Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Top 10 Stories from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012

2012 was another busy year for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park made headlines in the national media on a couple of occasions. Weather played a major role in shaping headlines this year. Below is my rundown of the top 10 stories from the Smokies over the past year:

10) Back in February the Appalachian Trail Conservancy granted $2,000 from its specialty license plate funds to the Friends of the Smokies to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies.

9) In June Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials confirmed the presence of invasive emerald ash borer beetles in the park. The beetles were discovered near Sugarlands Visitor Center and in the Greenbrier area. In November an infestation was discovered on an administrative trail in the Greenbrier area.

8) According to a study released by the National Park Service in January, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the nation's most visited national park, but it also tops the 397 national park units in visitor spending.

7) On July 1st, Mt. LeConte reached the highest temperature ever recorded atop the mountain. During the middle of a three-day heat wave, the thermometer topped-out at 81.5 degrees.

6) In October, Trails Forever officials announced that the first phase of the multi-year, Chimney Tops Trail Rehabilitation project was completed.

5) On June 8th a 44 year-old female was sexually assaulted while hiking on the Gatlinburg Trail. The victim received multiple stab wounds to the neck, shoulder and hand. She made her way to the Gatlinburg Bypass where she flagged down a passing motorist for assistance. The victim was then taken by helicopter to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where she was treated for her injuries. The assailant still hasn’t been caught, even after additional clues were released.

4) Back in March Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Dale A. Ditmanson announced that the proposal to begin collecting backcountry camping fees had been approved by the National Park Service. Ever since it was announced, the fee proposal has been an on-going controversy within the backpacking community, and has resulted in a lawsuit by the Southern Forest Watch.

3) In late October Hurricane Sandy dumped 34 inches of snow on Mt. LeConte, and 36 inches at Newfound Gap. The snow caught many people of guard, including one Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who became stranded on a remote section of trail between Pecks Corner and Tricorner Knob. The 56-year-old North Carolina man had to be airlifted from the trail, which was caught on video.

2) One of the great mysteries in the Smokies over the last year occurred when two young men went missing in two separate incidents, within one week. On March 15th Derek Leuking went missing from Newfound Gap. Five days later Michael Cocchini’s abandoned car was found about a mile south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The circumstances surrounding both cases were a bit odd. In August, park employees discovered items thought to belong to Cocchini near the area where his vehicle was originally found on Newfound Gap Road.

1) The biggest story of the year occurred on July 5th when an extreme thunderstorm, known as a derecho storm, swept through the west end of Great Smoky Mountains National and killed two visitors, caused multiple injuries, felled thousands of trees, and closed several trails for many days and weeks afterwards. The storm was caught on video here and here.

Hiking in the Smokies

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