Friday, October 31, 2014

New Strategic Plan To Ensure Bright Future for the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has announced a five-year Strategic Plan that will advance the health and long-term management of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The plan, which was the culmination of a two-year collaborative process between the ATC and the ATC’s board of directors, is a vision and strategy that will build on the organization’s stewardship of the Trail while also aligning with the priorities of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

The new Strategic Plan, which is the first to be created and put into action since the Appalachian Trail Conference became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2005, identifies the following key goals: Proactive Protection, Engaged Partners, Effective Stewardship, Broader Relevancy, and Strengthened Capacity and Operational Excellence. Together, these goals not only reinforce the idea that the Trail can be enjoyed by a variety of users in multiple ways, but also that the A.T. should be readily accessible to all who wish to be a part of the experience.

In order to accomplish the goals set forth in the new Strategic Plan, the ATC will continue to be the leading voice with its partners in managing the A.T. The organization plans to address trail deficiencies, address potentially hazardous road and water crossings, minimize visitor impacts, and meet land management standards set by the Land Trust Alliance. As threats to the A.T. emerge, the ATC will proactively protect the natural and cultural resources within the Trail corridor and its adjacent landscapes.

The organization will also engage and sustain a network of partners that reinforces its goals for the Trail. The Conservancy will continue to collaborate with the National Park Service and all primary federal, state, municipal and private partners in the protection of the A.T. It will also support the 31 Trail maintaining clubs and communities surrounding the Trail, so that future programs and initiatives are supported.

“The Appalachian Trail, stretching from Maine to Georgia, puts a phenomenal National Park in the backyard of millions of Americans,” said Ron Tipton, executive director/CEO of the ATC. “We must be a part of preserving this wonderful hiking experience for future generations.”

Reaching younger and more diverse populations has been identified as a high priority for the Conservancy. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that within the next 50 years white Americans will comprise just 43 percent of the U.S. population, while Asian, Hispanic and African American populations will grow substantially, making up 45 percent of the 2060 population.

“This new diverse majority will be responsible for ensuring the continued protection and sustainability of our environment and the national treasure of our parks, forests and waterways, including the Appalachian Trail,” said Sandra Marra, chair of the ATC. “Therefore, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy believes it is critical to increase the long-term involvement of diverse youth in the work of our organization.”

The ATC will also develop strategies to build a financially strong foundation and organizational capacity to ensure long-term success. The goal is to raise annual operating revenue from $6.6 million to $8 million by 2019 and to increase the endowment from $3.6 million to $8.3 million. This will be accomplished by increasing funding from major donors, foundations and other private sources, as well as growing the membership base.

For more information about the ATC’s strategic plan, visit


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Suspect Named in Vandalism Case at Eight Western National Parks

A 21-year-old New York State woman, Casey Nocket, has been identified as the primary suspect in recent vandalism cases that affect eight national parks in the western United States.

National Park Service investigators have confirmed that images were painted on rocks and boulders in Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park, all in California; Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument, both in Colorado; Crater Lake National Park, in Oregon; Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park, both in Utah.

Investigators continue to collect evidence of the crimes, conduct interviews, and are consulting with the U.S. Attorney's Office about potential charges. We ask the public to exercise patience and allow due process to take its course as the investigation moves forward.

The image in Rocky Mountain National Park was reported to the park and removed in late September before similar images were found in the other national parks.

Ice and snow now cover the image at Crater Lake National Park, and it may not be accessible for assessment and clean up until next summer.

An image in Yosemite National Park was removed by an unknown person or persons.

If people visiting these parks come upon these images, they should contact the nearest park ranger with information about the image location. Visitors should not attempt to remove the images.

The National Park Service was contacted on October 20 about this vandalism case. The investigation began immediately.


Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Full Road Closure at Milepost 242 for Final Phase of Ice Rock Reconstruction

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announce the final phase of roadwork in a one-mile section of Parkway, commonly known as Ice Rock near Alligator Back Parking Area. Both lanes of the motor road will be closed to all visitors from Milepost 241 to Milepost 243.5 beginning November 3, 2014 through mid-April 2015.

The final phase of the Historic Stone Guardwall Reconstruction Project began this spring utilizing a one-lane closure through the area. Prior to the full traffic closure, 24 hour, single-lane traffic closure through the project work zone will continue. The project goal is the restoration of the structural integrity and historic appearance of this important cultural resource.

With the exception of foot traffic on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the motor road will be closed to all visitors.Detour traffic signage will direct Parkway visitors around the closure area via US Highways 18 and 21. Access to Doughton Park following the regular seasonal operating schedule will remain open from the North via the Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized internationally as an example of landscape design achievement. It was designed and built to provide a leisurely, recreational driving experience and to showcase the scenic resources of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. The affected section of Parkway during this project is a showcase for the historic rock guard walls that line the motor road. Constructed during the period of the late 1930s, these rock walls are now an important historic Parkway resource. They were built in the rustic style used throughout other American national parks. These walls have become one of the significant features that define the visual and historic character of the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Getting Around in the Smokys

The following is by a guest author:

When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the first things to hit you, apart from the incredible beauty, is how immense it is. Over 800 square miles, it’s home to over 17,000 species of flora and fauna. So what are the best ways to experience what the park has to offer?


With over 800 miles of trails, hiking is an excellent way to enjoy the forest and its wildlife. Deciding which trail is dependent on what you’d like to see: waterfalls, open views, deserted homes, ancient forest, etc. For those who wish to start gently, the Laurel Falls trail should only take about an hour, although it can get busy on the weekends. Apart from the falls, there are nice views of the hills and rock formations. If you’d like a more substantial hike, the Sugarland Mountain Trail will take a full day but the vast array of wildlife (including black bears) makes it a worthwhile trek. You may wish to check out these hiking safety tips.


While cycling does restrict where you can go in the park, the permitted paved routes offer an excellent way to experience the views and wildlife. The Cades Coop Loop Road is a relatively easy ride, and is closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from May to September. The eleven mile, one-way lane skirts the bottoms of the forested mountains and is great for viewing wildlife and 19th century homesteads. If you’re training for the Tour de France, however, you may prefer to tackle the Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap route, which has an average grade of 5.2% over the thirteen miles. There are tunnels on this road, so make sure you’ve got a flashing strobe fitted to alert motorists of your presence. Helmets are an absolute must.

Horseback Riding

Unlike cycling, about 550 miles of the park’s hiking trails allow horses. The park has four concession riding stables, which offer guided rides (walking pace) varying in length from 45 minutes to several hours. You can climb mountain trails, cross rivers and view waterfalls, while enjoying the tranquillity of your surroundings and hopefully catching a glimpse of wildlife such as wild turkey, woodchucks, white-tailed deer and if you’re lucky, a bear or two. You may also ride your own horse in the park and camp at designated sites.

The Great Smoky Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world and are home to an incredible array of plants and animals, set in a backdrop of outstanding natural beauty. However you traverse the park, you will be utterly captivated.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Full Road Closure at Milepost 422 for Tunnel Rehabilitation

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announce the closure of a small section of motor road between existing gates at Milepost 420.3 near US Forest Service Road 816 (Black Balsam Road) and Milepost 423.3 at NC Highway 215. Both lanes of the motor road in that section will be closed to all visitors beginning November 3, 2014 through May 2015.

During this closure, Devil's Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4 will be accessible from the south by foot, bicycle or skis at NC Highway 215. The Art Loeb Trail crossing at Milepost 421.2 will be accessible from the north at Black Balsam Road. Visitors inside the closure are encouraged to use extreme caution and watch for construction related traffic also in the area.

Devil's Courthouse Tunnel was originally constructed in 1941. This project will make repairs to the aging drainage system and concrete lining inside the tunnel. The work requires that portions of the overhead concrete lining be removed, creating potentially hazardous conditions for visitors that require a full road closure. The tunnel will be sealed and inaccessible to any traffic during this project.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized internationally as an example of landscape design achievement and Parkway tunnels are a significant design feature along the historic route. Twenty-five of the twenty-six tunnels along the Parkway are in North Carolina, with all Parkway tunnels representing 36% of the entire National Park Service tunnel inventory. Tunnels along the Parkway were often constructed to reduce excessive scarring that open cuts would entail, enabling the Parkway to cross through ridges in the interest of maintaining the most desirable route location. The distinctive stone masonry portals on most Parkway tunnels were generally not part of the original construction, added later in the 1950s and 1960s.


Why Clean Fishing Gear Is Essential For River Health

The following is by a guest author:

If you’re a lazy angler, you may be the type of person who throws all their fishing gear into the garage or shed without cleaning it. Not only are you shortening the life of your equipment, you could be doing untold damage to river ecosystems, such as those in the Smokies.


A single-celled species of algae called Didymo (Didymosphenia geminate) is extremely invasive and is smothering riverbeds, killing native plants and fish through limiting sunlight. Previously this wool-like algae was happiest in cold waters, but it’s starting to adapt to warmer temperatures and is moving further south. Unfortunately, it’s been found in one stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, namely Tennessee, where fishing is banned. It’s of paramount importance that it isn’t accidentally spread to other streams, through dirty waders, boots, fishing line and even life jackets. The following guidelines will help stop cross contamination and should also extend the life of your equipment.


Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to wash your gear in water and a bit of biodegradable soap. You’ll need to disinfect everything first in a hot bleach solution for at least ten minutes, and then rinse and dry thoroughly for a minimum of 48 hours after they’re touch dry.


Wash & disinfect as above, then pack with newspaper and allow to dry. Once dry, they can be rolled them up (folding encourages cracking) and stored in a sealed black garbage bag. Do not store them before the extra 48 hours is up.


Arguably, reels can be the most valuable piece of equipment but often the most neglected. They’ll need bleaching as well and can be left on the reel once dry, but over winter you may wish to transfer monofilament and fluorocarbon line onto something with a larger diameter, so you don’t get too much curling.


Obviously the number one priority here is disinfecting your lures, spinners, flies, etc., but afterwards it’s important to keep them sealed in an airtight container, out of direct sunlight, as some of the rubber and plastic can perish.

Life Jacket

You’ll need to immerse the jacket in a large container of the bleach solution, then scrub any remaining dirt off and rinse thoroughly. It’s important to dry the jacket in a shady but well ventilated area, as heat and sunlight can warp the flotation material. If you pack it away before it’s bone dry inside and out, you’ll get mildew.

Spending a few minutes on proper gear maintenance should not only keep it in good condition, it will stop you infecting other waters with unwelcome organisms like Didymo.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Smokies Offers Reward for Information on Cataloochee Artifact Theft

Great Smoky Mountains NationalPark officials are offering a reward for information regarding the recent theft of artifacts from the Palmer House in Cataloochee, NC. The missing artifacts, including a trowel, mill pick, and a coffee mill, were taken from locked display cases in the Palmer House where historical information and exhibits are provided for park visitors.

"While these items have some market value as mere antiques, their associative value with individual families and with the community of Cataloochee is immeasurable," said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. "These values make them truly irreplaceable."

Park officials are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for the theft. The unique, wall mounted coffee mill was donated to the park in 1935 by a Cataloochee resident. The trowel and mill pick, which was used to cut and sharpen millstone grooves, were also part of the park's permanent archival collection.

It is unlawful to disturb or deface historic resources within the park. Perpetrators may be sentenced up to 6 months in jail and or fined up to $5,000. Anyone with information as to the possible identity of the individuals responsible for the theft is encouraged to call the tip hotline at 865-436-1580.