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