Upland Chronicles: Goshen Gate Bridge evokes past experiences

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 11:49 AM

Throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, numerous footbridges traverse streams on more than 850 miles of hiking trails. The bridges range from narrow foot logs to wide, sturdy structures with iron framework. By reputation, one of the most impressive footbridges in the park is the handsome one crossing the upper reaches of the Little River, often called the Goshen Gate Bridge.

The nickname Goshen Gate is a simply a play on words in reference to the famous Golden Gate Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay. At the time of its construction, Goshen Gate was probably the sturdiest footbridge in the park. It was especially impressive to hikers accustomed to crossing slick foot logs or fording streams. Since that time, other, comparable bridges have been built in the Smokies.

Built because high water frequently washed away the log footbridges that were normally used, Goshen Gate is heavily utilized because Appalachian Trail hikers frequently trek down the Goshen Prong Trail to re-equip due to its close proximity to Gatlinburg.

The bridge is 7.6 miles from the Little River Trail up the Goshen Prong Trail to the Appalachian Trail. Due to the danger in so many hikers crossing the swollen river, a permanent bridge was needed. Look downstream from the bridge for a view of the mouth of Fish Camp Prong.

The bridge is located approximately four miles from the trailhead of the Little River Trail at the entrance of the Millionaire’s Row section of Elkmont. Steadfast Bridge Company was awarded the contract to build the bridge for $14,300.

Manufactured in Greeneville, Ala., by American Leisure Design in November 1995, it was installed in 1996. Transporting the bridge from Elkmont to Goshen Prong was quite a feat. The bridge was delivered in two pieces, and the maintenance department at the national park used front end loaders and “walked” it to the site. They contracted a backhoe on tracks to cross streams and lift it into place. New bearing seats were built, and motorized carts with bicycle handlebars carried one-half to three-quarter yards of concrete to build the new seats.

The bridge was bolted together on the first try, which was amazing due to the extremely small, quarter-inch tolerance bolt holes. An additional $20,000 was required to cover the cost of labor, concrete, and equipment rental needed to complete the project.

A tragic incident occurred near the bridge on May 21, 2000. Glenda Ann Bradley of nearby Cosby, a school teacher who taught at Jones Cove Elementary School, was killed by a black bear. The fatal attack by a black bear was the first in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park history. In fact, it was the first known fatality as a result of a bear attack anywhere in the southeast. At the time, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park recorded the black bear population within its boundaries at approximately 1,800.

The victim was waiting for her ex-husband when she was mauled by the bear. Bradley, an experienced hiker, and Ralph Hill, entered the park at noon. The couple, who had been reconciling, hiked about 10 miles.

Hill, 52, told authorities he left Bradley, 50, on the trail to go fishing. He returned about an hour later to find her backpack on the trail and two black bears, an adult female and a yearling, at her body about 50 yards away. The 111-pound adult bear apparently killed the woman. Rangers shot and killed both animals.

Subsequent necropsies performed at the University of Tennessee confirmed that both bears the rangers killed had fed on the woman and were most likely the bears that had killed her. The bears were not emaciated, and the necropsies did not reveal any underlying health issues with the bears that may have contributed to the attack. This led officials to believe the attack was predatory.

An autopsy was performed on Bradley by East Tennessee State University’s College of Medicine which confirmed that Bradley died of blood loss from injuries due to a bear attack. Her death was ruled an accident, putting to rest rumors of foul play.

Interestingly, Glenda had taken two photographs of the bears with her camera prior to the attack. The pictures on her camera show that Glenda and the bears were on opposite side of the Goshen Gate Bridge. Her backpack was found near the bridge.

The unfortunate attack is now part of the lore repeated from hiker to hiker as they pass by a cross marking the spot of the attack.

Other fascinating tales involve the logging days. Around 1915, the Little River Lumber Company logged the area extensively and used ground skidders, overhead skidders, and railroads to get the logs out. Signs of logging days include cinders, bits of coal, stone walls and drainage ditches for the railroad bed.

Exaggerated tales about lumberjacks who met an untimely demise while working for the lumber company are often told as hikers make their way through the second growth forest.

Since the construction of Goshen Gate Bridge, similar structures, such as the footbridges on the Gatlinburg Trail near Sugarlands Visitor Center and at the end of Tremont Road, have been built in the park.

The round-trip trek to the Goshen Gate Bridge is about eight miles. The beautiful scenery, the pleasant sound of the rushing streams, and the interesting historical features, combine for a delightful hike.

Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411, email cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161, email ron@ronraderproperties.co.