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15th Appalachian Trail shelter renovated
December 31, 2011

appalachian trail shelter
Laurel Gap work crew in front of newly renovated shelter. Image courtesy of Appalachian Trail Maintainers, SMHC

KODAK -- Hikers on the Appalachian Trail may never tell campfire stories about the renovation of all 15 backcountry shelters in the Smokies, but they benefit from some amazing partnerships after a hard day's trek.

Cooking and sleeping quarters for campers were improved through the joint efforts of labor and funding from Friends of the Smokies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Renovations also reduced potential problems with black bears.

Reconstruction at Laurel Gap, the fifteenth and final shelter project, began in September, but weather prevented delivery of roofing materials by helicopter. The volunteer crew returned the first week of December to finish roofing the shelter under the threat of winter snows. Laurel Gap is located in North Carolina, near the intersection of the Sterling Ridge and Balsam Mountain Trails. Twelve of the Park's 15 backcountry shelters are located on the Appalachian Trail; Mt. LeConte, Laurel Gap and Kephart Prong are not.

laurel gap structure
Laurel Gap shelter before renovations. Image courtesy of Appalachian Trail Maintainers, SMHC

"As with all of the shelter projects over the years, this one required a real team effort," said Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies. "We are very grateful to all the partners and donors, to project coordinator Phyllis Henry, and to all the great volunteers for pitching in yet again.

Architect Philip Royer of Knoxville, also a member of the Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee, drew the basic blueprint for every shelter rehab project, incorporating improved natural lighting, a cooking area to separate food odors from the sleeping space, improved bunk access, new roofs and masonry repair, the removal of chain-link fences, and drainage improvements. With these changes, overnight hikers enjoy a much safer and much more inviting camping experience.

"The redesigned shelters look great, and they make overnight trips in the Smokies so much better for thousands of backpackers every year," said Darren Haiman, a trustee of the Haiman Foundation, which was established by Darren's father, Richard. "We're very glad that we've had a chance to work with Friends of the Smokies over the years to make these improvements possible."

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