Park closes trails in Cosby, Big Creek areas after damage

Falling tree hurts hiker during storm
Jun. 15, 2013 @ 06:46 PM

Thursday’s storm caused at least one injury in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the closure of several Cosby and Big Creek trails due to weather damage.

Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said a 53-year-old male hiker was struck by a tree around 4 p.m. Thursday, breaking his ankle and leaving him stranded on Low Gap Trail near Backcountry Campsite 37 for almost a day.

A park ranger surveying the damaged area found the man Friday morning. As of Friday afternoon, rangers were with him, relaying information back to park headquarters, and medic and ground teams were making their way towards the rescue location.

“He was not trapped under a tree, and we don’t know whether he was ever trapped,” Schroer said Friday. “The teams are making their way towards him, clearing out the trees, and we’re also checking into the possibility of using a helicopter out of North Carolina to see if that’s available and a better option for rescue.”

The storm also caused park staff to close Gabes Mountain Trail and Snake Den Ridge Trail in Cosby, and Baxter Creek Trail and Big Creek in Big Creek, due to downed trees.

The park reports that the trails are impassable by foot or horse.

The park has also closed “B” Loop of Cosby Campground due to damage, but Schroer said the other loops are open, and visitors are being transferred.

“We think we can accommodate everyone with what we have open,” Schroer said. “We’re hoping it doesn’t impact too many people.”

As of Friday afternoon, there was no estimated timeframe for reopening the trails or the campground.

“At this time we are just assessing damage,” Schroer said. “We don’t have an estimated time to reopen. It just depends on priorities, what we can get to and what staff can take care of.”

The storm that came through the park was the tail end of a storm system that hit the Midwest through Thursday. In the park, Clingmans Dome and Look Rock recorded straight-line wind speeds of over 60 mph.

“Those areas are kind of in the middle and western end of the park, but the storm really hit worse on the eastern side,” Schroer said. “That’s where there were tornado warnings and possible sightings.”

An assessment team from the National Weather Service office in Morristown observed the Cosby area Friday to determine whether a tornado touched down. The assessment concluded that an EF-1 tornado touched down near Henry Town Road.

Preliminary weather service information from Thursday had indicated a report of a funnel cloud.

Other trails may be closed as the park continues to assess damage.

“We have a lot of trees down, so we have people checking the other trails to see the status,” Schroer said. “There could be additional closures, but the damage is centrally located around Cosby and Big Creek.”

For the most up-to-date closure information, visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm or call its Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1297.

“It takes a long time to work through areas when trees are down, so we’re updating our Backcountry Office as needed,” Schroer said. “Check beforehand for information near any of those trails in that part. There may be damage we’re not into yet.”

n rhargett@themountainpress.com