The Transylvania Times -

Park Service, Duke Energy Repair Auger Hole Landslide

 

Last updated 6/29/2020 at 12:11pm

Jacob Myers

The steep terrain along the former Auger Hole Trail paired with high annual rainfall in Gorges State Park, caused a landslide to partially restrict access to the popular trail.

The Auger Hole is a popular backcountry location for Jeep clubs, day-hikers, and weekend campers alike, but after the landslide that occurred last April wherein a section of the trail collapsed into the Toxaway River, access has been limited.

While a large section of this area of Gorges State Park was still accessible via the Grassy Ridge trail head through the park's main entrance, the landslide on the Frozen Creek side of the trail effectively cut off the back end of the loop that the Auger Hole makes.

Drivers weren't the only ones affected by the landslide, however. The washout posed safety concerns for hikers as well, and that meant the only foot access for the Wintergreen Trail, the Lime Kilns, and the Indian Camp was available through the Grassy Ridge parking area.

This not only added mileage to the hike, but the terrain by Grassy Ridge is much steeper and difficult for less-experienced hikers to navigate with its inner maze of forest gates and often lack of cell phone signal should they need assistance.

The repair process took a variety of factors into play when addressing how the project should be approached. According to Park Superintendent, Robert McGraw, the repair took roughly 14 months from start to finish which "allowed the Division of Parks and Recreation to consult with trail specialists, biologists and geologists" during the length of the project.

Bringing in specialists from these different fields allowed the park to make educated decisions on how far from the river to construct the new road, the type of rock on which the new road was built, and considerations for how to address future landslides which, according to McGraw, "are challenging, especially in the Blue Ridge Escarpment [which] receives over 90 inches of rain a year."

Much of the land in which Gorges State Park operates came from Duke Energy, which has established power lines and infrastructure throughout the park as well as a right of way in the Auger Hole so that they may access their equipment without much hassle in getting through the backcountry.

Being that they have this right of way, Duke took on the brunt of the labor involved with constructing the new road.

"Duke Energy repaired the road at no cost to the State" according to McGraw. Instead of making repairs where the landslide had occurred, the park and Duke, in collaboration with the varying specialists previously mentioned, made the decision to move the road North of the ridgeline, further from the river and away from a potential re-collapse on the already compromised section of the road.

When asked about the project overall, McGraw said he was "very pleased" with both the results and the cooperation from all parties involved. He states that "the landslide project went as good as it can," referring to the cooperation between the numerous parties involved as well as the actual repair implementation itself.

"Anyone familiar with the specific area of the landslide knows how steep and remote of a location it is," McGraw said. The challenges made the project's completion a weight off the shoulders of all parties involved, not to mention the visitors for whom the park serves.

Jacob Myers

The new Auger Hole Trail runs adjacent to the old one, further up the ridge.

As of this time, no significant efforts are being made to prevent future landslides in the area, but this repair suggests that any future landslides in other areas of the park will now have precedence via how the Auger Hole road was fixed, and this may lessen the challenge for our local state park.

"Remoteness and magnitude always comes with difficulty," as McGraw puts it, but Duke and Gorges State Park have shown they are ready to address those difficulties.

(Myers is an Appalachian-based adventure enthusiast and writer. He is an avid storyteller, and rarely does her or his fellow hikers step into the woods and return without something interesting to share. Most of his current writing is displayed on his blogger's page on The Trek's website.)

 
 

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