MY A.T. Section – a field trip


This is not a blog post with pretty pictures. It’s all about the challenges on my section of the Appalachian Trail – from Rice Gap to Devils Fork Gap on the border of NC and TN.

After complaining about the cut on my section of the A.T., Julie of the A.T.C. decided she needed to see the section for herself. She leads the Open View committee for the Deep South, which decides which open views should be created.

My section from Rice Gap to Devils Fork Gap was cut in two places: Pete Creek and further up, which I always called Frozen Knob. Julie invited Joe McGuiness, the wildlife biologist from the Cherokee National Forest. Joe actually plans how the cuts are supposed to be accomplished.

Our first stop was of a new clearing, shown above. “Where did this come from?”, I asked. None of us had any idea but the best guess was that someone had camped there for a while, killing all the vegetation.

“But people are not supposed to camp so close to the trail,” I said naively. Well, yes, that’s the A.T. rule but in fact, the landowner is the Cherokee National Forest. In a national forest, people can camp anywhere. Since ATC has no enforcement power, any subsequent rules they make depends on education and voluntary compliance.

White goods on the A.T.

I quit complaining about the stove and white cabinets that are on the trail (shown above), left over from when people lived in the cabins. The cabins have been taken down but the white goods stayed.

We continued up the trail to Pete Creek, the first place they cut. That’s when I got the full story from Joe, the biologist.

The ATC may have thought they were creating views but Joe is creating open areas for wildlife management.  It’s not easy to find the U.S. Forest Service website that explains it all and clearly. Basically, the Forest Service removes growth and keeps certain places open to encourage wildlife. My section of the A.T. was pasture land for a long time. So it’s a good place to reopen and encourage birds that like open land.

Max Patch and Big Bald are famous areas that the Forest Service keeps open by mowing. Everyone loves these places because you can see forever. The two cuts on my A.T. section are not famous or as attractive but the birds won’t know that.

Joe said that you can’t mow these cuts because the land is too steep. So how do you clear them? Slash and burn and herbicide. It doesn’t sound very good, does it? Just like people don’t really want to know exactly how the beef in their hamburger gets there, sightseers and hikers don’t really ask how they’re able to enjoy these wonderful views. Slash and burn – that’s what settlers were doing to the Southern Appalachians when they moved here in the 18th Century. That’s how you clear land.

SmartweedI showed my two companions the invasives that have moved in – dodder, morning glories and smartweeds (shown here).

But they were not too concerned. Those plants are not that invasives since you don’t see them in the forest, do you?

The burn is scheduled for November. Stay tuned.




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