The Rocky Top crew works exclusively on 70 miles of the A.T. through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park following the ridge crest from Davenport Gap to Fontana Dam. The crew is sponsored jointly by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, the National Park Service, and ATC.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Our Friends from Across the Pond Help Rehab the the Smokies

This session of Rocky Top Trail Crew had a definitive British flavor, as members of the Essex Boys and Girls Club came to volunteer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in part to help develop their own young leaders. Two chaperones and five young men and women from the U.K., after having hiked through the Smokies the week prior, learned about sustainable structure building for trails and how to install such structures. Robert, a member of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and our lone volunteer from stateside, rounded out the crew for the week.


A tough section of trail that the previous week’s crew began to repair with log cribbing was finished this week, including some pinning of rocks to hold crush – man-made gravel used as a tread surfacing in order to encourage water percolation and erosion control. This bit of work required the use of rock drills and hammering in rebar to help lock the rocks in place. Later on in the week, the crew worked to lay crush over an area above old Civilian Conservation Corps crib wall, where a lack of sunlight and proper drainage over almost a century had left the trail quite soggy. Finally, the crew finished their week by completing 45 feet of locust log turnpike, a structure which raises the tread of a trail up out of a poor drainage area with the help of lots of crush and fill.


During time at camp, the crew played a variety of group games, including charades, and one night, the boys and girls from Essex successfully guessed all 50 U.S. states. The Americans on crew had a much harder time with guessing all 52 counties in the U.K. (they only got four or five). In the mornings, the crew enjoyed sunrises before leaving camp for the workday and, at the end of the day admired the orange glow of the sunsets upon the trees in camp.

Overall, the crew put in eleven log steps, one rock waterbar, one grade dip, the aforementioned turnpike, and over 128 cubic feet of crush and fill – an astounding amount of hand-made gravel for a single week. In the end the young leaders of the Essex Boys and Girls club, some of which are studying to be outdoor educators and guides, learned how to build sustainable trail and repair badly eroded aspects of the trail.

We here at Rocky Top Trail Crew hope to see our friends from across the pond make their volunteerism an annual venture and so look forward to their return next year!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Session 1: The Great Pack-In | First Trail Rehab of the Season

This year’s Rocky Top season in the Smokies began with a great set of volunteers, both on the trail work side and equestrians working to help us out on the horse pack-in side. On the day before the crew hiked in, members of the Backcountry Horsemen of Tennessee and North Carolina, including regional presidents Vetice Bates and Tom Thomas, brought over 300 lbs of trail tools and camping gear up to the crew’s campsite. The following day the crew hiked up Snake Den Ridge Trail, a six-mile hike gaining over 3,500 feet of elevation. More equestrian volunteers, this time from the Smoky Mountain Trail Riders, took up over 200 lbs of food and camp amenities for the crew’s first eight-day session.

The crew meets the day before their session heads into the field; the gathering at basecamp includes orientation, introductions, a safety talk, and a great dinner cooked by camp coordinator Chloe de Camara. She also prepares the crew’s camp food for the horse packers. The next morning the crew began their journey up Snake Den Ridge Trail from Cosby Campground.

 The crew carried all the gear they needed that hadn't been hauled earlier through the support of our horse partners. The volunteers the first week ranged widely in background and experience, coming together to create a well-rounded group for the crew. Jerry, a volunteer from Ohio, had spent years working in the state park system, including doing trail work. Sam, a volunteer from Virginia, had just finished a thru-hike of the trail and was ready to give back to the A.T. Having Sam's hiker appetite on crew meant there was never a scrap of food that wasn't fully enjoyed. 

The crew spent the next six days working near Inadu Knob doing major trail rehab. This included installing over twenty log and rock steps, a rock water bar, and removing a large portion of berm from the edge of the trail to allow water to shed downhill instead of being retained on the walking surface.

A particularly rooty part of the trail called for extensive log cribbing and log steps in order to control water erosion and to gain elevation over and protect larger roots. In another difficult section where bedrock created water-shedding issues, the crew constructed two tiers of rock cribbing and two rock steps in order to bring the trail over the exposed section of mountain. Throughout the duration of the week the crew of volunteers learned trail maintenance and rehab skills on-the-job and by the week’s end became very proficient trail rehabbers.

Thus Rocky Top week one ended with an impressive amount of trail work completed. However, the rest of the season in the Smokies this fall has only just begun!

To join a Rocky Top trail crew, visit

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rocky Top Takes to the Skies

In June, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, volunteers from the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club A.T. Maintenance Committee, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were graced with mostly-clear skies for a helicopter delivery of supplies to the Rocky Top Crew work site for 2014. Locust logs are imported because they are the most rot-resistant wood and do not grow at the high elevation of the Appalachian Trail within the Park. 

The collaborative effort requires cooperation among club volunteers, park staff, ATC staff, and helicopter pilots to get the hard-as-a-rock locust to the right spots along the Trail. Set and ready for installation this year. 

The crew uses the locust to install waterbars and steps. 

Smoky Mountain Hiking Club A.T. Maintenance Committee volunteers Phyllis Henry and Stuart Taylor still smiling at the end of a long day of moving flight materials, coordination, and waiting around between flights. 

Rocky Top Trail Crew and the helicopter airlift operation are made possible with funding from a North Carolina Recreational Trails Program Grant. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Surprised Optimist

I thought I had set my expectations high when I anticipated having the entire pool room decked by the end of the third weekend of work. I am delightfully surprised by the fact that the dedicated crews of volunteers managed to get the pool room decked by the conclusion of work on the last scheduled January work day on January 19, 2014.

Here's a look of their progress over that weekend.

January 18, 2014
Trusses are doubled up due to an initial manufacturing error. The result is a
 floor 1.5 times stronger than we first expected! 

The door knobs were replaced
with lever-style door latches. 

Polishing up the drainage around the driveway. 

Exterior landscaping improvements were made
to encourage better drainage 

Pretty sweet ditch. 

Decking nearly done (and it was finished on Sunday!) 

The crew is on hiatus while the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club attends to the pre-construction of privies for Mt. Collins Shelter and Double Springs Shelter. We look forward to gathering up again, at a date to be determined in February or March, for more work on ATC's Crew Basecamp at Soak Ash Creek to install the stairs and retaining wall, windows, window well, and door for the basement. If you have interest in joining us for these work opportunities, please call me, Leanna Joyner, at 828-254-3708.

Trusses and Lintels

The second week of work at ATC's Crew Basecamp at Soak Ash Creek was a huge success. The crew of volunteers from Smoky Mountains Hiking Club worked to install the trusses that will support the plywood sub-floor.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The crew got an early start on Saturday, January 11. 

Meanwhile, the new foyer railing was getting a paint job. 

Wayne waits patiently for the first delivery of concrete.
This will be the outside doorway from the basement.

The lintel is added. These suckers are heavy!

By the end of Saturday, about half the pool had trusses.

Sunday, January 12, 2014 
The rain from Saturday subsided enough for intrepid volunteers
Casey and Pam to ditch around the driveway, encouraging
better drainage around the house. 

Prep for the lintel installation in the downstairs back bedroom. 

Carolyn and Phyllis kept volunteers well fed and
managed to create order in the kitchen.

Planning underway for the stairwell and retaining wall
for the basement entrance. 

Long shadows indicate the end of the day, a long day of digging,
 and signaled the end of the ditching project.

Trusses in place. Just about time to add the decking!

Until next time...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Base Camp Improvements Underway

Three winter warmer weekends are underway at ATC's Crew Base Camp at Soak Ash Creek. The renovation team is made up of volunteers from Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and partners and staff from Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We had 17 volunteers on the first day and 11 on the second day. Tons of work was accomplished and set the stage for another week of great work next weekend.

Here's a glimpse of day one, January 4, 2014: 

Boards edging the pool will help support the floor trusses. 

Tony & Larry demolished the old gear closet where
 a new exterior door will be added. 
The new closet has a peg board
for backpacks. 

Digging the window well was muddy business. 

This team was rockin'! They moved a ton of landscaping
river rocks where the future stairwell will be installed. 

I caught a quick picture of Don and Nancy before they got away.

 Here's a look at day two, Jan 5, 2014:

A knee wall was added to also support the trusses. 

Once the pool is decked this big room will
be used for trainings and workshops. 

Waning daylight signals the end of the work day. 

Window well hole dug 6 X 6 X 6.