SAWS Restores Trails in Harper Creek

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Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards’ (SAWS) Central crew spent 6 days from July 8 to July 13, 2016 on the Pisgah National Forest in the Harper Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) working on the North Harper Creek (#266) and North Harper Creek Falls trails. Altogether the crew worked on about 1.5 miles doing a variety of trail work. This included 1277 feet of brushing to open the trail corridor, the removal of 15 trees from across the trail, digging 19 drains/grade dips for erosion control, installing 4 rock steps, and re-establishing 335 feet of tread. The crew also worked to close 885 feet of social trails, to ensure that users are able to identify where the actual trail is. The 6-person field crew partnered with the Grandfather Ranger District to plan, scout and complete this project.

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Wild South and Linville Volunteers Tackle Babel Tower Trail

This summer Wild South and Linville Area Volunteers, led by partner Kevin Massey, are hard at work doing some heavy maintenance on the Babel Tower trail in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Helped out by an agreement with Wild South under the Grandfather Restoration Project, the crew is able to do some much needed work on one of the most popular trails within the Wilderness area.

Volunteers show off stone cribbing on the Babel Tower trail

Volunteers show off stone cribbing on the Babel Tower trail

Crews will be working hard out in the field this summer adding check dams and repairing drainage on steep sections of the trail, adding stone cribbing on heavily eroding sections, redefining the main trail and decommissioning user-created trails near the tower that are causing erosion into Linville River. This is one great example of partnerships in the Linville area and we are lucky to have an amazing group of partners and community volunteers who can steward the Linville Gorge Wilderness! Keep track of the progress on the Linville Gorge Maps blog at www.linvillegorgemaps.org.

Kevin’s great work in the Gorge was also recently highlighted in the Asheville Citizen Times article “Watching out over wild, picturesque Linville Gorge“.

Partners Make Big Contributions in 2015

Partners are critical to the success of the Grandfather Restoration Project. The partners are not only an important part of the collaborative planning process, but they play a big role in implementing the work on the ground. In FY2015, partners worked over 8,000 hours on the Grandfather Ranger District for a total value of over $200,000! Below is the partner match work that was reported for the 2015 CFLR annual report.

Habitat Restoration:

  • The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission supported wildlife activities across the district, including stocking of 4,000 native trout, mowing of 375 acres of wildlife openings, and 13 habitat surveys.

Invasive Species Treatments:

  • Wild South worked for over 500 hours on invasive species eradication, focusing on Paulownia, within the Linville Gorge wilderness and outside the wilderness within the Table Rock fire area.
  • The Wilderness Society assisted in preparing reports for Hemlock Wooly Adelgid treatments.
  • Wild South inventoried hemlocks needing treatment in Linville Gorge.

Trail Restoration:

  • The Friends of the Mountain to Sea Trail volunteers worked over 1,800 hours on trail maintenance for the Mountain to Sea Trail. Friends of Linville Gorge and Gorge Rats volunteers worked over 1,300 hours on trail maintenance in Linville Gorge Wilderness.
  • The Linville Gorge Mapping project worked over 1,000 hours on a comprehensive trail and ecosystem mapping project in the Linville Gorge.
  • The Southern Area Wilderness Stewards worked over 800 hours in addition to contracted work on trail maintenance within the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
  • The Vermont Youth Conservation Corp provided matching funds for the relocation of the China Creek Trail

Prescribed Fire:

  • The Nature Conservancy provided support for fire implementation with 2 qualified firefighters as well as education and outreach with the creation of a “Fire Learning Trail” of interpretive signs and accompanying social media.
  • The North Carolina Forest Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission provided support for prescribed fire implementation and participated in joint-agency landscape burns.

Timber and Silviculture:

  • Partners, including MountainTrue and The Nature Conservancy, provided support for identification of future project sites to be implemented under the new Farm Bill CE authority for Southern Pine Beetle recovery.

Monitoring:

  • Following the Lake James Prescribed burn, collaborative members from The Nature Conservancy and NC Wildlife Resources Commission completed immediate post burn monitoring following the Southern Blue ridge Fire Learning Network methodology.
  • The Wilderness Society continued work on fire effects monitoring in the Linville Gorge Wilderness with a Duke University Masters Student. The data, collected in FY2014, fed into the analysis and thesis, completed in FY2015.
  • MountainTrue and Forest Service botanists monitored invasive species treatment effectiveness in the Wilson Creek area following treatments. Invasive species monitoring was also completed in the Blue Gravel Fire area and the Bald Knob Fire area, as well as the Roses Creek Timber Sale area.
  • In FY2015, an AmeriCorps intern at Mountain True analyzed the camera data collected in FY2014 and provided results showing that more animals use the burn units (both more in numbers and higher diversity of species). However, due to the small sample size no statistically significant results could be determined.

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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.

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.