View Full Version : Horsepackers in the Smokies - Help!

The Weasel
09-04-2002, 14:32
From about Fontana Dam to a little short of Charlie's Bunion in the Smokies, you'll "share" the trail with horses. This is usually a group of 2-4 people, with 2 horses each (1 for the lazy tourist and 1 for all the gear for ONE person each!). Their idea of "sharing" the trail is that they have the right of way. Prudence dictates not arguing.

HOWEVER, horses are incredibly destructive of trail tread (the part you walk on) despite all the BS the riding industry around there says, as you will see, especially in downhills where the erosion they start has literal canyons of 4-6 feet deep in the trail. Although signs prohibit watering horses at water sources, I have found springs fouled with horse apples literally IN the spring itself, and frequent "blue blazing" by horse groups onto parts of the AT where they are prohibited.

A lot - a LOT - of the Smokies is open to horses, and probably always will me. But the AT is very special, and very fragile, and the only way to curb this damage and MAYBE close more of the AT to horses is for hikers (esp thruhikers) to not merely ***** about it, but to file formal complaints when they see this happening, esp. the fouling of water sources. To do this requires a formal complaint with a Law Enforcement Ranger (the run-of-the-mill ranger won't do), which means taking a couple hours out to either call a ranger (from Newfound Gap) or hitch the the Ranger Station on the NC side of the Gap. Of course there is no chance they'll catch the offenders (unless you see them), but still, the more criminal complaints (and that's what it is, folks, literally a crime!), the more Park Management (and the ATC) can see what is happening.

This is the sort of obligation, frankly, you get when you buy into being a thru hiker, and it's part of the journey.

"Well a promise made, is a debt unpaid, and the Trail has its own stern code." -- Robert Service

09-19-2002, 22:03
Interesting take on horses in the Smokies. I have a bit of a different view. Yes, the trail in GSMNP is some of the most eroded you'll find along the entire length. The only thing that rivals it IMO is much of Maine. The trail is no more than a ditch in many places, and when I went through, it was more like a creek in many places.

Horses however DO have the right of way anywhere they share a trail with hikers and/or mountain bikes. Hikers should yield to horses anywhere both are permitted on trails. That is proper etiquitte. Mountain Bikes are of course prohibited on the AT.

Since horses are not allowed anywhere else along the AT, I don't see the point in squabbling about it. Let the horse people have there small section of the AT. The origin of GSMNP is a contentious one, and for that reason, a different approach to park management was instituted. I am more concerned about poaching of animals & sang in GSMNP than horses. Those are the real issues that should be a concern. Just my .02

Little Bear
GA-ME 2000

09-19-2002, 22:59
Keep the horses off of the AT...period. Let the horse people build their own trails.

Does the horse riding community help in any way to maintain the trails they destroy. I doubt it, but correct me if i'm wrong.

09-20-2002, 07:29
It is tempting to complain because I really hate stepping in a fresh pile of horse s…manure, but to quote admin, “…(the) AT Forum is a complete Democracy.” As such, opposing views should not only be tolerated but welcomed. This is particularly so in the East, where rapidly encroaching development is threatening the existing trails and hindering the establishment of new ones. The backpacking community, of which thru-hikers are just a very small part, are not going to be enough to keep them open forever.

Whether we like it or not, the term “multi-use”, as applied to trails, is not only here to stay but a necessity if we are to continue using them. We need everyone’s voice, vote, sweat and money. The ultra-frugal thru-hiker cannot go it alone, no matter how tempting it may be to try! We are going to have to share our trails with the horse packers, mountain bikes (gasp), and hunters, etc., because we share a common interest-our trails. Not only can we not go it alone, but I don’t even think we are the group which provides the largest monetary contribution. I believe that distinction belongs to the hunters through the Pittman Robertson act. Were the success of our nation's trails, which we all enjoy, to depend on just the sweat or monetary contributions from thru-hikers or occasional backpackers alone, I suspect we would have few at all. In fact, ours may be the group which gives the least; we also may be the group which complains the most.

I don't know about the AT but horse packers are known to contribute significantly to trail maintenance in the west. Their horses' shod hooves are destructive to the fragile trails, at a time when we argue about the damage done by the shallow-lugged vibram soles on our hiking shoes/boots. But they give back and theirs is a voice to keep the trails open and we need all voices, working in concert, together.

Certainly some parts of our fragile wilderness should be closed to more destructive uses of it(motorized traffic), but it remains a hotly contested topic, challenged by each group, each convinced that they are right. And we are caught in the middle, continuing to step in horse s…manure..

SGT Rock
09-20-2002, 08:36
I've hiked the trails above Mamoth caves in Mamoth Cave National Park (nice hiking BTW). The trails there are all multiuse for hikers and horses only - no mountain bikes or ATVs and I have found it to be a fairly easy thing to get along. You must always give horses the right of way because to do otherwise is not safe for the ridder and possibly for the backpacker.

But the reason it isn't a problem is low traffic volume. Even in the peak hiking/horse packing months there isn't a lot of people on the trail, and their is strict limitations of where you can camp, and only one party at a time can use those camps. Interaction between the groups isn't often.

Of course the trails are like walking in muddy, manuer filled swamps when it rains. A good hiker will suck it up and walk in the stuff to avoid causing more erosion and other imact. I absolutly hated walking in the horse trails after a good rain and in the high traffic areas that smell like stables.

Comparatively, the AT has areas where hiker traffic is 100 times that of the multi use trails in Mamoth cave. The problems would be constant conflicts with right of way on a trail designed to be used by a hiker: 20"-40" wide. Horses in my experience end up needing a much wider trail, and such a narrow foot path would not serve a multi use need. Horse impact on a trail, at least from a hiker perspective, would be practical devistation. The impact of a hundred horses on the soft black earth of a place like th Smokies or the Nantahalas would be a lot more than hikers are used to dealing with, especialy when you throw in the average rainfall those places recive.

I am in support of multi use trails, the more trails and maintainers of any type are always a good thing IMHO. I would be extra concerned about the impact of horses on something like the AT in the Smokies. After all, the trail act did designate the AT as a protected footpath, as I understand it, multi use is out of the question for the NFS on the AT.

09-20-2002, 08:47
I, too, am in support of sharing the trails with horses or other pack animals. I like it when people get outdoors, even if it isn't my idea of a good time. Steps should be taken to ensure that overuse by horses does not lead to serious problems on the trail, however. For example, limiting the number of permits that can be issued to horsepacking parties, etc. I don't think ATVs should be allowed on. One look at BLM land will indicate why this isn't a good idea.

The AT in the Smokys is in very good condition, even the parts where horses are allowed. They do not have complete run of the Fontana->Bunion stretch. Horses are not allowed in parts of the western end of the AT, for example around Rockytop. The trail system in the park is, in general, very well maintained. Horses may use large portions of it, which is fine with me. I've hiked lots of these other trails I haven't seen anything that I would call a problem there either. To cut off the AT from all horse traffic would cut the park in half and make multiday loops very hard to do.

09-20-2002, 09:23
After having hiked for about 15 miles on a multi-use trail in southeast Michigan, I'd have to say that I did not appreciate the experience. The trail was very wide and sandy in most places, making it impossible to get into a good walking rhythm. Fortunately, I didn't encounter much in the way of horse poop, but if I had my experience would've only been worse.

It's almost certainly too late to do anything about the Smokies, but I certainly wouldn't want to see expansion beyond foot traffic anywhere else. However, the horse "lobby" is almost certain to be much better funded and represented than the hiker lobby.

09-20-2002, 09:57
It just sounds like you were on a bad trail, not one that had been abused by multiuse.
Sandy and wide sound likes easy, if not interesting, walking. Trails which accomodate horses are necessarily gently graded and don't take a particularly interesting paths to where ever they happen to go.

The Weasel
09-25-2002, 03:51
Folks, one of my psychologist friends says that the scientific name for humans shouldn't be "homo sapiens" but "homo nomens". We're not the "thinking ape", but just the "naming ape". We like naming things, and think that makes them different. (Yeah, a "regime change" is a LOT different than an "aggressive invasion with a coup d'etat"!)

That's why "multi-use" is such a fraudulent term. You don't see it used - in a friendly way - by the hiking community, because we recognize that what it means is, "we want what is ours, and we want what is YOURS, too! And by the way, we don't care if we destroy it, either."

That's why trails that WERE created solely by, and maintained by, the hiking community are sought-after by the bikers, the ATVers and the horse community, not to mention the snowmobilers. They find a place that others have labored over, and insist that "its a democracy" so we ALL have a right to ruin it.

That's what angers me about horsepackers on the AT in the Smokies. Someone said, "let them have their small part of the AT". But if you look at the trail maps of the Smokies, you will see that horsepackers have HUNDREDS of miles of trail available to them, and it is the AT that doesn't get "exclusive use" in any proportion similar. That's wrong, folks.

The destruction of a major segment of the AT is wrong, and it stays wrong as long as the hiking community remains willing to remain silent about it. The fact that one component of the "multi use" community bribes - and that's what it is - the government by paying some extra money, or providing some trail maintenance, when it is LESS than the damage done is just hypocrisy equivalent to tobacco companies paying for non-smoking campaigns.

Horsepacking has many places where it can be allowed. As my original post notes, there are many places where it is allowed in the Smokies, and if the NPS doesn't have the cohones to stop the damage elsewhere, well, then, that's another topic.

But why does the AT community accept this terrible damage to one of the most treasured parts of the Trail, when there is such a small part of the Smokies devoted to the AT compared to all other uses? Don't accept the apologists, and don't accept those who say, "Hey! A little damage here...what's the difference?" It ALL matters, and it's time to correct THIS one.

(By the way, Chris, the damage on the AT from horses is because a lot of the horse sections are NOT "gently graded"...because the horse packers insist on going there.)

The Weasel

Uncle Wayne
09-25-2002, 07:45
I have to agree with The Weasel on this one. Certainly don't want to throw a blanket over all horse people but the ones I've met on the AT have been very ill mannered, for lack of a better word. With my scout troop doing a section hike once, we met a group of riders on the trail. I had taught the boys to always ask the lead rider what they wanted us to do so we wouldn't scare the horses. The lead rider told the 13 year old scout to "Get your ass off the trail." We stepped downhill and the let the S.O.B. ride by and continued our hike, after 36 horses passed!! Needless to say we hiked through horse manure & piss for the rest of the day and picked up 70 some beer cans thrown on the trail by our horse friends. I know there are probably hikers who are just as ill mannered and have a similar attitude but I haven't met them yet.
Most horse riders I've met on the trail, whether individuals or groups, will leave their litter behind and do not hesitate to widen the trail to avoid an obstacle instead of staying on the main path. My first hatred of horses did not start with the above mentioned encounter but as a lad of 8 years old. I was riding a shetland pony and he ran into the middle of a pond with me on board and laid down! I couldn't swim and was terrified. At least until I stood up and the water was only waist deep!

SGT Rock
09-25-2002, 08:46
The litter is something I didn't even think of until Uncle Wayne mentioned it. All the horse trails I've ever hiked have been littered from end to end. Granted there is litter on hiking trails, but it is usually confined to near trail heads and shelters. But it has been my expereince that horse packers carry lots of beer, sodas, and other trash producing food that they do not maind leaving behind. I guess since they personally are not carrying it, then they can bring as much in as they want, and the end result seems to be they don't see a need to carry out a lot of trash.

While we are on the trash aspect and that line. Not only have I seen lots of trash, but the camp sites that horse packers use are often devistated. Trees are stripped, lots of stuff is cut down, and the soil and erosion can be terrible. I guess since they personally aren't carrying stuff, then axes and hatchets for the huge fires are norm. I hope they are not being allowed to camp on the AT in the Smokies.

For an example of how bad it can be, there is a junction of horse trail and the AT on the west side of Mt Rogers in VA. When I hiked through there in 1997, the area for about like a 1/4 mile in both direction (of both trails) has been placed off limits for camping because of the erosion, feeces, and fire ring damage. Trees were destroyed from about shoulder height down, fire rings were all over, the ground was bare, a spring on the south east side of the trail was supposed to be badly contaminated by the manuer, etc. If anyone has hiked that area recently, maybe they can confirm or deny that the area is still screwed up after 5 years of supposed restoration.

09-25-2002, 09:05
i'm in agreement with most of what uncle wayne has said. as a kid my family boarded horses on our farm and i was the stable care-giver for about 10 of the beautiful beasts. i maintained horse trails around our farm through field and forest. ireally dont have anything against horses. that said, i have never had a nice encounter on the trail with those that ride horses. one of the nicest streamside trails i frequent, soft black soil and hemlock needle duff, has gradually been trodden into a mucky black bog of a trail. i would suggest that joining and supprting trail associations as they lobby and fight to save our trails is a start. unfortunately, when it's all said and done, there's usually more said than done. we really can't wait on this one unless we enjoy walking in a ditch filled with water and horses--- instead of on a trail blazed accross a moss covered forest floor.

09-25-2002, 09:07
All of the problems that are mentionned above are not inherent to horsepacking. They are generated by irresponsible horsepacking. All of the trails in the national forest by my appartment are multiple-use trails. There is always a fair selection of soda cans and cigarette butts to pick up during a weekend stroll. There is nothing about horsepacking that makes the people throw their trash on the trail. It is just thoughtlessness. It is the same thoughtlessness that drives hikers to leave trash at shelters.

Long trains of horses can chew up trails when it is wet out, but even small horse groups will damage campsites almost everytime, unless the campsite is set up specifically for horses. You see this alot in the Smokys where there are usually horse campsites and people campsites. In an alpine environment, a horse train would be devastating. I cannot remember which of the shelters on the AT in the Smokys allow horses, but I do not think it is too many. I think Spence does. If the AT in the Smokys was off limits to horses, it would cut the park in half and make loop trips close to impossible. Try planning a 3 day loop hike in the Smokys without setting foot on the AT. It can be done,but it isn't as easy as one might think.

I've always found horsepackers to be just as friendly and helpful as hikers. Perhaps I've just had a lot of good luck. Severely restricting horsepacking would, I think, force people from the outdoors. There is plenty of space for all of us and the more people that spend time in the outdoors, the stronger the conservationist movement becomes.

The Weasel
09-25-2002, 09:24
Chris ---

Go back and read my posts, and those of others who agree with me: I am NOT proposing that the Smokies be "off limits to horses", and your argument that I'm saying that is just flat out wrong and unfair. Huge parts of the Smokies' network of trails are open to horses, and the Appalachian Trail is NOT a necessary "binder" to the two halves of it. All I want closed is about 20 miles - not a big chunk of trail - that horses and their thoughtless riders are destroying. Let them, their beer, their rudeness and, most of all, their devastation of a unique national resource - the "AT Crest" - be allowed to us, while they can still have their horses urinate and defecate in all the streams they want to throughout the rest of the park.

The argument that "the problems aren't inherent to horsepacking but just to irresponsible horsepacking" is reminiscent of the "guns don't kill people..." nonsense. (If you want to argue about THAT one, start a new thread.) That's just wrong, too. Horses are 2000 pound animals BEFORE they have "irresponsible" owners on them, and they are ALL shod with steel shoes. They urinate roughly 2 quarts at a time, and their manure is roughly 10 lbs at a time. That weight destroys fragile ground, regardless of whose on the horse. Those shoes tear up trail tread. That urine kills vegegation, and the manure isn't something that's buried with a horsey-toilet-trowel, but left to fester right where hikers - not riders - MUST step in or close to it.

If the National Park Service, in the single most heavily used National Park in the United States - and I don't care WHICH "national forest" runs by Chris' house, it doesn't get the use that GSMNP does - can't prohibit this kind of trail damage on just 20 miles of trail - and wants to allow it throughout the REST of the park, well, damn. Sort makes me wish someone cared.

And how long does it take to recover a trail segment? Well, Rock, I know the section of Mt. Rogers you're talking about: I hiked it right after Trail Days 2002 in May. It is still off limits, it is still devastated. Five years later.

The Weasel

09-25-2002, 09:39
I didn't mean to imply that you wanted all of the Smokys cut off from horse traffic. You certainly did not say that in any of your posts. What I tried to convey was that one consequence of barring horse traffic from all of the AT in the Smokys was that longer horse trips would become impracticable. You did not state this, but I believe it follows from cutting off the backbone of the park.

I won't bring up the argument you mention as it isn't germaine to the issues at hand, although I would suspect people can infer my position on it.

The Hoosier National Forest does not see as many visitors per year as the Smokys do. Not even close. But, I've run into far more horsepackers there than in the Smokys. I haven't noticed any of the mass damage which people note is present in others places. The Smokys trails seem pretty good to me overall, even without considering that 10 million people a year visit the park. I don't think that along a trail enough urine or manure can build up to cause significant damage to the environment. Perhaps I am wrong about this.

For those of you who feel so strongly, write your representative. Write your senators. Write the Park Service. Write the Smoky Mountains people. Participate in our society rather than just talking about it. Some one mentionned this concept in a previous post, but I thought it such an important point that I had to repeat it.

09-25-2002, 11:04
To paraphrase "In Living Color"!

09-25-2002, 19:08
Taking a look at the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club website, the
organization that maintains the AT through the GSMNP is looking for
some help. Rather than attempting to change National Park policy, your time would probably be better spent responding to the following appeal;


The Weasel
09-25-2002, 20:18

This problem is, perhaps, worse than I describe, and from a distance, you can't deny it:

(1) Urine and manure is killing the corral areas where horses are allowed along the AT. This is fragile ridge-top terrain, and to put hundreds of gallons of urine and thousands of pounds of manure in a small area EACH YEAR is the cause of the dying trees around many corrals. The NPS puts up privies at most shelters, and requires their use, by humans, but horses can cause sanitary cesspools to be literally a part of the Appalachian Trail. That's wrong. It can't be justified. It can't be excused. And it can't be allowed. That's why I have suggested that thru-hikers, especially, write the NPS to protest horsepacking from Fontana Dam (about) for 20 miles.

(2) Hoof damage to trails is massive. On slopes, it causes trail washouts that are 4-8 FEET deep. Steel-shod hooves of 2000 lb. animals (carrying another 500 or so) simply cannot avoid damaging the trail surface, and the AT is the most remote trail in the Park, so it gets the least maintenance from the NPS. Specifically, I was told by Park Rangers that there is no plan to repair the washout canyons caused by horses since it is a waste of money to repair something that will be damaged just as bad immediately afterwards. There is no way to avoid this damage, and no way to repair it, as long as horses are allowed on the AT.

(3) Watersource fouling is repeated. I tell you this first hand, from seeing one-day old manure (or less) in Apple Orchard Shelter's water source. The manure droppings were literally one FOOT from the water output, making that water totally unusable. Despite signs at all locations telling horseriders NOT to water their horses in springs or creeks, they do so with (they think) impunity. That is also why I call upon all AT hikers to report such incidents at either the Gatlinburg or Cherokee Ranger Stations.

Look at the trail maps of the Smokies, and you will see that horseriders have vast choices for long trips, without using the AT. I repeat: CAN'T WE EXPECT JUST ONE CRITICAL PART OF "AMERICA'S TRAIL" TO BE RESERVED FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO EXPLORE IT ON FOOT...THEIR OWN?

Again, as in my original message, I ask fellow hikers to report ALL misuse to Enforcement Rangers, even if it means a half-day delay.

The Weasel

09-26-2002, 08:55
I would respectfully disagree with these points. I have not seen any catastrophic damage caused by horse urine and defecation in campsites alotted to horses. I have been to all of the shelters on the AT itself and have slept in most of them. Hikers are not required to urinate in the privies. In fact, male hikers are explictly told not to urinate in the new composting privies. I have walked the length of the AT in the Smokys and have not seen the washouts you describe. I should add that all of my Smokys trips have occured during May, September, or October. Perhaps things are worse during the summer months? As far as waterfouling goes, I haven't seen it. But, again, manure decomposes so perhaps the lower volume of horse traffic during the months I've been to the Smokys accounts for me not seeing the manure in the streams. Horses are allowed to ford certain streams in the Smokys by the way. I came across several horse fords in my last ramble in the Big Creek - Mount Sterling area. I don't think Apple Orchard shelter is in the Smokys, do you mean, maybe Apple Orchard campsite? I am most familiar with the campsite numbers, so I don't know if I've been there or not.

The AT is not the most remote trail in the park. It is one of the most accessible and certainly one of the most popular. The reason is simple: It is stunning. I see people all the time on the AT in the Smokys. I very rarely see people in the other parts of the part, at least those away from Cades
Cove. Trail maintenance on the AT in the Smokys is superb. Volunteers work extremely hard on it and they should be proud of what they've achieved.

I should add that I am heading to the Smokys in a few hours and will keep my eyes out for damage I see from horses.

09-30-2002, 08:57
Just a quick note on something that I found funny on my recent trip to the Smokys. I stayed on night at a horsepacking camp (83). It was very nice and mostly clean. A few bits of trash here and there. No one else was around. The next night I stayed at a hikers only campsite (69). Horses can't get here due to river fords and the fact that it is off limits to them. The place was a complete dump. Lots (and I mean lots) of trash. Bits of implements and a bag of clothes up trail. I hauled out what I could, but there is still a bag of trash in the bear wires.

12-30-2002, 17:48
Horse damage is rampant in the smokies ...the NPS caters to horse back riders with special horse camps and facilites...the NPS is NAZI like concerning thru hikers with dogs and with regs about how to hike the trail in the park....they have allowed Catalochee ranch to blast out bedrock on the Catalochee divide trail to make it safe for horse back rider... my mentor eddy abby called the rock leavitrite..leave it right alone...NPS Loves horsesbecause they bring in $$$$$....

as far as Polluiton from horses

It starts with an S...
and ends with a T....

12-31-2002, 11:57
Originally posted by smokymtnsteve
[B]...the NPS is NAZI like concerning thru hikers with dogs..[B]
Dogs carry Parvo Virus which can be spread to wildlife. Parvo was the main cause of mortality in the recently released Red Wolves in GSMNP. There are valid reasons not to have dogs in the park.

12-31-2002, 15:17
parvo the main reason for the failure of the attempted wolf reintroduction..perhaps...also the coyote has filled the ecological niche...local bear hunters and residents have dogs that 'trespass" all the time in park..along with motorized visitors bringing in dogs...

the rules concerning dogs on hiking trails in the park are not enforced. I see 'dayhikers" walking with thier dogs all time...no enforcement for these dayhikers...but thruhikers are threatened with huge fines at Fontana..with some enforcement...the thruhiker then pays to board thier dog and hikes the park then sees dayhikers walking with dogs ,,,and talks to these dayhikers who tell them that they hike "all the time" with thier dogs in the park with no problem ...I can understand the anger this causes in the thruhiker...dogs that have hiked to fontana are good trail dogs or they would not have made it that far..some of the dayhiking dogs are another story though.

by the way ..I'm not a dog owner and don't hike with a dog.