Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Park Limits Access in Whiteoak Sink Area to Protect Declining Bat Populations

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials will reopen the Whiteoak Sink area with limited access effective April 1 through May 15 to limit human disturbance in critical bat habitat and help hikers avoid interactions with bats. Park biologists will continue monitoring bat populations near the site as they emerge from winter hibernacula to collect population, ecological, and behavioral data that will provide resource managers information to develop a long-term protection plan.

The Whiteoak Sink area is primarily accessed from the Schoolhouse Gap Trail between Townsend and Cades Cove. Hikers may descend into the Whiteoak Sink area, but access to the waterfall and additional areas are closed. The closed areas are clearly marked by orange fencing or signs. Hikers may not hike beyond the restricted areas.

“The Whiteoak Sink area provides critical wintering habitats for bats,” said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We ask that everyone respect these closures in order to minimize disturbance to declining bat populations as they emerge from hibernation.”

Biologists continue to see dramatic declines in cave-dwelling bat populations in the park due to white-nose syndrome (WNS). Bat researchers from Indiana State University have been monitoring summer bat populations since 2009 and documented declines ranging from 87% for tri-colored bats to 100% for little brown bats using mist-net surveys. Historically, these species were two of the most common in the park. Since 2013, researchers surveyed primary bat caves in the park and documented a 92% decline for the endangered Indiana bat. Surveys of secondary bat caves documented an 82.7% to 94.6% overall population decline for all cave-dwelling bats.

Infected bats are marked by a white fungal growth on their noses, wings, and tail membrane. The skin irritation damages skin tissue causing the bats to wake from hibernation during winter months. Once aroused, the bats burn energy at a much faster rate depleting stored fat. With no food source available during the winter, the bats soon die. Infected bats exhibit unusual behavior including flying erratically during the day, even during winter months, and diving down toward people. They may be seen flopping around on the ground around cave openings.

The park is home to 13 species of bats including the recently discovered Gray bat, the federally endangered Indiana bat, and the federally threatened northern long-eared bat which was added to the list in February due to declines caused by WNS . Bats play a significant role in maintaining ecological balance as the primary predators of night-flying insects. Biologists estimate that an individual bat can eat between 3,000 to 6,000 insects each night including moths, beetles, and mosquitoes.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is cooperatively working with other parks and federal, local and state agencies across the country to protect bats and manage their habitats. In an effort to prevent the unintentional spread of WNS by people, the park closed all of its 16 caves and two mine complexes to public entry in 2009. Ongoing research in the Smokies includes monitoring bat populations in the winter during hibernation and tracking bats in the summer to determine habitat use. A plan released by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service aimed at stabilizing the dramatic decline of the Indiana bat identified hibernacula found in the Smokies as one of only 13 sites across the country identified as critical habitat for this endangered bat. Wildlife biologists have determined that giving the bats the chance to survive includes establishing protective zones surrounding critical habitat caves.

Humans are not susceptible to WNS because the fungus requires a cold body temperature to survive, but skin-to-skin contact with bats should be avoided due to other transmittable diseases such as rabies. Bats are the only mammal species in the park that have tested positive for rabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the transmission of rabies virus can occur from minor, seemingly unimportant, or unrecognized bites from bats. For human safety, it is important not to touch or handle a bat. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that individuals should seek immediate medical attention if they have had skin-to-skin exposure to a bat.

For more information about bats, please the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/caves.htm.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Temporary Closures in Cherokee National Forest Due to Black Bear Activity

U.S. Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest announced that national forest lands within the corridor between the area known as Oliver Hollow north to Wilbur Dam are temporarily closed to public entry except for people hiking through on the Appalachian Trail. The closure is being implemented because of black bear activity in the area.

National forest lands within the corridor are temporarily closed to public entry by land and water access, except for through hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The Watauga Lake shelter on the Appalachian Trail is closed. Oliver Hollow is located on Watauga Lake in Carter County on Oliver Hollow Road off Highway 321 near Hampton, TN.

National Forest System Lands within the closure area are from Oliver Hollow Road following the Appalachian Trail north. The eastern closure boundary is to the shores of Watauga Lake to the shared boundary with TVA land to Wilbur Lake and continuing along the Wilbur Lake edge to Wilbur Dam. The western closure boundary includes the corridor from the Appalachian Trail to the ridge of Iron Mountain from Oliver Hollow Road to Wilbur Dam.

Oliver Hollow is a popular dispersed camping and day use area on the western end of Watauga Lake in the Cherokee National Forest. Black bears frequent the corridor and Oliver Hollow. Bears are opportunists and become habituated to campsites and picnic areas where food has been improperly discarded or stored and is easily available. Though naturally shy of people, bears learn to associate people with food. They learn to frequent the same areas where they may encounter humans. This is when concerns arise.

Forest Service officials say that in all outdoor recreation settings, you should always store your food and trash so it does not attract bears and other animals. Food should be properly stored in a vehicle, in appropriate bear resistant containers or hung from a bear pole or tree when in bear country. Trash should be placed in bear-resistant trash cans where available or packed out when you leave. Do not discard any food scraps in picnic areas, shooting ranges or any other recreation site. Doing so may attract bears and lead to temporary closure of the site if safety becomes a concern due to bear activity.

National forest visitor cooperation with this and similar closures may help break the cycle of bears returning to the same sites in search of human food, protecting you and the bears.

Please click here for a map of the closed area.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Linville Gorge Fire Grows to 1365 Acres - Several Trails Closed

Firefighters conducted burnout operations Monday afternoon to reduce fuels and buffer fire lines on the White Creek Fire. The fire, which was reported Thursday, is burning near Shortoff Mountain at the south end of Linville Gorge on the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The fire is now 1,365 acres and 20% contained.

Firefighters completed fireline preparation yesterday on the north end of the fire ahead of burn out operations today. Firelines were improved on the southend in anticipation of favorable weather conditions forecasted for burnout operations on Tuesday.

Burnouts Monday afternoon took place on the north end of the containment area, near Chimney Gap. Removal of fuel in this area allowed for increased containment. A weather system is predicted to move into the area Tuesday afternoon, with potential for increased winds.

Smoke may impact areas around Lake James and Nebo this evening. Winds shifting overnight could push smoke towards Morganton. Travelers along Highways 181 and 126 should use caution, as smoke may settle in low-lying areas overnight and into the morning.

160 firefighters are on scene today. The U.S. Forest Service is leading fire response efforts, with support from the North Carolina Forest Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Burke and McDowell County Emergency Management, and North Carolina Emergency Management.

An area closure is in effect for all U.S. Forest Service lands east of State Road 1238 (Old NC 105 / Kistler Memorial Highway), south of Conley Cove Trail (Tr #229), south of Table Rock Picnic Area, west of Back Irish Creek Forest Service Road #118 (Blue Gravel Road) and Roses Creek Forest Service Road #99, north of Highway 126. In addition, the following trails are closed: Shortoff Trail (Tr #235), Rock Jock Trail (Tr #247), Pinch-In Trail (Tr #228), Linville Gorge Trail (Tr #231) south of Conley Cove Trail (Tr #229), Mountains to Sea Trail (Tr #440) from State Road 1238 at Pinnacles to the Table Rock Picnic Area, and any social trails existing within the closure area. Public entry is prohibited within this area.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Remember: Flying a drone near a wildfire is breaking the law. Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance. So, be smart and just don't fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Friday, March 17, 2017

White Creek Fire Closes Trails in Linville Gorge Wilderness Area

The White Creek Fire was reported at 4:00 pm Thursday and is burning near Shortoff Mountain at the south end of Linville Gorge, on the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The fire is estimated at 75 acres and 0% contained.

Last night, firefighters worked to re-establish firelines on the south end of the fire with the goal of protecting private property. The Linville Gorge has an extensive fire history, allowing firefighters to fall back to existing lines established in the Table Rock (2013), Shortoff (2007), and Brushy Ridge (2000) fires. Today, firefighters will be conducting burn out operations to secure the southern edge of the fire.

100 firefighters are on scene today. The U.S. Forest Service is leading fire response efforts, with support from the North Carolina Forest Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Burke County Emergency Management, and North Carolina Emergency Management.

The U.S. Forest Service has issued an emergency closure for the Shortoff Trail (Trail #235) and the Mountains to Sea Trail (Trail #440) from Old Highway 105 at Pinnacles to the Table Rock Picnic Area. The public is asked to avoid the area. Fire managers are looking at a larger area closure that would include the southern portion of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Information on the larger closure is expected to be released later today.

Areas around Lake James and Morganton could experience smoke today and tonight, especially along Highway 181 between Oak Hill and Linville Falls. Smoke may also impact areas to the north and east as winds shift this evening. Travelers should use caution when driving in smoke - use headlights and increase following distances.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Remember: Flying a drone near a wildfire is breaking the law. Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance. So, be smart and just don't fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Record Visitation to America’s National Parks in 2016

The U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently hailed 331 million recreation visits to America’s national parks in 2016 – a third consecutive all-time attendance record for the National Park Service. Zinke made the announcement during a stop at Glacier National Park where he met with Park Superintendent Jeff Mow to discuss the park’s maintenance backlog and received a traditional spiritual blessing from members of the Blackfeet Nation. In 2016, Glacier broke attendance records attracting nearly three million visitors.

“Our National Parks are our national treasures, and it’s important to recognize that they are more than just beautiful landscapes,” said Zinke. “Growing up near Glacier National Park, I understand the value these places bring to local economies and in preserving our heritage. As we enter into a second century of service and visitation numbers continue to increase, we will focus on maintenance backlogs and ensuring these special places are preserved for future generations.”

Half of all national park visitation was recorded in 26 parks, but visitation grew more than 10 percent in parks that see more modest annual visitation. Mike Reynolds, Acting Director of the National Park Service pointed out, “That shows the breadth of support for parks and, I think, that the Find Your Park campaign launched with the National Park Foundation reached new audiences.” The National Park Services’ centennial and Find Your Park initiative combined with other popular events, such as the Centennial BioBlitz and other national park anniversaries, good travel weather and programs such as “Every Kid in a Park” helped drive record visitation.

National Park System 2016 visitation highlights include:

• 330,971,689 recreation visits in 2016 – up 7.7 percent or 23.7 million visits over 2015.
• 1.4 billion hours spent by visitors in parks – up 7 percent or 93 million hours over 2015.
• 15,430,454Overnight stays in parks – up 2.5% over 2015.
• 2,543,221 National Park campground RV overnights – up 12.5 percent over 2015.
• 2,154,698 Backcountry overnights – up 6.7 percent over 2015.
• 3,858,162 National park campground tent overnights – up 4.8 percent over 2015.
• 10 million recreation visits at four parks – Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
• More than 5 million recreation visits at 12 parks (3% of reporting parks)
• 80 parks had more than 1 million recreation visits (21% of reporting parks)
• 382 of the 417 parks in the National Park system count visitors and 77 of those parks set a new record for annual recreation visits. This is about 20% of reporting parks.
• 4 parks were added to the statistics system and reported visitation for the first time. They added about 300,000 visits to the total: Belmont Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C., Keweenaw National Historical Park in Calumet Township, Mich., Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson, N.J.

While at Glacier, Zinke was joined by members of the Blackfeet Nation including Chairman Harry Barnes, Secretary Tyson Running Wolf, Timothy Davis, Carl Kipp, Nelse St. Goddard, and Robert DesRosier, who performed a traditional spiritual blessing.

“I’ve had the honor of working with the Blackfeet Nation for a number of years as a State Senator, Congressman, and now as Secretary of the Interior,” said Zinke. “The ceremony was very moving. I appreciate the blessing and know it will provide me with guidance and strength as I face the challenges ahead.”

Here are some additional highlights:


The Top 10 Visitation in National Parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 11,312,786
Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. – 5,969,811
Yosemite National Park, Calif. – 5,028,868
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo. – 4,517,585
Zion National Park, Utah – 4,295,127
Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. – 4,257,177
Olympic National Park, , Wash. – 3,390,221
Acadia National Park, Maine – 3,303,393
Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. – 3,270,076
Glacier National Park, Mont. – 2,946,681


Top 10 Visitation - All Units in the National Park System:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, Calif. – 15,638,777
Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, N.C. – 15,175,578
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tenn. – 11,312,786
George Washington Memorial Parkway, McLean, Va. – 10,323,339
Gateway National Recreation Area, Staten Island, N.Y. – 8,651,770
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. – 7,915,934
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Boulder City, Nev. – 7,175,891
Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. – 5,969,811
Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo, Miss. – 5,891,315
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. – 5,299,713

For an in depth look at 2016 visitation figures please visit the NPS Social Science website.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Top 6 Reasons to Visit the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited park in the country. More than 10 million people visit the park each year to take-in the spectacular scenery. Although it may seem crowded during certain seasons, it’s very easy to escape the crowds by heading off on one of the more than 800 miles of trails. Here’s a quick rundown on why the Smokies are a hiker’s paradise.

Fall Colors
The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the best places in the country to see fall colors. From late September through early November autumn slowly creeps down from the highest elevations to the lowest valleys in the park. As a result of its rich diversity of trees – roughly 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies - park visitors will enjoy a myriad of colors, from spectacular reds and oranges, to brilliant golds and yellows. Although driving along the park roads is a popular way of seeing fall colors, hiking amongst the trees is by far the best way to enjoy them. At any point during the autumn cycle almost every trail will offer great viewing opportunities. We’ve published a guide that highlights some of the best trails as the season progresses.


Grassy Balds
One of the great mysteries of the Southern Appalachians, which includes the Great Smoky Mountains, is whether or not the treeless mountain tops and ridges, known as “balds,” are natural or if they were manmade. No one knows for certain how they came into existence. Even their age is unknown. The general consensus, however, seems to be that the early settlers in the region cleared many of these areas for grazing purposes so that the lower elevations could be used for growing crops during the summer months. Some of the best examples of grassy balds in the Smokies include Gregory Bald, Spence Field, Russell Field, Silers Bald, Andrews Bald, Parsons Bald and Hemphill Bald. However, Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald are the only two balds that are maintained by the park. The others have been left to eventually be reclaimed by forest.

One of the great annual events in the Southern Appalachians is the spectacular flame azalea, mountain laurel and rhododendron blooms of late spring. Some of the best examples of these beautiful displays from Mother Nature occur atop these balds. In particular, Gregory Bald, Andrews Bald, Spence Field and Rocky Top offer some of the best displays of these flowers. Moreover, these are among the best hikes in the park, all of which offer sweeping panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains.


The Mt. LeConte Lodge
Although there are a handful of other national parks that offer hike-in lodging, one of the great traditions in the Great Smoky Mountains is an overnight excursion at the Mt. LeConte Lodge. Sitting near the top of 6593-foot Mount LeConte, the lodge offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy a backcountry experience in relative luxury (compared to roughing it!) for those that don’t like to backpack. The only way to reach the lodge is by taking one of 6 trails that meander up the third highest mountain in the park. The most popular route is the Alum Cave Trail. If you take the Trillium Gap Trail don't be surprised to see a pack-train of llamas. The lodge is resupplied by llamas with fresh linens and food three times a week.


Early Settler History
The Great Smoky Mountains has done an excellent job of preserving its rich history of settlement prior to becoming a national park. All across the valleys, from Cades Cove, Elkmont, Big Creek, Smokemont, Deep Creek and everywhere in between, you can find the homes, farms and churches of the early settlers, as well as the remnants and relics leftover from the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s, and the logging boom of the early 1900s. There are many outstanding hikes that visit these historical sites, including the Rich Mountain Loop, which visits the home of John Oliver, a veteran of the War of 1812. He and his young family were among the first white settlers to settle in the Cades Cove area. His cabin dates from the 1820s and is one of the oldest structures in the Great Smoky Mountains. You could also take the Little Brier Gap Trail to visit the Walker Sisters Place, the home of the five Walker sisters. The last surviving sister was one of the last remaining homesteaders to live within the park boundaries.


Waterfalls
On average the lower elevations of the Smokies receive roughly 55 inches of rainfall each year, while the highest peaks receive more than 85 inches, which is more than anywhere else in the country except the Pacific Northwest. With all that rain the park is naturally blessed with an abundance of streams. Using modern mapping technology scientists have recently determined that the park contains roughly 2900 miles of streams. With elevations ranging between 6643 feet 840 feet, there are several waterfalls located throughout the park. Grotto Falls has the distinction of being the only waterfall that you can walk behind. Although Abrams Falls is arguably the most scenic and impressive waterfall in the Smokies, I personally like the hike along the Middle Prong Trail to Indian Flats Falls.


Wildflowers
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to more than 1600 species of flowering plants. During each month of the year some forb, tree or vine is blooming in the park. During the spring wildflowers explode during the brief window just prior to trees leafing out and shading the forest floor (from about mid-April thru mid-May). Although there are many parks that are larger, the Great Smoky Mountains has the greatest diversity of plants anywhere in North America. In fact, north of the tropics, only China has a greater diversity of plant life than the Southern Appalachians. Wet and humid climates, as well as a broad range in elevation, are two of the most important reasons for the park's renowned diversity. Hikers can enjoy wildflowers on almost any trail in the park. We’ve published a guide that highlights some of the best wildflower hikes during the spring season.


With more than 800 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, hiking is the absolute best way to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to the hikes listed above, the park offers a variety of other outstanding hikes. If you do plan to visit the Smokies this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with all your vacation planning.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Blue Ridge Parkway Closed Near Craggy Gardens Due to Rockslide

The Blue Ridge Parkway is currently closed from Craggy Gardens Picnic Area (Milepost 367.5) to Mt. Mitchell State Park (Milepost 355.5) due to a rockslide. The slide occurred early Saturday evening when the parkway was open to traffic. No one was injured as a result of the incident.

Preliminary site assessments have revealed that due to the size of debris in the roadway and potential for additional material sloughing off, the closure of this section will be in effect for several weeks. Parkway engineers are working with the Federal Highway Administration to develop a plan for removing the debris in such a way that protects the safety of visitors and parkway resources.

During the period of closure the parkway is closed to all traffic, including cyclist and hikers, due to the potential for additional rock fall and heavy equipment in the area during debris removal. Please respect this road closure for your safety and the safety of others. In addition to the above closure due to rock slide, NPS maintenance crews will be completing hazard tree removal from Ox Creek Road to Craggy Picnic Area which will result in day time closures of the parkway from Milepost 375.6 to 367.6. Access to Mount Mitchell from the north is still available.

Please remember that conditions on the parkway are constantly changing. Check the real time roadmap before leaving on your next Parkway trip https://www.nps.gov/maps/blri/road-closures/.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
HikinginGlacier.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
TetonHikingTrails.com