The history of Frozen Head State Park is closely tied to neighboring Brushy Mountain State Prison and to the legacy of coal mining that has so devastated the Cumberland Mountains.
In the late 1800s, the State of Tennessee began leasing convicts to work in private coal mines to raise revenues for the State. The use of prisoners in the mines led to harsh conditions for both convict and free miners. The Coal Creek Wars of 1891-92 in nearby Briceville and Lake City, in which the free miners would set the prisoners free and the National Guard would be called in, ended the convict labor system.
The State immediately began construction on mines and a prison on a new 12,000-acre property at Brushy Mountain near the community of Petros. The prison coal mines at Brushy remained a revenue source for Tennessee until their closure in 1965.
The State transferred much of the original property to Morgan State Forest in 1933, and the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps began building the park’s infrastructure, including much of the current trail system. Through the advocacy of local conservationists, especially Don Todd, a Morgan County school teacher and one of the founders of the CTC, the forestland was transferred to the state park system in 1970. Most of the area was declared a state natural area in 1988; the small developed area of playgrounds and visitor center along Flat Fork Road remain state park.
Neighboring Brushy Mountain State Prison was closed in 2009 when the remaining inmates were transferred to the Morgan County Correctional Complex in Flat Fork Valley.
Elk, bear, and boar
Logging, mining, and hunting pressure from homesteaders combined to eliminate many big game species from the Cumberland Mountains by the late 1800s. However, thanks to the efforts of conservationists, many species are making a return to these mountains.
Between 2000 and 2003, TWRA and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered to return elk to the Cumberlands. The 137 elk from the Land Between the Lakes and Alberta’s Elk Island National Park that were transplanted to the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area have flourished in their new home, and the elk population has risen to a level to allow a limited hunting season to begin in 2009.
Black bear also have been moving into the Cumberlands and have been spotted by rangers in Frozen Head. In 1996 and 1997, black bears from Great Smoky Mountains National Park were introduced to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area to the north. The NPS estimates that 40-50 bears now live in the Big South Fork.
One mammal that also unfortunately is becoming established in the area is wild boar. These non-native animals were first seen in the Gobey area in the middle 2000s. Boar reproduce rapidly and travel in small packs that can devastate plant populations as they plow through the soil looking for food. Wide swaths that look rototilled, and wallows along shallow springs are the most common signs of the presence of boar. TWRA and TN State Parks are currently working on plans for long-term control of the boar population. —HR