Explore the natural side of Oak Ridge
In the 1940’s a remote part of East Tennessee proved the perfect place to build a secret city that helped usher in the nuclear age. That city is Oak Ridge, and long after the Manhattan Project days, there are still ways to enjoy the remote natural side of the city.
University of Tennessee Arboretum
Thousands of cars come in and out of Oak Ridge each day on Highway 62 passing by the University of Tennessee Arboretum. My guess is very few of those people actually stop since it took me twenty years of living here before I turned off the highway to explore this natural wonderland.
After pulling into the parking lot, I wasn’t exactly sure where to start as I didn’t really know much about the place. Turns out there are several miles of trails running through this 250 acre outdoor classroom and 2500 native and exotic plants and trees.
I began walking down a trail, parallel to the highway and even though there was a lot of traffic, the trees and a small stream helped serve as a sound barrier making it much more of a serene spot than I thought it would be.
Along the trail, one of the first areas to explore is an area representing wetlands. There’s small wooden bridge and platform over a creek and a small pond nearby with plenty of bald cypress trees that are often associated with swamps in the south. Further down the trail you’ll find more non-native species including a Dawn Redwood tree from China which definitely makes you feel small even if it isn’t anywhere near the size of those out in California.
Going back to the parking lot I took the White Pine which wanders up the hill going past some pretty impressive pine trees. But you don’t always need to look up to be in awe of the surroundings. I spotted some impressive clumps of mushrooms and plenty of other things along the way.
Melton Hill Park
While not quite the remote surroundings that you have at the Arboretum, there are plenty of ways to relax at what is probably the busiest parks in the city. A paved greenway follows along the shore line for a couple of miles with plenty of opportunities to just sit and relax. While there is a Calhoun’s Restaurant on one end and the Oak Ridge Rowing Association building toward the middle, the lakefront here isn’t developed. Even on the opposite shore, you will only see a few houses.
This stretch of “flatwater” has become a premiere location for rowing over the years. From late winter through late fall there aren’t many days where you won’t see a few people out on the water rowing. Collegiate teams and private rowing clubs both flock here during the rowing season to practice and compete.
If you want to get out on the water or bike the miles and miles of greenways, Adventure Outdoors at Melton Hill Park can help you out offering rentals April through October.
Clark Center Park
One of the secret city’s best kept secrets has to be Clark Center Park. Tucked away on a remote section of Melton Hill Lake, this park dates back to the days when Union Carbide was a major government contractor in Oak Ridge. Locals often refer to it as Carbide Park. The road down to the park winds along through a wooded area and even though it’s not far past the Y-12 National Security Complex, it certainly feels like its world’s away.
The small quiet coves of Melton Hill Lake are the big star of Clark Center Park. No wide stretches of “flatwater” like Melton Hill Park. Here it’s just narrow tree lined stretches of water. A few trails, a small sandy beach and picnic areas all come together to make this a truly relaxing place to be.
Greenways and Trails
According to the Explore Oak Ridge website, there are 85 miles of walking, running and biking trails in the Secret City, so even if the three parks in this post aren’t enough of a “remote” experience, rest assured there are plenty more ways to explore Oak Ridge’s scenic side.