Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Successful Restoration of State-threatened Peregrine Continues in Shenandoah National Park

Between early May and mid-July, Shenandoah National Park Natural Resources staff, working in partnership with the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Virginia Department of Transportation, has successfully restored nine peregrine falcons in the park. The “foster” peregrine chicks used for this program came from coastal bridge nests in Virginia where juvenile peregrine survival has been low due to premature fledging over open water. Additionally, a current pair of nesting peregrines which includes an adult male fostered in the park in 2008 has successfully fledged three young in the park this year.

The restoration process, called “hacking”, at Shenandoah consists of taking at-risk falcon chicks from nest sites in eastern Virginia, and bringing them to the park where they are placed in protective wooden boxes (hack boxes) for approximately 14 days. The hackbox is typically placed on a high cliff ledge that mimics a natural peregrine falcon nest. The boxes are constructed so that the young birds can view and acclimate to their environment as they mature, but are protected from predators such as raccoons. While they are in the boxes, park staff provides for their care and feeding, and monitors their condition, all the while minimizing contact with humans.

When the falcons are ready for flight, the boxes are opened and the falcons are allowed to leave. They will continue to be fed and monitored at the hacksite as they learn to hunt for themselves. The young fledglings will often mimic their brood mates as they refine their flight and hunting skills. Generally, the falcons remain in the local area for several weeks. By late-July they begin to take extended "practice" flights of over 200 miles. By mid-August, they leave the area by wandering into other states and eventually migrating south or east as fall approaches. It is hoped that the birds will imprint on Shenandoah's prominent cliffs and return as breeding adults in 2-3 years.

The goal of this project is to boost peregrine falcon numbers in the Central Appalachians where peregrine recovery has been slow. This restoration work directly supports the conservation and long-term recovery efforts of state-threatened peregrine falcons in the park and throughout the Central Appalachians. As a result of the park’s ongoing restoration efforts, the park has supported a single nesting pair from 1994-1997, 2005-2007, and 2009-2014 (comprised of three different pairs). During this time, these pairs have seen a 62% breeding success rate. The park's current nesting peregrine pair fledged three young in late June. The pair represents one of only two reproductive peregrine pairs in the mountains of Virginia. The adult male peregrine from this pair was restored in Shenandoah in 2008 on Hawksbill Mountain. The higher peaks and cliffs of Shenandoah represent some of the best places to observe these amazing/rare birds of prey in the mountains of Virginia.

For additional information about the peregrine falcon, please click here.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Key Milestones in Hiking

Over the last several decades the sport of hiking has become increasingly more popular. According to the latest Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, 11.4% of all adults in the United States participated in hiking in 2013. But the burning question to a modern-day trekker such as myself, is when did people take to the trail for pleasure? Ever since our predecessors began walking on two feet humans have used bipedal mobility to hunt, explore, migrate to another territory, or trade goods with another community. At some point we as humans figured out that there doesn’t have to be a utilitarian reason for walking. We discovered that joy can be found by simply traipsing through the woods, seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, admiring the beauty of a wildflower, marveling at the roar of a waterfall, or soaking-in the awe-inspiring views from a mountain top. Is this a recent phenomenon, or was this something that humans always had a natural urging for? Here are a few of the key milestones in the history of hiking that’s led to its popularity today:

~3300 BCE: In 1991 two German tourists found the mummified remains of “Otzi, the Iceman” at roughly 10,530 feet in the Ă–tztal Alps along the Austrian–Italian border. Although scientists aren’t sure what this 5000-year-old man was doing at that high elevation, there are some that believe that Otzi may have been one of the first hikers or mountaineers.

125: The 2nd century Roman Emperor, Hadrian, hiked to the summit of Mt. Etna on Sicily to see the sunrise.

1778: Thomas West, an English priest, published A Guide to the Lakes, a detailed account of the scenery and landscape of the Lake District in northwestern England. The guide helped to popularize the idea of walking for pleasure and “to encourage the taste of visiting the lakes by furnishing the traveler with a Guide”.

1786: The beginning of modern mountaineering is marked by the first ascent of 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps.

1799: Williams College (of Massachusetts) President Ebenezer Fitch and two others climb Mt. Greylock.

1819: Abel Crawford, and his son Ethan, blaze an 8.5-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. This path is the oldest continually used hiking trail in the United States.

1830: A crew of 100 students and professors from Williams College blaze the Hopper Trail to the summit of Mt. Greylock. Later that same year students would build a wooden tower atop the same mountain. The tower was maintained into the 1850s, and was used for sightseeing and scientific observations.

1854: The beginning of the systematic sport of modern mountaineering as we essentially know it today is marked by the ascent of the Wetterhorn in the Swiss Alps by Sir Alfred Wills. His book, Wanderings Among the High Alps, published two years later, helped make mountaineering fashionable in Britain, and ushered in the systematic exploration of the Alps by British mountaineers These events also marked the beginning of the so-called “golden age of alpinism”.

1857: The world's first mountaineering club, the Alpine Club, was founded in London.

1863: Professor Albert Hopkins of Williams College founds the Alpine Club of Williamstown, the first hiking club in America. The stated purpose of the organization was “to explore the interesting places in the vicinity, to become acquainted, to some extent at least, with the natural history of the localities, and also to improve the pedestrian powers of the members”

1867: John Muir begins a 1000-mile walk from Indiana to Florida, which he recounts in his book, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. The trek launched a lifetime career of hiking and wilderness advocacy. His conservation efforts, books and articles would help to establish several national parks during and after his lifetime.

1872: Yellowstone becomes the world’s first national park after legislation is signed by President U.S. Grant.

1876: The Appalachian Mountain Club, America’s oldest recreational organization, was founded to explore and protect the trails and mountains in the northeastern United States.

1876: Newtown, England entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones designs the "Euklisia Rug", considered by many to be the forerunner of the modern sleeping bag. The rug included a wool blanket with a pocket at the top for a sewn-in, inflatable, rubber pillow. Once inside, the camper (or soldier) folded the blanket over and fastened it together, thus keeping themselves “snug in a rug”.

1879: One of the first hiking clubs in England, the 'Sunday Tramps', was founded by Leslie White. These early “rambling” (English for walking) clubs sprang up in the northern areas of England as part of a campaign for the legal "right to roam", a response to the fact that much of the land in England was privately owned.

1922: Lloyd F. Nelson submits his application to the U.S. Patent Office for his "Trapper Nelson's Indian Pack Board", which is acknowledged to be the first external-frame backpack. The "Trapper Nelson" featured a wooden "pack board" as its frame. On the frame was a canvas sack that contained the hiker's gear, which rested on the hiker's body by two canvas shoulder-straps. Prior to his invention hikers used a rucksack, which was essentially a loose sack with shoulder straps.

1930: The Green Mountain Club completes construction of the Long Trail, making it the first long-distance hiking trail in the United States.

1937: America's first “grand” trail, the Appalachian Trail, was completed in August of 1937. A forester by the name of Benton MacKaye conceived the idea in 1921.

1948: Earl Shaffer becomes the first person to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

1967: Climber Greg Lowe invents the internal frame backpack. The “Expedition Pack” also featured the first adjustable back system, first side compressors, first sternum strap and the first load stabilizers.

1969: Bob Gore accidentally stretches a solid polytetrafluoroethylene tape by almost 800%, which forms a microporous structure that was roughly 70% air. The discovery was introduced to the public under the trademark of "Gore-Tex", which became the first breathable, waterproof, and windproof fabric.

1992: Ray Jardine introduces the concept of ultralight backpacking with the release of his book, The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook. During his first PCT thru-hike Jardine’s pack weighed just 25 pounds. By his third it was less than 9 pounds. “Ray’s Way” of thinking has led to several innovations that have benefitted both backpackers and hikers.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Friday, July 25, 2014

Outdoor Recreation Participation Report: Camping and Backpacking Continues to Decline

The Outdoor Foundation is reporting that a record number of Americans participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2013, with nearly 50% of all Americans ages six and older taking part in at least one of the 43 outdoor activities, according to the latest Outdoor Recreation Participation Report. That percentage equates to 142.6 million American outdoor participants. Although the number of participants rose, the percentage of participants fell slightly from 49.4% in 2012 to 49.2% in 2013, due to population increase.

Compared to 2012, participation in outdoor activities increased or remained flat among youth and young adults - signaling a positive trend in America's inactivity crisis. The participation rate among children ages six to 12 rose one percentage point to 64%. Participation among young adults ages 18 to 24 also rose one point to 58%, while hard-to-reach adolescents, ages 13 to 17, remained flat at 60%.

Below are a few stats of interest:

* Participation in day hiking remained relatively flat again for the second year in a row. However, the latest figures don't reflect the strong growth in the outdoor pursuit in recent years. Compared to 2006 (the first year of the study), hiking is up 15.1%. Compared to 2010, participation in hiking has increased by 5.8%.

* Though backpacking has seen an increase in the number of participants over each of the last 2 years, the average number of outings per backpacker has dropped off sharply. As a result, backpacking has dropped out of the top 5 favorite outdoor activities for adults (ages 25+), based on the frequency of activity.

* Camping (within a 1/4 mile of a vehicle or home) continues to decline: down 11% when compared to 2011, and down almost 18% since 2006.

* Participation in adventure racing and triathlons saw the largest increases over the past three years. Adventure racing increased by 28%, while off-road triathlons increased by 25% and road triathlons increased by 10%.

In 2013, the top 5 most popular outdoor activities for adults (ages 25+), based on participation rates were:

1. Running, Jogging and Trail Running - 16.2% of adults
2. Fishing - 14.8% of adults
3. Bicycling (Road, Mountain and BMX) - 13.1% of adults
4. Hiking - 11.4% of adults
5. Camping (Car, Backyard and RV) - 10.6% of adults

The top 5 favorite outdoor activities for adults (ages 25+), based on frequency of activity were:

1. Running, Jogging and Trail Running - 81.4 average outings per runner
2. Bicycling (Road, Mountain and BMX) - 51.7 average outings per cyclist
3. Birdwatching - 37.7 average outings per birdwatcher
4. Wildlife Viewing - 25.2 average outings per viewer
5. Hunting - 24.2 average outings per hunter

The report is based on online and household surveys of more than 19,000 Americans ages six and older, and covers 43 different outdoor activities, making it the largest survey of its kind. To download a complete copy of the 2014 Outdoor Recreation Topline Participation Report, visit The Outdoor Foundation website.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tourism to Blue Ridge Parkway creates $782 Million in Economic Benefit

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 12,877,369 visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2013 spent $782,926,000 in communities near the park. That spending supported 11,283 jobs in adjacent communities.

"Over the years, the Blue Ridge Parkway has experienced fluctuations in visitation. Regardless of these fluctuations, Parkway staff remain committed to the mission of the National Park Service and work every day with the same goal in mind – to protect and preserve the rich natural and cultural resources along the Parkway, and provide meaningful visitor experiences," said superintendent Mark Woods. "We also recognize the Parkway's presence in the region provides many opportunities for surrounding communities as well, and we are happy to have so many communities in our region reporting strong tourism spending over all."

Tourism officials across the Parkway region in North Carolina and Virginia explain that the rise in popularity of outdoor recreation activities helps keep their tourism numbers robust. "Watauga County in western North Carolina's High Country saw a rise in occupancy tax revenue over last year," said Wright Tilley, Executive Director of Boone & Watauga County Tourism Development Authorities. "We know our visitors are looking for hiking experiences while in our area and the Parkway is the most popular starting point for hiking in our area."

Virginia tourism officials share similar feedback. "Outdoor recreation experiences on and off the Parkway are the mainstay of tourism in the Roanoke Valley, offered . "The Parkway provides a perfect backdrop to a variety of experiences, including several new special events in our area that celebrate the outdoors and provide new and creative economic opportunities for our community." Parkway visitation to date for 2014 shows a five percent rise in visitation, and looking ahead to the fall tourism season, Parkway and local tourism officials are confident that the cooperative nature of the relationship between the park and adjacent communities will serve the region well.

The National Park Service's peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.6 billion of direct spending by 273.6 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported more than 237,000 jobs nationally, with more than 197,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion.

According to the 2013 economic analysis, most visitor spending was for lodging (30.3%) followed by food and beverages (27.3%), gas and oil (12.1%), admissions and fees (10.3%) and souvenirs and other expenses (10%). The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

To download the report, please click here. The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Man convicted of operating illegal hiking guide service in Grand Canyon

Brazen? Or just brazenly stupid?

The NPS Morning Report is reporting that on October 19, 2013, rangers in the backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park became suspicious of the large number of hikers attempting to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim in a single day (known as a “Rim to Rim” hike). The hikers claimed to be hiking only with a small number of friends and not as part of a large group, but many appeared to be avoiding contact with rangers and they all described similar travel arrangements.

Subsequent investigations revealed that Scott Beck of Phoenix, Arizona, had chartered five buses to transport nearly 300 people to Grand Canyon National Park to hike across the canyon. Beck advertised the hike as the “23rd Annual” trip of a similar nature and charged each participant a set fee. Investigations also revealed that he had specifically instructed each hiker, both verbally and in a written itinerary, to tell rangers that they were “not with a group of 300,” that they were with a small group and had been transported by car or van.

The large number of hikers in the canyon that day caused impacts to vegetation and created long lines at the Phantom Ranch canteen and restroom facilities. The Phantom wastewater treatment operator reported that the sewage treatment plant was operating at capacity. Rangers took complaints from hikers who complained about congestion on the trails. Several minor medicals and search and rescue operations were also attributed to Beck’s group.

During interviews, Beck claimed that his trip was “organized” but not commercial, and that he had not profited. In January 2013, rangers served a search warrant on an online event registration website that Beck had used to solicit trip participants and collect fees. The evidence gathered from the search warrant was used to develop probable cause to charge Beck with engaging in an illegal business operation (36 CFR 5.3) and making false statements (18 USC 1001(a)(2)). Rangers estimated that Beck’s gross income for this event was over $47,000, and he profited by approximately $9,500.

On June 10th, Beck was convicted on one count of engaging in business operations without obtaining a permit in violation of 36 CFR 5.3. Pursuant to a plea agreement, he was sentenced to a year of probation, during which time he is banned from Grand Canyon National Park and from conducting or advertising for any tours or guided trips on national park or national forest lands. He was also fined $500 and ordered to serve 50 hours of community service.

Beck has since formally notified all trip participants that he will no longer be conducting his annual trip, and has pledged to donate $2,000 to Grand Canyon National Park.

The investigation was led by rangers and conducted with the assistance of Investigative Services Branch special agents.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gregory Bald, 2014

In case you weren't able to make it up to Gregory Bald last month to see the world-famous azaleas, the Great Smoky Mountains Association has published a short video highlighting some of the scenes from this year's spectacular show:





Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rangers Save Three From Drowning in Chattahoochee River

According to Friday's NPS Morning Report, on the evening of July 6th, Rangers Paul Forward and Chris Calkins and Supervisory Ranger Sean Perchalski were patrolling Diving Rock, one of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s busiest areas, when Forward spotted a man in the middle of the river who appeared to be in distress.

The man went under several times as two other visitors struggled to keep him afloat. He then began to pull both of them underwater.

Forward threw them a lifeguard rescue tube and a throw bag, but the people in the water couldn’t reach them. Perchalski then threw a life vest and a second throw bag, which they were able to grab and use to stay afloat. The rangers then pulled all three to shore.

The 22-year-old man who’d originally gotten into trouble was checked out by EMS, but declined further treatment at a medical facility. The other two were extremely fatigued but otherwise okay.

This area has been the scene of several drownings in the past few years by people who’ve tried unsuccessfully to swim across the river. The most recent was on June 9th, when a 24-year-old man drowned while swimming across the river at the same exact location. The river is approximately 175 feet across at this point.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com