BORCE, Oak Ridge TN


Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement is my hometown’s worst-named collection of trails, but the area has its charms in spite of the bland name. It’s worth exploring if you’re in Oak Ridge. New Years Day brought many different people there: individual cyclists, a family with a dog, a group of college aged men. Some spoke in other languages.

Many of the trails are old gravel roads now bike, foot and sometimes hunting paths but still sporting road signs, that look just like the road signs in parts of town with houses. These seemingly post-apocalyptic country roads lead nowhere, in a good way. They take visitors through forests of red cedars and other, often young, trees, alongside and over gurgling streams with no houses or even structures at all in site for the most part.

On New Year’s Day Yvonne and I passed an old, remote graveyard, the kind that would have filled my young mind with gleeful Halloweenish thoughts of ghosts dancing about away from living human eyes. Nowadays the most striking thing about those old graveyards to me is the saddeningly short lifespans of the people, sometimes children, buried there. I can thank Yvonne for pointing that out to me on another occasion, but now I can’t unsee it. We walked on rather than bothering ourselves with that.

Cemeteries in Oak Ridge are usually a sign of what Oak Ridge replaced. The US government built Oak Ridge to enrich uranium for the bombs that dropped on Japan during World War II. It left the graves from old communities though, even if the old communities have become the city of Oak Ridge in some places and grown up into forests elsewhere, many accessible to the public through trail systems, like BORCE, Haw Ridge and others.

Decades later, the Department of Energy, the modern-day descendant of those World War II gave BORCE land it owned to the public as a way of compensating for water pollution and decreased fishing opportunities elsewhere.

You can visit BORCE’s charming, gravel woodland paths without ever once thinking about things like war, pollution, or death at all though. They offer a quick chance to escape and explore.

The BORCE route had other, subtle signs of a hidden probably pre-World War II past, like this very reflective greenish pool, possibly an old quarry site, probably the most beautiful feature we saw. I plan to return to these trails, hopefully some time soon and do more research.

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