SAWS Restores Trails in Harper Creek


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.

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

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

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.


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.


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.

Upcoming Project: Catawba Falls Improvements

Catawba Falls has been a popular destination since the late 18oo’s, known for its beautiful cascading falls on the popular tourist route from Old Fort to Asheville. Bought in the early 1900’s by a power company, remnants of a 1920’s hydroelectric power facility can still be seen on the trail to the lower falls. Following a purchase by Duke Energy in the mid 1900’s, Catawba falls was closed to the public, and the falls lost popularity as access was restricted. However, starting in 2005, the Foothills Conservancy worked to buy the tract of land that included the falls and the headwaters of the Catawba River. This portion of land became the newest addition to Pisgah National Forest and the Grandfather Ranger District and was re-opened to the public in 2010.

Upper Catawba Falls

Upper Catawba Falls

The Catawba falls project is divided into 3 phases. In 2011 and 2012, the Forest Service completed phase 1, which included creation of a parking area, trailhead, and restroom facilities. Under the Grandfather Restoration Project, the Forest Service is planning for the next phases of improvements. Phase 2, slated for 2015 will focus on creation of footbridges, restoring the natural flow of the river by removing portions of the 1920’s dam, and improved access to the lower falls. Phase 3, planned for 2017 will create safe access to the upper falls. This project will not only allow the public to safely access the falls, but will reduce sediment input into the Catawba River headwaters by improving eroding trails.