Ramsey Cascades Trail now open for winter; restoration will be completed in 2024

December 12, 2023

Trails Forever crew member builds log stairs on Ramsey Cascades Trail

by Julie Dodd

The Ramsey Cascades Trail is open seven days a week, after having been closed four days a week for trail restoration. The restoration work has wrapped up for the year and will continue again in spring 2024. This was the second year of restoration of the 4-mile trail that is located in the Greenbrier section of the park.

The restoration of Ramsey Cascades is one of the trail projects of the Trails Forever crew funded by Friends of the Smokies.

The project began in April 2022 with 70 locust log bundles being transported by helicopter from the Cosby Picnic Area parking lot to locations along the trail.  The locust logs are a key part of the trail restoration, used for staircases and other trail structures. Black locust logs are used for construction because the wood is strong and resistant to rot.

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

Trail work was disrupted and then stopped after two flash floods in July 2022. The first flooding took out both of the foot log bridges on the trail and caused other trail damage. The second flooding so severely damaged Greenbrier Road that the road had to be closed – and Greenbrier Road is the access road to the trail.

dislodged footbridge on Ramsey Cascades Trail
Flooding in July 2022 dislodged this footbridge on the Ramsey Cascades Trail, which had to be repositioned by the Trails Forever crew. The footbridge higher on the trail was swept away in the flooding and had to be replaced. NPS photo

The Trails Forever crew returned to work on the Ramsey Cascades Trail in April 2023. I checked with Crew Supervisor Josh Shapiro to find out about the trail work for 2023.

FOTS: What are some of the major goals for completing the restoration of the trail?

Josh Shapiro: The major goals are to make the trail safer, more sustainable, and to have a better-defined trail that will prevent social trails and braiding. 

FOTS: A major impact on the trail work was flooding during the summer of 2022. What was the process for replacing the log bridge on the upper portion of the trail that was washed away in the flooding?

Josh Shapiro: In collaboration with Resource Management and Science Division, we selected a tree close to the old foot log site. Crews felled, debarked, and then ripped the tree to create a flat walking surface. The crews used rigging to move, lift, and set the new foot log in place. The crew then attached posts and a handrail that were also chosen from on site. 

FOTS: A portion of the trail was washed away during that flooding. What was involved in rerouting that section of the trail?

Josh Shapiro: The crew completed a 200-foot long reroute parallel to the washed-out section of trail.  The new section of trail did not require any structures. The crew established the new section by digging and removing stones.  The new trail is about 15 to 20 feet upslope from the old section. There are trees and established vegetation that will act as a buffer between the new trail section and the stream.

FOTS: Any other special trail work required due to the flooding?

Josh Shapiro: We had to build five new trail structures (retaining walls, steps, turnpikes) because of damage from the flooding. 

 FOTS: What is the timeline now for the restoration work?

Josh Shapiro: The project has been extended by one year because of the flood damage to the trail and the damage to Greenbrier Road, which prevented us from accessing the trail for most of the season last year.  The new end date for project completion is now November 2024.  

FOTS: How many workers were involved in the trail work – both the Trails Forever crew and other trail crews?

Josh Shapiro: We had six NPS Trails Forever Crew Staff, six American Conservation Experience (ACE) Members, six Southeast Conservation Corps (SECC) Members, volunteer crews each Wednesday, and support from both the North Carolina and Tennessee NPS Trail Crews.  The Tennessee Trail Crew led the efforts to replace both of the foot logs. 

FOTS: What is the role of volunteers in doing trail restorations?

Josh Shapiro: Volunteers have always had a vital role in all the Trails Forever Trail Restoration Projects, including Ramsey Cascades Trail.  Volunteers complete many tasks, such as trail surface repair, new drain construction, cutting back encroaching rhododendron from the trail corridor, transporting fill for structures, rock removal from the trail surface, and the list goes on.  We greatly appreciate all of the effort and hard work by volunteers. 

Trails Forever restoration projects

Ramsey Cascades is the seventh trail restoration project taken on by the Trails Forever Crew since the Trails Forever program was established in 2012.

The Trails Forever Crew has restored Alum Cave TrailRainbow Falls TrailTrillium Gap Trail, Abrams Falls TrailChimney Tops Trail and Forney Ridge Trail.

You can join other Friends of the Smokies in by making a donation to support Trails Forever.