Thursday, November 9, 2017

Smokies Celebrates Bridging the Foothills Parkway ‘Missing Link’

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials hosted a celebration for the bridging of the Foothills Parkway’s ‘Missing Link.’ Lane Construction Company of Charlotte, NC recently completed a seven-year project to design and build five bridges at a cost of $48.5 million. This marks the first time that vehicles can travel the entire 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway extending from Walland to Wears Valley, TN.

“We are excited to mark another milestone in the completion of this spectacular section of the Foothills Parkway,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “With the missing link now bridged, we look forward to finishing the final paving and then opening the roadway to the public by the end of next year.”

Construction of this 16-mile section began in 1966. Most of the roadway was completed by 1989 when the project came to a halt due to slope failures and erosion during construction of the last 1.65 miles – known as the ‘Missing Link.’ The engineering solution included the construction of nine bridges to connect the roadway in an environmentally sustainable manner. These last five bridges mark an important milestone by completing the ‘Missing Link.’ Since 1966, $178 million has been invested in this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway spanning parts of Blount and Sevier Counties.

“The Lane Construction Corporation is proud to have completed this complex signature project safely with significant support from the local community,” said Lane Construction Corporation District Manager Tom Meador. Since 2010, approximately 250 Lane Construction Corporation and subcontract team members have worked on the project.

Federal Highway Administration’s Eastern Federal Lands Division Engineer Melisa Ridenour and Lane Construction Corporation District Manager Tom Meador joined National Park Service representatives to commemorate this monumental achievement.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sunny Point Café Provides Matching Opportunity to Keep National Park Safe

Friends of the Smokies and Sunny Point Café in Asheville are joining forces this November to raise money for radio and emergency communications improvements in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Donation envelopes will be available on tables at the restaurant throughout the month, and all gifts made by patrons will be matched up to $1,000 by Sunny Point Café.

Donations made to Friends of the Smokies at Sunny Point Café for a new radio system will keep national park visitors, volunteers, and rangers safe by allowing the park to communicate with police, fire, and emergency services in neighboring communities. It will also improve the internal communication system of the national park’s law enforcement rangers, search and rescue, wildland fire, and emergency dispatch officers.

“Our mission is to preserve, protect and provide for our park so keeping our visitor safe by implementing a new radio system is a top priority for us,” said Anna Zanetti, North Carolina Director of Friends of the Smokies. “We are thankful to Sunny Point Café for providing this generous matching gift opportunity.”

Sunny Point Café is located at 626 Haywood Road, Asheville and is open daily.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Delayed Opening of Cades Cove for Loop Lope Event on Sunday

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind park visitors that access to Cades Cove will be delayed on Sunday, November 5 until 10:30 a.m. for the Cades Cove Loop Lope. The event has been planned to minimize disturbance to visitors for this once-a-year opportunity for pre-registered participants to run a choice of a 10-mile or 3.1-mile loop course.

The park granted approval for the park’s philanthropic partner, Friends of the Smokies, to host this unique event to support the park. The Friends announced the event in April and then accepted registration for 500 participants on August 1. The event sold out quickly for both run courses.

“We appreciate the support of the Friends and participants in supporting this event, along with those visitors who alter their plans Sunday morning to explore other areas of the park during the delayed opening,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan.

To accommodate parking for the event, park rangers will limit access to the area at the Townsend Wye until 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, which is traditionally a period of lower visitation to the area. Registered Cades Cove campers, Tremont program participants, and event participants with a parking pass must show registration documents for access beyond this point. The Cades Cove store will be open, but will not begin renting bikes until 11:00 a.m. The Cades Cove riding stables will begin offering horse rides at 11:00 a.m.

For more information regarding temporary road closures, please visit the park website at


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

National Park Service Proposes Targeted Fee Increases at Parks to Address Maintenance Backlog

As part of its commitment to improve the visitor experience and ensure America’s national parks are protected in perpetuity, the National Park Service (NPS) is considering increases to fees at highly visited national parks during peak visitor seasons. Proposed peak season entrance fees and revised fees for road-based commercial tours would generate badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks. This includes roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms, and other visitor services.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting. We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids' grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today. Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that.”

Under the proposal, peak-season entrance fees would be established at 17 national parks. The peak season for each park would be defined as its busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation.

The proposed new fee structure would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

A public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal will be open from October 24, 2017 to November 23, 2017, on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website Written comments can be sent to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

If implemented, estimates suggest that the peak-season price structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year. That is a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80% of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected. The other 20% is spent on projects in other national parks.

During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.

The cost of the annual America the Beautiful- The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which provides entrance to all federal lands, including parks for a one-year period, would remain $80. Entrance fees are not charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes. The majority of national parks will remain free to enter; only 118 of 417 park sites charge an entrance fee, and the current proposal only raises fees at 17 fee-charging parks

The National Park Service is also proposing entry and permit fee adjustments for commercial tour operators. The proposal would increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization (CUA) requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees. All CUA fees stay within the collecting park and would fund rehabilitation projects for buildings, facilities, parking lots, roads, and wayside exhibits that would enhance the visitor experience. The fees will also cover the administrative costs of receiving, reviewing, and processing CUA applications and required reports.

In addition, the proposal would include a peak-season commercial entry fee structure for the 17 national parks referenced above. All proposed fee adjustments for commercial operators would go into effect following an 18-month implementation window.

Information and a forum for public comments regarding commercial permit requirements and fees is available October 24, 2017 to November 23, 2017 on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at Written comments can be sent to National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Storm Causes Washout on Blue Ridge Parkway

Several storm related closures are still in effect along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Parkway officials are asking for cooperation in particular at the closure from Milepost 402.7 to Milepost 408.4, where a significant washout was discovered along the road shoulder at the Little Pisgah Ridge Tunnel (Milepost 407). Park engineers are assessing the site for any additional undercutting of the road and needed repairs.

The Pisgah Inn and campground at Milepost 408.8 are accessible via US Route 276 which crosses the Parkway at Milepost 411.8.

Until repaired, this is a hazardous area and is closed to ALL traffic, including cyclists and hikers. Visitors behind closed gates will be asked to turn around. The public’s cooperation with this closure is important to personal safety as well as the protection of Parkway’s resources.

Updates regarding all closure areas will be posted on the Parkway’s online Real Time Road Map; other updates will also be posted regularly on the Parkway’s social media platforms, found using @BlueRidgeNPS.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Recreation Trails Program Awards 25 Grants for NC Projects

North Caroline state officials announced last week the award of $2.1 million in grants through the federal Recreational Trails Program for 25 trails projects across the state. For fiscal year 2018, the program received 53 grant applications totaling $4.4 million in requests.

The matching grants, recommended by the North Carolina Trails Committee and approved by Secretary Susi H. Hamilton of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, will help fund healthful recreation opportunities for hikers, cyclists, paddlers, equestrians and off-highway vehicle users throughout the state and will promote tourism for the enjoyment of the state’s natural resources.

The Recreational Trails Program is administered by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, with Federal Highways Administration funding routed through the N.C. Department of Transportation. North Carolina has been awarded more than $32.9 million since 1999 for sustainable trail projects. These grants, combined with in-kind services and matching funds, have secured $64.3 million for local trail and greenway projects in the state.

In fiscal year 2017, 26 projects were awarded that totaled $1,995,573, plus eight safety and education grants totaling $37,700.

“These funds make North Carolina’s outdoors more accessible and outdoor exercise opportunities more convenient for a growing population,” N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Murphy said. “Working in partnership with many outstanding government and non-profit organizations, we are able to maximize these investments and address the increased demand for trails in communities across the state.”

Among the local governments, agencies and trails groups receiving grants in the most recent cycle include:

• City of Marion: Upper Catawba River Trail – Signage, kiosks, and maps for up to 30 access points along the Upper Catawba River Trail, $30,000

• N.C. High Peaks Trail Association, Inc.: Mount Mitchell Trail Renovation Project – Phase III, $52,460

• USDA Forest Service Grandfather Ranger District: Mortimer Area Multi-Use Trails renovations, $100,000

• McDowell County: Lower Catawba Falls Access safety and accessibility improvements, $100,000

• Carolina Mountain Club: Wilderness First Aid Class for Hike Leaders, $5,000

For a full list of all project awards, please click here.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Amazing Interview With Man Who Survived a Grizzly Bear Attack - Twice

This is a truly an amazing story. Todd Orr, an all-around outdoorsman from Bozeman, Montana, sat down with Jason Matzinger to discuss the sow grizzly bear that attacked him twice last fall. This guy was so incredibly calm and collected that he had the wherewithal to walk the three miles back to the trailhead by himself, and then shoot a short video of himself to show the damage done by the bear. That short clip is included in this video:

Before venturing into grizzly bear country it's always a good idea to educate yourself on how to prevent an encounter, and what to do should you see a grizzly while on the trail.