Granted there are a few bursts to humble anyone, as any trail in the system. And the trail on the Tennesse side isn't too bad for Joyce Kilmer/ Citico trails. Compared to Deep Creek (Joyce Kilmer), Jenkins Meadow, or South Hangover Lead (even after thr trail rerouted making it much easier) both of these trails are moderately difficult at best with back packing gear. That said, if you only hike in the Smokies where most trails are perfectly manicured, you could easily go into shock after hiking over blow down after blow down, and up steep grades where you soon realize the trails were not designed by world renowned designers as in the Smokies.
As for the decline in the stream, I know there where some rockslides exposing alot of rock about a decade back. Could that have exposed the stream to some acid leaching along with the drought and it being lower elevation and all?
Nice trip report and nice info onthe 30's stocking.