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The great outdoors is waiting to be rediscovered — and it’s safe

What a time, what a time.

With gyms closed and sports shut down, it’s hard to exercise and even harder to keeps oneself from getting a little stir crazy.

Fortunately for all of us, we live in an area ripe with natural beauty – so ripe, in fact, that it can be enjoyed no matter the time of the year with hardly a break in that oh-so-important social distancing that all of us are supposed to be engaging in.

OK, so – first things first: What is social distancing? There are so many definitions of proper social distancing practices that it’s hard to know. For the purpose of this article, two points are paramount, and those are: stay away from crowds and avoid touching one another (this one is usually accompanied by a rule of thumb stating keep at least six feet away from others). There are other recommended practices, such as staying home and limiting travel, but what they do is essentially make it harder to break those first two points.

So we have two points: stay away from crowds, and keep about six feet between you and Schrodinger’s coronavirus carrier.

Know where there aren’t crowds right now? Nature. Know where there’s a lot of nature? All the state parks in our area.

Of course, everyone in the area knows about Norris Dam and the Songbird Trail, but Norris Dam actually contains 27 miles of hiking trails, from small trails under half of a mile long all the way to the almost five mile long Lake View Trail and everything in between. Beside the state park, the Norris Watershed snakes along up into the hills with another 30 miles of trails containing old roads and historical sites, including the Peril Post Office, and the Clear Creek School site.

Only seventeen miles away from Norris Dam State Park, along the southern shore of Norris Lake, sits Big Ridge State Park. Big Ridge is much less travelled than Norris Dam, being further away from the interstate and more remote (which, coincidentally, is perfect for social distancing).

Similar to Norris Dam State park and it’s adjacent Watershed area, many of Big Ridge’s trails run alongside Norris Lake, but, in addition to the natural beauty of the park, many of the trails lead one to interesting historical settings as well. One such trail is the Loyston Overlook Trail, which takes hikers to a viewing area where they can see the widest part of Norris Lake, where the town of Loyston sat until it was flooded after the building of Norris Damm and the Old Mill Trail, which is a short, easy trail that ends at the nearly 200 year-old Norton Gristmill. For the spookily-inclined, there’s the Ghost House Trail, leading up to the Norton Cemetery, where many visitors report spooky goings-on every year. Finally, there’s Dark Hollow Trail that passes the historic remains of the former settlers of Big Ridge, and the Sharp’s Station Trail that leads to the remains of Sharps Station Fort.

But what if one desires something even MORE remote? Well, while Big Ridge sits just over the county line to the East, another park sits just over the county line going West, that being Frozen Head State Park.

Frozen Head resides in Morgan County, just behind the Morgan County Correctional Complex, and parts of it stretch into Anderson County. While Norris and Big Ridge both contain a fair amount of historical sites along their trails, Frozen Head is much more remote with an emphasis on the beauty of the land and nature itself, with the only historical attraction being the Stonecipher-Kelly House that is unfortunately closed currently due to renovation plans.

Frozen Head features a whopping 50 miles of hiking trails ranging from under a half-mile in length all the way up to the seven mile long North Bird Mountain Trail.

Jacob Ingram, the park manager at Frozen Head, said that this time of year, he recommends the Spicewood Trail.

“This time of the year [the trail] has a lot of wildflowers popping out. It’s nice,” said Ingram.

The visitor’s center at Frozen Head is closed due to the quarantine, but the park itself remains open, along with all of the trails themselves.

Kim Schofinski, the deputy communications director for the state parks, said that visitation so far has fluctuated during social isolation, with some parks going up while others have gone down.

“We’re taking the CDC’s recommended precautions as we work to provide a safe environment for our staff and visitors, and we’ve also cancelled all park-hosted programming until April 15.”