Current impact of COVID-19 on TEHCC and regional activities

Aligning with guidance from our partner organizations and employer, the following actions are being taken in response to the current situation for the coronavirus.  If the principles of social distancing are being properly employed, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is still considered to be low in our region. Tennessee and North Carolina plus the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has entered Phase 2 of their respective plans for reopening activity.

TEHCC Hiking Program

  • With Eastman Chemical starting to bring more employees back full-time on-site, the Steering Committee has decided to begin the 2020 hiking program in July.  Watch the Events calendar for outings and read the July newsletter for details.

Appalachian Trail

  • 6/16:  Within the next few weeks, Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) will likely recommend that thru and section hikers can resume their plans – while spreading out along the length of the trail as not all states have opened overnight camping.
  • Many shuttle services are still temporarily halting operation thus do not count on finding a ride to/from the trail.
  • As of 5/22, Cherokee (TN) and Pisgah (NC) National Forests reopened all A.T. trailheads including Hampton blue blaze and Dennis Cove accessing Laurel Fall, Osborne Farm/Cross Mountain, and Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap.
  • Pisgah NF has closed through July 8, 2020 or until rescinded A.T. shelters (Stan Murray and Overmountain link to order – latter was already closed due to structural damage). The use of trail shelters on the Tennessee sections of the Appalachian Trail is discouraged.
  • Pisgah (NC) and Cherokee (TN) National Forests are now allowing volunteers with restrictions under Phase 2 to complete maintenance and repair.  TEHCC has interpreted these conditions include limiting crew size to maximum four, only travel with immediate family, not sharing tools, wash hands or use sanitizer frequently especially before eating, and maintaining 6′ social distancing in the field.  Do no maintenance at the closed shelters and privy, including nearby trash pick-up. 
  • Because of the no carpooling, our regular Thursday maintenance crew and Third Saturday Hiking with Tools are still suspended through July.

Other Trails

  • Present understanding is that day hikers are allowed on area trails but keeping group size to a minimum with less carpooling.  Take hand sanitizer to use liberally.
    • Bays Mountain Park (Kingsport) is open.  Nature Center and some programming will resume in June 1 with limited capacity.  
    • Trails in Cherokee National Forest are open for use, but ranger stations are closed.
    • Trails in TN state parks are open for use, but some park facilities remain closed.
    • Virginia State Parks opened for day-use activities, including trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use. Campgrounds and restrooms opened Memorial Day weekend, but picnic shelters are staying closed. Bring cash for entrance fees which are being collected.
  • In all cases, maintain social distancing of at least six feet. If parking area is full, head somewhere else. There are much lesser used access points and trails in the region.

Rental Equipment

  • Eastman Recreation says club rental backpacking and camping equipment may now be checked out from Building 310. Their open hours have been reduced to 7:30am to 4pm weekdays.

Area Events

  • Hot Springs, NC Trailfest 2020 (formerly April 24-26) has been cancelled.
  • Erwin, TN Great Outdoors Festival (formerly May 2) has been cancelled.
  • Roan Mountain, TN Hiker Palooza (formerly May 8-10) has been postponed.
  • Damascus, VA Trail Days 2020 (formerly May 15-17) has been cancelled.
  • Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival, normally third weekend in June, cancelled for 2020.
  • Tuesday Evenings: Johnson City Roll Practice are suspended as Freedom Hall Pool is closed.
  • Thursday Evenings: Kayak Sessions are not being held as Kingsport Aquatic Center is also closed until further notice.
  • USFS has reopened most river launch sites.  Outfitters are offering trips with limited number of same family in each raft.

High Water at Watauga Lake and Laurel Fork Gorge – February 2020

March 13 Update:  Lake and river levels have returned to normal thus reroutes no longer required.  Signs have been taken down.

Two sections of the Appalachian Trail have been temporarily rerouted due to the recent heavy rains.

First, Watauga Lake (TVA level info) is 1965′ on 2/14 morning which is above 1961′ trigger for rerouting. Trail bridges are flooded so the trail will temporarily follow the blue blaze path along US 321 and Oliver Hollow Road. If heading trail north on Shook Branch Road, cross US 321 and walk left or west along US 321 for about a quarter mile and then go right along Oliver Hollow Rd. Follow the road for a third of a mile and take the short woods path to the right back to the A.T. If lake level continues to rise, some sections of the trail north of Oliver Hollow Road will also be under water.

Second is for Laurel Fork Gorge as the ledge along the stream is fully under water, so the A.T. will follow the High Water Trail. Signs have been posted.

1964 ft lake level later in year

Ted Malone – 25 Year/Silver Anniversary as a Trail Maintainer

Ted Malone is being honored for having been an Appalachian Trail maintainer for more than 25 years. He was the club’s Hiker of the Year in 1990, and with the Stan Murray awardee in 1993. A review of the club’s records shows that the AT maintenance hours and number of volunteers increased significantly in the mid 1990’s due to his leadership as maintenance recruiter. The records also show that he has over 1,100 hours as a volunteer on the AT. We will honor Ted with a plaque to celebrate his 25 years at the next dinner meeting.

Overmountain Shelter closed until further notice due to structural concerns

US Forest Service announced (News Release) that for public safety, the Overmountain Shelter (aka Yellow Mountain barn) has been closed pending further evaluation of options for the structure and site management. Tent camping in the area is still allowed (and the privy remains open!).

No timeline has been set for the review and decision.  The situation with the barn has been discussed and monitored for several years.  Damage observed for a key support beam triggered the closure action. 

Injury due to Lightning Strike on Roan Mountain

NC Appalachian Ranger District shared an injury report from mid-July with the club to bring attention to this severe weather hazard.  Two couples, one with a small baby, walking across the open balds on the Appalachian Trail across the Roan Highlands were indirectly hit by lightning.  The bolt was described as a fireball coming towards them through the water flooding the trail path during a heavy thundershower.  The young mother apparently got the brunt of the lightning jolt which catapulted her two to four feet into air.  The lightning strike numbed their feet temporarily with blood circulation gradually returning to their extremities.  While all victims were able to subsequently walk, the mother also exhibited some signs of shock.  The group was led back to the Carvers Gap parking lot but was scared by any further thunder in the distance.

The weather that day was scattered thundershowers.  The group had hiked out onto the open balds during sunshine, but a passing front quickly changed the situation.  Awareness of any forecast for thunderstorms should change your plans especially for trails in the elevated areas common in our region.  If thunder is heard, immediately seek safe shelter which is likely your vehicle back at the trailhead, even if your weather is currently good since lightning can strike many miles away from the storm.  Stay sheltered for at least 30 minutes after you heard the last clap of thunder.   If unable to safely reach your vehicle, seek lower elevation away from tall and/or isolated trees.  Being alert regarding the weather to take appropriate actions is the best safety approach.

Note: The August 17th hike on A.T. from Tanyard Gap to Rich Mountain Firetower was rescheduled from original June date due to prediction of thunderstorms.  Who wants to be in a metal box raised high above a ridgeline in a lightning storm?

Thank you donation for impressive trail maintenance!

TEHCC received a $250 gift in memory of Mary Ellen Abrecht and Sue King who were part of 15 friends that have slackpacked sections of the Appalachian Trail every May over the past 13 years. The group is mostly from the DC area with others coming in from California, Kentucky, and Minnesota. They stayed at a motel in Johnson City, while sampling as many local eateries at night. The crew jokingly call themselves the “2070 AT Hikers” since when they would finish at their current pace.

The donation was made in honor of two members sadly lost during the past year. Group was impressed by the five-star condition of the trail along the NC/TN border, so researched who was the local trail club – TEHCC. Thank you to the many volunteers who put in the hours to create an enjoyable experience for those who wander through our section.