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View Full Version : It's Official: New BMT re-route!



SGT Rock
2014-01-31, 14:45
I wanted to post this on my site first!

I've been working for a few years to be able to say this:

The BMT is going to avoid The Dragon!

The last MOU was signed yesterday. There is some work to be done, and for now there sill still be the same old official route until June 1st. I've quoted the release from Dick Evans, the BMTA Past President, who has been spearheading this project for many years.

The basics of the new trail described for a NoBo Hiker:

Section 1 (2.3 miles) starts at the Slickrock Trail Head (MP 184.2) where it connects to US129 beside the bridge beneath the Cheoah Dam and ends at Old Field Gap Road. NoBo hikers turn right and start a 0.5 mile road walk to the intersection of US129 and Meadow Branch Road. At that point cross Meadow Branch and climb the ridge on the Yellow Creek Mountain Trail (Trail #48). There are a few nice overlooks along this section which ends at Old Field Gap Road. This section is currently navigable and has very old blue blazes in spots. This section is partially on private property. DO NOT remove flagging or rebar in these sections, as they are used to mark property lines.

Section 2 starts at the crossing of Old Field Gap Road next to Gated FS 251 and continues to the end of the established FS 251C. Until completion, the trail will be routed on FS 251 eastward. Watch carefully for blazing and signs in this are to avoid getting lost.

Stage 1 (4.2 miles) – the trail will stay on Forest Service road all the way through to the end of FS 251C.
Stage 2 (2.8 miles) – when the clearing of Yellow Creek Mountain Trail is complete, the trail will cross Old Field Gap Road and hike up the ridge on the old trail system completely bypassing FS 251. The completion time on this is not known. So again: watch for blazing and signs to alert you.

Section 3 (3.1 miles) starts where FS 251C ends and continues to the end of Trail #40. As of the writing of this guidebook, this section is almost totally un-navigable from the Yellow Creek Mountain Overlook to the end of FS 251C which is about 2.1 miles of ridge walking except for a short section of about 0.2 miles under the power lines that cross the ridge. So if you were to choose to do this alternate trail before the trail project is started, there are about 1.9 miles of nearly impossible trail to walk.

Section 4 (1.7 miles) Trail #40 to Rhymers Ferry Road, to Circle Road, to Welch Road. This section ends beside the office for the Fontana Lodge. The BMTA has no policy that you must walk every single mile to be an official BMTA thru-hiker, they prefer you conduct your hike as safely as possible. You can walk, shuttle, or do a combination of these to get to the Lakeshore Trail trail-head. Here are some possibilities:

- Use local trails to connect to the AT near the Fontana Marina. It is about 2.9 miles to the AT from the lodge using these trails. From there, use the AT to get to Lakeshore Trail/BMT which is another 2.7 miles. The recommended foot trail is shown on the relocation strip maps.
- Use the Fontana Village or Hike Inn shuttle to get back to the AT in the Dam area like the shelter or visitors center.

Mileages for these segments

0.5 miles from the lodge to the start of Lewellyn Cove (trail #157) using
Welch Rd.
1.5 miles on Lewellyn Cove Trail to Old Fontana Rd (FS 2624).
0.7 miles on Old Fontana Rd to the AT.
0.2 miles from Old Fontana Rd to the Marina/NC 28 on the AT.
1.2 miles from NC 28 to Fontana Dam Shelter on the AT.
0.4 miles from the shelter to the Fontana Dam Visitor Center on the AT.
1.1 miles from the Visitor Center to the Lakeshore/BMT Trail Head
5.3 miles from the Trail Head to the Lost Cove Trail intersection (MP 200.4)
10.9 miles total from the end of Section 4 to the current trail.

Using this route, the BMTA considers the start of the Lakeshore Trail at the AT trail head to be the beginning of the BMT in the Smokies. Later BMTA publications will reflect that change as this project moves forward. This solves the US 129 route issue and creates a place for NoBo thru-hikers to get their required park permit and do resupply before entering GSMNP.


My 2014-15 "BMT Thru-Hikers Guide" (c) includes this information. I was delaying the production of the guidebooks until we could get the official route sorted out and approved. I've also attached the pages from the guide in case you have an older guide and want to be able to print these pages and stick them in the back.

I'm sure over the next couple of years there will be changes as we work on the trail. Personally I'd also like to close the official gap and have a continuous trail again. We shall see...



January 28, 2014
Background andHistory
When the Benton MacKaye Trail was first proposed in the early 1980's, there was not a clear route for the Trail between the Hiwassee River Crossing in Ocoee, TN., and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park Officials were enthusiastic about the Trail traversing the Park, but refrained from trail designation until a firm route to the Park was approved. A letter of support for the Trail, dated in 1985, indicated that final trail route would be determined, but that “no new trail” mileage would be needed or approved, in part due to the NPS Backcountry Management Plan,finished that same year, that stated that due to lack of funds for existing trail maintenance, adding more trail would be poor use of resources.

Some twelve years later, negotiations with the US Forest Service in Tennessee and North Carolina led to a final trail route thru the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness, exiting at Slickrock Trailhead on Route 129 by Cheoah Dam. Subsequently, Tapoco (Alcoa) agreed in 1997 to a five mile section of new trail thru their lands to the Tn/NC State Line, following a portion of the original Appalachian Trail, abandoned in 1948when the AT was routed over Fontana Dam. At the time, NPS Regulations requiredhikers to get Backcountry Camping Permits from a registration site, the closest being located at the Twentymile Ranger Station, requiring a 3.5 mile road walk from Deals Gap to the Ranger Station. At the time, there was not enough traffic on Route 129 to present a significant safety issue for hikers in that area.

In 2004, the NPS and the BMTA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (General Agreement) covering the Trail within thePark. This MOU agreed, in part, to study the possibility of using the original AT from Deals Gap north to Dalton Gap and then connecting to existing Park trail system at Campsite 95. At the same time, the Park was involved in environmental studies related to the North Shore Road issue, dating from 1943.It was understood by all that any final route for the BMT might be affected byany settlement of that issue.

Construction continued on other portions of the Trail, and a Trail Completion Ceremony was held on July 16th,2005, indicating that in large measure, the final route of the Trail outside ofthe Park was finalized and built. Attention turned to the Park connection issue, resulting in an exploratory trip by Dick Evans, Ken Jones and George Owen of the BMTA, and two officials of the NPS to evaluate the “Old AT Route”as stated in the MOU. The evaluation resulted in the opinion that, due to environmental considerations on that route, more than four miles of new Trail would have to be constructed, with an additional three miles of trail to be rehabilitated. The general feeling at that time was that, given the remoteness of the location and scarcity of trail builders in close proximity, any attempt to build this route would be beyond the capabilities of both the NPS and the BMTA.

The BMTA continued ongoing explorations in the general area to attempt to find a non-road route to reach the Park,without infringing on the route of the existing AT over Fontana Dam. A complication was added when Tapoco (Alcoa) made a corporate decision to sell some real estate and related assets. Although very supportive, Alcoa did ask the BMTA to cease any route exploration to avoid any issues with potential buyers. In early 2012, it was announced that Brookfield Renewables was going to purchase the lands involved. Once that was completed, discussions with Brookfield indicated that it was going to transfer a major portion of land to the Tennessee Nature Conservancy, but again, the BMTA was asked to not take any actions regarding possible Trail routes until TNC took possession. Subsequently,in late 2013, the BMTA was given clearance and enthusiastic support to examine possible alternate routes in the newly acquired lands, destined to be transferred to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency within a couple of years. However, a series of explorations in the area resulted in the determination that any trail reroute in that area would be as difficult, and probably not as desirable, as the “Old AT Route” within the Park, and would still involve three miles of new trail in the Park. Extensive discussions with Park Officials throughout this entire period indicated that they were very opposed to any new trail in that area, and that any evaluation of such route would probably be a decade or more in the future.

At the same time, virtually everyone familiar with the area was becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of hikers on the 3.5 mile road walk from Deals Gap to Twentymile Ranger Station,in particular the mile-long section on Route 129. Indeed, it was felt by many in the BMTA that most thru-hikers simply avoided that section, getting transportation from Slickrock Trailhead to Twentymile. An additional issue arose in February of 2013 when the NPS mandated reservations for all campsites in the Park, necessitating thru-hikers to find some place to get on line and make those reservations. While that removed the necessity of hikers going thrua registration point, it did require that campers print out and carry a copy of their reservation, something that obviously created a major issue for thru-hikers.

In mid-January, 2014, the BMTA was informed that the Backcountry Operations Specialist, our main contact at the Park, would be leaving for a new position in early February, and it was felt that a replacement for that position might be a prolonged issue, and that the“corporate memory” would take a while to replace and have the replacement become familiar with the issues and history of the project. At the same time,several experienced BMTA folks felt that any attempt to build a new trail on any route in the Deals Gap area would be a several year project even if a quick approval were given, something very unlikely. With those facts, the BMTA approached the Cheoah Ranger District about the possibility of rerouting the BMT over the Yellow Creek Mountain Trail. This would allow thru-hikers to use it to get to Fontana Village, obtain their required permits (as well as resupply, showers, meals, etc.). However, this would necessitate having the NPS change the route of the BMT within the Park, as reaching Twentymile Ranger Station from Fontana Village is another near impossibility by trail. Park officials were very enthusiastic about agreeing to have the BMT start at the Lakeshore Trailhead and follow Lakeshore Trail to Lost Cove, joining the existing BMT within the Park. A new MOU was drafted, approved and signed in record time in late January, 2014.

Overview of Reroute

With the new reroute, north-bound thru-hikers will leave the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness at Slickrock Trailhead, and then turn south for a one-half mile roadwalk along Route 129. In this section, passing the Cheoah Dam and Tapoco Lodge, the road is not curvy and sight distances are good. In addition, parts have sidewalks, and there is ample room for hikers to get off the road to make way for traffic. It is not thoughtto be a dangerous section to walk. Hikers then turn east and cross Route 129,taking Meadow Branch Road a few feet to the start of the Yellow Creek Mountain Trail.
Hikers would then follow the YCMT easterly along the ridge some nearly nine miles to Green Gap and then down into Fontana Village, where facilities for obtaining camping permits are available at the Fontana Lodge, open 24/7/365. Hikers could then take the Fontana Shuttle directly to the trailhead across the Dam, or follow a signed path to intersect the AT near the Fontana Marina, and follow that thru the Dam area to the trailhead. Appalachian Trail Conservancy officials have been briefed on this plan and fully support it, so the short “co-location” would not present an issue. Hikers would then follow the Lakeshore Trail some five miles to meet the existing BMT in the Lost Cove area, and continue their hike.

ConstructionPlans

Section 1 – from Meadow Branch Road toOld Field Gap Road will be cleared on a BMTA Work Trip on April 15th.
Section 2A – from Old Field Gap Road east to the FS 251C Junction will be cleared by a Sierra Club Work Trip March 31 thru April 4.
Section 2B – from FS 251C Junction to the Power Line Crossing will be cleared by BMTA Work Trips on April 26 and May 24.
Section 3 – from the Power Line Crossing to Fontana Village will be cleared by the American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation May 5 thru May 9.
Late May – BMTA work trips to remove old signs on former route and install new trail signs.
May 31 – Trail Opening Ceremony.
Cheoah District has allowed the use of FS 251 on a temporary basis if necessary.

Thru-hikersprior to May 31 should use the existing route. After that date, they shouldfollow the posted signs for the new route.

These work trips will need a good participation by BMTA members. Contact Dick Evans (bmta@frontier.com) or 828-479-2503 to attend. Dates and areas may change according to work, so coordination isnecessary.

A Personal Note

This project is the culmination of nearly nine years of effort by many BMTA folks, as well as NPS, TNC, USFS and others. I want to personally thank all those who volunteered their time (and sweat) low-crawling thru rhododendron thickets, fighting Yellowjackets and snow, deadfalls, BRIARS, interminable map recons, meetings, etc. You all lived up to the motto:


“Leaving a footpath for generations to follow.”

See you on the Trail.
Dick Evans

generoll
2014-01-31, 15:18
congratulations to you and the BMTA

Crikey
2014-01-31, 15:24
Great job, Sarge.

Rasty
2014-01-31, 16:44
Nice work.

Rasty
2014-01-31, 16:46
Sarge
Does the BMT guide come in a paid PDF version?

SGT Rock
2014-01-31, 16:52
No. I've been trying to figure out a way to make that happen without losing control over it. So far I haven't found a good solution.

Rasty
2014-01-31, 16:58
That makes sense. Thanks.

SGT Rock
2014-01-31, 17:01
Check your PMs

Bearpaw
2014-01-31, 19:03
This is good news Rock. I'll be glad to hear when the route is clear all the way through. Will there be any work trips on weekends?

Hog On Ice
2014-01-31, 19:11
I was looking at the maps tonight and was wondering about that trail behind Tapoco Lodge - looks like that trail plus some dirt road walking from Big Fat Gap could be an alternative high water route avoiding the Slickrock ford plus it comes closer to the Yellow Creek Mtn Tr intersection with US 129.

Tin Man
2014-02-01, 03:52
i don't get it - where's the CT section?

Hog On Ice
2014-02-01, 08:29
its down in the Big Fat Gap

Tipi Walter
2014-02-01, 11:31
I was looking at the maps tonight and was wondering about that trail behind Tapoco Lodge - looks like that trail plus some dirt road walking from Big Fat Gap could be an alternative high water route avoiding the Slickrock ford plus it comes closer to the Yellow Creek Mtn Tr intersection with US 129.

The trail behind the lodge is called the Belding Trail as shown below. It's in Yellowhammer Gap (or very close to it) off the Ike Branch section of the BMT in a little gap shared with the Hangover Lead North trail (up and down to Big Fat Gap).

Belding could be a way to connect the BMT to 129 although the usual route down Ike Branch to Slickrock Creek trail and the lake and hiway 129 roadwalk is good enough if the BMT now uses the Yellow Creek Mt trail.

As far as Sgt Rock's high water alternative on the BMT going north from Beech Gap, well, it would have to be done WAY before the Slickrock Creek crossing in Cold Spring Gap except when you're in Cold Spring Gap you have no idea what condition Slickrock Creek will be as you're too far away to gauge. Here's my high water reroute on the BMT going north from Beech Gap---

** Beech Gap to Cold Spring Gap on the BMT---normal route.
** Veer off the BMT in the gap and take 54A South up to Bob Bald.

** Stay on the ridge to Hangover Mt and take Hangover Lead South to Big Fat Gap.
** In the gap get on the Windy Gap trail and take it down to Windy Gap and turn right on the Nichols Cove Trail to the Dotson twins gravesite.
** Take Yellowhammer trail at the graves all the way to its end at the jct to the Ike Branch trail.

** Turn right on Ike Branch and take it to the Lake and Hiway 129.

http://tipiwalter.smugmug.com/Backpacking2009/Slickrock-Creek-and-the-23rd/i-Q9wPnpK/0/L/trip%2097%20074-L.jpg

SGT Rock
2014-02-01, 13:41
i don't get it - where's the CT section?

You gotta start on your end and then we will figure out the connector.

Tin Man
2014-02-01, 16:18
You gotta start on your end and then we will figure out the connector.

connector, like i-80 ?

SGT Rock
2014-02-01, 20:04
Too much road walking.

Roche
2014-02-02, 08:57
connector, like i-80 ?
40 to 81 to 84 could work for a blue blaze to CT

Tin Man
2014-02-02, 10:47
40 to 81 to 84 could work for a blue blaze to CT

prolly work better as a yellow blaze... my jeep says, "LET'S GO!"

SGT Rock
2014-02-02, 15:23
The BMTA has put up a page for the YCMT reroute on their website. I may get updates out faster, but just in case, here is the link: http://www.bmta.org/YellowCreekReroute.html

Roche
2014-02-02, 15:56
prolly work better as a yellow blaze... my jeep says, "LET'S GO!"Sorry, I wasn't thinking of your shuttle service which is quite infamous for its infamousness. Do you accept S&H green stamps?

Tin Man
2014-02-02, 16:26
Sorry, I wasn't thinking of your shuttle service which is quite infamous for its infamousness. Do you accept S&H green stamps?

no, just cash, beer/booze and [ahem] favors

Superman
2014-02-02, 16:53
no, just cash, beer/booze and [ahem] favors

Do you warn people in advance that you're a Penn State graduate?

Tin Man
2014-02-02, 18:05
Do you warn people in advance that you're a Penn State graduate?

Yes... "Hi there big fella, fyi, i am a catholic boy scout leader from penn state"

SGT Rock
2014-02-02, 18:13
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOwn2Tq_0Mw

SGT Rock
2014-02-07, 18:03
For those that are interested in hiking this reroute before the thing is completely built: Tomorrow I am heading out to flag the trail so the crews can orient on it as they work. If you get out there before it is done, there should be orange flagging tape to orient on. I'll report a status when I get back Monday.

SGT Rock
2014-02-07, 18:26
I was looking at the maps tonight and was wondering about that trail behind Tapoco Lodge - looks like that trail plus some dirt road walking from Big Fat Gap could be an alternative high water route avoiding the Slickrock ford plus it comes closer to the Yellow Creek Mtn Tr intersection with US 129.The Belding trail, as I understand it, crosses private land that is owned by the guy that owns Topoco Lodge. He is not hiker friendly, so probably won't appreciate the hikers crossing his land. I also don't know what sort of shape it is in at this point.


The trail behind the lodge is called the Belding Trail as shown below. It's in Yellowhammer Gap (or very close to it) off the Ike Branch section of the BMT in a little gap shared with the Hangover Lead North trail (up and down to Big Fat Gap).

Belding could be a way to connect the BMT to 129 although the usual route down Ike Branch to Slickrock Creek trail and the lake and hiway 129 roadwalk is good enough if the BMT now uses the Yellow Creek Mt trail.

As far as Sgt Rock's high water alternative on the BMT going north from Beech Gap, well, it would have to be done WAY before the Slickrock Creek crossing in Cold Spring Gap except when you're in Cold Spring Gap you have no idea what condition Slickrock Creek will be as you're too far away to gauge. Here's my high water reroute on the BMT going north from Beech Gap---

** Beech Gap to Cold Spring Gap on the BMT---normal route.
** Veer off the BMT in the gap and take 54A South up to Bob Bald.

** Stay on the ridge to Hangover Mt and take Hangover Lead South to Big Fat Gap.
** In the gap get on the Windy Gap trail and take it down to Windy Gap and turn right on the Nichols Cove Trail to the Dotson twins gravesite.
** Take Yellowhammer trail at the graves all the way to its end at the jct to the Ike Branch trail.

** Turn right on Ike Branch and take it to the Lake and Hiway 129.

http://tipiwalter.smugmug.com/Backpacking2009/Slickrock-Creek-and-the-23rd/i-Q9wPnpK/0/L/trip%2097%20074-L.jpg

I agree with you Walter. I wasn't going to include that option, but Dick Evans thinks it would be better than my option. I figure not all hikers think the same and so in a nod to the possibility that Dick is right, I included it.