Oct. 24, 2012. The colorful autumn of the North Carolina mountains draws curious lookers from across the country. The early turn, the diversity of tree species providing unparalleled color variety and the rolling terrain culminate to a truly magical visual showcase for visitors. But what happens when all those beautiful leaves inevitably fall from their tall wooden perches?
At Grandfather Mountain, the responsibility of leaf removal falls on the maintenance staff. Throughout the months of October and November, the primary task for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s maintenance staff switches almost entirely to policing the fallen foliage. For a place that produces as much as 20 tons of fallen leaves, this is no small task.
“The objective is three-fold,” said John Church, head of the Maintenance Department. “We aim to present the park in a clean and well-kempt way while also clearing the drainage areas to prevent the road from being washed out and clearing around grilling areas to reduce the risk of fires.”
The process begins with several maintenance staff members manning leaf blowers and clearing the leaves out of the roadside drainage, picnic and grill areas. They are then piled adjacent to the road, snaking up the mountain from the gate to the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
The next step involves a one ton-capacity, vacuum truck. While two flagmen handle traffic, another staff member pilots the truck and the remaining maintenance staff member operates the 10-foot-long and 10 inch diameter vacuum hose. The leaves are mulched as they’re sucked up.
The job isn’t over once all the Mountain’s trees are clear of leaves. The windy conditions of Grandfather blow leaves from the surrounding forest all over well into the month of November.
The truck dumps its payload upwards of about 20 times a year, equaling around 20 tons of collected leaves. The leaves are piled on-site, away from public view, and are later used for mulch and topsoil. The volume of leaves each year largely depends on precipitation and other environmental factors that might foster more leaf growth.
Once the maintenance staff finally finishes their arduous duty of removing what can literally be describes as “a mountain of leaves,” their focus shifts to winterizing the park.
“Autumn is one of our busiest times of the year,” said Church. “We try to keep the attraction in the best possible condition so that it adds to our guests’ experience.”
The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park sustainably in the public interest, provide an exceptional experience for guests, and inspire them to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com or call 800-468-7325.