GUEST POST: SAWS Helps Restore Trails in Linville Gorge

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.

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SAWS Trail Crew Member works to improve the Shortoff Trail

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.

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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.

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Partnership for the Wilson Ridge Trail: A Mountain Biker’s Alderaan

I think it’s fair to say the majority of our efforts with the Grandfather CFLR are ecologically driven.  The same goes for this blog.  But I want to take a quick moment to recognize one CFLR effort that is reaching beyond that.  This year like many years we allocate a bit of the CFLR efforts to trail work, particularly where there is opportunity to improve the hydrologic function of a trail.

So, this year we are working with the relatively newly formed Northwestern NC Mountain Bike Alliance (Alliance) to focus both volunteer efforts and Forest Service efforts on the Wilson Ridge trail.  The Grandfather Ranger District has been working with the Alliance to prioritize trails on the Grandfather District that are open to mountain bikes, need some work and are constant with the Pisgah Trails Strategy.  We landed on Wilson Ridge as the top priority.

Alliance_WRTOn the Wilson Ridge Trail the Alliance has already hosted six workdays, totaling 147 hours of volunteer work to maintain and improve four miles of this trail, including placing rolling grade dips and protecting two seeps along the trail.  On top of those efforts the Alliance has just received an IMBA/CLIF Bar Trail Preservation Grant to assist them with putting a trail machine on the upper legs of the trail.  Pair those with a Forest Service contract to repair a mile and a half of trail and we’re making some great progress on a very accessible trail.

Trails are how we get out and into the Forest.  Providing good user experiences are some of our best opportunities to get folks excited about the nature and about stewardship.   I’m very excited about the partnerships coming together to better the experience for mountain bikers on the Grandfather Ranger District.