Friday, September 19, 2014

Temporary Closure of Rich Mountain and Parson Branch Roads Scheduled

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials will temporarily close two gravel, one-way roads in Cades Cove for grading and hazardous tree removal work. Rich Mountain Road will be closed on September 22 and 23. Parson Branch Road will be closed on September 24 and 25. During the closures, the roads will be closed to all traffic including pedestrians.

Both roads are regularly closed two to three times a year for routine maintenance. All work will be completed during the week to minimize disruptions to park visitors and neighboring communities.

For more information about road closures, please visit the park's website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Smokies Rangers Continue Fight Against Ginseng Poachers

Last week's NPS Morning Report announced in two separate postings that rangers have nabbed several ginseng poachers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park in recent months.

On August 6th, Rangers Wes Mullins and James Latendresse arrested Christopher Ian Jacobson, 31, of Cosby, Tennessee. Jacobson unsuccessfully attempted to flee from rangers upon being contacted, but was caught and placed into custody. Jacobson pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of 298 ginseng roots; he was sentenced to 80 days in prison and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

This past July park rangers came upon an unoccupied vehicle parked along Little River Road in an area known for ginseng poaching and began surveillance of the area. After more than two hours, three men returned to the vehicle with dirty clothing and hands, which indicated that they’d been crawling on the ground on their hands and knees.

Field Training Ranger Will Jaynes and Field Trainee Zebulon Whitaker contacted the men. During the ensuing interview, the rangers observed several digging tools in the vehicle. All three subsequently admitted to illegally harvesting ginseng from the park. Several bags containing ginseng were located within the car. In all, 870 roots, more than five pounds, were recovered. All three men were issued mandatory appearance citations.

A week prior to this incident, Jaynes and Whitaker were working in the Greenbrier area of the park when they saw two men in possession of a tool that could easily be used for digging in the ground. An investigation revealed that both men were also in possession of illegally harvested ginseng from the park. In this case 29 roots were recovered. Both men were issued mandatory appearance citations. Acting Cosby Area Supervisor Chuck Hester assisted.

On June 28th Rangers Wes Mullins, James Latendresse and Jason Campos were conducting a backcountry patrol in an area of prime ginseng habitat when they spotted a man with a history of ginseng poaching. The rangers were able to move in on him without being detected.

The man – Billy Joe Hurley, 46, of Bryson City, North Carolina – was known to rangers as having a history of convictions for ginseng poaching and other offenses within the park. He was arrested for the illegal possession or harvesting of American ginseng from the park.

Hurley admitted to possessing 83 ginseng roots he had illegally dug from areas in the park and later pleaded guilty to the poaching charge in court – his fourth such conviction. On August 28th, he was sentenced to serve five months and fifteen days in prison.

Over the past 12 months, rangers have seized 2,345 illegally harvested ginseng roots from both North Carolina and Tennessee areas of the park and charged 26 individuals in connection with these crimes. In each case, once the roots were processed as evidence, rangers worked closely with staff from the park’s division of resource management and science to replant suitable roots elsewhere in the park.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Smokies Extends Chimney Tops Trail Closures

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have extended the Chimney Tops Trail closure through December 11th to fully complete the 3-year trail rehabilitation. The trail will continue to be closed each Monday through Thursday as workers complete the full-scale rehabilitation. The trail is open Friday through Sunday each week offering hikers a unique opportunity to see improvements taking shape along the trail.

"We appreciate the patience and support of hikers during the restoration of Chimney Tops Trail," said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. "The highly-skilled Trails Forever crew, along with volunteers, have accomplished an amazing feat by turning a heavily eroded trail into a durable trail that will better protect delicate trailside resources and serve visitors well into the future."

The combination of heavy use, abundant rainfall, and steep terrain turned the Chimney Tops Trail into a badly eroded obstacle course of slick, broken rock, exposed tree roots, and mud. Since April 2012, The Park’s Trails Forever Crew has been rebuilding the trail using durable stone and rot-resistant black locust timbers that will stabilize the trail for decades to come, reducing annual maintenance and greatly improving the visitor experience.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Friends of the Smokies who donated $500,000 to carry out the project on Chimney Tops Trail, and the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation.

For more information on the Trails Forever program, including how to become a volunteer, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Smokies Cautions Visitors on How to Safely View Elk

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind park visitors to exercise caution as they view and photograph elk so that both the animals and themselves are protected. Elk are currently entering the fall breeding season, known as the rut. During this time period, from September 1 through October 31, fields in Cataloochee and Oconaluftee are closed to all use. Even if the elk are not present, people are not allowed to walk into the fields.

During the rut, male elk make bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows. Dominant bulls use the fields to gather and breed with harems of up to 20 cows. Bull elk actively defend their territory by charging and sparring with competitors using their antlers to intimidate and spar with other males. Encroaching too close may lead a bull to perceive you or your vehicle as a threat causing them to charge.

“We ask that people help protect the elk herd by honoring the field closures to ensure that elk are not disturbed during this important breeding season,” said Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “Bull elk, which can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds, are wild animals with unpredictable behavior. To help ensure your own safety, make sure you have parked in a safe location and remain close to your vehicle so that you can get inside if an elk approaches.”

Park Rangers encourage visitors to use binoculars, spotting scopes, or cameras with telephoto lenses to best enjoy wildlife. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, are illegal in the park. If approached by an elk, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass. If elk are near the roadways, remain in or next to your vehicle at a safe distance from the animal.

Park volunteers, through the Elk Bugle Corp, Oconaluftee Rover, and Roadside Assistance volunteer programs, provide on-site information and assist in traffic management at both Cataloochee and Oconaluftee during the rut season. Funds to support these programs are provided by Friends of the Smokies.

For more information on how to safely view elk, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, September 15, 2014

Winter is Coming: Seven Days on the John Muir Trail

"The mountains are calling and I must go"

- John Muir

Below is a video from Ryan Commons that documents his hike across the Sierra Mountains along the John Muir Trail.

Ryan made the trip from the Mt. Whitney Portal to Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park - 222.4 miles - in just seven days! Along the way he climbed a total of 42,000 feet, or, put another way, almost 8 miles of climbing! Obviously he put in some pretty insane milage each day to accomplish this goal.

Ryan followed the trail up to Mount Whitney, which, at 14,496 ft, is the highest peak in the lower 48. From there he passed through King's Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, and the Ansel Adams Wilderness before ending his journey in Yosemite.

At 40 minutes in length, the video is fairly long, but is very well made, and well worth the spectacular scenery alone:

WINTER IS COMING - Seven Days on the John Muir Trail from Ryan Commons on Vimeo.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Ode to the Blue Ridge Mountains

I think you'll like this one. The locations featured in this short film are all in Virginia, and include the Peaks of Otter, Mt Rogers, Grayson Highlands State Park, McAfee Knob, Shenandoah National Park, Poor Mountain, and Mill Mountain.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lost Tales of the Great Smoky Mountains Pioneers - The Cataloochee Settlement

Through rare historical and contemporary photographs, this short film depicts life in the Cataloochee settlement during the 1900's. Cataloochee was once the largest settlement in the Great Smoky Mountains. Extensive oral history accounts by Cataloochans describe early life in this pioneer settlement:

Hiking in the Smokies