Guest Post by Brenna Irrer, Program Manager, Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards
The mountains of western North Carolina are full of exciting natural features, and can provide endless opportunities for education and entertainment. For most people, all they need to access these features is a suitable trail. While any sort of trail may do, a trail that is usable in a variety of conditions and will last for years can help people not only continue to enjoy these opportunities, but to help them show others in the future. Fortunately, trails can be modified over time, fixing a problem as it arises, or improving it to better serve its users.
One such trail is the Shortoff trail in Linville Gorge. This trail also serves as a part of the Mountains to Sea trail. The Shortoff trail runs almost exclusively along ridges, down into gaps, and back up again, allowing for stunning views, changes in trailside ecology, and physical exercise. Because the trail runs along the ridge, portions of it are steep and prone to erosion from water runoff. Recently, Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) spent nine days working along the trail to mitigate these problems. Working from Chimney Gap and heading south, drainage features were built into the trail to prevent water from staying on the trail, causing heavy erosion and increasing the potential for insurmountable damage. SAWS worked up to the top of Shortoff mountain, installing a variety of drainage features and also brushing spots that had made hiking difficult.
Many areas along the Shortoff trail have been subject to wild fires in the last decade. While this allows for abundant new growth, in the short term erosion along the trail is accelerated without a tree canopy above it. While the canopy will eventually grow back, the trail must be stabilized in the meantime. The work that Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards has done along the Shortoff trail will help keep this trail serviceable for hikers now and in the future.