Imagine being miles away from civilization, hiking through the Pisgah National Forest thinking about where you are going to set up camp for the night when suddenly it starts to rain. You make your way to the nearest trail shelter only to find it rotten, wet and leaky.
This situation is exactly what the Pisgah Ranger District and a nonprofit partner, the Pisgah Conservancy, are trying to avoid by demolishing the Butter Gap and Deep Gap trail shelters on Art Loeb trail and rebuilding them using federal Great American Outdoors Act funding.
In a Nov. 16 news release, the U.S. Forest Service announced the project, which at the time was already about a fourth of the way completed. The Butter Gap shelter has already been demolished, and construction on the new structure is set to begin soon, trail specialist for the Pisgah Conservancy Jeff Maitz told the Citizen Times.
"The existing trail shelters were in very bad shape and risked becoming a serious safety hazard for forest users," Maitz said in the release. "They had holes in the roof, significant rot, and were no longer adequate for their purpose. The newly constructed shelters will provide more comfortable and structurally sound facilities for public recreation use on the Pisgah."
According to Recreation Manager for the Pisgah District Jeff Owenby, the Butter Gap shelter has been categorized as heavily used, while Deep Gap is moderate use. Both structures, which Maitz said are on the Transylvania County side of the Blue Ridge Parkway, are expected to be completed by next summer, the release said, which is good for summer camps and youth groups, which Maitz said also use the shelters to introduce young, first-time hikers to camping in the woods.
"It's not just the people who are walking through a long way," Maitz said Nov. 23. "This facility is used a lot by local camps, which in the Pisgah, we have a ton, just in terms of history and the number of people we have around here."
Neither construction nor demolition are expected to impact trail use, he said.
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Demolition of the old Butter Gap shelter was completed in late October, Maitz said, but materials were only recently removed from the forest, as both shelters are nestled deep in the forest about a fourth to half way through the trail. Demolition has not started on the Deep Gap shelter yet, as the Forest Service wants to focus on rebuilding just one shelter at a time, he said.
"The way we're kind of strategizing going about it is doing one at a time starting at Butter, which was the one that was in kind of worse shape than the Deep Gap shelter," Maitz said. "They are in different sections of the forest, so it makes sense to focus logistics and efforts on one spot and complete that part and then go on to the next."
The 31-mile Art Loeb trail intersects other popular long-distance trails like the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the release said, and it covers several significant peaks including Black Balsam Knob at 6,214 feet elevation, Tennent Mountain at 6,040 feet and Pilot Mountain at 5,095 feet. The trail "takes the hiker to some of the finest scenery to be found in Pisgah," according to WNCOutdoors.info. Both through hikes, which take at least two to three days, and out-and-back single-day hikes are popular at the trail, the website says.
Art Loeb trail has four access points, according to the website, with main trailheads at the Davidson River Campground on Pisgah Highway near Brevard and at Camp Daniel Boone in Canton. The other two direct access points are on Davidson River Road, or Forest Service Road 475, at the crossing at Gloucester Gap and on Black Balsam Road, or FS 816.
The old shelters were built in the late 1970s by the Youth Conservation Corps, likely in partnership with Carolina Mountain Club, Owenby said. In those days, he said, it was common for the districts to use youth groups from the local areas for these type of projects.
According to the founder of the Blue Ridge Hiking Co., Jennifer Pharr Davis, the new shelters will help to protect both the trail's hikers and environment.
"The Art Loeb is one of the most scenic and special trails in Western North Carolina that is attracting an increasing number of people. The current structures are not in great shape and backpackers will most often set up tents outside the wooden lean-tos," Davis said in a Nov. 23 email. "The new shelters will lessen the impact of expanding tent sites and fire rings and provide a welcome roof during inclement weather. It’s a win-win for recreationalists and the forest!"
The structures will be rebuilt in Adirondack style, according to the press release, which Maitz said is a popular trail structure type dating back to historic mountain clubs in upstate New York. These structures have three closed sides and an extended roof that stretches out over a fourth open side.
"A lot of the shelters on the Appalachian Trail are that same or similar design," he said of the long-distance hiking trail that stretches nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, and swings through the WNC mountains. "I think it's kind of the predominant vision we have in our minds when we talk about trail shelters."
Funding for the project will come from the Great American Outdoors Act, the news release said, which was enacted on Aug. 4, 2020, and is the single largest investment in public lands in U.S. history, according to the Department of Interior's website on the act. The act created the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to address the deferred maintenance and repair backlog on public lands that happened because of years of shrinking budgets and increasing visitors.
The project will cost $60,000, according to Cathy Dowd, Forest Service spokesperson, with each shelter's demolition and rebuilding costing $30,000 each.
The Pisgah Conservancy will also help out with costs, though not with actual dollars, Maitz said. The conservancy has a 20% match with the Forest Service, which he said will be donated primarily through volunteer hours that "put money directly back into the forest."
Christian Smith is the general assignment reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times. Questions or comments? Contact him at RCSmith@gannett.com or 828-274-2222.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Pisgah National Forest trail shelters on Art Loeb Trail to be rebuilt