Pisgah Trail Getting Sustainability Overhaul with Big Grant Money

Pisgah's Butter Gap trail is set to receive a major overhaul.

One of Pisgah’s most-loved trails — currently deemed unsustainable — is getting a major overhaul this year thanks to a heavy injection of grant money and volunteer hours. One mile of the Butter Gap trail is being decommissioned as part of the sustainable alignment changes, and in the process five-miles will be added.

Butter Gap has been on SORBA’s Pisgah area chapter list for a while, and after knocking out a few other renovations, like Black Mountain and Avery Creek, they are are ready to focus on the next project.

“It was identified by the Forest Service, as far back as 2013 as an unsustainable trail and we applied for a grant from the state in 2018,” said Pisgah Area Sorba Executive Director Natalie Narburgh. “So this has been a project that’s been years in the making.”

Butter Gap has been rated as an intermediate blue trail with over 600-feet of descending along its 2.1-miles in length. Over time, with heavy use and heavy rainfall, the trail condition has worsened.

“It’s super wild,” said Narburgh. “You can go out and walk the trail and then go out a month later and walk it and you see the degradation of the soil.”

While it’s still been fun for intermediate riders, the terrain can be unpredictable, loose, and slick. Like many trails in the Pisgah area, Butter Gap parallels and crosses creeks which leads to further degradation.

During the overhaul, SORBA plans to lengthen the trail and level the grade a bit, adding in some berms and drainage features to keep water off the trail.

“The biggest battle we have is water,” said Narburgh. “The erosion and sediment in the creeks…Pisgah is covered with creeks and drains water with the Davidson River at the bottom of it, so everything’s falling into the river. We’re trying to mitigate that erosion.”

If Butter Gap wasn’t going to be renovated, Narburgh notes the Forest Service would eventually decommission the trail.

By bringing the old trail up to modern trail building standards, the sustainability should come naturally and as they stretch out the grade, riders will benefit from added mileage. The realignment also makes the trail accessible to mountain bikers year-round when it opens, and will disperse hikers and mountain bikers to reduce conflict where the two have met. The Cat Gap trail will be hiker-only and an alternative route will be created as mountain bike-only.

SORBA estimates the project will cost between $275,000 and $350,000. About a third of the cost will be covered by a state recreational trails grant, awarded to the organization in 2018. The grant will be matched by over $11,000 worth of volunteer hours, they estimate, at 400 hours.

SORBA is also getting a chunk of financial help from the local tourism board, the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TCTDA). They’re using $45,000 collected from a hotel tax from visitors to kick in to the Butter Gap work. FOX Factory Trail Trust and Athletic Brewing are also chipping in.

The project is slated to start in the spring of 2023.


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