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  1. #1

    Default Trail Erosion Through GSMNP

    This topic has been raised recently in other threads and is something I've commented on in the past without reply. So I'm going to ask again in this thread.

    Many have commented on the trail erosion through the Smokies as being a result of the amount of hiker traffic. I personally believe it's overwhelmingly the result of horses. I remember, in numerous places, hiking in knee-deep trenches through GSMNP. I just find it hard to believe hikers cause them. Look at SNP, there are tons of people that hike through there every year, but you don't see any trenches.

    Where am I wrong?

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    Yes I'm sure you're right. I haven't hiked on the AT thru the smokies yet but I have hiked on some of the horse trails around Mt Rogers. Some of those trails are trenches that are waist high deep
    Hokey Pokey

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    Registered User Frolicking Dinosaurs's Avatar
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    I agree allowing horses on the AT in the GSMNP is largely to blame for the erosion on that section of the AT. Unfortunately, I doubt there is a way to fix this problem. The trails aren't going to be made off limits to horses (too many deep pockets among equestrians contributing to the GSMNP for that to happen) and the ATC / ALDHA have expressed zero interest in relocating the trail to less used corridor in the area.

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    Trail miscreant Bearpaw's Avatar
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    As a trail builder, and a frequent Smokies hiker, I'd have to blame all those doggoned rain drops and ice that blanket the trails. I say ban them all! We don't need any swift flowing water and expanding ice!

    Actually the trail design has more to do with erosion issues than hikers or horses. There's only so much you can do if you choose to follow the fall line up and down ridges.

    Also remember that horses are only allowed on about 35% of the AT in the Smokies and I've only encountered horse there once.

    Erosion is just one of those forces of nature that is bigger than us.
    If people spent less time being offended and more time actually living, we'd all be a whole lot happier!

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    Registered User Roots's Avatar
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    Unfortunately, I have seen many trails severely eroded by horse usage. One of my favorite trails I used to hike off the parkway got so eroded, I finally quit hiking it. The mud would go close to the knee if I stepped in it. I can't understand why GSMNP would allow horses to be on the trails when they know how bad the erosion problems are. Such a beautiful park, but it is ,unfortunately, all of those deep pockets that are destroying it. Like you said, FD, with no help from those that are suppose to help protect it.
    HAPPY TRAILS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD HIKE!

  6. #6

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    If I'm not mistaken the horse trails in the Smokies were there before the AT. The AT is a ridge trail. The Rocky Top and SWEAT crews aren't lackies. Efforts are being made to improve the trail. Don't appreciate the progress? Get your butt out there.

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    Registered User Frolicking Dinosaurs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bearpaw View Post
    As a trail builder, and a frequent Smokies hiker, I'd have to blame all those doggoned rain drops and ice that blanket the trails. I say ban them all! We don't need any swift flowing water and expanding ice!

    Actually the trail design has more to do with erosion issues than hikers or horses. There's only so much you can do if you choose to follow the fall line up and down ridges.
    Bearpaw, given your trail building experience, could you see ways to improve the trail design in such areas? Are there ways to stop this from occurring?

    I know we've been pretty careful about not building trails down the natural route of water flow in other areas where I've been involved in trail building - I'm thinking that might help the AT section in question? It's been several years since I've done the AT thru the GSMNP so I'm not sure what condition it is in these days.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sly View Post
    If I'm not mistaken the horse trails in the Smokies were there before the AT. The AT is a ridge trail. The Rocky Top and SWEAT crews aren't lackies. Efforts are being made to improve the trail. Don't appreciate the progress? Get your butt out there.
    Could you expand on what is being done?

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frolicking Dinosaurs View Post

    Could you expand on what is being done?
    I haven't been up there lately but every year something is being done.

    http://www.appalachiantrail.org/site...QKtH/b.733147/

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    Registered User hammock engineer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bearpaw View Post
    As a trail builder, and a frequent Smokies hiker, I'd have to blame all those doggoned rain drops and ice that blanket the trails. I say ban them all! We don't need any swift flowing water and expanding ice!

    Actually the trail design has more to do with erosion issues than hikers or horses. There's only so much you can do if you choose to follow the fall line up and down ridges.

    Also remember that horses are only allowed on about 35% of the AT in the Smokies and I've only encountered horse there once.

    Erosion is just one of those forces of nature that is bigger than us.
    I thought at first it was all the people on original trail, then I hiked through a rain. You are right on with what you are saying. The trail is a big river in spots. In other spots the springs flow onto the trail. Throw in the ice and you got some issues.

    I did think the park had the best use of water bars I saw on the whole AT. I think there is no way people or horses can do as much damage as water. I hike on some horse trail in OH. Other than being muddy, they are not as badly erored.

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    The smokies are the most visted park in the U.S. So I think that the trails get used all year long. With rain, snow, and ice it will break down quick. The trick is to keep an eye out so people cant ride their bikes on the A.T. Let the bashing begin.

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    Horses, Hills, Water.....one by itself no problem. The combination of the three will result in erosion.
    Hokey Pokey

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    Registered User weary's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hikerhead View Post
    Horses, Hills, Water.....one by itself no problem. The combination of the three will result in erosion.
    I vaguely remember that the people that donated the land for the park asked that horses be allowed and that no admission fees be charged.

    Weary

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    As Sly said, the horses were there before the park. The land was taken from private and corporate owners to be used for the park and certain historical uses were grandfathered in. Trails that were historically used my horseback riders still are open to horses. How they determine which trails qualify for equestrians is just one of the mysteries of politics and bureaucracy. I've been looking at the ATC work weeks in the Smokies for October and one week specifically states that equestrians will be given preference so apparently the ATC has not only made peace with the idea but embraced it.

    Horses do tear up the trail as well as fertilize it,but that's just something you have to deal with.

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    Trail miscreant Bearpaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frolicking Dinosaurs View Post
    Bearpaw, given your trail building experience, could you see ways to improve the trail design in such areas? Are there ways to stop this from occurring?

    I know we've been pretty careful about not building trails down the natural route of water flow in other areas where I've been involved in trail building - I'm thinking that might help the AT section in question? It's been several years since I've done the AT thru the GSMNP so I'm not sure what condition it is in these days.

    Could you expand on what is being done?
    I'm not 100% certain, but I believe that on the AT through the Smokies, only about a 25 mile section north of Newfound Gap is open to horses. The reasoning, as I've heard from park staff, is that this area is remote enough that much of the materials for maintenance (4x4's, rebar, privy materials & replenishment) are just not readily accessible for carrying by people. Packstock are therefore preferred and allowed. The only time I've seen horses on the AT were maintainers.

    As for design, well, the AT could more effectively be routed around the sides of the mountains crossing at passes. The already easy ridgeline walk would be even easier (i.e. more level) and the degree to which water would erode the trail would be significantly reduced.

    The issue is two-fold:
    1) Side-hill cuts of this type are extremely labor-intensive. The Cumberland Trail Conference uses them extensively, but we have 6 weeks every Spring with over 100 college students helping each week. We also average 20-30 folks a day for the 6 weeks of Big Dig every May and June. In addition, we have many weekend trips. With all this manpower, we average maybe 10-12 new miles per year. Add in the bureaucracy of the NPS, and a major seires of reroutes to reduce erosion would take years, maybe decades, to complete in the Park.

    2) Many of the places in question are already eroded down to the bedrock. They not going to erode any more. Is it worth a re-route at that point?

    The best solution is what already exists: heavy usage of water bars with constant maintenance, checkdams to repair the areas of most intense damage, and short section reroutes where most practical. It's not ideal, but it's the most realistic option available.
    If people spent less time being offended and more time actually living, we'd all be a whole lot happier!

  15. #15

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    I just looked at my ATC map for the smokies to see what parts of the AT allow horses. Then I verified it using the GSMNP map you can get at the ranger station. Here's the list:

    Horses Not Allowed:
    Fontana Dam to Sassafras Gap 4.7 miles
    Spence Field Shelter to Miry Ridge Trail 8.9 miles
    Welch Ridge Trail to Pecks Corner Shelter 22.3 miles
    33.9 miles

    Horses Allowed:
    Sassafras Gap to Spence Field Shelter 11.7 miles
    Miry Ridge Trail to Welch Ridge Trail 3.5 miles
    Pecks Corner Shelter to Davenport Gap 20.0 miles
    35.2 miles


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    Off topic But whats with the hog fences on the trail in the smokies? Are they there to keep them out of a section or keep them in?

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    Trail miscreant Bearpaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snowhoe View Post
    Off topic But whats with the hog fences on the trail in the smokies? Are they there to keep them out of a section or keep them in?
    They're there to trap them or at least direct them to trap areas. The park staff employs rangers specifically to hunt and trap boars to reduce their impact. The park zoologist once told me they'll never be able to get them all, but they can keep numbers low enough to minimize damage to water sources and competition for food with the bears of the park.
    If people spent less time being offended and more time actually living, we'd all be a whole lot happier!

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by john gault View Post
    I just looked at my ATC map for the smokies to see what parts of the AT allow horses. Then I verified it using the GSMNP map you can get at the ranger station. Here's the list:

    Horses Not Allowed:
    Fontana Dam to Sassafras Gap 4.7 miles
    Spence Field Shelter to Miry Ridge Trail 8.9 miles
    Welch Ridge Trail to Pecks Corner Shelter 22.3 miles
    33.9 miles

    Horses Allowed:
    Sassafras Gap to Spence Field Shelter 11.7 miles
    Miry Ridge Trail to Welch Ridge Trail 3.5 miles
    Pecks Corner Shelter to Davenport Gap 20.0 miles
    35.2 miles
    These two lists did not look the same after I posted them, so to clarify:
    Horses allowed on 35.2 miles of AT trail through GSMNP.
    Horses NOT allowed on 33.9 miles of AT trail through GSMNP.

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    Registered User SmokyMtn Hiker's Avatar
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    I have hiked a many of the trails in the GSMNP where horses are allowed and can think of only one time actually meeting a trail user on a horse and a group of park employees on horses doing trail maintence. I don't much like the idea of them using the trail but I have a feeling we're just going to have to deal with it. I also will have to agree that they are probably not the problem with erosion, it's just where the trail happens to be in relation to where water runs off after rain storms and the thawing of ice and snow.

  20. #20

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    The AT doesn't let horses on the trail, the horse people let hikers on their trail. When it was decided to have the AT go through the GSMNP there was already a horse trail in the park. It was decided to have the AT use the already existing horse trail.

    There are several ways in which soil fails to support hiking use. With compaction the soil is compacted into a cement-like hardness. This compacted surface loses its pore space and therefore its ability to absorb surface water. If the water is not absorbed into the compacted soil it will puddle on the trail, or if on a slope, will start to flow downhill causing erosion. The trail in the Park is mostly on slopes.

    Erosion is a natural process in which soils are worn away by the action of wind, water, snow, and other natural phenomena. On trails this natural process is aggravated by soil compaction and the almost constant churning agitation of hiking traffic. There is a lot of traffic in the Park with hikers and horses. Water flowing over the compacted soil surface has detached the smaller, lighter soil particles and carried them downhill. The greater the velocity of flowing water the greater the mass of soil that can be carried. Velocity is increase as slope steepens. At high elevations, greater amounts of water accumulate than in neighboring valleys. Ecological studies carried out in Vermont for six years have shown that greater amounts of rainfall occur at a 3600-foot elevation than at 1800 feet. In addition to direct precipitation, the needles of spruce and fir trees which dominate the landscape at high elevation actually 'combs' water from clouds. The GSMNP has a lot of environmental considerations going against it. Foot traffic year round, topography of the area, type of soil, wetness and the ocassional horse all add to the problem of trail erosion in the park.

    Water bars, switchbacks, drainage dips and steps are some ways to help slowdown the erosion. These are all being used in the Park. The most difficult task in maintaining trails over steep mountainous terrain is establishing a stable soil on popular routes. The trail corridor is very limited in the GSMNP. The bottom line is that the horses are not the overwhelming problem with the erosion. They are just one of many reasons why the AT in the GSMNP is constantly in need of help.

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