Trails Forever Crew Completes Restoration of Abrams Falls Trail

December 20, 2021

curving staircase on Abrams Falls Trail

by Julie Dodd

The year-long restoration of the Abrams Falls Trail in Cades Cove was completed in November, and the trail is open with numerous improvements to make hiking safer and to prevent erosion and damage to plant life.

The project was led by the National Park Service Trails Forever crew, funded by Friends of the Smokies, that focuses on restoring popular trails in the park. A crew from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) and volunteers assisted the Trails Forever crew.

Josh Shapiro, Trails Forever crew supervisor, shared insights about the newly-rehabilitated trail in this Q&A:

What are some of the improvements that were made to the trail?

Josh Shapiro: The crews repaired the trail from the parking area to Abrams Falls (2.6 miles).  Work included trail surface repair (root/rock removal, regrading, drainage improvement), brushing back encroaching Rhododendron, and building timber trail structures (locust retaining walls, staircases, turnpikes).

The crews also rehabilitated social trails and braids — eliminating shortcut paths that hikers had created, which cause erosion and damage plant life.

What were the overall logistics of the trail project in terms of materials used and trail improvements?

Josh Shapiro: The crew used 425 locust logs to build trail structures and 20 tons of clean imported gravel for fill.  The crew used chiseled rock from the trail surface as fill for the locust trail structures as well.

Here’s a list of the accomplishments:

  • 2.6 miles of trail rehabilitated
  • 135 locust steps
  • 121 drains installed/repaired
  • 49 sections of social/braided trail areas rehabilitated
  • 2,247 cubic feet of rock chiseled out of the trail corridor using hammer drills
  • 121 linear feet of locust turnpikes
  • 4 locust retaining walls constructed (290 square feet)
  • 2 rock walls built over a culvert
  • 1 hand cable repaired

How were tools and supplies transported to different sections of the trail?

Josh Shapiro: The Park Mule Team was able to transport locust logs, tools and supplies to various points on the trail during the first month of the season.  The NPS and ACE Crews had to carry those supplies to the work sites along the trail during the season.

How many people were on your Trails Forever crew and the ACE team?

Josh Shapiro: We had an NPS Crew of seven and an ACE Crew of six.  We also had volunteers every Wednesday. 

What was the role of volunteers in this project?

Josh Shapiro: Volunteers worked hard this year cutting back encroaching rhododendron in the corridor from the trail head to Abrams Falls, peeled bark off locust logs used to build trail structures and improved the trail surface (root/rock removal, out sloping, drainages). Volunteers did a great job this year, and continue to have a pivotal role in assisting the Trails Forever Crew with completing large scale trail rehab projects.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing guidelines, I don’t have any group photos this year.

What else would you like to share about the project?

retention wall on Abrams Falls Trail
Retention wall built on the Abrams Falls Trail. Photo courtesy of Josh Shapiro

Josh Shapiro: The Trails Forever Crew did a great job this year.  All the new trail structures, drainages and tread improvements were built to a very high standard. The crew took a lot of care to make sure that all improvements fit the wilderness character of the trail. 

Even with the extra challenges of road closures and increased travel times on the Cades Cove Loop to reach the work site, the crew still completed the project two weeks ahead of schedule.

American Conservation Experience (ACE) Crews worked alongside the NPS Crew during 11 weeks of the project.  The tasks that they completed included chiseling bedrock from the trail to provide a safer and more sustainable trail surface and building grade changes and swale drains (broad shallow ditches), regrading sections of the trail, and covering up social trails and braids. 

ACE has had a pivotal role as well in assisting the Trails Forever Crew with completing large scale trail rehab projects.

Trails Forever improves GSMNP trails

Trails Forever logo

Friends of the Smokies established the Trails Forever endowment in 2012, thanks to a matching gift from the Aslan Foundation in Knoxville.

Today, the endowment has grown to more than $6 million and funds a full-time trail crew in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reconstruct and rehabilitate some of the park’s most impacted trails.

The Trails Forever crew has restored Forney Ridge Trail, Chimney Tops Trail, Alum Cave Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, and Trillium Gap Trail.

The Trails Forever crew’s restoration project for 2022 is Ramsey Cascades Trail.

Learn more about contributing to the Trails Forever endowment.