Monday, September 18, 2017

Additional Volunteers Needed For Rainbow Falls Trail Rehabilitation Project

Earlier this summer, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials recruited for volunteers to assist the Trails Forever trail crew with a rehabilitation project on the Rainbow Falls Trail. Citizens from across the region responded and their volunteer effort has significantly helped in moving the project forward these past few months. In order to maintain the momentum, officials are now issuing a second request for volunteers.

Volunteers are needed every Wednesday from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Volunteers must register at least one week in advance by contacting Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator, Adam Monroe, whose contact information is provided below.

The Trails Forever crew will focus rehabilitation efforts on several targeted locations along the 6-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park leading hikers to Rainbow Falls and Mt. Le Conte. The planned work will improve overall trail safety and protect natural resources by reducing social trails and improving drainage to prevent further erosion.

“Thanks to the generous support of volunteers along with the hard work of park staff, we have been able to progress nicely with this Rainbow Falls Trail renovation project,” said Tobias Miller, Trails and Roads Facility Manager. “Once complete, the trail will be a national treasure and volunteers will be a part of its legacy for generations to come.”

The Trails Forever program provides opportunities for both skilled and non-skilled volunteers to work alongside park crews to make lasting improvements to park trails. The Rainbow Falls Trail project provides a great opportunity to improve a part of the park that was damaged by the 2016 wildfires.

Trails Forever volunteers will perform a wide range of trail maintenance and trail rehabilitation work depending on volunteer experience level including installing drainage features, rehabilitating trail surfaces, constructing raised trail segments, removing brush, or planting vegetation. While these jobs may vary in complexity, all Trails Forever volunteers must be able to hike at least four miles and safely perform strenuous and often difficult manual labor. Volunteers should be comfortable lifting heavy objects and using hand tools such as shovels, rakes, axes, and sledgehammers. The park will provide all the safety gear, tools and equipment needed for the projects. Volunteers will need to wear boots and long pants and bring a day pack with food, water, rain gear and any other personal gear for the day.

The Trails Forever program is a partnership between the national park and Friends of the Smokies. To sign up for a work day or for more information, contact Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or Adam_Monroe@nps.gov. Prior notice of your attendance is mandatory for project planning. More information and Frequently Asked Questions can be found at https://friendsofthesmokies.org/trailsforever/volunteer/.



Jeff
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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Remaining Blue Ridge Parkway Closures Require Time and Public Cooperation

On Friday, September 15, 2017, many sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway previously closed for downed trees have reopened.

Work continues in the following sections with these updates, including estimated opening times, from north to south include:

• Milepost 331 – 355, from the NC Minerals Museum to Mt. Mitchell, will be open by 5:00 p.m. on Friday.

• Milepost 355 – 382, from Craggy Gardens to US-70, is expected to be closed through this weekend.

• Milepost 393- 408, from NC-191 to Mt. Pisgah, will be open by mid-day on Friday. Power has been restored to Pisgah Inn and operations there will also resume mid-day on Friday.

• Milepost 443 – 455, from Balsam Gap to US-19, will be open by 5:00 p.m. on Friday

• Milepost 455 – 469 is expected to be closed through this weekend.

These sections of Parkway remain closed to ALL traffic, including cyclists and hikers. Attempts to route around gates and barriers require staff time, which in turn delays opening times. Visitors behind closed gates will be asked to turn around. The public’s cooperation with these remaining closures is important to personal safety as well as the protection of Parkway resources.

“Staff will continue their work during the weekend to address the large amount of down and hazardous trees in the remaining closed sections of the Parkway,” said Acting Superintendent John Slaughter. “While we are working to provide access to the Parkway as soon as possible, it is vitally important for visitors to respect the closures in place.”

Updates regarding visitor center openings and closure areas will be posted on the Parkway’s social media sites, @BlueRidgeNPS.



Jeff
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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Best Fall Hikes in the Smokies

Fall hiking season is rapidly approaching, and soon leaf peepers will be out in full force in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The beauty of the Smokies is always spectacular, but never more so than during the autumn when the mountains are ablaze with the colors of fall.

The timing of the fall color season depends upon many variables, making it virtually impossible to predict the exact date of "peak" colors in advance.

One of the most important variables is elevation. At the higher elevations in the Smokies, fall color displays begin as early as mid-September when yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry begin to show their autumn colors. If you’re looking for good fall foliage hikes during this time period, you’ll want to be at the highest elevations in the park; however, you’ll also want to avoid hiking in areas that are predominantly spruce-fir forests.

Suggested mid-late September hikes: Andrews Bald, Mt. LeConte, the Jump-off or Rocky Top.

From early to mid-October, during most years, fall colors begin to reach their peak above elevations of 4,500 feet. Trees such as the American beech and yellow birch begin to turn bright yellow, while mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple show-off brilliant shades of red.

In the lower elevations you may notice a few dogwoods and maples that are just beginning to turn. You may also see a few scattered sourwood and sumac turning to bright reds as well.

Suggested early-mid October hikes: You’ll still want to hike in the higher elevations. In addition to the suggestions above, check out Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Spence Field, Albright Grove or the Sugerland Mountain Trail starting from Clingmans Dome Road.

Autumn colors usually reach their peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is usually the best time to be in the park as you'll see the spectacular displays of color from sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories. Your hiking choices will have greatly expanded during this time period as well. You can continue to hike at elevation to take in the fall colors from above, or you can walk among the autumn colored trees.

Suggested mid-late October hikes: If you wish to hike at elevation for spectacular fall views try exploring the Rich Mountain Loop, Alum Cave, Hemphill Bald, Shuckstack, Bullhead, Charlies Bunion or Mt. Sterling trails. If you wish to hike among the trees, check out Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers or the Porters Creek Trail.

As the fall color season begins to wind down in early November, you’ll want to hike at the lowest elevations in the park. Check out the Meigs Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap, Abrams Falls, Oconaluftee River Trail, Indian Falls, or the Deep Creek Loop.


Monitoring Fall Color Progress:

* To get a general idea of when leaves are approaching peak colors you can follow the fall foliage map on the Weather Channel site.

* To get a birds-eye view on changes in fall colors, you can periodically check out the four Smoky Mountain web cams.





Jeff
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

NPS Releases Review of Chimney Tops 2 Fire

Last week the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued an independent review of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned 11,410 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in November 2016 and merged with other area fires, which caused 14 deaths and millions of dollars in damage in the Gatlinburg area.

The report outlines the origins and growth of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It identifies a number of factors that contributed to the growth of the fire over the course of six days within the park before the fire moved beyond the park boundaries to merge with other fires and become the Sevier County fires. The report also provides a summary of findings and recommendations regarding the park’s fire management planning and response capabilities.

“While visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week, I met with park staff, local officials, and members of the Gatlinburg community that were impacted by this devastating fire,” said Secretary Zinke. “Based on those meetings and my review of the report, I am satisfied that it accurately describes the unusual and unexpected conditions that resulted in the largest fire in the park’s history and a series of other fires around the park, which caused so much devastation to the community of Gatlinburg. I am committed to leading efforts to ensure that the National Park Service, along with other land management agencies, state and local governments take the lessons learned from this horrific fire and make changes that will help us prevent tragedies like this in the future” This report will be combined with other reports and investigations to ensure that every action can be taken to prevent similar fires in the future. Among next steps, the National Park Service is working to:

* Upgrade Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s radio communications system to ensure interoperable communication between the park’s emergency responders and local cooperators, with capacity to accommodate multiple simultaneous incidents. This is a $2.5 million initiative through a public-private partnership with the Friends of the Smokies and the National Park Service.

* Issue seven neighboring fire departments portable radios and personal protective equipment this fall with funding through the Department of the Interior Rural Fire Readiness program.

* Implement the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which prioritizes healthy and resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities, and safe and effective response. This includes efforts to actively manage vegetation and fuels effectively, removing dead and dying trees.

* Assemble a Management Action Team of fire and leadership experts to take immediate action at the local, regional and national levels based on the findings and recommendations from the report.

* Participate in a review of the broader Sevier County fires with local, state and other federal officials.

“We see this report on the Chimney Tops 2 Fire as the first steps of a journey that will help us institutionalize the lessons learned from the tragic Sevier County fires,” said National Park Service Fire and Aviation Division Chief Bill Kaage. “The review report is only the beginning of a longer process.”

The chief for the National Park Service (NPS) Division of Fire and Aviation in Boise, ID delegated the review of the Chimney Tops 2 fire to an independent team of seven interagency fire experts in February 2017. The team was charged with identifying the facts leading up to and during the Chimney Tops 2 Fire within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as making recommendations on planning, operational, or managerial issues which can be addressed locally, regionally, and/or nationally to reduce the chances of a similar incident in the future.

Between February and April 2017, the review team conducted research and interviews of personnel and leadership involved in the Chimney Tops 2 Fire. They used materials and information gathered during the fire cause investigation, their own interviews of involved NPS staff and cooperators, as well as fire weather data and other information to create a narrative of the event from the time it ignited on November 23, 2016 through the time when it left the park at 6:08 p.m. on November 28, 2016.

Joe Stutler, a senior advisor for Deschutes County, Oregon, led the interagency fire review team and thanked the park, local community leaders, and fire response personnel for their support during the fire review process.

“We appreciate everyone who assisted with the review effort and helped us get a complete picture of the firestorm that impacted Sevier County last November,” Stutler said.

The review report is located on the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned site at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website.



Jeff
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Friday, September 1, 2017

National Park Service Ends Effort to Eliminate Sale of Disposable Water Bottles

In its commitment to providing a safe and world-class visitor experience, the National Park Service is discontinuing Policy Memorandum 11-03, commonly referred to as the “Water Bottle Ban.”

The 2011 policy, which encouraged national parks to eliminate the sale of disposable water bottles, has been rescinded to expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks. The ban removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks. The change in policy comes after a review of the policy’s aims and impact in close consultation with Department of the Interior leadership.

“While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds.

Currently only 23 of the 417 National Park Service sites have implemented the policy. The revocation of the memorandum, which was put in place on December 14, 2011, is effective immediately. Parks will continue to promote the recycling of disposable plastic water bottles and many parks have already worked with partners to provide free potable water in bottle filling stations located at visitor centers and near trailheads.



Jeff
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Monday, August 28, 2017

Time to Make Plans for Your Fall 2017 Hiking Trip to the Smokies

For anyone considering a trip to see the beautiful fall colors of the Great Smoky Mountains, now is the time to make plans and have your reservations in place. October in the Smokies is the second most popular month in terms of park visitation. And with the awesome beauty the autumn season provides, it's really no wonder.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this fall - or even during the upcoming Holiday 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.

We really appreciate you supporting our sponsors, which helps to keep this blog and the HikingintheSmokys.com website up and running.

Finally, if you need any help on where to hike this fall, check out our fall hiking page for the best hikes throughout the autumn period.

As always, thank you very much!



Jeff
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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Clingmans Dome Tower Rehabilitation Project Begins Today

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower will be closed beginning today, August 23rd, through the remainder of the 2017 season to complete rehabilitation work thanks to funding received from a Partners in Preservation (PIP) grant. The $250,000 grant was awarded last summer to the Friends of the Smokies on behalf of the park after being one of the top nine, most voted for parks in the Partners in Preservation: National Parks Campaign in 2016.

Straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee state line at 6,643 feet, the tower is a prominent landmark and destination as the highest point in the park. The rehabilitation work will consist of repairing the worst deteriorated areas on the concrete columns and walls, stabilizing support walls at the base of the ramp, and repointing some stone masonry. To accomplish this work in a timely manner and for the safety of our visitors the tower will be closed for the duration of the project.

While visitors will not be able to climb the tower for views out over the surrounding tree tops, the Clingmans Dome parking overlook will be open and offers outstanding mountain top views. The visitor contact station and store, the trail to the tower, and all access to the trailheads in the vicinity will remain open, including the trail to Andrews Bald. Visitors should expect some construction traffic in the vicinity of the contact station and along the trail.

The observation tower is a precedent-setting design of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 program, which transformed park planning, management, and architecture and fundamentally altered the visitor experience in national parks. Since 1959, millions of visitors have climbed the tower, where they can see distances of up to 100 miles over the surrounding mountains and valleys. Some minimal preservation work today on the tower will ensure that visitors continue to experience this unique structure spiraling up from the highest point in the park.

For more information about the Clingmans Dome Tower, please visit he park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/clingmansdome.htm.

About Partners in Preservation: Partners in Preservation is a program in which American Express, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, awards preservation grants to historic places across the country. Since 2006, Partners in Preservation, a community-based partnership, has committed $16 million in preservation funding to nearly 200 diverse sites in eight different cities across the country.

Through this partnership, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation seek to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of historic preservation in the United States and to preserve America’s historic and cultural places. The program also hopes to inspire long-term support from local citizens for the historic places at the heart of their communities.



Jeff
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