Smokies’ partners renovate their final trail shelter in park

Volunteer organizations have donated labor and money to improve cooking and sleeping quarters for campers, while also reducing potential problems with black bears in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The groups involved were the Friends of the Smokies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. They have been working over the past decade to rebuild every backpacker trail shelter in the park. This shelter marked the last one. Twelve of the park’s 15 backcountry shelters are located on the Appalachian Trail.

Reconstruction at the Laurel Gap trail shelter began in September, but weather prevented delivery of roofing materials by helicopter — the remote location makes packing all the supplies and building materials impossible. The volunteer crew returned the first week of December to finish roofing the shelter under the threat of winter snows.

Laurel Gap is located in North Carolina, near the intersection of the Sterling Ridge and Balsam Mountain Trails. 

“As with all of the shelter projects over the years, this one required a real team effort,” said Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies. “We are very grateful to all the partners and donors.”

Architect Philip Royer of Knoxville, a member of the Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee, drew a basic blueprint for every shelter rehab project, incorporating improved natural lighting, a cooking area to separate food odors from the sleeping space, improved bunk access, new roofs and masonry repair, and drainage improvements.

Old trail shelters used to have chain link fences around them to keep bears out of backpackers’ food. The renovations have removed the unattractive fencing from all the shelters, and instead installed bear cables, which are actually more effective at keeping bears out of food by hoisting it out of reach.

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