Ramsey Cascades Trail Restoration on Track for 2023 After Trails Forever Crew Overcomes Challenges from Flooding

December 19, 2022

FOTS Trails Forever Crew works on Ramsey Cascades Trail

by Julie Dodd

Ramsey Cascades Trail, the challenging, scenic 4-mile trail in the Greenbrier area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the current trail restoration project of the Trails Forever Crew, funded by Friends of the Smokies.

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 – Josh Shapiro

The project began in April with 70 locust log bundles – each weighing 1,000 pounds — 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, being used for staircases and other trail structures.

The seven-person Trails Forever Crew divided into two teams, explained crew supervisor Josh Shapiro. Three of the members stayed in a backcountry camp and worked on the section of the trail near Ramsey Cascades. The other four crew members worked on the lower areas of the trail and hiked in to the trail work site daily.

Progress was going well from May to July, Shapiro said.

The crew completed 18 locust staircases and six stone staircases. They built a 25-foot raised section of the trail – a locust log turnpike — that allows for better drainage.

The crew also improved the trail surface by removing roots and rocks, widening trail drainages, and regrading sections to make the trail safer and to reduce erosion.

The Trails Forever Crew was assisted by members of a Southeast Conservation Corps (SECC). The SECC crew members assisted with the construction of the stone and locust log staircases and worked on improving the trail surface, improving existing trail drains, transporting locust logs to work sites on the trail.

Stone and locust log staircases

Role of volunteers

Volunteers also played an important part in the trail work.

“Forty-one volunteers contributed 205 hours of work on the trail,” Shapiro said. “The volunteers primarily worked on the lower 1.5 miles of the trail, mainly cutting back Rhododendron along the trail and improving trail drainage.”

Flash floods hit in July

Then, unexpectedly, two flash floods hit the area in July.

“The first flooding incident occurred on July 12. The Greenbrier area received more than eight inches of rain over a two-hour period,” Shapiro said. “The flooding took out both foot log bridges on the trail and caused substantial damage to a 200-foot section of trail.”

dislodged footbridge on Ramsey Cascades Trail
The lower footbridge on the Ramsey Cascades Trail was dislodged by flash flooding in July. The crew moved the bridge back into place before the trail work was stopped when the Greenbrier Road was closed. NPS photo – Josh Shapiro

The flooding washed out several sections of trail near the stream and also washed away gravel and stone that had been used as filler in some of the staircases and other trail structures in the upper section of the trail.

Following that flash flood, the crew continued the trail restoration work, including moving back into place the log footbridge on the lower portion of the trail that had been dislodged by the flooding.

The second flash flooding occurred on July 21. That flooding so severely damaged Greenbrier Road that it had to be closed. And Greenbrier Road is the access road to the trailhead.

FOTS trail crew preparing Tulip Poplar tree to be footbridge on Ramsey Cascades Trail
FOTS trail crew members prepare a Tulip Poplar tree that will be used as a footbridge on Ramsey Cascades Trail. NPS photo – Josh Shapiro

With their access to the trail closed, the Trail Forever Crew had to change their trail work, Shapiro said.

The crew moved into working on maintenance projects on trails throughout the Tennessee side of the Park, including clearing fallen trees on trails, clearing trail drains, and clearing back vegetation along trails to keep the existing trail corridor open.

When trail work resumes

The Ramsey Cascades Trail restoration work is scheduled to begin again next year in the Spring. 

“Our first priority will be to repair flood damaged areas and replace the foot log bridge on the upper portion of the trail,” Shapiro said. 

Before planning a trip to the Greenbrier area, be sure to check the GSMNP website to determine the status of Greenbrier Road.

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.

If you’re planning to hike any of those trails, you should click on the links above to see what was involved in the trail’s restoration, so you can look for and admire the trail work as you hike.