Remote waterfall passage bears on Sakrete foundation

Spanning more than 500,000 acres of hardwood trees, whitewater rivers and tumbling waterfalls, Pisgah National Forest in Old Fort, N.C. offers thousands of visitors and hikers annually miles of trails and access to Catawba Falls, framed by picturesque Appalachian scenery. Originally, the 100-ft. waterfall was only accessible by rock-hopping across the Catawba River. Although typically low enough for Catawba Falls-bound hikers to scrabble across exposed rocks, the river has proved impassable at times due to rising levels. 

Over the past four years, U.S. Forest Service representatives, in conjunction with McDowell County and NC State Parks, began devising a solution to improve hiker safety and grant easier access to the falls. With assistance from a federal Recreational Trails Program Grant, the agency initiated a Catawba Falls Trail rerouting plan; to eliminate the need for a hazardous river crossing, it included construction of a Catawba River bridge leading to the falls. 

The Forest Service selected contractor Travis Greene, owner of TAG Contracting Inc., to build the Chestnut Branch Bridge. Located approximately a mile and a half up a foot trail near the base of the lower Catawba falls, the remote jobsite was a challenge to the crew. “The access to the bridge was horrible,” explains Greene. “We couldn’t get a big skid-steer or mini hoe near the dam and realized we’d have to use a rock bridge to get the building materials across.” 

The project called for concrete bridge abutments, but getting materials up the steep trails seemed unfeasible to achieve with a mixer truck that would normally be dispatched for such elements. Determined to stay on schedule, Greene searched for a solution for the bridge’s challenging jobsite, ultimately turning to Sakrete expert and trainer Dirk Tharpe, who recommended the package dry mix brand’s 5000 Plus high-strength concrete. The two then set about finding a way to deliver the bags of pre-mixed concrete up the steep trail safely.

“Using his John Deere Mule, Greene transported the bagged material in small loads from the bottom of the trail,” says Tharpe. “The job required 1,440 80-lb. bags for the bridge footing and end abutments, which totaled more than 30 pallets.”

The individual bags of dry mix could be brought to the jobsite without disturbing the park’s natural surroundings while surpassing the Forest Service’s minimum design strengths for abutment concrete. Greene notes that Sakrete 5000 Plus was the ideal material for the Chestnut Branch Bridge, delivering superior durability and faster strength gain than normal concrete. An added benefit to using dry mix in such a remote location was that it made cleaning up the construction site easy by simply disposing of the empty bags—the trails remaining pristine throughout the work.

“It’s easier to stay in spec with pre-mixed bagged concrete,” explains Greene. “Trying to eyeball sand, stone, and cement is not consistent, especially considering the volume of concrete the project would require. By the end of the project we mixed and placed about 32 cubic yards of concrete.”