Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials celebrated the completion of a 2-year trail rehabilitation project on Alum Cave Trail on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, leading hikers to iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, Mt. Le Conte, and LeConte Lodge. The trail was reopened, on schedule, following work completed by the park Trails Forever crew, American Conservation Experience youth crews, and volunteers.
The Trails Forever crew rehabilitated targeted locations along the 5-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. Park rangers respond to numerous accidents along the trail each year, especially along the upper, narrow corridors. The much-needed rehabilitation improved overall trail safety, while also protecting natural resources by repairing historic cable and handrail systems, reinforcing hanging trail sections, reducing trail braiding, and improving drainage to prevent further erosion. Before the rehabilitation, the trail had several narrow areas where erosion and small landslides had damaged significant sections of the trail, making it difficult to safely travel through the areas during inclement weather or to pass hikers coming from the opposite direction. The crews were able to restore these fragile trail sections allowing long-term sustainability that protects trailside natural communities from degradation.
By building an attractive, durable trail surface to hike upon, the crew successfully narrowed the trail corridor impact zone. This is the first major rehabilitation of this trail since its original construction. Through the thoughtful rehabilitation techniques using natural materials, the historic nature of the trail has been preserved allowing future visitors opportunities to enjoy the unique trail for years to come.
In 2012, Friends of the Smokies established the Trails Forever endowment thanks to a matching gift from the Aslan Foundation in Knoxville. Today, the $5 million endowment funds a full-time trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park including Alum Cave Trail and the recently restored Chimney Tops Trail and Forney Ridge Trail. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations.
In 2017, the Trail Forever crew will begin a 2-year rehabilitation project on the popular Rainbow Falls Trail. The trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 8, 2017 through November 16, 2017 excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The trail will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Photo: (Left to Right) 1st Row: Jim Hart (Friends of the Smokies President), Josh Shapiro (Trails Forever Crew Leader), Alan Sumeriski (Chief of Facility Management), Clay Jordan (Deputy Superintendent), Tobias Miller (Trails Program Manager), Chris Baker (American Conservation Experience President) 2nd Row: Jeff Fraysier (Trails Forever Crew), Josiah Gray, Eric Wood (Trails Forever Crew), and Adam Monroe (Trails Forever Crew). Photo taken by Jack Williams.