Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the next full-scale, Trails Forever restoration will begin on Alum Cave Trail in 2015. The Trails Forever crew will focus restoration efforts on several targeted locations along the 5-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. The restoration work will require temporary trail closures throughout the 2-year process.
Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, leading hikers to iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, Mt. Le Conte, and LeConte Lodge. Park rangers respond to numerous accidents along the trail each year, especially along the upper, narrow corridors. The planned work will improve overall trail safety and protect natural resources by repairing historic cable and handrail systems, reinforcing hanging trail sections, reducing trail braiding, and improving drainage to prevent further erosion. There are also several narrow areas where erosion and small landslides have damaged significant sections of the trail, making it difficult to safely travel through the areas during inclement weather or to pass hikers coming from the opposite direction. By restoring these fragile trail sections, the park can best ensure long-term sustainability and protect trailside natural communities from degradation.
"Alum Cave Trail has so many unique natural and historic features," said Trails Supervisor Tobias Miller. "Our crew is working alongside the park's cultural and natural resource managers as we plan the restoration to insure that features are protected as we improve trail durability and safety."
Alum Cave Trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 4 through November 19 in 2015, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. Hikers can still reach Mt. Le Conte, LeConte Lodge, and the Le Conte Shelter by using one of the other five trails to the summit. The Mt. LeConte Lodge and Mt. Le Conte backcountry shelter will remain open and can be accessed from any of these other routes during the Alum Cave Trail closure.
“A weekday closure of Alum Cave Trail is not an easy decision to make, but we feel it is necessary to ensure the continued protection of resources and safe use of the trail for hikers now and into the future,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We hope hikers will take this opportunity to explore another route to Mt. Le Conte, hike some of our other 800 plus miles of trail, or hike Alum Cave Trail on the weekends.”
The Boulevard, Bull Head, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, and Brushy Mountain trails all lead to Mt. Le Conte, but trailhead parking is limited. Carpooling is encouraged. Day hikers should also consider enjoying other trails offering stunning views such as Chimney Tops Trail, Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald, or the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion.
Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends have donated $500,000 to support the program, in part through the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park including the recently restored Forney Ridge Trail and Chimney Tops Trail which opens December 12. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations.