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Asheville-area Adventure of the Week

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5/31/2012 - Asheville-area Adventure of the Week
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

What: Hike the Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald.

Where: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Length: 1.8 miles one way.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Details: Head to the top of the Smokies to cool off this weekend and, at the same time, to see the remarkable craftsmanship of trail workers.

The Forney Ridge Trail starts at the parking area at Clingmans Dome, which is the highest point in the Smokies at 6,643 feet. The air here is much cooler than down at Asheville's 2,200-foot elevation, the clouds are closer, and the breathing a little slower.

But on a clear day, the views from the top of the Smokies go on for miles.

The trail dips down quickly through a spruce-fir forest -- you'll see some destruction by the balsam woolly adelgid -- but otherwise at this time of year, the trail is pretty lush with leaves, ferns and wildflowers.

It has almost a Stone Age feel, as the trail meanders among massive boulders. But if you haven't been on this trail in a while, it will be a treat.

Forney Ridge has just been completely renovated, the first to benefit from the new Trails Forever endowment of the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains nonprofit.

In a mountaintop ceremony last week, the Smokies superintendent, board members of Friends of the Smokies and the Knoxville-based Aslan Foundation, which kicked off the four-year campaign to reach $4 million with a $2 million matching grant, all celebrated reaching the milestone fundraising goal.

The endowment creates a permanent trail crew to maintain and enhance the more than 800 miles of hiking trails in the half-million-acre national park.

Forney Ridge, which was originally built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, was badly eroded from water runoff over the past 80 years.

With Trails Forever funds, a Smokies trail crew, supplemented with lots of volunteer help, installed new wooden and stone stairs, cleared out fallen trees and debris and created water bars to make footing safer and easier and help water flow off the trail and down the mountain.

The work was all done with hand tools, such as saws, picks and chisels, said trail crew leader Tobias Miller. No large motorized equipment such as cranes were allowed.

The Forney Ridge Trail intersects with a trail leading to the Clingmans Dome summit and the Appalachian Trail to the right. Turn left to reach Andrews Bald.

It drops and climbs a couple hundred feet over 1.8 miles, when it arrives at the scenic Andrews Bald area, at 5,800 feet elevation. This is the highest bald is the park and will be alive with Catawba rhododendron and flame azalea later in June.

Continue on Forney Ridge to connect into other park trails, or turn around here and head back to the parking area. Bring snacks, drinking water, layers of clothing and rain gear.

Directions: From Asheville, the drive is about two hours. Take Interstate 40 west to Exit 27 and continue west on U.S. 19/74. Continue on U.S. 74 west to Exit 74 onto U.S. 441/Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Go about 5 miles following signs to the park and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. From there, continue north to Clingmans Dome parking area.

Information: For more on the Smokies Trails Forever program, visit http://smokiestrailsforever.org. For more information on the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains, visit www.friendsofthesmokies.org.

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