Hikers on the Appalachian Trail may never tell campfire stories about the renovation of all 15 backcountry shelters in the Smokies, but they benefit from some amazing partnerships after a hard day’s trek.
Joint efforts of labor and funding from Friends of the Smokies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club improved cooking and sleeping quarters for campers, while also reducing potential problems with black bears.
Reconstruction at Laurel Gap, the fifteenth and final shelter project, began in September, but weather prevented delivery of roofing materials by helicopter. 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. Twelve of the Park’s 15 backcountry shelters are located on the Appalachian Trail; Mt. LeConte, Laurel Gap and Kephart Prong are not.
“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, to project coordinator Phyllis Henry, and to all the great volunteers for pitching in yet again.”
Funds from Friends of the Smokies and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy furnished supplies and helicopter delivery of materials to the remote shelter locations. The Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club provided the skilled volunteer labor necessary to rebuild each shelter; their work was supervised by staff from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Richard Haiman National Park Foundation contributed well over $100,000 to Friends of the Smokies since 1999 to support a dozen shelter projects, including Laurel Gap. Additional financial support came from Friends of the Smokies’ specialty license plate owners in Tennessee and North Carolina, Home Federal Bank, Maureen K. Wilder and William O. Young.
Architect Philip Royer of Knoxville, also a member of the Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee, drew the 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, the removal of chain-link fences, and drainage improvements. With these changes, overnight hikers enjoy a much safer and much more inviting camping experience.
“The redesigned shelters look great, and they make overnight trips in the Smokies so much better for thousands of backpackers every year,” said Darren Haiman, a trustee of the Haiman Foundation, which was established by Darren’s father, Richard. “We’re very glad that we’ve had a chance to work with Friends of the Smokies over the years to make these improvements possible.”
Friends of the Smokies, an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, helps preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness and providing volunteers for needed projects. Since 1993, Friends of the Smokies has raised more than $34 million to help support conservation, education, recreation, and other park priorities.
To learn more about this project and our partners, please visit:
Friends of the Smokies - www.friendsofthesmokies.org
Shelter renovation photo albums on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/smokiesfriends
Haiman Foundation - richardhaimannationalparksfoundation.org
Appalachian Trail Conservancy - www.appalachiantrail.org
Smoky Mountains Hiking Club - www.smhclub.org
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