One of the revelations found in the new book by Great Smoky Mountains Association and David Brill, Into the Mist: Tales of Death and Disaster, Mishaps and Misdeeds, Misfortune and Mayhem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is that some places in the Smokies are much more dangerous than others.
Not surprisingly, roads are the most dangerous places in the national park. But other sites, such as Abrams Creek and Abrams Falls, renowned for their peaceful, sublime scenery, have also tallied a shockingly high body count.
Drowning is the leading cause of death at Abrams and is the #3 killer park-wide. In 1997 alone, Abrams Creek claimed three lives—two swimmers and one fisherman. The years 2004, 2006, 2009, 2016, and 2017 were also deadly along this seemingly benign mountain stream.
Park ranger Matt Kulp, the park’s supervisory fisheries biologist, believes he knows why Abrams Creek is so dangerous. His reasoning: The same factors that make Abrams such a productive trout stream also make it potentially lethal.
“Unlike most streams in the park,” Kulp said, “Abrams has a limestone substrate. This makes it biologically richer than the other, more acidic streams in the park.”
This biological richness leads to the formation of "biofilm” on rocks and boulders, making them especially slippery. Consequently, people sometimes slip and hit their head on a rock or tumble into a deep, cold pool. And during periods of high water, the hydraulic (recirculating current that may hold a person underwater) at the base of Abrams Falls is treacherous.
Wading in a beautiful Smoky Mountain stream may seem perfectly safe, even for children. Unfortunately, it is not.