Monday, August 6, 2012

One Month Later--Great Smoky Mountains Storm

I finally got up the nerve this weekend to visit my beloved Cade's Cove region of the Smokies, something I had not done since the storm passed through almost a month ago, downing thousands of trees and killing two people and injuring others. I still pray for those folks and their families and hope for the best for all of those affected. I had been to the park, but only to the Newfound Gap area which was untouched. Honestly, I was not prepared for what I saw!

One of my favorite trails, especially in the spring when the early wildflowers are blooming, Chestnut Top Trail, was the first severely damaged area I came to as I passed through and beyond Townsend. In early spring, the first half mile of this trail is covered in blood root, trillium, Solomon's seal, spring beauty and many other varieties of the tiny blessings that wait for the observant hiker or photographer.

As of right now, this trail is closed, and with good reason! I have heard that parts of the trail are well under way in the reconstruction process, but I wonder what they will do to this bank that has virtually been sheered off, leaving almost none of the original trail intact for 30 yards or so that I could see from the road. I also wonder how long the remaining part of the trail can withstand rains and weather that the fall and winter will bring with no tree roots to hold that bank in place.

Another of my favorite trails is affected by the damage too, and that is the Scott Mountain Trail that runs along the ridge line down from the Cade's Cove area back toward Townsend. Somewhere on that trail was one of the largest trees I have ever seen in these mountains. I believe it is a tulip poplar, but I could be mistaken about that. Trees are not my forte when it comes to identification of the flora of my mountains. However, this tree is one that makes you stand at its base in awe of its girth and the length of its life standing on that slope.

I stopped four different park rangers while I was there to see if anyone knows the fate of that tree up on Scott Mountain. Sadly, I got the idea that none of the four of them had ever seen that tree. None of them could tell me of its fate in the wake of the storm. I sincerely hope it is still standing. It would be a shame if it was among the casualties. I just hope that the winds hit somewhere else along that ridge because I cannot imagine that old man of the forest being vey flexible, something I would imagine it would have to be to survive such force of nature.

As I made my way up Laurel Creek Road, there were times when you would never have thought such a storm had ripped through the area. Whole regions seemed untouched. Then, seemingly at random, entire hillsides were littered with the carcasses of what once were beautiful deciduous and evergreen trees reaching to the sky. No more! Now they lay askew, reminding me of the game I once played when I was a child. These hillsides looked like children had begun a game of Pick Up Sticks and had left their pieces scattered amongst the laurels and the rhododendron. Many of the trunks that remained standing were stripped of foliage, broken, or bent.

Somewhere underneath all of the debris lies what used to be a pretty fair trout stream. I had not taken the time to fish it yet, but I had been told that it was a great place for a woman to fish by herself and my plans were to do just that when the weather cooled. The stream runs alongside the road on the way to Cades Cove, and if you wait until the waters are too cool for folks to swim in them, they are easily accessible and also provide enough nearby road traffic to get help if one should fall and get hurt. When you get my age and want to fish while hubby is at work, that's something to think about. However, I'm not sure what all this debris will do to the trout waters. I know it will have made whole stretches of it difficult to access at best.

The good news is that once I crested the top of Laurel Creek Road and began to drop down into the Cade's Cove area, I saw very few newly fallen trees. This part of the park seems to be largely unscathed. I saw no damage to the structures at the picnic area or the store and amphitheater at the campground. I did not go around the loop road or through the campground but all seemed to be very normal there. By the way, there was no damage to the ice cream machine in the shop there at the campground. I had to make sure that it was unaffected, and I am pleased to report that the ice cream is still creamy and piled high atop those cones!

Let me just say that kudos need to go out to all those workers who helped clear the roads through the park in those first few days. I cannot imagine how many trees must have littered and blocked both Laurel Creek Road and Little River Road. I understand that many nearby private contractors and just everyday folks came out bearing construction vehicles and chainsaws to help clear the debris and restore access to what remains as one of the most spectacular places in America. It remains impressive in every way, but now, in addition to its beauty, there is staggering evidence of the power of nature.


  1. After I returned from this trip and had gained no answers from the rangers, I emailed the Park Service about that tree on Scott Mountain. This afternoon I received the following, rather disconcerting, response from them: "Damage to the Scott Mountain Trail is very extensive. Crews estimate that well over 500 trees were blown down on Scott Mountain Trail and many more
    got tangled and hung up in other trees as they fell. In addition, root balls were torn out of the ground, destroying the trail tread. So between the wreckage of the downed trees, dangerous hanging trees and large limbs,
    and the obliterated trail tread, crews have not been able to make a full assessment of the trail. Some areas are completely impassible." I'm afraid this does not bode well for "my" tree.

  2. I love that tree! I remember that hike and I hope we see it again soon!

  3. this post is very interesting and easy to read .... I hope to visit again