Hiking a trail you’ve been down before sounds dull to some folks. Why would you want to go back down the same way and see the same thing? That’s just the point – it never is the same thing, so re-hiking a trail can be as exciting as hiking it for the first time. There are always things you missed, things you didn’t see the first time, and changes. The changes can be seasonal, weather-related, environmental, or man-made.
The 2 ½ mile trail into the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve is a good example of this. Technically, this trail is a spur off the Foothills Trail although it does not physically connect with the FT. In 2004, the original trail was closed due to severe damage caused by Hurricane Ivan. It took until 2006 to get the trail re-opened. The opportunity was taken at this time to re-route to the trail so it would not be so difficult.
Even then, the trail took you into Helmock Bottoms Camp, a large, beautiful primitive campground upstream from The Narrows. An unimproved trail continued to follow the creek to The Narrows; however, you were standing at the top of The Narrows with no good view of the falls.
Checking the topography, you can see The Narrows sits between the side of the gorge and a round “bump” that creates the “squeeze.” In 2010, a spur trail was created that takes you from just before the entrance to the campground, around the “bump” to a platform with a perfect view of the waterfall.
This was now a top-rated hike. Good trail, interesting topography, expansive campground, beautiful stream, spectacular waterfall. But change was coming, this time, not a good one. As the name of the campground suggests, there are many Hemlocks in the floor of the gorge – targets for the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, an insect that has been decimating the Southern mountain hemlocks. A good number of hemlocks in the Preserve, some of them huge, have been killed by the adelgid. As such, these trees now present a danger of falling.
In 2013, the campground was closed due to the danger of falling trees. Now, the ground is littered with downed trees of various sizes. It is difficult to say whether this litter is the result of increased downings or if this is simply firewood that would have been consumed by campers. What is clear are the large hemlocks in the campground and across the creek standing there ominously waiting for their turn to come down.
So the ecology of the gorge has changed. The trail is still a fine hike and The Narrows is still a spectacular thing to see, but the loss of the hemlocks and the associated closing of the campground does take away a little of “specialness” of the Eastatoe Creek Gorge.
For directions to the trailhead and details on the trail, please refer to the 2010 article on The Narrows of Eastatoe Gorge.