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Crews Work to Clear Appalachian Trail After Storm Damage

Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards are working to clear parts of the Appalachian Trail in northeast Tennessee. (Bill Hodge)
Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards are working to clear parts of the Appalachian Trail in northeast Tennessee. (Bill Hodge)
July 19, 2016

WATAUGA, Tenn. - The deadly storms that swept through parts of northeast Tennessee earlier this month made their mark on one of the state's points of pride. The Appalachian Trail, which originates in Georgia and reaches to Maine, crosses through the Volunteer State, and the severe storms downed hundreds of trees in Watauga County.

Bill Hodge, executive director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) said his organization is working to quickly clean up the damage before it prohibits hikers on the trail, or causes additional damage.

"People will continue to use it but just go around the downed trees and that ends up doing resource damage," he said. "It ends up creating new trail corridors that aren't sustainable, because people are having to go around the downed trees."

The July 8th storms killed at least two people, when a tree fell on their tent. Independent nonprofits and other citizen groups are often the ones who maintain and service parts of the Appalachian Trail. There are 94 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee, and the trail runs along the state's border with North Carolina for an additional 160 miles.

Hodge said with two million people visiting parts of the Appalachian Trail each year, it's important that groups like his keep the trail safe for people who want to enjoy the national gem. Right now he said parts of the trail in the Laurel Branch area are not safe.

"These are huge trunks to the trees, it's the crowns of trees," he added. "Trees that are snapped off at heights that make them what we call widow makers; they're dangerous overhead hazards."

Because of regulations governing designated wilderness lands, the crews must use hand tools and not large equipment that could damage other parts of the trail. The Appalachian Trail covers more than 2,100 miles and was created in 1925.

Stephanie Carson/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - TN