My first exposure to Prentice Cooper was a set of extremely steep wooden stairs rising into the mountain mist from Suck Creek Road. Official parking was a pull-off that could fit about three cars, and you didn’t want to linger on the busy road getting from car to trail. But brave those steps, and you felt miles away from civilization for the rest of the hike.
I’ve since visited more trailheads for Prentice Cooper, and most are more “civilized.” All are worth visiting, especially when this beautiful location is only about 15 minutes from downtown.
By virtue of being a State Forest, Prentice Cooper differs from many of the areas you might hike. Parts of the forest are closed seasonally for hunting, and there is controlled logging underway on other parts. Intrigued by how these activities coexist with the recreation demands, I spoke with state forester Brian Haddock to learn more.
Haddock graduated from college with a degree in wildlife and fisheries science and has been stationed at Prentice Cooper for 20 years. A typical day for Haddock might include any of the following: writing forest management plans; administering timber sales; dealing with invasive insects or plants; supervising prescribed burns, managing wildfires, and holding demonstrations for students. He particularly enjoys the work that takes him outside the office.
Haddock shared that the property that became Prentice Cooper was acquired in the 1930s and 1940s through the purchase of many small tracts of land. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, has managed the land since that time.
Part of this management entails maintenance of the hiking trails, including clearing fallen trees with chainsaws. The rangers walk the trails multiple times per year to look for issues to be addressed, while also relying on hiker feedback. Haddock’s favorite trail leads to the Ransom Hollow overlook - a longer hike culminating with views of the Tennessee River.
The wildlife hikers are most likely to see in Prentice Cooper includes deer, turkey, rabbits, snakes, hawks, and songbirds. Per Haddock, overnight campers may also encounter nocturnal animals such as bobcats, racoons, owls, coyotes, opossums, and armadillos.
Primitive camping is limited to designated areas. “We have two that are accessible by car. One is at the hunter’s check station at the entrance to the forest. The other is at Davis Pond. This site is restricted and you have to be in the camping area by sunset. There are no in/out privileges from sunset to sunrise,” shares Haddock. “There are [also] several backcountry campsites that you can use along the hiking trails.” Haddock’s rules for camping are simple: “First come first serve, pack in pack out.”
Hikers and campers are allowed to bring horses and dogs, with the understanding that owners must always maintain control of their animals.
Back to the original reason I contacted Haddock, he admits that balancing multiple demands is a challenge. “The forest management plans for Prentice Cooper are primarily written with sustainable forestry objectives with a strong emphasis on forest health and resiliency. These sustainable forestry objectives not only consider timber resources, they take in account the large demand for recreation and the aesthetic value of Prentice Cooper,” he explains, adding, “The demand for outdoor recreation in the state forest has grown tremendously, and the co-existence of all of the objectives of the state forest has to constantly evolve.”
With conscientious leadership and plenty of space to share, Prentice Cooper will continue to be a precious asset for our area for decades to come. For more information on the forest, including hunting closures, Haddock encourages you to visit the website: https://www.tn.gov/agriculture/forests/state-forests/prentice-cooper.html.
by Ginger Gibson