Earlier in the month we spent some time with ACE Southeast in North Carolina where we visited 3 ongoing projects. Over the coming weeks we will share photos and stories from these projects. First up is the Alum Cave Trail, a popular hiking trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that is currently subject of a restoration project.
The Alum Cave Trail is a popular trail hiking trail within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail features breathtaking views, a variety of flora and fauna, and its namesake Alum Cave, which isn’t actually a cave but a concave bluff that rises about 80 feet high. The trail leads to other iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, and Mt. Le Conte. However, in several narrow areas erosion and landslides have damaged 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. By restoring these fragile trail sections, the long-term sustainability and safety of the trail can be ensured. ACE, alongside the NPS Trails Forever Crew, are working on this restoration project. Recently we have had two ACE Southeast crews were out working at separate locations of the trail.
The first of these crews was assisting NPS staff in building a stone staircase. Crew members moved rocks with a grip hoist, and split them into usable sizes with rock drills and doublejacks. They also utilized masonry techniques to shape the rocks.
The second crew was working farther up the trail on a major trail reconstruction project that involved moving lots of dirt, re-grading the tread, and removing roots and rocks.
The environment in North Carolina is unique when compared to the other locations in ACE’s Intermountain Region, which lie in the Southwest. “We’re working in a temperate rainforest, which is very different from most of the locations that other ACE crews work in which tend to be desert environments,” said corps member Madison McClaren. The Alum Cave Trail is lined with rhododendron and hemlock, and fog was a prominent feature. “This particular project is cool because it’s such a heavily used trail. After we finish, a thousand people will step over our work every weekend,” said McClaren. “That makes the work much more gratifying.” added fellow corps member Chelsie Stetcher.
This is the first year of a 2 year reconstruction plan of the Alum Cave Trail that ACE crews will continue to participate in.