TUCKED AWAY on a back road just a few miles south of Fayetteville, nestled in an undeveloped valley of Pea Ridge, is a park where you can get back to nature and enjoy a world that exists right outside the window. At the Joy Gleghorn Nature Preserve, you’ll find rough-terrain trails that weave through age-old trees and lead to rocky inclines where spring-fed waterfalls offer a refreshing and stunning display of nature. You’ll see velvety moss in all shades of green growing on rocks and the sides of trees. Walking on the trails, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of water gently trickling over rock outcroppings and birds chirping from nearby branches, it’s easy to forget that this wonderland of nature is just outside Fayetteville City limits.
Consisting of 126 acres of pristine woodland, with over 300 varieties of vegetation including a wide offering of unique wildflowers, and three waterfalls, Wells Hill Park has been a local treasure for almost two centuries. The park is named after early pioneer Peyton Wells, who settled in the community in 1825. In the 1930s and ‘40s, several local families had summer cabins in the park. They discovered that under the canopy of a forest of deciduous trees along with numerous cool water springs, it was the perfect respite from the summer heat. The natural springs throughout the park also came to play an important role in Fayetteville’s history. In the late 1800s, as the city began to grow, so did the need for an additional water source. In 1898, the city walled up over a dozen springs in the area and built an eight-inch pipeline to carry the water from the springs at 900 feet above sea level to a lower elevation north of Fayetteville’s downtown square. The gravity-flow water system was one of the first in the United States. A group of engineers even traveled from New York City to see the remarkable system in operation. From 1904 to 1956, the springs from Wells Hill, along with other natural spring sources, supplied 225,000 gallons of water to Fayetteville every day.
Since that time, the property encompassing Wells Hill Park has been through several transfers. In 2012, the City of Fayetteville sold the property to Mr. Charles Gleghorn, who then conveyed it to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TennGreen). TennGreen added a permanent conservation easement to preserve and protect the property. In honor of Mr. Gleghorn’s late wife, the property was named the Joy Gleghorn Nature Preserve. Lincoln County now manages the area as its first County Park and Nature Preserve. Through available grants, the county will continue to improve and mark the trails. They also have plans for a new access drive, parking lot, and restroom facilities.
Today, a pavilion and several picnic tables welcome visitors to the park, with a grassy meadow perfect for the kids to run around and play a game of catch. A fairly flat walking trail follows alongside a rocky creek bed traversing it in several places. Throughout the park, you can still see the remnants of the structures built around the springs, including a large spring-house near the beginning of the trail. For those who want to hike to the waterfalls, continue following the trail along the creek bed. When the trail forks, if you go to the right it will lead to Rainy Falls. If you continue going straight there will be another fork. The left trail leads to Wildcat Falls, and if you stay on the main trail, you will see views of Dogwood Falls. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes, as the trails are rocky and slippery in places.
On any given day, Wells Hill Park offers bountiful treasures of nature just waiting to be discovered. Whether it’s gazing up at the yellow blossoms on Tennessee’s state tree, the Tulip Poplar, watching a red-spotted purple butterfly known as the White Admiral or going on a treasure hunt for the endangered flowering plant Nodding Rattlesnake-root, a visit to Wells Hill Park offers an infinite number of reasons to get outside and enjoy the everyday gifts of nature. -GN