Overview : Trail linking Legion Park in Norton, Virginia to Flag Rock, a high sandstone outcrop overlooking Norton and the Wise Plateau. Hike... more »
Trail linking Legion Park in Norton, Virginia to Flag Rock, a high sandstone outcrop overlooking Norton and the Wise Plateau. Hike... more » traverses a variety of forest types, including a densely-forested, north-facing cove near the headwaters of the Powell River. 180-degree views from Flag Rock Overlook are spectacular and provide views of much of southwest Virginia and the Kentucky border (located on Pine Mountain, visible to the north).
While the entire trail is strenuous due to steep grades on the climb from Legion Park to Flag Rock, the first half-mile of the trail is an easy streamside walk that is great for families. This section of trail also provides a wonderful educational introduction to the ecology of riparian ecosystems in the Appalachian Mountains. less «
The gravel parking area at Legion Park is gated during winter months. A small gravel pull-out provides parking during these months... more » just beside the gate to Legion Park. Be sure not to block this gate if hiking the trail.
The trail is also blazed yellow along its entire route. Be sure to watch for blazes when hiking along old roadbeds, as the trail makes use of several abandoned logging roads and leaves these roadbeds abruptly in several places. less «
Parking is available in the gravel lot at Legion Park (gate closed during winter months). The trail is blazed yellow and begins at the far end of the parking lot beside the pavilion.
Provides interpretive information on local wildlife and human history.
The birch trees located along this stretch of trail are common across much of the southern Appalachians. In southwest Virginia, birches are most common at higher elevations or in moist, shaded, north-facing coves.
Looking around the narrow cove surrounding the trail, do you see any other birch trees scattered across the area? These trees are... More easily identified by their thin, flaky bark. This bark, in fact, is known as an excellent firestarter due to its high content of flammable oils.Less
Located below bridge; provides up-close view of Robinet Branch cascading off of High Knob.
Just before crossing the paved road, the trail passes beneath a series of thick, overhanging vines. These are muscadines, a regional wild grape that is historically a favorite food item for folks in the southern mountains. This species often grows high into trees and even between individual trees across the canopy, forming a jungle-like network of... More overhanging vines.
Occasionally, muscadines may produce thin, spaghetti-like strands from larger vines, called aerial roots. Think about roots in other types of plants. What purpose do you think these might serve?Less
As you climb alongside the stream above the roadway, take a look at the forest around you. Do you find yourself in the shade or in direct sunlight?
Coves (or hollows) such as this one, which faces almost directly north, are special places in the southern mountains. Because they tilt away from direct sunlight - which angles from the south in the... More northern hemisphere - the forests in these coves stay consistently cooler and more moist than their counterparts facing west or south.
This climatic difference is especially important for the wildlife occurring in the mountains. Salamanders are especially reliant on these cool and moist forests and can reach incredible numbers in a cove such as this one. Spend a few moments searching the forest floor for salamanders in the leaf litter and under rocks and logs (be sure to put cover back as you found it!). Do you notice any creatures here?Less
Most trails in the southern Appalachians follow the paths of old, abandoned roadbeds, such as the one joining the trail from the left near this spot.
These roads were most often constructed for getting access to and removing timber during the logging booms of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. After timber was harvested and the logging... More industry declined, many of these roads were left to produce the wide, open walkways you see crisscrossing the mountains todayLess
To the left of the trail along this section, a large sandstone boulder dominates your view. Examine the top of this boulder - do you notice anything unusual?
The tree that appears to be growing out of this rock is actually taking advantage of soil and other organic ("carbon-containing") matter that has accumulated in cracks and crevices in the... More rock over time. This serves as a great example of how advantageous life can be in diverse coves such as this one, where life appears to be found in every possible spot.Less
If heading downhill (towards Legion Park), be aware that the trail turns off of the roadbed at this point. Do not continue straight ahead and instead look for the right turn onto the yellow-blazed path.
As you move steeply uphill in this section of trail, away from the rushing water of the stream, do you notice a change in the forest around you?
This change in forest cover - a drop in the number of evergreens such as rhododendron and hemlock - occurs as you leave the riparian buffer along the stream itself. Riparian buffers are unique habitats... More that occur in the moist and cool region directly alongside a stream or river.
Here in the mountains, the changes between a moist riparian forest and a dry, upslope forest can be dramatic and occur over a remarkably short distance, as this section of trail exemplifies.Less
Do you notice anything unusual about the soil along the trail as it follows the powerline clearing for a short distance? The upper portion of this area actually follows an upland seep, or area where groundwater slowly becomes exposed at the soil surface. If you look closely during wet weather, moisture from this seep actually flows downhill to the... More narrow channel running parallel to the trail.
Seeps and springs are actually important habitats in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Untold thousands of these seeps coalesce to form streams, which serve as the headwaters of our region's rivers. Water from this point, in fact, will eventually merge with other small streams to form the headwaters of the Powell River, which in turn flows at its end to the Tennessee and Mississippi RiversLess
As you climb this hill, notice the thorns and briars to your right. These plants thrive on the sunnier, drier slopes of the mountainside in this vicinity. At this point, in fact, you have completed the transition from a moist riparian forest along the streambed to the more open slopes near Flag Rock.
The trail arrives in Flag Rock Park at a small clearing beside the park road. To reach the overlooks at Flag Rock if hiking from Legion Park, turn left onto the park road and follow it to the main overlook parking area.
The roadbed tracking uphill and to the right of this point forms the start of the Reservoir Trail, which travels to and around the pair of lakes forming the Norton Reservoir.
To reach Flag Rock, continue following the park road
The large sandstone outcrops here provide a fantastic viewpoint of Flag Rock, which lies directly down and in front of you. The flag itself was originally placed at this spot by a German immigrant in the 1920s..
The vista from the outcrop provides a view of downtown Norton, as well as most of the upper headwaters of the Powell and Guest Rivers.... More Both of these rivers will eventually flow together in Tennessee, with the Powell flowing westward through the Ridge and Valley province. The Guest takes a different course, heading east through a high valley near Coeburn, Virginia, and then through a deep and rugged Gorge on its way to the Clinch River. The Clinch then merges with the Powell in northeastern Tennessee.
Both the Clinch and Powell Rivers are renowned for their biodiversity. The Clinch, in fact, has some of the highest aquatic biodiversity of mussels of any other river system in North America. Look at the land use types occurring across the view before you. Can you think of any reasons why land use might be important to preserving water quality for these species? Do human populations benefit from water quality, also?Less