By Joe Tennis
Come spring, long before trees see leaves sprout again, the waters flow on Phillips Creek.
Blasting, gushing, pouring down a stone embankment like a shower, the waterfall of the Phillips Creek Recreation Area feeds the rocky Phillips Creek as it courses its way beyond the remnants of a moonshine still, the memories of logging operations and the seemingly eternal beauty of the rhododendron thicket.
Come summer, when the sandy beach at the Phillips Creek Recreation Area smells of suntan lotion and hot dogs, this waterfall may be gone. It may have reduced itself to no more than a trickle, barely seeping down that same rock wall and looking like the well-worn rock crevices are only leaking.
This is not a wet weather stream, but Phillips Creek can seem that way as the heavy rains of winter and spring give way to summer drought. Unfortunately, this also makes the pleasures of hitting the lakeside beach at the North Fork of the Pound Reservoir a joy separate from chasing this waterfall, which seems to nearly disappear when the lake water rises.
Getting there is a mild challenge.
The Phillips Creek Loop Trail begins about a mile from the entrance to the recreation area, which is actually one of several recreation areas maintained by the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest in southwest Virginia. Then, it takes about another mile of walking through the woods, across attractive footbridges, up stone stairs to finally find the falls.
Turning back and slipping up an embankment, the trail makes a loop and chugs down a former railroad grade, used when this area was logged, near Pound, VA in the early 1900s.
Pound Reservoir is a winding, skinny lake with 13.5 miles of wooded shoreline. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1966, the waterhole spans 154 acres on the North Fork of the Pound River.
Located at the base of Pine Mountain near the Virginia-Kentucky border, the lake is a no-wake zone for all boats, but gasoline motors are allowed. This lake supports a variety of fish – from bass and bluegill to crappie, gizzard shad and channel catfish. From late fall to spring, the lake is usually drawn down about 10 feet from its normal summer pool.
Situated on a small cove at the west end of the lake, a small beach of beige-colored sand forms the centerpiece of the Phillips Creek Recreation Area.
Here, beyond a grove of picnic shelters, the Phillips Creek Loop Trail begins at a weathered sign that names this path “Pine Mountain Trail” – a moniker that should not be confused with the longer Pine Mountain Trail, a 28-mile-long trek that teeter-totters atop the Kentucky-Virginia border
The Phillips Creek Loop Trail passes the remnants of an old homestead, where fruit trees continue to grow, providing food for deer and wild turkey. It also passes by an old Indian hunting camp.
Most of the path is shaded and is very clearly marked.
Best of all, the hike is mostly easy, requiring few elevation climbs, making it a great family outing, especially if you’re in the area visiting nearby institutions like the University of Virginia’s College at Wise or the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap.
HIKING LENGTH: 1.3 miles
WHERE TO START: Pound, VA in Wise County
TO GET THERE: From US-23 at Pound, turn west on VA-671 and follow for 5.5 miles to Phillips Creek Recreation Area (on the right). The Phillips Creek Loop Trail starts beyond the swimming beach and a pair of picnic shelters. The trail crosses the log-clogged Phillips Creek on a footbridge and scales up a small portion of Pine Mountain. One short spur dead-ends at a tiny and narrow, 15-foot waterfall that streams down a moss-covered rock wall. It is a one-mile (one way) hike to reach the waterfall from the far end of the recreation area parking lot.
DURATION: About one hour if the recreation area is open; or two hours if it is closed and you must park at the gate
INFO: (276) 328-293