Helicopter delivers 37 loads for Ramsey Cascades Trail restoration

May 17, 2022

helicopter transporting locust logs

by Julie Dodd

Ramsey Cascades Trail restoration is underway. The Friends of the Smokies Trails Forever Crew is working on the 4-mile trail Monday through Thursday from May until November, creating a safer hiking experience for park visitors and reducing trail erosion.

Preparing for the restoration of the trail was a major undertaking – requiring helicopter service, funded by Friends, to deliver 70,000 pounds of locust logs and two cargo nets of tools and equipment to the trail.

Cosby Picnic Area parking lot as staging area

The helicopter made a total of 37 trips on April 6 and 7, 2022, transporting the logs and tools from the Cosby Picnic Area parking lot to sites on the Ramsey Cascades Trail.

“We had 70 locust log bundles – 1,000 pounds per bundle — staged at the Cosby Picnic Area parking lot,” explained Josh Shapiro, Trails Forever Crew Supervisor.

locust log bundles in Cosby Picnic Area parking lot
Seventy locust log bundles (1,000 pounds per bundle) were transported by the helicopter from the Cosby Picnic Area parking lot to the sites along the Ramsey Cascades Trail. NPS photo

“The helicopter was able to transport two bundles at a time. Thirty-five total trips were needed to transport the locust logs. We also had two cargo nets with tools and equipment.  So, a total of 37 trips were required.”

[The photo at the top of the page shows the helicopter transporting two bundles of locust logs, secured to a long line.]

trail crew watch helicopter used to transport locust logs
Trail crew members watch the helicopter used to transport locust logs to sites along Ramsey Cascades Trail. NPS photo

The process of attaching the loads to the helicopter and releasing the loads at sites along the trail involved specialized Helicopter Crewmembers (HECM).

“There is a qualified Helicopter Crewmember that is delegated to attaching loads to the helicopter long line for pickup,” Shapiro said. “When the pilot delivers the bundles to the trail, the pilot sets the load on the ground and releases the load remotely.

“The HECM at the drop site will need to prep the chokers and cargo nets for being hauled back to the helicopter periodically with the long line.”

trail crew removes cables from locust logs
A qualified Helicopter Crewmember (HECM) helped trail crew members remove cables from locust logs dropped by the helicopter and prepare the cables and cargo nets to be retrieved by the helicopter. NPS photo
helicopter transporting locust logs
Over two days, the helicopter made 37 deliveries of locust logs and trail equipment. NPS photo

Importance of black locust logs

The black locust logs are a key part of the restoration because much of Ramsey Cascades Trail doesn’t have nearby stone to be used for the trail work, Shapiro said.

“Our first choice is always to use native stone to build trail structures, like staircases and retaining walls,” Shapiro explained. “We prefer stone since it will stand the test of time. 

“When stone isn’t available, we’ll use black locust logs,” he said. “Black locust is the most rot resistant natural timber available. For foot bridges, our first choice is always black locust, but when it’s not available we have to use a different native tree species that is nearby and free of defects.”

Determining materials needed

Before a trail restoration project begins, Shapiro and other GSMNP trail crew analyze the trail and determine what materials are needed and how many crew members will be required.

“We survey the trail to look for deficiencies,” Shapiro said. “We assess erosion problems, current conditions of trail structures, and impacts to natural resources that the trail deficiencies are causing.”

The analysis of the trail involves considering hiker safety and preserving the natural area.

“After we establish where the repair work is most needed, we come up with a material list and calculate the amount of time each project will take,” Shapiro said.

Ramsey Cascades Trail is the seventh major trail restoration project for the FOTS Trails Forever crew. Each restoration takes one to two years to complete.

Trails Forever has restored Alum Cave Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Abrams Creek Trail, Chimney Tops Trail and Forney Ridge Trail

Ramsey Cascades Trail and the Ramsey Prong Road will be closed Monday through Thursday until mid-November, except for Federal holidays. The trail is open Fridays through Sundays.

Trails Forever logo

Trails Forever improves GSMNP trails

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.

Learn more about contributing to the Trails Forever endowment or funding other GSMNP needs for 2022.