District 3 road crew creates scenic wonder on the river

District 3 wonder workers, from bottom left: Rex Harper, Commissioner Dean Calvert, Ray Smith, Dean Shelton, David Kemp, Jerry Epps, Jeff Harper, Ed Bell (partially hidden), and David Collier. Inset: A scenic view of the stairway allowing access to the river below.

District 3 wonder workers, from bottom left: Rex Harper, Commissioner Dean Calvert, Ray Smith, Dean Shelton, David Kemp, Jerry Epps, Jeff Harper, Ed Bell (partially hidden), and David Collier. Inset: A scenic view of the stairway allowing access to the river below.

The stone stairway from the old U. S. 231 highway down to the Locust Fork River looks like it is a main feature – along with the river itself – that gives the name to the county public works project referred to as the 231 Scenic Overlook. But the stairway wasn’t even present in the original vision. It was more of an afterthought, born of the realization late in the game that it would sure be nice to have an easy access from the bridge overlook down to the river, rather than the steep, treacherous path down to the water on one bank, and the virtually vertical drop through rugged shelf-rock on the other. Hikers would want a way to get up and down. Canoers and kayakers would need a way to get in and out with their boats. Sightseers and picnickers would want to go down to the river to play after viewing its beauty from the bridge.

Someone – maybe a wishful county official, maybe a frustrated boater, maybe both – mentioned to District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert that the Scenic Overlook was nice as pie, but not as nice as it could be if it had a path down to the water.

 

 

“My guys can handle that,” Calvert replied, making it sound effortless (the way he tells it), but handle it they did. In a matter of eight days, eight guys – with the help of a front-end loader, back hoe, and two excavators – moved half a hill from one side of the road to the other, providing enough fill on the cliff side of the river to create the gentler topography for the sweeping arc of the stone stairway, defined by the huge boulders on each side of the stairs that they dug out of the site itself. (Sweat, blood, and other minor details omitted. The other districts pitched in on the overall Scenic Overlook project, but District 3 manhandled the stone stairway blitz.)

The result is a marriage of the practical and the aesthetic: an utterly utilitarian stairway that functions as a work of art, a natural-appearing wonder, and another flagship of sorts for Blount County tourism.

-Ron Gholson