Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Armed Suspect Search Closes Portions of Pisgah Ranger District

On Saturday, July 22, 2017, Transylvania County Sheriff’s Deputies received a BOLO from Henderson County in reference to a suspect vehicle in a breaking and entering in Mills River near the Transylvania and Henderson County Line. Later this same morning, Patrol Deputies with the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office located a vehicle matching the description in Pisgah National Forest, just off U.S. Highway 276 North. When a patrol deputy attempted to initiate a vehicle stop on Avery’s Creek Road, the suspect refused to stop and a vehicle pursuit ensued.

The suspect continued on Avery’s Creek Road, and at one point quickly exited his vehicle, and stole a mountain bike, while pointing a firearm (unknown handgun) at the victim / owner. The suspect placed the stolen bike in his vehicle, and the vehicle pursuit continued. TCSO Deputies were unable to make contact at that instance due to the crowded nature of hikers and campers on the roadway. The suspect then blocked the roadway, parking his vehicle sideways, got on the stolen mountain bike, and fled into the woods.

A perimeter was established in the area, and the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team (SRT) was called out to attempt to locate the suspect. Other agencies assisting in the manhunt include the Brevard Police Department, the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement, the NC State Highway Patrol (including helicopter support), the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office (including a Special Response Team), the NC State Bureau of Investigation, and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of this press release, the suspect has not been located.

The suspect has been positively identified as Phillip Michael Stroupe II (photo and updates here), Date of Birth 7/25/1978 (38 years old), with a last known address of Weaverville, NC. He is described as a white male, approximately 5-feet 8-inches tall, with a small build; he has a shaved head and a large distinct tattoo on his neck just under his chin. HE IS CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS. The suspect has a history of violence and resisting law enforcement. He has outstanding warrants in Buncombe County for kidnapping, and he also has pending charges in Yancey County.

If anyone has any information, please contact the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office at (828) 884-3168.

The latest closure information:

Highway 276 on the Pisgah Ranger District and Davidson River Road (#475) have now reopened.

Attractions along Highway 276 are now open except for the Cradle of Forestry. Sliding Rock is open but restrooms are closed and no lifeguards are on duty today. Regular operations will resume tomorrow.

Remaining closed are North Mills River Campground, Wash Creek Group Horse Camp, Yellow Gap Road, and Wash Creek Road due to continued law enforcement activities in those areas.

Numerous law enforcement agencies led by Transylvania County Sheriff's Office are engaged in a search for a suspect who is known to be armed and dangerous.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Pisgah National Forest issues Warning about Black Bears in the Pink Beds Vicinity

The Pisgah National Forest is warning visitors going to the Pink Beds in the Pisgah Ranger District to be on the look-out for black bears.

The warning comes after a recent bear encounter was reported by campers in the Pink Beds. The encounter resulted in minor property damage and no injuries. The campers reported that the bear rummaged through their belongings after they heard the bear and left the site. The campers also reported that their food was stored in the trunk of their car.

This time of the year black bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips. While black bear attacks on people are rare, such attacks have resulted in human fatalities.

To avoid bear attacks, experts recommend the following:

* If you notice a bear nearby, pack up your food and trash immediately and vacate the area as soon as possible.

* If a bear approaches, move away slowly; do not run. Get into a vehicle or a secure building.

* If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, by banging pans together, or throwing rocks and sticks at it.

If you are attacked by a black bear, try to fight back using any object available. Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms. Playing dead is not appropriate.

Visitors are encouraged to prevent bear interactions by practicing these additional safety tips:

* Do not store food in tents

* Properly store food and scented items like toothpaste by using a bear-proof container

* Clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills, or other areas of your campsite

* Do not leave food unattended

* Never run away from a bear—back away slowly and make lots of noise

The large number of bear sightings and encounters in the past few years has led to required use of bear-proof canisters in the Shining Rock and Graveyard Fields areas. Backcountry users must use commercially-made canisters constructed of solid, non-pliable material manufactured for the specific purpose of resisting entry by bears.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Join Park Rangers for Smokies Service Days

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are excited to announce a new opportunity for the public to participate in service projects across the park. Park staff have coordinated ten Smokies Service Days on Saturdays beginning July 22 through October 28. Individuals and groups are invited to sign up for any of the scheduled service projects that interest them including unique opportunities to help care for park cemeteries, campgrounds, trails, roadsides, rivers, and native plant gardens.

This new volunteer program will help complete much needed work across the park and is ideal for those seeking to fulfill community service requirements including students, scout troops, civic organizations, visitors, families, and working adults with busy schedules. Each project will provide tasks appropriate for a wide range of ages. Volunteer projects will begin at 9:00 a.m. and last until noon on Saturday mornings. In addition, each project will be followed by an optional enrichment adventure to immerse participants in the abundant natural and cultural resources of the park.

Tools and safety gear, including gloves and high visibility safety vests, will be provided by park staff. Participants will be required to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, closed-toe shoes, and bring water. Volunteers planning to stay for the optional enrichment activity must also bring a sack lunch.

Those interested in volunteering need to contact Project Coordinator, Logan Boldon, at 865-436-1278 or logan_boldon@partner.nps.gov at least three days prior to the scheduled event date to register.

Service opportunities include:

July 22: Litter Patrol on the Spur
August 5: Gardening at Oconaluftee
August 12: Cemetery Rehabilitation at Elkmont
August 26: Campground Clean-Up at Elkmont
September 9: Campground Clean-Up at Smokemont
September 30: Trail Rehabilitation for National Public Lands Day
October 7: Farm Maintenance at Oconaluftee
October 14: Vegetation Management at Twin Creeks
October 21: Historic Preservation and Campground Clean-Up at Cataloochee
October 28: Litter Patrol and Stream Restoration at Deep Creek


Friday, July 14, 2017

Smokies Reminds Visitors about Clingmans Dome Road Closure for the Solar Eclipse Event

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are reminding visitors that Clingmans Dome Road will be closed to all access beginning at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 19 through the evening of Monday, August 21 following the event. No overnight parking will be allowed at Clingmans Dome Parking Area or pull-offs, parking areas, and trailheads along the road during this time period. The road will be closed to all motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

During the closure, all trails, campsites and shelters in the backcountry will remain open, but backpackers should carefully consider the road closure when planning their itineraries. All vehicles must be clear of Clingmans Dome Road by 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 19. An interactive map is available on the park website at http://go.nps.gov/GRSM_ECLIPSE where backcountry users can view which backcountry campsites are within the path of totality.

Clingmans Dome Road is the only park road closed for the solar eclipse event, but park visitors should be prepared for high volume traffic across all park roads on Monday, August 21. Vehicles cannot stop in the roadway and must be parked in designated parking areas. If roads become congested or cause a safety concern, rangers may temporarily close them to additional inbound traffic until after the eclipse to reduce traffic congestion and allow access for emergency response. Visitors should expect temporary road closures throughout the day.

While the western half of the park lies within the path of totality, there are limited roads and parking areas available for travel. The risk of traffic jams and road closures is likely to increase throughout the morning of August 21. Managers suggest that visitors plan ahead to find the right eclipse experience for their situation. Many communities outside of the national park are hosting special events to observe and celebrate the celestial phenomena and those locales may be a great alternative for locals or travelers not wanting to risk traffic congestion in the park. Visit the park website for more information at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Partnership Rekindled Between Smokies and the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and U.S. Forest Service officials gathered to announce the re-establishment of an important partnership between the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (JCCCC) and the park. The two organizations signed an agreement establishing a pathway for career developmental opportunities for youth.

“We are fortunate to have the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center in our backyard,” said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “This partnership will allow hard-working youth an opportunity to acquire important, trade skills as they work alongside park staff. These skills can help them transition into the workforce of tomorrow.”

This partnership will provide robust training opportunities for students which will enable them to support the National Parks commitment to the preservation and conservation of our public lands. Students will receive on-the-job training and hands-on experience by working jointly with national park staff in the protection of resources, prescribed fire, facility maintenance, and administration.

“We are truly elated to partner with the National Park Service,” said Oconaluftee Job Corps Center Director Jimmy Copeland. “This partnership brings education, awareness, and training opportunities to our youth thus creating pipelines for employment and resource awareness in their future. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an integral part of the success of our center and we are excited to work more closely with them in serving our communities.”

Over the past 30 years, students from the Oconaluftee JCCCC have assisted the park in the removal of exotic plant species, treatment of forest insect pests, facility construction, and wildland fire fighting. Some students have gone on to receive seasonal and permanent employment with the National Park Service. This renewed partnership will allow students to receive important certifications along with job training.

The Oconaluftee JCCCC is nestled within Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Cherokee, NC. The Job Corps program is the nation’s largest residential, educational, and career technical training program that prepares economically disadvantaged youth, ranging in age from 16 to 24, for productive employment. Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (JCCCCs) are associated with national forests or grasslands and are operated by the Forest Service under an inter-agency agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, which has the overall management of the Job Corps program.

USDA Forest Service operates 26 JCCCCs that span seven Forest Service regions, 23 national forests and grasslands and 17 states with a capacity to house, educate, and train over 5,000 enrollees. In addition to offering enrollees the opportunity to earn their high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, and enroll in college classes, JCCCCs offer vocational training in more than 30 occupations, many of which are pre-apprenticeship programs managed international trade unions.


Friday, June 30, 2017

District Attorney Issues Statement on Chimney Tops 2 Fire: Charges Dropped

The following is a statement issued today by James B. Dunn, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District:

For the past seven months, an investigation has been underway into the origin, cause and consequences of a fire that started on November 23, 20165, in an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park referred to the Chimney Tops. The investigation is now complete the investigation was led by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with the assistance of the National Park Service and local law enforcement, as well as various other local, state and federal agencies. The investigation involved thousands of investigative hours, over 100 witness and expert interviews across multiple states, thousands of potential witnesses, as well as thousands of pages of documents, records photographs and hours of video evidence and audio recordings.

After a comprehensive review of all of the evidence gathered and presented by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Gatlinburg Police Department, Pigeon Forge Police Department, Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, the State, in consultation with other law enforcement agencies and various experts in wildfire progression, has determined that the unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable wind event that started in the early morning hours of November 28,2016, approximately four and a half days after the initial origin of the fire, was the primary reason of the Chimney Tops II fire traveled outside the park into Gatlinburg. But for the winds that reached speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour, it is highly unlikely and improbably that the Chimney Tops II fire would have left the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and reached Gatlinburg.

Because of this intervening weather event, the State is unable to prove the criminal responsibility of two juveniles beyond a reasonable doubt for the devastation that occurred outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to the wind, the State’s cause is further complicated by the fact that there were other fires in the area and other confirmed ignition points in the Gatlinburg area from multiple downed power lines that were felled by the wind. Some of these fires appear to have erupted prior to the fire from the Park breaching the Gatlinburg city limits. Once the investigation confirmed multiple fires with multiple points of origin, it became impossible to prove which fire may have caused the death of an individual or damage to a particular structure. Based upon this evidence, the State’s case was narrowed to prosecuting conduct that occurred wholly within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Once the State determined that is prosecution may be limited to conduct and actions occurring within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the District Attorney’s Office conducted additional research and investigation into jurisdictional issues regarding criminal prosecution by the State for actions or events that occur wholly within National Park land. This investigation and research revealed the existence of two documents or “Memoranda of Agreement” regarding concurrent criminal jurisdiction between the State of Tennessee and the National Park Service. One of these documents specifically lists the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as being part of a concurrent criminal jurisdiction agreement between the State of Tennessee and the National Park Service on behalf of the Federal Government. The second of these documents is an exact duplicate of the first, save one critical difference: it does not include the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the agreement. Eleven other National Park Service on behalf of the Federal Government. The second of these documents is an exact duplicate of the first, save one critical difference: it does not include the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the agreement. Eleven other National Park Service properties are listed on each document. It is unclear how both of these documents got into circulation, but it is clear that both have been used by various agencies in different contests.

After becoming aware of these competing documents, the State notified the Defense immediately and sought advice from the State Attorney General’s Office as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office as to which document was controlling and whether or not the State could prosecute criminal acts that occur within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After reviewing the documents, both the State Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office advised that it was their respective opinions that the State of Tennessee does not have jurisdiction to prosecute criminal acts that occur wholly within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Therefore, any prosecution for criminal conduct occurring entirely within the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must be initiated by the federal government.

Based upon these findings, the State has no other option but to dismiss the charges currently pending in state court as there is no subject matter jurisdiction that would allow the state court to take any action. To retain jurisdiction, the State must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one element of a criminal offense occurred outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and within the State’s jurisdiction. The State has concluded that this burden cannot be met due to the intervening weather event that occurred before any fire reached the State’s jurisdiction. Therefore, the decision to prosecute any individuals alleged to have caused a fire within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is now within the purview of the United States Department of Justice.

The District Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial District would like to thank all agencies, law enforcement and otherwise, including the TBI, the National Park Service, the Sevier county Sheriff’s Office (with special recognition for the outstanding work done by the GIS Division), the Gatlinburg Police Department, the Pigeon Forge Police Department, the Pittman Center Police Department, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, for their incredible hard work in investigating this unprecedented event. This office would also like to thank and commend the hundreds of firefighters and police officers from the national, regional, state and local levels for their extraordinary bravery and courage in confronting these fires.


Friday, June 23, 2017

USDA Announces $20 Million for Jobs for Young People, Veterans

USDA and partners committed $20 million in 21st Century Conservation Service Corps partnership agreements to provide 4,000 work opportunities for youth, young adults and veterans up to 35 years old, a move that will help the U.S. Forest Service accomplish mission-critical infrastructure and landscape restoration projects on the ground. The U.S. Forest Service is one of seventeen USDA Agencies.

The funding represents investments by USDA of $13 million and $7 million from partner organizations. Contributions by the Forest Service and partners are expected to reach $40 million by the end of 2017 and provide 11,000 work opportunities. Some funds are already placed with 21st Century Conservation Service Corps partnership agreements; other funds will continue to be obligated throughout the summer.

“The 21st Century Conservation Corps is not merely a summer jobs program,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This is about nurturing our public lands as well as our veterans, youth and young adults through a variety of opportunities to develop leadership potential and professional and personal connections through work across many diverse landscapes.”

The work accomplished by participants will include hundreds of miles of trail maintenance and improvements, watershed protection, removal of vegetation as part of wildfire prevention, improvements to recreation facilities, and other essential work on lands managed by the Forest Service.

Since the program started in 2014, the Forest Service generated nearly 30,000 opportunities for youth and veterans to work on projects that benefit public lands. Corps partners provide hands-on service and job training while working with the Forest Service and other land management agencies to build America’s rural and urban economies, strengthen America’s infrastructure, and modernize the way government works.

Involving veterans in these opportunities helps them learn new skills while continuing to serve their nation and local communities. In FY 2016, 910 veterans were engaged on Forest Service volunteerism and service projects, of which 170 participated in 21st Century Conservation Corps projects. In FY 2017, the agency expects to hire 186 veterans.

About 20 percent of the 4,000 opportunities funded by this year’s commitment will be for Youth Conservation Corps jobs, a summer employment program on public lands that employ high school-aged youth. About 25 percent of the dedicated resources will support high-priority trail maintenance and improvements.

Projects will be on public lands in rural communities from coast to coast and will include diverse work experiences.

Annually, the Forest Service engages about 100,000 volunteers and 21st Century Conservation Service Corps participants. As part of an emphasis on strengthening and deepening connections with the public through outdoor experiences, the agency is committed to expanding its capacity for greater volunteerism and community service. The goal is to increase engagement to 115,000 volunteers by 2020 mostly through individual and partner organizations committed to the conservation of the public lands legacy.

To participate in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps contact a member organization.

For additional information about funded projects, jobs, volunteering and other opportunities for young people, visit the Forest Service online Working with Us page.