Friday, October 16, 2009

Bushwacking in the Smokies

Last month Blue Ridge Outdoors published a pretty good article about an off-trail adventure in the Smokies. The article chronicles the ascent of Anakeesta Knob by three hikers. Starting from Newfound Gap Road, their "path" took them across the Anakeesta Ridge - an area confined by the Appalachian Trail, the Alum Cave Trail and the Boulevard Trail.

Although Bob Miller, public information officer for the GSMNP, is quoted in the article as saying that you can walk almost anywhere you want inside the park, the article did receive a scathing review from a commenter who said that BRO was irresponsible for publishing an article that promotes an activity that has a negative impact on the environment.

I almost never go off trail, mainly because I don't want spend more energy than need be. However, I wanted to get your opinions: should off-trail hiking/bushwacking be allowed in wilderness areas? Should there be a distinction between national parks and national forests when considering such a ruling? Or, since we as American citizens own public lands, should we be able to enjoy them as we see fit - obviously to a certain point? But that brings us to the million dollar question again: where is that fine line between ownership and public stewardship?

Here's the article.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, and more.

Smoky Mountain Day Hikers Store Quality gear and apparel from some of the best outdoor brands.


Peter J. Barr said...

The ferocity of opposition to off-trail hiking will never fail to amaze me. All of those opposed to it have almost without exception never attempted it. It should be noted that 1) it is not illegal nor against park regulations and 2) the NPS's primary distaste develops out of fear for a rescue because inexperienced hikers getting in over their heads. This stresses the Park Service's time and resources, and it costs money.

I think the majority of the opposition stems from fear and not environmental concern. It is narrow minded to not realize that one also has a negative environmental impact by hiking ON-trail - and most of the time, more so. Driving a polluting automobile through the park and to a trailhead is even more irresponsible, if you really want to debate the environmental impact of off-trail hiking.

so many times I have hiked off-trail in places where I had been before, or where I knew others had traveled prior, and could not find evidence that another human had been before me. the environmental impact of off-trail hiking is far over exaggerated.

The Smoky Mountain Hiking Club journeys off of the trails in the park as much as they hike on them. They have followed this practice since the 1920s and continue to off-trail hike frequently to this day. The club is and always has been one of the greatest stewards and advocates for the park, and specifically, for its backcountry.

i truly do not think one can say they have fully experienced the Smokies if they have always remained on the maintained paths. in the least, they have not been experiencing the true feeling of wilderness that the park offers.

Harvey Broome, perhaps no greater advocate for the Smokies in the history of the park, once wrote in his journal (following one of his countless off-trail explorations):

"My fears of the unknown and of getting off a trail had been blunted. The experience led to an awareness that every foot of the mountains was open to me, and that the trails, though a convenience, were not a necessity.”

Those who hike off-trail will always end up with a greater appreciation for wilderness, and a deepened urgency to preserve it and fight for it. If the environment is your concern, off-trail hiking isn't your battle.

smoky scout said...

I read the article and was confused by the tone in which it was written - serious or tongue-in-cheek? The author seemed to know something about bushwhacking, but then alluded to being unprepared to spend the night and not really knowing how to use a map and compass. Theh fact that everything turned out okay for them made it seem like a casual thing, when it is extremely easy to get lost in the first 50 yards of off-trail. A serious off-trail hiker (and on-trail hikers) should always be prepared to spend a night out. My map and compass skills aren't very good so I do not go off-trail except with someone I really trust with those skills. And even then I probably shouldn't, because that person could become incapacitated for some reason and then I would be stuck.

But your true question is conservation versus the public's right to use public land. The Smokies is not a wilderness area and there are many wilderness areas around where bushwhacking and camp-anywhere is allowed. But I think so few people do go bushwhacking in the Smokies that it's not really an impact issue - and by nature bushwhacking spreads the footprints around. It's the illegal camping and search-and-rescue incidents that create an impact. Just my humble opinion!

Bill said...

I am the opposite of you, I rarely stay on a trail. From my perspective if you are in the woods to see nature offtrail adventures will bring a lot more variety to your adventure.

Of course I am an experienced woodsman having logged thousands of hours in wild areas and wilderness areas.

I don't recommend this type of activity for the novice. For those who choose to hike off trail and are new at it go with an experienced person and make sure to take a GPS and mark your starting postion, and never travel alone.


SouthernHiker said...

I have to agree with most of the posters on here, and with the BRO article. As you said yourself, most don't want to go off trail because of the work/fear involved. As such, those few that do are not necessarily harming impacting the environment anymore than a bear or any other large animal walking through the same woods. Obviously, this depends on the individual, and how much respect they bushwhack with, but overall I'd say there should be no such regulation.

One wonders where we'd be as far as National Parks go if John Muir had stayed on the trails?