Thursday, December 18, 2014

Partners Make Progress in Restoring Grandfather Ranger District

The U.S. Forest Service and a spectrum of partners collaborated to help restore close to 6,000 acres in the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, through the Grandfather Restoration Project over the past year.

“I commend our partners for their ongoing hard work and dedication to the Grandfather Restoration Project,” said Grandfather District Ranger Nick Larson. “This year’s accomplishments illustrate the power of leveraged resources and how great things can be achieved when diverse partners collaborate in a single landscape.”

The Grandfather Restoration Project is a 10-year effort that increases prescribed burning and other management practices on 40,000 acres of the Grandfather Ranger District. The project is restoring the fire-adapted forest ecosystems, benefiting a variety of native plants and wildlife, increasing stream health, controlling non-native species and protecting hemlocks against hemlock woolly adelgids. The project is one of 10 projects announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in February 2012, under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program.

In fiscal year 2014, the Grandfather Restoration Project established forest vegetation on 44 acres, improved forest vegetation on 339 acres, restored or enhanced 5,345 acres of terrestrial habitat and 2.5 miles of stream habitat. The Project also treated for invasive species on 135 acres, restored watershed health on two acres, maintained or improved 50 miles of trails, and reduced hazardous fuels on 3,439 acres.

Project partners provided the following contributions in fiscal year 2014:

* The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission improved early successional habitat (young forests) by mowing 648 acres, treating 44 acres of invasive species, conducting 13 different surveys for land and water species, stocking 3,000 brown trout , clearing 1.5 miles of fire break, performing prescribed burning on adjacent lands, and collecting data on black bears.

* The Wilderness Society provided 672 hours studying the fire ecology of the Linville Gorge Wilderness, 20 hours on shortleaf pine restoration planning, and 651 hours on a variety of trail work.

* The N.C. Forest Service assisted with prescribed burns on the Grandfather Ranger District and conducted burns on adjacent private lands.

* Western North Carolina Alliance provided 39 hours for shortleaf pine restoration project development, 48 hours in vegetation monitoring and 50 hours in invasive species monitoring.

* The Nature Conservancy spent 26 hours assisting with prescribed burns, 40 hours on public outreach, and 97 hours on project development for shortleaf pine restoration.

* Wild South volunteers spent 600 hours removing, by hand, non-native species in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.

* N.C. Department of Transportation provided funding for bridge replacement at Catawba Falls recreation area.

A critical component of the Grandfather Restoration Project is monitoring the effectiveness of restoration management practices. Partners monitor all aspects of the project, from prescribed burning to invasive species treatment effectiveness. Monitoring efforts following prescribed burns show a 90 percent reduction in evergreen shrub cover (hazardous fuels), as well as an increase in wildlife use and diversity. Invasive species monitoring shows 70 percent average effectiveness in killing target plant species during initial treatments.

Additional partners involved in the project include: Foothills Conservancy, Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network, North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Land of Sky Regional Council, National Wild Turkey Federation, Southern Research Station, National Park Service, Appalachian Designs, Western Carolina University, Trout Unlimited, Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of Wilson Creek, Forest Stewards, Quality Deer Management Association, and the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Day Hikes to be offered at every North Carolina State Park on Jan. 1st

A North Carolina tradition continues on New Year’s Day with opportunities to exercise and reconnect with nature on First Day Hikes at every state park and recreation area, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

In the past three years, hikers in North Carolina have joined rangers and volunteers to walk more than 10,000 miles on state park trails Jan. 1. There will be more than 40 scheduled hikes ranging from short “leg-stretchers” to six-mile treks, many of them offering interpretive programs along the way. All seasonal state park facilities will remain open on the holiday.

“The relatively new tradition of First Day Hikes has been embraced by people in North Carolina as an opportunity to begin the new year with a healthy activity, to shed the stress of the holidays and to reconnect with the outdoors and the rich natural resources that distinguish North Carolina,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “It also serves as a reminder that state parks are always available for exercise, family activities and education for more than 14 million visitors each year.”

Each state park and state recreation area puts its own stamp on its First Day Hike. At Haw River State Park in Guilford County, hikers will preview a new 3.2-mile trail that will open for general use in coming months. Crowders Mountain State Park will make use of a six-mile trail that links park lands in North Carolina and South Carolina. Hikers often see fresh snow at Elk Knob and Mount Mitchell state parks, while Pettigrew State Park is a seasonal home to flocks of wintering waterfowl. And, the Eno River Association will offer long and short hikes as part of a decades-old tradition at Eno River State Park.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Time-lapse Video of Inversion at the Grand Canyon

A rare ground inversion last Thursday filled the Grand Canyon from rim to rim with a sea of clouds.

Ground inversions at Grand Canyon are a sight to behold – clouds fill the canyon with sunny, blue skies above the rims. The topography of Grand Canyon enhances the effect of inversions, creating the dramatic views of a sea of fog and clouds seemingly dense enough to walk out on.

Ground inversions occur when cold air is trapped by a layer of warm air. On clear, cold nights ground temperatures cool rapidly. Air in contact with cold surfaces cools and sinks. At Grand Canyon cold, moist air drops into the canyon forming cascading “waterfalls” of clouds pouring down the rim filling the canyon. Warm air above the rim holds the clouds in place until enough solar radiation is received to warm the surface of the rocks, heating the cold, dense clouds in the canyon and causing them to rise.

Visitors at Grand Canyon during an inversion are challenged to be patient. Waiting out the warming process is well worth the effort; when the clouds start to lift the currents of air swirl and turn on themselves parting like curtains to reveal bursts of color and light, a breathtaking spectacle.

Below is a one minute time-lapse video from the Grand Canyon National Park showing what happened last Thursday:


Chilogate Stream Restoration Underway near Foothills Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced that work has begun through the Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program to restore the lower 5,000 feet of Chilogate Creek near the Foothills Parkway and the confluence with Chilhowee Lake. The restoration work will return the stream to its original meandering path which will both enhance riparian wetland habitat as well as reducing the risk of undercutting by the current stream alignment along Happy Valley Road and the Ft. Loudon Utility lines.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to restore Chilogate Creek and the associated wetlands,” said Jeff Troutman, Chief of Resource Management and Science. “Restored streambanks and wetland vegetation will help create a buffer that better filters sediments and improves water quality.”

The project will restore the original stream meander in the lower reaches and repair damaged streambanks on the upper reaches. Wetland communities, rare in the park, will be enhanced through this project providing improved habitat for a variety of species as well as improving water quality. The area includes critical wetland habitat for a state listed plant, Tennessee pondweed (Potamogeton tennesseensis), which is found near Chilogate Creek's confluence with Chilowee Lake. The work will also include removing the invasive, non-native Brazilian water milfoil.

The restoration project should be completed by April 2015. For more information about park wetlands, click here.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Smokies Hosts Holiday Homecoming

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host a Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Saturday, December 20, 2014. The visitor center will be decorated for the holiday season including an exhibit on Christmas in the mountains. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on traditional crafts and activities from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Children and adults will have the opportunity to learn about and experience some of the traditions surrounding an Appalachian Christmas. Hot apple cider and cookies will be served on the porch with a fire in the fireplace. From 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., the park will host the monthly acoustic old time jam session.

“Musical expression was and still is often a part of daily life in the southern mountains, and mountain music is strongly tied to the Smokies history and culture,” said Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger, Oconaluftee Visitor Center. “This month our music jam will focus on traditional holiday tunes. We would like to invite musicians to play and our visitors to join us in singing traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs as was done in old days.”

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Highway 441), two miles north of Cherokee, N.C. For more information, call the visitor center at (828) 497-1904. All activities are free and open to the public. Generous support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this Christmas season, please take a few moments to check out our Accomodations Listings for a wide variety of lodging options in Gatlinburg, Townsend, Pigeon Forge and the North Carolina side of the Smokies.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Master Plan to be Prepared for Mountains-to-Sea State Trail

Ideas to be gathered from partners, stakeholders and the public will be a major component of a master planning process underway to guide completion of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

The 1,000-mile trail corridor will ultimately link Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the coast. Nearly two thirds of the cross-state route has been completed as a continuous, off-road trail experience, offering opportunities for hiking, biking and horseback riding through some of North Carolina’s most scenic landscapes. Where the trail has not yet been completed, detours along secondary roads allow ambitious hikers to complete the trek.

A completed master plan will chart a path toward official designation of remaining portions by setting priorities for completing trail sub-sections. It will also unify regional planning efforts, identify potential new partners and funding strategies, and establish guidelines for signs and publicity. The state parks system has hired Planning Communities, LLC to prepare a detailed master plan by late 2015 at a contract price of $120,000 supported through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

A Planning Communities Website linked from offers a route to get involved in the planning effort, with updates on planned regional stakeholder meetings to be held in early 2015 and a survey to gather planning resources.

“As we move toward completion of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, it’s important to have a guiding document that will focus our efforts for a project that has captured the public’s imagination since it was proposed in the 1970s,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “The master planning process will attract partners and volunteers to the concept, and we’re eager to gather ideas from local governments and citizens.”

A unit of the state parks system, the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail is envisioned as the backbone of a network of regional hiking, paddling and multi-use trails across the state, which could be easily connected to local trail and greenway efforts. Eventually, the trail will link 33 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and offer local access to 40 percent of the state’s population. The state parks system, other state agencies, federal agencies, local governments and volunteers organized by Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail have built sections of the trail, representing a partnership that includes hundreds of citizens and every level of government.

For more information on the MST in the Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Smokies Announces Alum Cave Trail Restoration Project

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the next full-scale, Trails Forever restoration will begin on Alum Cave Trail in 2015. The Trails Forever crew will focus restoration efforts on several targeted locations along the 5-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. The restoration work will require temporary trail closures throughout the 2-year process.

Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, leading hikers to iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, Mt. Le Conte, and LeConte Lodge. Park rangers respond to numerous accidents along the trail each year, especially along the upper, narrow corridors. The planned work will improve overall trail safety and protect natural resources by repairing historic cable and handrail systems, reinforcing hanging trail sections, reducing trail braiding, and improving drainage to prevent further erosion. There are also several narrow areas where erosion and small landslides have damaged significant sections of the trail, making it difficult to safely travel through the areas during inclement weather or to pass hikers coming from the opposite direction. By restoring these fragile trail sections, the park can best ensure long-term sustainability and protect trailside natural communities from degradation.

Alum Cave Trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 4 through November 19 in 2015, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. Hikers can still reach Mt. Le Conte, LeConte Lodge, and the Le Conte Shelter by using one of the other five trails to the summit. The Mt. LeConte Lodge and Mt. Le Conte backcountry shelter will remain open and can be accessed from any of these other routes during the Alum Cave Trail closure.

“A weekday closure of Alum Cave Trail is not an easy decision to make, but we feel it is necessary to ensure the continued protection of resources and safe use of the trail for hikers now and into the future,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We hope hikers will take this opportunity to explore another route to Mt. Le Conte, hike some of our other 800 plus miles of trail, or hike Alum Cave Trail on the weekends.”

The Boulevard, Bull Head, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, and Brushy Mountain trails all lead to Mt. Le Conte, but trailhead parking is limited. Carpooling is encouraged. Day hikers should also consider enjoying other trails offering stunning views such as Chimney Tops Trail, Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald, or the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends have donated $500,000 to support the program, in part through the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park including the recently restored Forney Ridge Trail and Chimney Tops Trail which opens December 12. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations.

For more information about the Alum Cave Trail closure, please click here to find answers to frequently asked questions and updates on the trail restoration.

For more information about the Alum Cave Trail, please click here.