Court Documents Allege Private Trails Cut Into Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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This map, said to have come from Blackberry Farm Resort, shows two trails -- the Boundary Trail and the Blair Gap Trail -- that are not listed on Great Smoky Mountains National Park's official trail map/Southern Forest Watch

Sometime in recent years two trails running more than a mile-and-a-half were cut into the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, allegedly for the use of a private resort that borders the park, according to court documents.

When contacted by the Traveler, park officials declined to discuss the trails, or even acknowledge their existence, as their presence has been raised in litigation. However, the "Boundary Trail" and "Blair Gap Trail" depicted on a trail map purportedly handed out by the Blackberry Farm Resort do not match any trails on the park's official trail map. Together they run along the park's western boundary roughly from the Beard Cane Trail to the Cane Creek Trail. Officials at the resort, where rooms start at $745 a night, had no immediate comment when asked about the trails this week.

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A trail of downed trees allegedly marked an illegal trail cut in Great Smoky Mountains National Park/Southern Forest Watch

The existence of the trails surfaced in connection with a lawsuit brought against the Park Service by Southern Forest Watch, a nonprofit group organized to overturn the park's $4 per night fee charged on backcountry travelers. Though not central to the fight over the backcountry reservation system, the group pointed to the "illegal trail system" as part of a pattern of "political patronage" that former park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson oversaw. Mr. Ditmanson, who instituted the backcountry fee system in 2013, retired from the Park Service earlier this year.

By allowing the Blackberry Farm Resort to maintain these trails for the use of their customers and residents, Great Smoky Mountains officials were limiting the general public's access to the park's backcountry and allowing it to be impaired, charges Southern Forest Watch's lawsuit.

The Park Service, in court documents responding to Southern Forest Watch's complaint, denied allowing a "private resort to maintain and utilize their own separate, exclusive network of trails into, on and within the boundaries" of the park. However the agency did admit that there was a signpost with a map box located outside the park boundary and that "any signs that were erected within Park boundaries by Blackberry Farm Resort were erected without permission from NPS and have since been removed."

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These ATVers allegedly were entering Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Cane Creek Trailhead/Southern Forest Watch

The trail map showing the Boundary and Blair Gap trails came from the map box on the signpost, according to Southern Forest Watch's lawyer.

The trail signs and maps were found by John Quillen, a member of Southern Forest Watch. A park volunteer who regularly hikes the Cane Creek Trail to help maintain it, Mr. Quillen discovered the Boundary Trail in 2009 when he came upon a trail of trees that had been chainsawed down. He and some friends also heard a chainsaw at work, and encountered riders on two all-terrain vehicles who allegedly claimed they had come from Blackberry Farm. Photos of a trail sign, the ATV, and downed trees are part of Southern Forest Watch's court filing.

No court date for the matter has been set.


Or, what we here in the Smokies call, "another Ditmanson deal with the aristocracy."

Thanks for the article, Kurt. I enjoy much on this site, and even when I don't enjoy a piece such as this one, I appreciate the info and the resolve to publish it.

A formula for corruption: unaccountable bureaucrats, wealth, high political connections.

I agree, Kurt, thank you for having the resolve to publish this. As a historian who has studied the parks' relationships with surrounding businesses, landowners, etc., and who has looked, in particular, at the class politics of the parks in the southern Appalachians, I cannot say I am surprised by this--though I know no more than I have read here about the specifics of this case. Anyway, thanks for an interesting piece on an issue I will continue to follow.

I would like to point out some errors found in this article.

The boundary trail and blair gap trail is from the CCC days where they attempted to make an entire trail around the park boundary. It was more than likely routed from an old cherokee route. There are many trails in the park that are from ancient cherokee routes. They usually followed drainage's or mountain ridges, that were used for hunting and gathering. Portions of the AT is an example of a reclaimed cherokee trail.

This extensive boundary trail is part of a series of trails (cove mountain, little greenbrier, roundtop, chestnut top, scott mountain, rich mountain and ace gap) and these trails are maintained by the park and are inside the park boundary. I have walked a majority of these trails many times, and many of these trails are within a few hundred feet of private land. In quite a few areas you can come across homes, and roads that are adjacent to the park boundary by a mere 100 feet or so. The park boundary is marked in many cases with metal tags that are placed on trees along the border. Almost all of these trails, and especially the trails of cove mountain, scott mountain, and roundtop have manways that connect to them from these private lands. Many of these unmarked manways have existed for a long time, in many cases before the park existed. A manway, that is known by locals can be used to get into a place that is not marked officially on park maps, but is very well known - the White Oak Sinks. That starts around a property near the Scott Mountain trail, but it existed before the area became a park and connected with the schoolhouse gap trail (which locals used to get back and forth into tuckaleechee valley). There are also manways on Roundtop, and quite a few on Cove Mountain that access these main trail areas. Only locals seem to know about these footpaths, but they exist and people still use them, and they have been used for decades longer than the accusations in this article.

Hurricane ridge is an old manway trail that was abandoned, and was part of this big boundary trial. The accusations that blackberry farms made this trail is unfounded and not true. This trail existed long before the resort, and some hikers still use that old manway, and it butts up to private land. Beard Cane Trail has a manway that can be found going up that drainage into private property for close to a mile. Most of that trail is in the park, but the true trailhead starts on private land. That's also listed on this map above. Some other trails in this area like the Goldmine also start on private land, but enter the park.

Just because it's not officially listed on a park map doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There are many such manways like that. I pointed out the White Oak Sinks as a case in point. White Oak Sinks is very well known locally and recieves many park visitors, especially during the wildflower bloom. It has at least 4 unmarked trails leading into it (maybe more, but I haven't discovered all of them yet). There are hundreds of manway trails that exist in the park, and were either abandoned or no longer maintained. These are usually decade (to century) old footpaths with lots of debris to jump over, but the trails are usually defined, although nature does work hard to reclaim them.

Hurricane Ridge is also the brunt of an area that receives extreme mountain wave wind activity. It's aptly named, and almost every decade giant wind gusts take out large sections of the forests. I'm sure this is probably part of the reason the trail was abandoned was during one of these blow down events in previous decades made it very hard to consistently maintain. Just recently a tornado went through this area in 2011 and the tree blow downs was extensive. Damage can still be found within abrams creek, and over to beard cane. We have a video on this subject that was done after this area was hit. I have floated this area, and the damage is extensive and looks like something out of a disaster movie. A derecho also went through this same area in 2012, and more trees were blown down. I don't know if this is part of the reason hurricane ridge was abandoned, but my guess is that's probably the case is that it constantly requires large scale maintenance from these blow down events. It's not uncommon to see some old manways be cleared of blow down or fallen tree debris by locals. Although the park does not maintain these old manways, and just maintains the official park trails.

I'm not sure if that is the case here, but the accusations that blackberry farms and an "aristocracy of locals" cut a trail through the park is unfounded.

And here is an article on the torando damage:

Amwdew, Gary Wilson, very interesting posts. There are areas here in the Sierra were "manways", social trails, etc. exist, some starting from private inholdings or other private property entities. A question, are there any agreements by the park with property owners to have trail maintenance permits within the park? Such projects occur here in the Sierra with all types of volunteer groups including backcountry horseman, SCA, etc. Thanks again.

I know there are many cemeteries in the park that have manways leading to them. You have to remember the Smokies, unlike the west, were created out of private lands, so there are many peoples descendents buried within this park. These are not on the official park map, and the park service does not promote these manways to visitors. Yet, some of these cemeteries are still maintained by descendants of those whose relatives are buried in the park.

Almost 9 out of 10 manways are overgrown, and have trees down on them. Even on the map above, it states that the manway trail referred to as the boundary trail is not maintained. Also, I never hear of reports of people using ATVs on beard cane. Beard Cane was closed for quite some time (almost 2 years), because of the tornado, and it just opened again last year after they cleared out all of the snags and downed forest debris. So, the accusations on this page have some serious holes in it.

I posted the video of the tornado damage in the post above.

Gary Wilson,

You are DEAD WRONG! As someone who has seen the hundreds of cut trees along the boundary trail and personally witnessed the ATV incident you are sidestepping the main issue. The trees were cut before the hurricane damage and there are hundereds of them. The real question is did the NPS cut the trees for the private resort or did the private resort cut them while the NPS looked the other way. Under Ditmanson there were a lot of things that got swept under moss here. But there is irrefutable proof and multiple witnesses to both affairs. Every trail in the Smokies was born of something else be it a game trail or Cherokee pathway or Confederate salt peter run, matters not. That boundary trail is now claimed on the map posted in this article as part of a private trail exclusive to that resort. That is the only real issue here. How can a private resort do such a thing? With the complicity of the NPS. There is no way they "didn't know" about this. Why do you think the NPS and the private resort have "no comment"? Because they are flat busted. And folks are outraged, as they should be. The NPS doesn't belong to a 700 dollar per night resort, it belongs to the people who forfeited that land and their heirs and the US taxpayers. Not a private resort that specializes in flying Sheiks in from Saudi Arabia where they can pretend not to follow their religious beliefs for extravagant weekends of debauchery.

Just because an old manway route, that anyone can locate on a historical map if they did some research, appears on someones "recreation map" does not by any means make it a "private trail" exclusive to the farm. Anyone can hike these two manway trails, if they want.

Your accusations are just that - accusations. And i'm not sidestepping anything.

If ATV's are using these trails within the park, especially a trail like beard cane then this would be something that would be brought to light on our facebook pages or online. We are very tied in with the park, it's many tourists, and many of it's hikers and adventurists. Everytime a yellow lady slipper is poached, or a cabin is marked, we are instantly made aware of it thanks to our facebook activity.

I personally, don't care what goes on at Blackberry Farms, it's not my concern. It's their private resort, and they can house who they want. I have no ties to that resort.

I do care about what happens in the Smokies boundary though, and have a stake to see it remains protected. With that said, this can easily be fact checked with a simple camera, a gps, and a pair of boots. And I plan on doing just that.

"I personally don't care what Blackberry does?" If they cut hundreds of trees in the Smokies you had better care. That is what friends groups and GSMA are supposed to care about. Too bad you guys are more concerned about courting donors and throwing shindigs at private resorts to be bothered with a few hundred trees cut and ATV's running pall mall in the Smokies.

For the rest of us non landed aristocracy, we actually give a crap. Let me know how your little investigation goes. Sounds like it would do you some good to get out on the trail. I can show you where they have probably removed their trail sign within the park. And ignore the stumps along the way. It was probably just a result of clear cut hurricane damage LOL.

I don't care what blackberry does on their own private land. It's their land. I do care what happens in the Smokies. I stated that I plan on fact checking this with a GPS, a camera, and a pair of boots. I said that in the post above, if you care to read it.

Gary, we're on the same page then.

The background information provided by Gary Wilson is greatly appreciated. From the map, it appears the trails in question clearly intersect with other maintained Park trails, so are fully accessible to the public. The photo shows many windfall trees that have been bucked (not felled) and rounds rolled off the trail. No erosion, injury to living trees or standing snags, or other damage to Park natural resources is apparent nor is alleged by SmokiesBackpacker. It appears that whoever has maintained them has done a public service.

"Just because it doesn't appear on a Park map doesn't mean it doesn't exist" is so very true. Only half the trails built during the 1930s CCC-New Deal era remain today in many major national parks and forests. Countless abandoned homesteads, native American sites, ancestral burial sites and graveyards, early mines, hunting cabins, ranger stations, shelters, trails, etc exist within Parks, even within Wilderness parks. Quests to rediscover (not disturb, just visit) these is a wonderful reason to explore the less-often visited corners of our Parks.

Yeah this article has many baseless accusations in it, but it's kind of expected from the group involved.

I spend many hours filming in the park on many backcountry trails. Sometimes, i'll explore manways, or if i'm trying to film fish, fields of blooming plants, and especially wildlife i'll venture off trail. I've found many interesting things in the park that way. Right now with all the heath balds blooming, it's the best way to get unique shots and perspectives. All National Parks that i've ever been in will not actively promote off trail hiking or climbing activities. That's always been the case. They won't deny it, they won't promote it, and they won't bar you from doing it. Kurt should know this.

Point is, I know areas of the park very well. A good portion of the park is managed as wilderness, but only in name only. Parks that are declared wilderness, have much different policies, but not all National Parks have declared wilderness, in fact it seems that being managed "as wilderness" instead of actual wilderness is more of the norm in the National Parks. Wilderness areas bar chainsaws, and all trail clearing work has to be maintained with hand tools. That's not the case in the Smokies, and chainsaws are used in the park to clear existing trails, and in some cases manways leading to graveyards etc. The tornado that hit beard cane trail and blew apart large swaths of forest would probably never have been cleared without the use of chainsaws. So, it's a catch-22 when it's declared wilderness.

Let me also say this - judging from the Cane Creek Trail, and where this manway starts along it, by the noted sign called "The Chicken Crossing".. I can pretty much cross it off my list that ATV's can access this ridgeline from the start of that trail and then travel the entire way to beard cane on the boundary trail that follows Hurricane ridge. I can also mark off my list that there was any logging on the private land where the Boundary Trail starts on this private area near Cane Creek. But, it's been a few months since I was over there. So maybe things have changed? I doubt it, but the good thing is, these properties don't seem to bar people from hiking on their property if they leave the park on these old manways, so it can be fact checked..

We will forget for a moment that the resort in question refused to deny the accusations. And the NPS conceded in the lawsuit that the trail signs existed on NPS land as documented in this article and the text of the lawsuit. That is inconvenient to Wilsons' continued justifications. He works for the park. But I will tell you where to go see for yourself.

Just go to the intersection of Ace Gap and Beard Cane Trail and take a left if coming up Beard Cane or keep going straight if dropping down Ace Gap. Very shortly you will come to where the private resort trail sign used to be before the NPS made them remove it. (That is a fact documented by the NPS in their rebuttal to the Southern Forest Watch's lawsuit) At that juncture less than a quarter mile in the "boundary trail" splits and drops back into the private property. Look at where the maintained trails continue and look at where the NPS boundary sign is on the trees. There is no question that those trails are on NPS lands and someone cut those trees at some time. No doubt. Understand that the private resort has had plenty of time to cover their tracks since these allegations were documented. The lawsuit was filed well over a year ago and that is precisely when the NPS went there to "investigate" and make them "remove" the signs. I suppose the cut trees weren't so important since the resort was doing such a service by keeping that old trail clear, right? And watch out for horse leavings. What? Horses on the boundary trail? How in the world would horses get....oh yeah, never mind.

Gary, I do think the "Traveler" article raises questions. I think the NPS does a disservice to the public by not addressing the issue, after all the taxpayers are footing the bill. I do think we hide behind the litigation issue, have witnessed it myself on both sides of the table. If mistakes were made, hey, we are human, but the NPS should release what they know, it was on their watch. I also see the issue of "managed as wilderness" as opposed to official designation. I do not agree with it. The purpose of the act is reduce impacts in these areas in order to maintain them on a sustainable basis. Transparency is the best course, unless of course there is something that the parties involved do not want disclosed. I simply cannot accept the position that use of chainsaws and ATVs to build or clear a section of the trail inside the park without authorization from the NPS, proposed wilderness addition or not, is acceptable. The whole story is not being told I am afraid.

I don't work for the NPS, FYI. I work with the GSMA. Point is that you make some accusations that are not exactly true.

Here are the exact words in this article!

"Sometime in recent years two trails running more than a mile-and-a-half were cut into the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, allegedly for the use of a private resort that borders the park, according to court documents."

I told you that these were not cut recently, but these trails have existed as manways. Granted, nature has reclaimed these manways over 70 years, but the way this article is worded, you accuse a private resort of creating new trails.

Once again, the documentation of these photos is very suspect. A tornado hit this area in 2011. I posted the video that was created by the GSMA from that event. An entire 13 mile section of forest was whipped bare during that event. The Beard Cane trail, which is what John is allegedly accusing the park having ATV's on from blackberry farms was shut down to the public, as trail crews worked to clear the trail. It reopened last year, about 2 years after the event. Chainsaws were used to clear the tree debris. Were these photos actually from beard cane? I question it. I really do.

I have hiked in Cane Creek, and there is no way an ATV can get up hurricane ridge from there. I'm flat calling this article out, because the way it's worded is that ATV's are running along the boundary from Cane Creek to Beard Cane on Hurricane Ridge along the old manway by "sheiks and aristocrats that pay to stay at Blackberry Farms".

I say if you know the terrain, you would be shaking your head at these accusations too.

Gary, I really don't have a horse in this race, but I'd like to see where park regulations let anyone walk into an area that's off the official trail map and cut down trees or otherwise "maintain" a trail not recognized by the Park Service. I did a quick search of Great Smoky's website and couldn't find any information on that. Perhaps you could point me to it.

At the same time, the National Park Service's 2006 Management Policies state in Section 9.2.2. that, "All trails and walks will be carefully situated, designed, and managed to (emphasis added)

* reduce conflicts with automobiles and incompatible uses;

* allow for a satisfying park experience;

* allow accessibility by the greatest number of people;

* and protect park resources.

If you accept that, clearing a path that might have been in use five decades ago or longer and since fallen out of use would seem to be illegal.

Furthermore, the Code of Federal Regulations specifically bans "(1) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from its natural state: (ii) Plants or the parts or products thereof.

As you noted above, the map that has been introduced as evidence states that the NPS does not maintain or mark the trail. Whoever produced the map added that language it would seem.

And while the NPS does generally permit cross-country travel, I have yet to find a park that says it's OK to blaze your path by clearing a trail.

Gary, according to this organizational chart, your employer, the GSMA is affiliated with the NPS. It appears as if they are directly tied financially and bureaucratically.

Kurt, I already stated in this thread, that I take the accusations of ATV use, and trail cutting seriously, especially in park boundaries. I'm in the park a lot, and I never have yet to see evidence of ATV use. And yes, you are right, no one can just go into the park, and start cutting down trees. Where these photos were taken is not made clear in this article. As I stated, I plan on going to this specific area to fact check. Something that should have been done before an article like this was posted.

Yeah, and I take pride in my job, and what I do to help the park. I'm part of an organization that helps fund many programs that aid the park. We promote and help fund education, science and research to keep it protected. So, don't think for a second, I think of it as something negative.


Kudos to you for following up on this issue. While there may be no malfeasance, your article appropriately brought up the issue and never declared judgement. As Prince Hamlet would say, Gary doth protest too much.

Gary, in reporting on court cases, journalists are not judges and jury, nor law enforcement investigators. It's not my role to travel across the country and hike into the backcountry of the Smokies with GPS in hand to verify or debunk the allegations made in the lawsuit, as you suggest.

And, indeed, that's how the article presented them, as allegations, not fact.

At the same time, the fact that neither the National Park Service nor Blackberry Farm would comment raises an eyebrow or two, no? If the trails are historic and allowed, as you say, why wouldn't the Park Service say just that instead of refusing to discuss the issue when I called? Indeed, in their court filings they acknowledge that Blackberry Farm at one point did indeed erect trail sides inside park boundaries.

If the trails are outside the park's borders, why wouldn't Blackberry Farm say they do indeed have trail maps for their guests, but they're not accurate?

I look forward to learning what you discover on your GPS trek. Surely, the plaintiffs believe they found these trails, trail signs, and cut trees inside the park, as well as the ATVers, otherwise they wouldn't have raised these allegations and presented the photos and maps as evidence.

That would be from Gertrude, not Hamlet.

Gary, thank you, your looking into the issue would be of interest to me. I must agree with Kurt, what raised my eyebrows was the refusal to comment on the issue by both the NPS and the resort. I do think it is important to comment on issues, the governmental agencies work for all citizens, mistakes are made, if that is the case here, we are only human. Hiding behind the litigation issue just fuels the fire. One example, I was involved in a prescribed fire several years ago, fire is a touchy business, a mistake was made that impacted visitors, employees and the the business community. The top manager of the Park did just an outstanding job by immediately going to the community and the media and stating a "mistake was made" all responsibility for said rested on his desk. What a difference it made, no spin, no stonewalling. In my own view s/he was a top flight person.

Kurt's explanation of the role of the journalist in general and the nature of this issue in particular goes straight to the core of the matter. If Blackberry Farms and the GSMNP are blameless, then they should be more than willing to go on record to that effect. Of course, as Kurt notes, the GSMNP has, in a response to the lawsuit, already acknowledged the accuracy of some of the information. As for Blackberry Farms, silence is, to the average person, at the very least suggestive (and they have no lawsuit behind which to hide).

I personally do not have first-hand information on this particular situation, although both my judgment and past history suggest that there is every likelihood that Blackberry Farms did cut and clear on trails and that the NPS turned a blind eye. In the past in the GSMNP I have personally witnessed,and not once but repeatedly, special treatment of politicians and economically powerful people on Hazel Creek. They stayed in the Calhoun House AND had rangers to assist them (ferrying them across Fontana Lake, giving them rides up and down the creek, and even cooking) while the hoi polloi made do in campsites. Then there's the well-known, long running situation with summer getaway cottages on the TN side of the Park. Or, to expand beynd the parameters of the Smokies, look at the case of Ranger Danno.

My point is a simple one. There is plenty of history of the NPS, in the Smokies and elsewhere, giving special privileges to bigwigs. I think common sense tells us that such has been the case with Blackberry Farms.

If so, no matter how one spins it, that's wrong--wrong on the part of the NPS and Blackberry Farms.

Jim Casada

Hey Gary.

You keep admonishing "that group" and suggesting "that group" is not to be believed.

I believe King George III called us "rabble."

Justin. Gertrude indeed. But the point remains the same.

If one ignores the irony of the statment, which would seem to be S's point.

I personally hiked out to the intersection of Ace Gap Trail & Beard Cane trail last May 5/27/2013. I wanted to see the closed back country sites#7 and #4; to see if there was extensive tornado damage. I also wanted to see if I could find the trail system that SmokiesBackpacker described.

I took a day hike late in the afternoon and got to the intersection of Ace Gap & Beard Cane. Here is a link to photos I took at that intersection:

I did find a very well maintained trail which lead from this intersection which had a purple color blaze on it. I followed it for about .1 miles before turning back. I did not go further as it was getting late in the afternoon and I had a commitment in Townsend that evening. I am posting the NPS trail intersection photos and also the purple blaze on an old shattered tree which this well maintained trail terminates into this intersection.

I want to go back again and backcountry camp close to this intersection to discover more of what this purple trail blaze leads to learn more on my own.

In my opinion this at the very least validates the questions/concerned raised by SmokiesBackpacker and this article which Kurt published. We as taxpaying citizens of this nation should have a right to know what is going on here. It does not seem right. Why is there a trailhead sign here? Why is there a purple trail blaze here?

Gary Wilson, You are extremely passionate on your opinions regarding these issues. I respect that. However, I have begun to look at this issue with my own eyes. The more I learn about this issue and others similiar to this in relation to the NPS, the more I am disappointed I am.

Maybe SmokiesBackpacker, Gary Wilson and I all register for a backcountry site close by this intersection. Then in the morning explore these trails together and observe all this together. Another coincidental issue to this trail system is why did CS 7 & CS4 close? Why is CS11 closed? So this would mean that we would need to stay at CS3.

I am just a man whom loves the GSMNP whom lives in Marietta Georgia. I do not know nearly as much about the GSMNP as SmokiesBackpacker or Gary Wilson. However, I do know when I sense that something is not right. I truly believe that this trail system and the backcountry fee is not right and sure would like to know the truth.

Thank you again Kurt for bringing issues like this to the public.

No offense Andrew, but your photos do not show any ATV activity, signs of ATV treads, or that the hurricane mountain manway is anything other than an old manway trail that recieves moderate to light use. A purple blaze on a tree? Ok. Well, that is possibly grafitti... possibly a marking for a diseased tree, etc.

There are many old trails that are no longer on park maps. If you have an old Nat Geo map from 10 years ago, you'll see trails on it that are no longer maintained if you compare it to the newest one. Greenbrier pinnacle is one such trail, and even though it no longer has a sign on it, people still use it, and a worn path can still be found in sections. I've already stated in this thread, if you care to read it, that there are many manways that lead into the large boundary trail section that covers around 50 miles of trail on the Northwest side of the park. The Northwest side of the park is surrounded by private lands, and these manways follow drainages, or ridgelines that have existed for a long time that date back to settlement, and the Cherokees. I've stated that already. The park maintains more official trails in GSM then most national parks. In fact, only Sequoia has more total trails than the Smokies. But, there are probably over a thousand miles of trails, if you count manways. The park doesn't count these and doesn't deny or state of their existence. Every park is like this. Maybe I expected a little too much here. Not everyone (well most) go to National Parks and try to get into areas not on a map. I went into the painted desert recently, and there are no "official trails" in this wilderness, even if there are slightly visible foot paths in sections. This is nothing out of the ordinary in most national parks.

Sometimes because of blowdowns, rock slides, etc trails are abandoned. Look at what keeps happening on Gunter Fork currently. Slide after slide, every few years taking out the trail and making it unstable. I think you guys have high expectations when a place like Ramsey Creek gets it's main footbridge blown out, and during the same time period Gunter Fork slides off the mountain, and then you still have them trying to clear forest blow downs from tornados and derechos, and the park only has so many trail crews to cover 900 miles of trails. And don't think for a second the park is going to approve volunteers to cut down blow downs, especially volunteers that aren't certified.. There is a process.

An F4 tornado went through. What happens when an F4 goes through a city? It takes countless man hours, and heavy equipment to move things and restore things. The Smokies trail crew did not have these things at their disposal, because of the managed wilderness status it recieves. This park gets hit a lot by crazy windy chaotic weather... I also posted the trail damage report in my first post here. You can see it, and see where it went and what areas were effected. I also posted a video. I realize the Southern Forest Watch crowd probably thinks an F4 tornado didnt do any damage on these trails, but hey... whatever. Beliefs are just that - BELIEFS. Im a man that likes fact finding through science and evidence. I posted some evidence above. If you want me to I can show you video of damage in Abrams Creek too from my time floating it.

Here are the allegations: That the park allowed blackberry farms to cut a trail (I already stated this is an old manway), and that ATV's are being used by Kings and Aristocrats while the park turns a blind eye.

I"m in the park a lot. I consider myself an eye in the park too. So, I have never heard, or seen ATVs in any of my time in the park. Not ONCE! Of course, i'm in the parks quite a bit, so I don't expect Kurt to take my word over other people. I also have never seen any reports of ATVs being used in the park by a single person And like I said, I'm on a lot of hiking forums, and our facebook page for the GSMA is one of the largest fan bases in the National Park system. We have millions that it reaches, and I have yet to see or have photos or allegations of ATVs in the park, other than here.. Trust me, i'm documenting both trail sides of this old manway to show that there is no way ATVs could use this section from cane creek to beard cane.

I also expect more from National Parks Traveler than to just be the National Enquirer of National Park related news.

For what it's worth, Gary, Yellowstone has more than 1,100 miles of hiking trails, which is more than Sequoia.

Beyond that, though, I'm not sure what you have against the Traveler. All we did is report straightforwardly on a court case that brought matters to light which even you apparently were unaware of, and we haven't belittled your comments. Indeed, the Traveler has publicized the good work and programs of the Great Smoky Mountains Association down through the years.

At the Traveler we take great interest and concern in what goes on in the National Park System, and when allegations such as the ones that led to this article arise, we're going to report on them.

I'm not sure what you have against the Traveler.

That is an easy one Kurt. He doesn't like the exposure.

Of course this is a legitimate story and you have covered it in a very balanced manner.

For one of the few times, I find myself in complete agreement with ec. You have covered this story, Kurt, in an impartial manner. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


I have been hiking this area extensively long before this all came to light. The old hurricane mountain manway has been resurrected as the blair gap and boundary trails maintained by blackberry farm as shown on the map on this article. The purple blazes arent "graffiti or marking for a diseased tree", they are to mark the trail blackberry farm has cleared inside the park. At a point about a mile and a half from Blair gap,( blazed with red/ purple the whole way), the boundary trail leaves the park to the right into blackberry farm lands, while the old manway descends to the left to hesse creek and eventually connects to cane creek.This part isnt maintained and is thoroughly overgrown. Down at cane creek however, is where any atvs must have went up to meet the Cane creek trail inside the park. Sometime before 2011 a trailhead sign was put up by the park in blair gap, so they obviously knew people were entering the park on the blair gap/ boundary trails. There are many old ccc trails in the park that are in good shape but no longer maintained by the park so,personally i kind of like that they are keeping the old trail open. However, is blazing an old no longer maintained/official park trail and clearing it out without authorization illegal? yeah probably. Has the park service turned a blind eye to it for many years? obviously so.

It has been a couple of years since I have been down there. So. don't know the truth about this, but about a mile or so of the boundry trail actually veers out onto the blackberry property, starting wher cane branch leaves the park. There were "PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESSPASSING" signs at the park line. It reenters the park about where this map shows the western intersection. So, they could tie onto that one mile section that is on their land legally. But, I'm not sure if horses are allowed on those trails, and I know atvs are not.

"...Trust me, i'm documenting both trail sides of this old manway to show that there is no way ATVs could use this section from cane creek to beard cane..."

Gary, that "private resort" (that the National Park Service itself identified in filings) knows full well how many affidavits exist SWEARING that these 4 wheelers were used in the Great Smoky Mountains backcountry. There are a number of witnesses.

Give it up Gary.

Gary, My home is about four miles by trail from where the cane creek trail leaves the park. If I get a littlt time, I may walk down there and check this out.

Kurt, just to clarify... There are more total trails in the Smokies than all other parks but Sequoia. But just counting trial miles there are a few parks that probably have more.

Thanks freehiker. I've been down that trail before. I'm fairly well convinced that ATV's cant go from Cane Creek to Beard Cane via hurricane ridge. I've flown over this area a few times, and i've done my share of ATVing in BLM lands in the West. I have my doubts anything but a very skilled ATV rider could even attempt it, and that's if they built a ATV trail that was wide enough. I'm not sure about the old manway from Blair Gap to where Beard Cane starts. From the few images i've seen nothing shows me it's anything but a lightly used manway.

A person above already stated this is the case too. But, by all means walk Cane Creek .. ATV's are illegal on trails inside the park. The statement in the article pretty much sums it up:

The Park Service, in court documents responding to Southern Forest Watch's complaint, denied allowing a "private resort to maintain and utilize their own separate, exclusive network of trails into, on and within the boundaries" of the park. However the agency did admit that there was a signpost with a map box located outside the park boundary and that "any signs that were erected within Park boundaries by Blackberry Farm Resort were erected without permission from NPS and have since been removed."

Unfortunately, some areas of the park are not surrounded by national forest, which gives a buffer zone. Many National Parks in the west have that advantage, but not so much in the East. Shenandoah, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cumberland Gap, etc all have that problem. Even a decade from now, this whole ridgeline could be nothing but mcmansions. That's already happenening, as houses continue to creep up the ridges. And since the zoning in the region is a bit of a joke and they seem to rubber stamp any real estate project, it will just continue. Houses already butt up to the park border, and many were just built this past decade. But, this happens in just about every place. Even in the west, many national forest areas that are next to private lands are coveted and the same sort of mcmansion and ranchette development happens. I've seen it a lot.

If anyone was wondering why this private resort was allowed to run wild and "claim" their own trail system in the Smokies, one needs to look no further than the second paragraph of this article to help fill in the plaid shirted dots.

This senator controls the Smokies for his private enterprise from his friends who get contracts for horse stables in Cades Cove (we're talking big money here) to his buddies who were going to make a ton when the archives center was placed in his backyard. (a conservative group called him out on this and his buddies were forced out of embarrassment to "donate" those properties) Ditmanson refused to vet North Carolina for the proposed archive center. It was part of the above Senator's "legacy building" campaign. It is well known that he and former Smokies Superintendent Ditmanson are tight buddies and he turned a blind eye to Ditmanson's crony politics. This senator is as crooked as they come. A good story would be to explore Ditmanson's distribution of concession contracts from Leconte Lodge to the Cades Cove campground store.

He found a real compatriot in the former Superintendent and his assistant. I wonder how many nights he spends at Blackberry on the house. The former manager of Blackberry was a guy by the name of Alexander. I have no idea if there is a connection. But it makes you wonder.

All this came to light because Ditmanson didn't think through his backcountry fee scheme. I'll bet more than a few phone calls have gone back and forth as a result.


You might be interested in your own digital footprint that shows a more honest account of what you are alleging... In this account I see no shots of "tree cutting". No signs of ATV usage. And not a single "No Tresspassing" sign on park property on this old manway route. Hence, you calling it a "private trail" is somewhat skewed.


And to think we were all anxiously awaiting the scientific results of your fact finding mission to those trails. You obviously found nothing from which to dig yourself out of that hole.

Why do you lie so much, Backpacker?

Ok, so there are a lot of unnamed manways/former trails, many still in use, inside the park. Does that make it ok for private entities to maintain them? A simple visit to these trails would quickly prove or disprove someone is maintaining them. And use of chainsaws on these manways or private trails or whatever you want to call them would be plainly evident, too. If they are found to be well maintained, who is maintaing them? NPS can't even keep up with the blowdowns on official trails. Why would NPS clear damage for a trail that it no longer recognizes as official trail? Who puts out a professionally printed map showing trails inside the boundary that the NPS hasn't recognized in over 40 years? Whole thing smells fishy to me.

I can tell a lot of you guys are urbans, and never lived near public lands, including the accusers. It's very painfully evident. I have lived next to public lands for a long time starting in the west, in one of the most remote parts of the lower 48. We were surrounded by public lands, and we hiked the trails, even if the USFS didn't maintain them there were connector trails to maintained trails. This is common place. We would mountain climb up what they called "goat trails" or "climber trails"..

When I first moved to the Smokies, I lived close to the park. I don't anymore, but back when I moved to this area, I was within a half mile of the park boundary while living in Gatlinburg. I hiked Cove Mountain trail a lot with my family. We would hike it about every so often and I accessed it from an existing manway that wasn't too far from my house. I knew two other people that would occasionally walk this trail and i'd see them every once in a while. Of course, living next to the park, you sort of know where to access the park trail. Everyone that I knew was respectful, and just liked to walk it. It's part of the "Mountain Tax" benefits, fellows.

Let's say you have a property next to a public land. There is an existing old trail. Your land butts up to that old trail. You use that trail from that property, is that against the law? No. Our public lands are filled with these trails. A branch falls on the trail, and you push it to the side, is that against the law? If you're walking this trail quite a bit, you're going to keep the vegetation from growing on it. These manways have existed for a long time. These properties have been owned for a long time. Manways are all over the border near these private lands...they have been there a long time.

Regardless, even on Cove Mountain, I never saw anyone put an ATV on that trail. I don't live there now, but when I did I never saw illegal activity, even during bear hunting season. You guys want to know who also uses these trails? Wildlife! That's right. Wildlife. Bears, turkeys, deer, racoons... You name it.

What's your solutions fellows? Wall off all private lands from public lands? Is that your solution? Is that what you guys want? I can't recall seeing any fences around the Smokies and i'd cringe to see that. If you're just going to rail against Blackberry Farms just because Alexander had ties to it at one time, you have a few thousand more property owners, and many more manways next to the park to get to, that all have "evil residents" that might walk into the park from their land. Good luck!

Gary, you raise a good point, use trails, manways, social trail, etc. are common even here in many western parks particularly those with an urban interface. I also agree that parks can enter into agreements with volunteer groups to assist in the maintenance of said trails. The wilderness act does preclude the use of chainsaws, etc, but agency policies usually stress the minimum tool requirement. Certainly reopening a trail after a serious windfall, rock slide, etc. requires the judgement of the agency people involved. Motorized equipment can be used, chainsaws, jackhmamers, blasting, etc. Normally, ATVs are excluded, at least in NP areas. I have two areas of concern, one, new or reopening of older trails need to be authorized by the park, if an older use route from a resident is used ie, a cross country kind of issue, that usually is acceptable, probably could not be stopped in any case.

Secondly, my concern is with the Park not commenting on this issue, the result being that citizens get the feeling that special favors were granted here, ie the Robert Danno "Worth Fighting For" issue. Money is power, the granting of the trail approval may be justified, the Park just needs to be transparent about this.

Looks like Gary is slipping from denial to moral relevance.

Gary Wilson is correct, this is an historic trail. The 1941 USGS Kinzey Springs topographic map is available for free download at It clearly depicts the CCC-era Boundary Trail, including its Blair Gap segment, and extending far beyond both east and west.

If GSMNP ever documented its CCC-era trail system, built and improved in the years immediately following the Park's 1934 dedication by FDR, I am confident it would be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as an Historic Landscape. It would include this trail segment along Hurricane Mountain. The Park would then be required under NHPA to plan either its preservation through maintenance or its destruction through continued neglect.

Meanwhile, I'm glad others share respect for our heritage and have preserved it. Trails are built to be used, and the best way to honor them is to use and maintain them.

Either you're for that, or you're against it. All the rest of the the innuendo and conspiracy theories posited above strike me as being either irrelevant or sheer nonsense. Keeping this trail alive is a public service. Walking and riding horses on trails is source and the continued reason for the existence of our wilderness National Parks.

Rodf, an interesting post. For me, the issue of reopening a trail is a worthy effort, I agree with you on that. But, like so many issues, hoops must be jumped through, primarily the park has the responsibility to identify the project and then if authorization is needed, NEPA compliance or some permitting process is required. I think the NPS does a disservice when they are not transparent on these issues, I think that is all that is needed here to answer the questions. I do not agree that this controversy is irrelevant, the parks face an enormous amount of requests from user groups to open or build more trails (one recent example was the Half Dome Cables issue where it was proposed to just build a second cable to handle the demand to do the climb), so a public interest is at stake here. If the process is correctly followed, and if I understand NEPA correctly, I have no issue with that decision, weather I agree with it or not.

Agreed rmackie. Its not up to "others" to decide they want a trail reopened and it certainly isn't appropriate for the NPS to pretend it isn't happening.