Popular Smokies hiking trail under reconstruction

While some crew members pounded rock into gravel with sledgehammers, others used pry bars to skid granite boulders into place. A hand-powered cable winch capable of pulling 4,000 pounds was strapped to a buckeye tree at the top of a steep flight of steps, and everyone was covered in mud.

The crew members were 1½ miles up the Chimney Tops Trail, one of the rockiest, steepest and most popular hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Three years go, with funding from Trails Forever, they began working their way up the mountain from the trailhead off U.S. 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road.

Now, they’re only a half-mile from the double-capstone knob famously known as Chimney Tops, and barring any unforeseen delays, they expect to finish by mid-October 2014.

Launched in 2009 during the Smokies’ 75th anniversary, the Trails Forever program provides dedicated funding to address the park’s most heavily damaged hiking trails. To create the endowment, the Friends of the Smokies raised $2 million that was matched dollar-for-dollar by the Aslan Foundation, the philanthropy of the late Knoxville lawyer Lindsay Young. The $200,000 in annual interest from the endowment pays for a special trail crew that focuses on trail reconstruction as opposed to the routine trail maintenance already handled by the park’s other two crews.

Not since the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps have trails in the Smokies undergone such basic reconstruction.

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