandson of Jonathan Blevins, one of the BSF’s first white settlers. 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 National Park Service horses. Standing in the shade of the walnut trees that grow in the center of the farm and watching whitetail deer or wild turkey feed in the pasture edges, it’s not hard to find one’s self transported back in time to the frontier days of Big South Fork Country.
Oscar Blevins, born in 1915, was the great-nephew of John Blevins. His grandfather, Jacob “Uncle Jake” Blevins Jr., was John Blevins’ brother.
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 remnants of the Billie Blevins farm along the old road. The fields and homesite have mostly been recalimed by nature, but it’s obvious that a farm once existed there.
From there, the trail follows Bandy Creek — the scenic stream that lends its namesake to that area of the park — before eventually crossing the creek and beginning 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. Reforestation is occuring 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 are suffering damage from the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation. Hikers will notice brightly-colored blue swaths on some of the hemlocks, denoting that the trees have been treated by the park service to defend them against the woolly adelgid.
Finally, the trail climbs a set of steps near a wet-weather waterfall. The small rock shelters around the waterfall and stairs are home to the glow worms that reside along the trail.
The hike to the Blevins Farm is an easy one, and it offers novice hikers an excellent opportunity to explore what the Big South Fork has to offer.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west from Oneida, through the Big South Fork Gorge. At the top of the far side of the gorge, turn right onto Bandy Creek Road, and continue past the turnoffs for the visitor center and campground. Just past the visitor center, Bandy Creek Trailhead is located on the left. Paved parking spaces are located around the restroom facilities at the trailhead.
Be Careful For: The trail is muddy in places, particularly after a rainfall. There is a short set of wooden steps, though they do not present a barrier for small children or pets. There are several wooden footbridges that can be slippery when wet.
Look For: Just after leaving the Blevins Farm, there are the remnants of a root cellar on the right side of the old road. Root cellars were common before days of electricity and modern refrigeration, and were used to keep food from spoiling. In this case, Oscar Blevins was building the root cellar when he found out the federal government intended to purchase his farm for inclusion within the BSF, and he never finished it. He needed the root cellar because his home never had electricity. The old road itself was once the main thoroughfare through the Bandy Creek area, Old Leatherwood Ford Road, before S.R. 297 was built.
Make It Better: Hike with a ranger, explore the Oscar Blevins Farm at night and look for glow worms along the trail. The ranger-led hike will depart the Bandy Creek Trailhead at 9 p.m. Saturday evening, June 29. If you’re hiking by day, visit the Katie Blevins Cemetery after your hike. The cemetery is located on Bandy Creek Road between the trailhead and the farm. Oscar Blevins, who died in 1988, is buried there, alongside his wife, Martha “Ermon” Smith Blevins, who died in 1994. The couple’s infant child, who died in 1941, is also buried there, along with many other members of the Blevins family who are native to the Big South Fork region. The cemetery started after Jacob Blevins Sr. — brother of John Blevins, who built the original cabin at the Blevins Farm, and Oscar Blevins’ great-grandfather — stuck a stick in the ground and told his wife, Catie, that he wanted to be buried there when he died.
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 pack it in, please pack it out!