By Alyssa Reck, ATC Social Media Manager

A.T. Reopens Across Comers Creek

April 16, 2021

Be prepared to get your feet wet at a new creek crossing on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in Virginia! The Comers Creek Bridge (NOBO mile 519.0) was decommissioned by the U.S. Forest Service in 2019 for structural damage, deeming it unsafe for hikers to use. U.S. Forest Service staff and A.T. volunteers spent numerous hours working on signage and putting an official 1.3-mile re-route in place so hikers could continue their hiking journey safely.

Structural damage to the bridge included cracks in one of the long beams that ran the entire span of the footbridge, only visible on the underside of the bridge. Comers Creek Bridge was closed to prevent potential injury to those crossing the damaged bridge. Image courtesy of Kathryn Herndon-Powell, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the ATC.

While having dry and mud-free feet are great, it’s only made possible through the collaborative network of volunteers, Trail maintaining clubs, ATC Trail crews, and partners. Bridges also require additional review and funds to stay in tip-top shape as they are impacted by the wear and tear of millions of steps every year.

This spring, the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club (MRATC) and a small professional ATC Konnarock Trail Crew worked together to reopen the A.T. crossing at Comers Creek. For roughly seven days, they worked to bring down and chop up the 33-foot-long bridge, disassemble and strip hardware from the lumber, and install steps on both banks. This project was done to re-open the Trail, eliminate the alternate route, reduce erosion of the stream banks, and provide a sustainable and safe route up and down the embankment.

“In just a handful of days, a professional and focused Konnarock Trail Crew of two, supported by a few MRATC members, demolished a condemned bridge and installed graded steps and stairs to allow a previously closed section of the A.T. to be opened,” says Doug Levin, Trail Supervisor, MRATC. “This could not have been accomplished without great teamwork and coordination between the MRATC, the Konnarock crew and the ATC.

MRATC and Konnarock Trail Crew work to construct steps up the bank of Comers Creek. Image courtesy of Anne Maio, MRATC

With the steps in place and the A.T. re-opened, there are a few next steps for the Comers Creek area:

  • Project cleanup: The hardware and remaining lumber from the bridge that wasn’t used for the step construction will be hauled out by the Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew that is working in the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area.
  • Maintaining the alternate route: The re-route established when the bridge was decommissioned will be retained as a High-Water Route that follows VA-650/Comers Creek Road, the Hurricane Campground Road and Dickey Gap Trail. This route is marked with blue blazes.
  • Helping hikers plan ahead and prepare: Now that the Trail is re-open, hikers should be prepared to ford Comers Creek, which at normal flow is easy to cross. However, hikers should still be cautious when crossing moving water, especially after heavy rain. For safety tips on river and stream crossings, click here.

Trail maintenance projects, like at Comers Creek, wouldn’t be possible without on-the-ground stewardship by volunteers and partners to keep the A.T. open and accessible. It is this continued partnership and maintenance that helps ensure that the beauty of the Trail is protected while enhancing the use of the Trail to visitors for generations to come. Thank you to MRATC, Konnarock Trail Crew, and the U.S. Forest Service for their hard work and dedication to the Trail!

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Check out our new Volunteer Engagement Platform for upcoming volunteer opportunities.