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Do any of you know the history of the squirrel gap trail in pisgah? It doesn't seem to fit the usual MO of the other trails in that area. Its not in a valley, but its not all ridge top either, sorta side of hill. And its too skinny to be an old road bed. Is it an old CCC trail? Was there a CCC crew back in the day that knew something about trail design that other crews did not? Is it more modern?

I'm just curious and thought I'd throw this out there and see if I could learn something new.
 

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Check out this guide to Cradle of Forestry trails. http://www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/recreation/cradle_trails.pdf

There was a network of work lodges throughout the forest which served to house the rangers who were hired to protect Vanderbilt's property. The Cantrell Creek lodge (which is at the Cradle of Forestry) was disassembled and helicoptered out of the woods.

"The only other surviving lodge is
Cantrell Creek Lodge, named after
the creek it originally stood beside.
Vandalism concerns prompted the
Forest Service to move the cabin. In
1979 the Young Adult Conservation
Corps disassembled the structure at
its original site. A helicopter flew
the material here in 11 bundles, and
the corps reconstructed the Cantrell
Creek Lodge at the edge of the
Cradle of Forestry parking lot."

My guess is that most if not all of the trail was walked in over time as a convenient foot-path along the ridge line and through the gaps (Laurel, Horse Cove, and Squirrel) between the various lodges and work locations throughout the S Mills area.

The whole guide is very informative, with quite a few pictures and stories about how other trails and roads came to be. One easily forgotten fact is that narrow gauge railroads were used extensively in early 1900's logging and the old rail grades are well hidden nearly 100 years later. The Carr Lumber Company built 75 miles of track in the district and you would be hard pressed to recognize much of it as rail grade today unless you come across some cross-ties. The best sign is the presence of switchbacks far to tight for any vehicle to navigate. These are the kind of switchbacks that are easy to get lost on in the woods. The trail goes along the slope and just ends - you might not notice that a hundred yards back there was another trail headed back the other way up the slope. A train would ride forward all the way out to the end and then they would "switch" it to the other track and it would go in reverse up the next section. A narrow gauge rail bed is less than 4ft wide.
 

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Based on the placement of the trail and its start and end points I have been assuming Squirrel Gap is one of the old mountaineer trails. The trail may well have been modernized by the CCC but by its character it no doubt originally precedes the establishment of the CCC by several decades. It may even precede the establishment of the Biltmore School.
Cut-in mining and logging roads and river bottom logging were mostly late 19th- early 20th century and later.
The true ridgeline trails were 1890s originally, built by Vanderbilt for surveyors.
Small scale rail and animal logging access spurs from mid 19th are sometimes still apparent and incorporated into newer trails (there is one spot on Buckhorn where this is really evident).
Before Vanderbilt bought it all up (and even after), squatters, moonshiners, and the so-called mountaineers lived all through the forest. They were often pretty far back in the woods, and not always just along the major rivers. They had been present since colonial times. They made trails. I also assume the mountaineers were the origin of similar trails (Farlow obviously is really similar to Squirrel, but also Butter and some others), along with many of the trails taken off official maps in the 1940s.
Of course the best reading is not online. You link to the Forest History Society website, but try to get your hands on the 1998 FHS reissue of Schenck's memoir, much of which is fascinating (well, fascinating to me, your mileage may vary).
Much as I'm obsessed with Pisgah history I've only lived in the area a year and a half. This opinion is based on my own professional training in environmental history, plus taking some good hard looks at the trails and old maps, plus some cursory reading. I would love to be contradicted or contacted by anyone who has more info.
 

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I am relatively certain that Squirrel Gap is one of the old railroad trestles described by ridin29s. This information came from our FS contact when PAS first adopted the trail, so it's not fact, just semi-reliable hearsay.
 

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The middle of squirrel doesn't look like it was ever wider than singletrack. I'm thinking CCC. Like other decommissioned trail along S. Mills river, there's a lot of beautiful rock work and I can't imagine anybody but CCC workers doing that.
 

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D.F.L. said:
there's a lot of beautiful rock work and I can't imagine anybody but CCC workers doing that.
I agree on that. Some of the little creek crossings in the coves have to be CCC (or similar era) rockwork, it's right out of the 1930s stylebook.
 

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Rock Work

I think most of the stuff in Pisgah pre-dates CCC. I don't know that they had their hands in much of Pisgah Proper, seems like they were all on the ridges working on the Parkway. I know a lot of the stone work on Pilot Rock, ie the switchback retaining walls was done by Chinese and Irish Railroad workers hired by Vanderbilt. The CCC were simply following the shadows of great craftsmen before them. This is a great thread. There is another book put out by the Carolina Mountain Club that talks about the history of the Mountains to Sea trail and it talks about the history of A few trails we all ride. I will have to find it again at my mom's and try to get an ISBN number off of it.
 

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Yes! This is great. I've always wanted to see logging photos after having come across some rusty relics down Birdstand mountain. Keep the suggestions coming.
 

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There is more good reading online. The google has the much of the book - Railroads of Western NC posted - Railroads of Western North Carolina

This is from page 75 - and my rough guess looking at a blurred scan is that the rail line show to the east of pink beds is certainly near, if not on, some of the current Squirrel Gap trail. You can make out Pink Beds and Black Mountain, it is hard to tell but the other landmarks/mtns look like FunnelTop, Laurel or Poundingstone and Cantrell Creek.



Here's another old map that shows rail line going all the way up to Gloucester Gap and all the way up past Courthouse Falls to the bottom of Devils Courthouse. It also appears to show a line going up what is now 276 and all the way up the Davidson River nearly to Farlow.


A rough map of the main large rails in Transylvania County circa 1910s or 20s.



I may try to get to the library later and see if I can get a hard copy of the book to scan in the pics with better resolution....
 

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Being a teacher of NC history, I've always been intrigued with the history of Pisgah. My students love seeing the photos that I have of the CCC working on the parkway up in my direction. This is probably the coolest thread I've seen on mtbr for quite a while! Thanks for the information and discussion, I'm excited to see what else is uncovered! :thumbsup:
 

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redriderbb said:
"I think most of the stuff in Pisgah pre-dates CCC. I don't know that they had their hands in much of Pisgah Proper, seems like they were all on the ridges working on the Parkway."

CCC were in fact very active and had a camp at John's Rock. They did a ton of work in the area. My good friend and trail mentor Bill Devendorf was in the CCC and stationed at John's Rock Camp. Bill worked on a crew that built the Yellow Gap road and the White Pines group camp area. He did some trail work in the area as well. I will check in with Bill D. and see if he knows anything.

FYI, we gave a special award to Bill at the IMBA Summit when it was near DC. The award was "Lifetime Achievement- Golden Pulaski" award. Bill was a hiker when I met him and he worked as a trail crew guy for the Blue Ridge Parkway (he was 70 at the time). We started doing some trail work with him over near Blowing Rock on BRP lands and got him to try mountain biking the following year at age 71. Bill rode JoJo's bike at a 4th of July party we were having and came back from 10 minutes on the bike and commented "This is what is happening". He had not ridden a bike since he was a teenager in Asheville, he grew up on the Grove Park Inn propoerty as his dad was the general manager there. Bill bought a mountain bike the following week and rode untill he was 78-80. He continued to do trail work until that age, but at 85+ now he has slowed down a bit. Bill used to could outwork anyone and he loved hanging out with mountain bikers.

When we away from the Boone/Blowing Rock area, the local club High Country Mountain Bike Association fell apart (I was the Pres. and JoJo was the Sec). Bill lost his social network and was not happy not doing trailwork. DuPont was just coming online then and I knew Division of Forest Resources needed some help so was able to talk DFR into providing Bill with free housing in DuPont in exchange for volunteer work. Bill was the only "staff" person on DuPont for well over a year and he was happy again as he got to do some trail work and again be involved with a land management agency (he had worked for the National Park Service and NC State Parks). The bridge on Reasonover Creek Trail in DuPont named after Bill, his is still alive a kicking buy living down in the Piedmont.

I have not been on S. Gap Trail in some time so can't really offer a good opinion. The rock work described does smell a bit like CCC work, but maybe they adopted an old narrow gauge corridor.

Woody
 

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sounds like D...

I bet it is a combination of all the elements. Natives followed animal paths that became trails for early settlers and trappers. Those trappers used the trails to show the rich white guys where to put their trains to pull out logs. Then the trains went away and Forestry Folks and CCC folks used those corridors and others to create a trail system in the forest for science and recreation. Finally, the trails are managed for years by Forest service as a given network. We ride them and maintain them, tweaking bits here and there, part of the overall sceme. And I would've gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those Meddling Kidz !! Great Thread.
 

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I have to agree that this is one of the most worthwhile threads on MTBR.com that I have seen and utterly appreciate. I have been on a mecca of sorts and for the last six years approximately I have been attempting to hike, bike, or horseback every trail, marked or unmarked, in the Ranger District. I spend ALOT of time hiking dead end cut-ins just to see what is around the other bend. I then spend an equal amount of the time backtracking, or climbing ridges to see what I can connect together. I live for this thread. Keep it coming! For what it is worth, the Etowah library has a few books and one that I currently returned was I believe called The Land of Waterfalls. It was released (again) in the 1980's and features lore on how the falls throughout present day Transylvania County got their names. I recommend it highly.
 

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OK, I'll try to interpret my fuzzy map. Now I've got another great excuse to go out hiking/biking and look for some clues.



If I am right on Poundingstone and Cantrell then it looks like that bit of rail grade would match Mullinax and the start of Squirrel to where it crosses Cantrell Crk.
 

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redriderbb said:
I bet it is a combination of all the elements. Natives followed animal paths that became trails for early settlers and trappers. Those trappers used the trails to show the rich white guys where to put their trains to pull out logs. Then the trains went away and Forestry Folks and CCC folks used those corridors and others to create a trail system in the forest for science and recreation. Finally, the trails are managed for years by Forest service as a given network. We ride them and maintain them, tweaking bits here and there, part of the overall sceme. And I would've gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those Meddling Kidz !! Great Thread.
Ben,

Are you suggesting that trails are dynamic? Sounds like a good name for a trail building company eh?

Yes, many of the trails in Pisgah and other areas have a history and started life as something other than a trail. Us in the know (including Ben) now use the term "purpose built trail" a lot to describe single trail planned/designed and then built solely for recreational purposes.

I agree this is a great thread and no one has flammed anyone. How rare for MTBR.
Other good threads on this forum now including the year in review (with photos) and wildlife stories. Maybe 2010 will be a year in which folks show a little more respect and we can keep this forum a little more productive (maybe just wishful thinking).

Woody
 
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