Updated: Tornado Damage Leads To Closure of Some Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Editor's note: This adds storm photos as well as an added trail closure.
Damage inflicted by an apparent tornado has forced the closure of some trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Park officials announced Thursday that a severe "EF 4" tornado churned through the northwestern corner of the park a week ago, causing extensive damage to at least eight trails. Most notably, the Abrams Falls Trail remains impassable due to "numerous blowdowns and over 40 areas where root balls were ripped out of the trail surface, leaving hot-tub sized craters," park officials said in a release. They hope to have the trail reopened by the Memorial Day Weekend.
After inspecting other areas, park managers announced the partial, and or full, closure of parts of seven trails totaling 27 miles.
Surveys by trail workers show more than 4,500 trees were downed by the wind storm last Wednesday, "with some areas resembling jackstraws for over a mile at a time. They also counted over a thousand areas where trees were blown down and their roots tore gaps in the trail," the park release said.
In addition to all of the Abrams Falls Trail, the following trails are now officially closed to both hikers and equestrians until further notice:
* Rabbit Creek Trail from its trailhead at Abrams Creek Ranger Station to Hannah Mountain Junction (although campsite #16 remains open)
* The 5.1 mile section of Rabbit Creek Trail between its trailhead at Cades Cove and the junction with Hannah Mountain Trail is now closed. That also results in the closure of campsite 15
* Hannah Mountain Trail from Rabbit Creek Trail to Abrams Creek
* Hatcher Mountain Trail – entire trail
* Beard Cane Trail – entire trail (backcountry campsites #3 and #11 are closed)
* Ace Gap Trail – entire trail
* Little Bottoms Trail from campsite #17 to the Hatcher Mtn. Trail Jct. (campsite #17 is open)
“We have closed the trails because the tangled trees and damaged surfaces make them extremely hazardous, said Clay Jordan, the park's chief ranger. “But to make matters worse, our ability to send rescuers in to extract anybody who is injured is seriously compromised.”
Park managers stress that no park roads are affected by the storm damage, and that the remainder of the park’s 800 miles of trails remain open. In the Cades Cove area, visitors were being encouraged to seek alternative trails. Access to Gregory Bald via Parson Branch Road is unaffected, the park release said.