Friday, February 28, 2014

Man indicted on attempted murder, sexual assualt charges in Smokies incident

U.S. Attorney William C. Killian announced yesterday that a federal grand jury in Knoxville returned a three count indictment on December 3, 2013, against William E. Seevers, 48, for one count of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse by force. Seevers appeared in court on February 27, 2014, before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Bruce Guyton and pleaded not guilty to the charges in the indictment. He is being held pending trial, which has been set for April 29, 2014, in U.S. District Court, Knoxville.

The indictment alleges that in June 2012, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Seevers attempted to kill a woman by stabbing her in the neck with a knife. Additionally, Seevers engaged in sexual activity with the individual by use of force and placing her in fear of death by holding her at knife point and stabbing and punching her when she attempted to flee from him.

The victim was walking along the Gatlinburg Trail, which connects the Sugarlands Visitors Center with the city of Gatlinburg, when she was attacked at around 2:45 p.m. on the afternoon of June 8, 2012. The victim suffered multiple stab wounds to the neck, shoulder and hand. The then-44-year-old woman made her way to Gatlinburg Bypass where she flagged down a passing motorist for assistance.

If convicted, Seevers faces two terms of life in prison followed by an additional 20 years.

This indictment is the result of an investigation by the National Park Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kolman will represent the United States.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment constitutes only charges and that every person is presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.


Great Smokies Seeks Volunteers Interested in Citizen Science

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is seeking volunteers to help with an important research project, in an effort to better track nature’s calendar or phenology. Park rangers are recruiting volunteers willing to adopt a tree monitoring plot on the North Carolina side of the park.

A tree phenology monitoring training will be held on Saturday March 8, 2014 from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the old Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC. After training, volunteers will be assigned to a phenology plot to collect data throughout the growing season. Plots are located near parking areas in Deep Creek, Fontana, Oconaluftee, Purchase Knob, Cataloochee, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap.

Information collected by volunteers will go into a national database that helps answer questions such as “Was spring early this year?” or “When will the fall colors peak?”. Carefully tracking trees from early spring to late fall can help determine what is expected. Monitoring phenology will help us to understand how earlier springs and cold snaps impact our mountain forests.

If you are interested in being a part of this special project please contact:

Autumn Amici
Citizen Science Assistant
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Americorps Project Conserve
Phone: (828) 497-1945

For more information about phenology research efforts across the country visit the National Phenology Network.


Prescribed Burns Planned for Nantahala National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a series of prescribed burns over the next 3 – 6 weeks on a total of about 3,500 acres of the Nantahala Ranger District in the Nantahala National Forest.

The prescribed burn will take place in the following areas:

* Slip Off area, 190 acres, Swain County
* Rattlesnake Knob area, 248 acres, Macon County
* Alarka Laurel area, 697 acres, Swain County
* Dirty John area, 830 acres, Macon County
* Steeltrap Knob area, 872 acres, Macon County
* Pine Mtn. area, 704 acres, Macon County

The dates for each burn will be announced as they are decided and weather permitting.

The prescribed burns will reduce the amount of fuel on the forest floor, preventing catastrophic wildfire and reducing risks to nearby communities. Prescribed burning also helps improve forest health and wildlife habitat. Public safety is the highest priority during a prescribed burn.

You can click here to learn more about restoring fire to the mountains.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Ghost Ranch

The Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico is truly an enchanting landscape. It was once the summer home of Georgia O'Keeffe, an artist best known for her paintings of Northern New Mexico and the Ghost Ranch. One of the best ways to explore this magnificent 21,000-acre ranch, now run by the Presbyterian Church, is to take the three-mile round-trip hike to Chimney Rock.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Friends of the Smokies Announces 2014 Classic Hikes of the Smokies Series

Explore America’s most visited national park on guided hiking tours with Friends of the Smokies. See stunning vistas, tumbling waterfalls, and discover the hidden gems of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the 2014 Classic Hikes of the Smokies series.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies feature interpretation and leadership by celebrated outdoor author, blogger, and hiking expert, Danny Bernstein.

Unique to this program, on each Classic Hike of the Smokies, participants will learn firsthand about a different park stewardship need that benefits from donations made to Friends of the Smokies, including hemlock wooly adelgid treatment, historic structure preservation, the Parks as Classrooms program, and elk management.

Hikes will be offered on the second Tuesday of each month. Each hike is $10 for current Friends of the Smokies members and $35 for non-members, who will receive a complimentary membership. Members who bring a friend hike for free. Registration donations benefit improving trails in the Park through the Friends’ Smokies Trails Forever fund. Here's the 2014 schedule:

March 11: Little Cataloochee
6.1 miles, 1,100 ft ascent
Featuring support for historic preservation
Highlights: Historic log cabins and Little Cataloochee Church

April 8: Newton Bald
10.5 miles, 2,800 ft ascent
Featuring support for cultural protection
Highlights: Spring wildflowers

May 13: Ramsey Cascades
8 miles, 2,200 ft ascent
Featuring support for hemlock protection
Highlights: A 100-ft waterfall & old growth forest

June 10: Hazel Creek
8 miles, 900 ft ascent
Featuring support for Kress Hall cabin repair
Highlights: Fontana Lake, mills & homesites

July 8 and 9: Cades Cove Experience
Special overnight engagement
Call for details (828) 452-0720

August 12: Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail
8 miles, 1,800 ft ascent
Featuring support for Appalachian Trail programs
Highlights: Spectacular views

September 9: Clingmans Dome via Mountains-to-Sea Trail
7.2 miles, 1,600 ft ascent
Featuring support for the Trails Forever Fund
Highlights: Panoramic vistas

October 14: Pretty Hollow Gap
8 miles, 1,500 ft ascent
Featuring support for wildlife management
Highlights: Elk rut and stunning fall color

November 11: Deep Creek Circular
9 miles, 1,600 ft ascent
Featuring support for trout management
Highlights: Beautiful waterfalls

December 9: Kephart Prong
4 miles, 300 ft ascent
Featuring support for environmental education
Highlights: Historic CCC camp structures

To register for this or any 2014 Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact 828-452-0720 or


Major Reroute of Benton MacKaye Trail Entering Smokies

Earlier this week the Benton MacKaye Trail Association announced that an agreement has been made for a major reroute of the Benton MacKaye Trail just outside and inside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The announcement on their website states:
The BMTA has reached an agreement with the US Forest Service, National Park Service, Brookfield Renewables, Tennessee Valley Authority, Nature Conservancy, ATC and Fontana Village to eliminate the very dangerous road
walk between Deals Gap at the TN/NC State Line and Twentymile Ranger Station. Effective May 31st, 2014, the BMT will be rerouted from the Tapoco Section to use the Yellow Creek Mountain Trail to Fontana Village, and then over Fontana Dam to Lakeshore Trail. Within the National Park, the BMT would follow the entire Lakeshore Trail and no longer enter the Park at Twentymile Ranger Station. Hikers should use the existing route until that date, as the new route is heavily overgrown. The BMTA will be holding a series of work trips in the area to clear that section. Check the Activities Calendar for details of how you can help.
For more information and an overview of the reroute, including a map, please click here.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Temporary Road Closures on Blue Ridge Parkway for Routine Maintenance

Beginning Monday morning, March 17, 2014,and continuing for one week, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance personnel will be conducting cutting operations along the roadside fromMilepost 16 to Milepost 27 (between ViriginaSR 814 at Love Gap and SR 56). During this period, both lanes of the Parkway in the work zone will be closed to all activity (cars, bicycles, and hikers) to ensure the safety of the maintenance workers as well as Parkway visitors.

Annually, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance and resource management staff conducts maintenance activities that help control invasive vegetation growth along the Parkway. To help insure safe sight distances and a clear right-of-way, this work requires using a large tractor with a cutting head on a long arm, or boom. This tractor must remain in the travel lanes during operation to properly perform its work while cutting the banks and road shoulders.

Affected sections will close at approximately 7:45 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily about 5:00 p.m. EST from Monday, March 17 to Friday, March 21, 2014. Those who normally commute on the Parkway on Monday through Friday may want to find alternate routes.


Monday, February 24, 2014

GSMA Announces Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage Dates

Registration is now open for the 64th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, which will be held April 15th thru the 19th. This year's five-day event will offer 146 professionally guided walks and indoor presentations which will explore the region’s rich wildflowers, fauna, ecology, cultural and natural history. There will be a variety of wildflower, fauna and natural history walks, motorcades, photographic tours, art classes, and indoor seminars.

Most programs are conducted on the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while indoor offerings will be held in the Mills Conference Center or the Arrowmont School of Arts and Craft in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. All programs will be held rain or shine.

The event website and brochure provide descriptions of all pilgrimage programs which are listed by date and time. Each description includes starting points, walking distances, hiking difficulties, and registration limits. Popular programs are repeated at different times and days and are referenced under “similar programs.” There’s also an alphabetical index of all program topics and destinations on page 21 of the brochure. Programs meeting at trailheads or other sites in the park require participants to arrange their own transportation. Vans will be provided where trailhead parking is limited. Participants are strongly encouraged to use the free van service.

On-site registration will begin Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 5:00 PM in the Mills Conference Center in Gatlinburg.

Hiking in the Smokies

"As We Ran" by "The National Parks"

A band by the name of "The National Parks" has just released a new single and video (below) called "As We Ran." The single is an original song written for the first installment of the National Park Experience: A Film Series, a series of "10 short films about the amazing and diverse people forging incredible relationships with the national parks."

You may want to note that all proceeds received from downloads of "As We Ran", between January 28th and February 28th, 2014, will be donated by the band to the National Parks Conservation Association. You can download the song from iTunes by clicking here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park

58NationalParks produced this excellent overview of Rocky Mountain National Park. If this video inspires you to visit Rocky Mountain this year, the best way to explore this wonderful park is to hike along one of the many trails that meander throughout the park.

If you do plan to visit Rocky Mountain National Park this year, please note that our website offers a variety of accommodation listings in both Estes Park and Grand Lake.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, February 21, 2014

Multiple downed trees on trails in Red River Gorge

After two weeks of road closures due to ice, snow and downed trees, some Forest Service roads remain closed in the Red River Gorge. High winds from Thursday night’s storm brought down additional trees along some roadways.

The gravel roads to Indian Creek, Chimney Top and Rock Bridge will remain closed until fallen trees are cleared and road surfaces are dry enough to withstand rutting from vehicle traffic.Visitors, however, may park and walk into these areas.

The roads that are currently reopened in the gorge are Tunnel Ridge, Sky Bridge and most of Koomer Ridge Campground. Some campsites will remain closed until they are cleared of downed trees and woody debris.

National forest visitors should be aware that gravel roads and parking lots may be soft with the potential for some vehicles getting stuck or slipping in mud.

Hikers in the gorge will likely experience multiple downed trees along the trails.The trails have not yet been assessed, but most damage is expected along ridge-top trails where ice accumulated more heavily. Hikers should continue to watch for thawing and falling icicles along the cliffs.

For updated information contact the Gladie Learning Center at 606-663-8100 or visit the Daniel Boone National Forest website at


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ecosystem Project Temporarily Closes Areas on Pisgah Ranger District

The U.S. Forest Service has closed trails and roads in the Trace Ridge Area and Wash Creek areas of Henderson County in the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, to ensure public safety. The closures are necessary to implement the Brushy Ridge project, an ecosystem improve project that will provide a number of environmental benefits.

The following trails and roads are closed:

* Seniard Mountain Road (FS 5001)-closed for a short portion of time
* Hendersonville Reservoir Road (FS 142)
* Fletcher Creek Road (FS 5097), to intersection with Spencer Gap Trail (Trail 600)
* Wash Creek (Trail 606)
* Trace Ridge (Trail 354)
* North Mills River (Trail 353)
* Yellow Gap Trail (Trail 611)

Trace Ridge Trailhead will not be accessible and the use of the trails and roads is prohibited. Please use caution while traveling in the area, particularly Wash Creek Road as logging truck will be on the area roads. Seniard Mountain Road will be closed for a short period of time and reopened after minor road work occurs. There will be no access to the North Mills River within the closed areas listed above. Law enforcement will patrol the area where work will continue into May 2014.


Cape Final

The Cape Final Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is an easy 4-mile round trip hike to a limestone outcropping that provides stunning views into the eastern portions of the canyon. If you’re seeking a little bit of solitude, and an easy hike in the Grand Canyon, this is a great opportunity to get away from the crowds. For more detailed information on this hike, please click here.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Reports Record Number of Volunteer Hours in 2013

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announced last week that volunteers devoted a record number of hours last year to maintaining and protecting the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for hikers to use. For the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2013, close to 6,000 volunteers reported approximately 245,500 hours, donating time equivalent to what is completed by 118 full-time workers.

Since the ATC began reporting volunteer hours in 1983, volunteers have contributed 4.9 million hours to the A.T., and the past 10 years have seen a 33 percent increase in volunteer hours. In 2013, volunteers contributed to a wide variety of projects, including maintaining the A.T. corridor, monitoring and removing invasive species, supporting teachers in the Trail to Every Classroom (TTEC) program and assisting A.T. Communities near the Trail. Volunteers were also crucial to the success of the ATC’s Biennial, with many individuals leading hikes, registering guests, distributing information and assisting with parking, camping and reception coordination.

ATC volunteers represent A.T. Trail Clubs and Trail Crews; Visitor Center and regional office volunteers; and participants in additional ATC programs, such as TTEC and the Appalachian Trail Community™ program. Though Trail maintainers are perhaps the most visible, volunteers also participate in many other activities, from outreach to local, regional and Trail-wide management efforts.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy exists because of the generosity, talents and support of our volunteers – they are the very soul of the Appalachian Trail,” said Ron Tipton, executive director of the ATC. “The record number of volunteer hours reported for fiscal year 2013 illustrates a continued dedication to the preservation and management of the Trail.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit


Saturday, February 15, 2014

National Park's as Prescriptions

The National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program is currently working with doctors, healthcare providers, and NPS managers as part of the Healthy Parks Healthy People program. Doctors are prescribing park or nature prescriptions to patients so they can improve their health, connect with the outdoors, and become park stewards. Here's an interesting video from the NPS on this new program:

So what are you doing sitting around watching this video for anyway?! Time to get out and hike!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Cerro Grande Route

Many people who visit Bandelier National Monument don’t take the time to familiarize themselves with the areas outside the main portions of the park. This is a mistake. Much of the monument is located in a desert environment; however, just a few miles to the north is an area that most people wouldn’t recognize as being part of Bandelier. The star attraction in this part of the park is Cerro Grande Peak, with its outstanding views of the Valles Caldera. The Cerro Grande Route explores the subalpine and montane forests of the Jemez Mountains, and ends at the top of Cerro Grande Peak, the highest point in Bandelier. For more information on this not-to-miss hike, please click here.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Smokies Invites Public Comment on Proposed Construction of Smokemont Riding Stables Facilities

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate alternatives for the construction of new concession facilities at Smokemont Riding Stables approximately six miles north of Cherokee, NC. The public is invited to comment on the topics analyzed in the EA as part of the planning process.

The National Park Service proposes to construct a barn with 35-36 stalls, hayshed, manure storage shed, horse wash rack, office, covered tie stalls with 26-36 stalls, employee break area, horse loading platform, firewood shed, water well, and fencing with gates. The proposed project will replace existing concession facilities, some of which were constructed in the early 1960s including the main barn. The proposed facilities will be constructed by the National Park Service using a portion of franchise fees paid by concessioners that is available for these needed improvements.

The proposed facilities will be constructed on lands occupied by the existing facilities along with an adjacent area formerly used as a wastewater treatment plant and recreational vehicle dump station. The EA will evaluate the potential impacts of these actions as they relate to such topics as water resources, vegetation, soils, wildlife, floodplains, archaeological and historic resources, visitor use and experience, aesthetic resources, and threatened and endangered species or species of concern.

The EA has been posted and is available for public review on the NPS Planning website by clicking on the “Smokemont Riding Stables EA” link. The public can provide comments directly on the project site by clicking on "Comment on document" from the menu on the left. Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

COMMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY March 14, 2014. Written comments may be received later if postmarked byMarch 14, 2014. Please address written comments to:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738

Comments may also be submitted on the NPS Planning website as described above.

The EA and public involvement requirements are being performed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EA will be on public review for 30 days. For more information, please contact the Public Affairs Office at 865-436-1207.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Free Mammoth Passage tours February 15-17

In honor of Presidents Weekend, Mammoth Cave National Park will offer free Mammoth Passage tours on February 15-17, 2014.

“We all need a break from this winter weather, and a place to relax and refresh,” said Superintendent Sarah Craighead. “Mammoth Cave is the perfect place to do just that. Take a hike, ride a bike, bring your horse, or tour the Mammoth Passage for free. Enjoy your national park.”

On Presidents Weekend, the park will offer free guided Mammoth Passage tours. Each tour is limited to 40 people; visitors must pick up their free tickets at the visitor center prior to departure times. Mammoth Passage tours will depart from the visitor center at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:30, and 3:00.

Mammoth Passage is a ¾-mile, 1¼ hour cave tour, and requires a walk down and up the steep hill below the visitor center, as well as 160 steps.

Note: tour requirements regarding white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats: While there are no known harmful effects to humans, WNS is responsible for the deaths of millions of hibernating bats across the eastern United States since its discovery in 2006. WNS was found in outlying caves and passageways of Mammoth Cave in winter 2012-13, but has not yet been found in the toured sections. Park staff are taking precautions to minimize the spread of WNS fungus in and from Mammoth Cave. When going on a Mammoth Cave tour, do not wear clothing or shoes that have been worn in other caves or mines. All participants on cave tours must walk across bio-security mats to clean footwear immediately following the conclusion of their tour.

For more information, please click here.


Monday, February 10, 2014

The Annual Hiwassee River Cleanup Day

The annual Hiwassee River Cleanup Day is scheduled for Saturday, March 22, 2014. The event helps keep the Hiwassee River Corridor and East Tennessee clean and beautiful.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and Trout Unlimited, in conjunction with the Springtown Community Support Group cleanup. Event participants will meet at the Ocoee/Hiwassee State Park Office at 9:00 am. The office is located on Spring Creek Road just north of the Hiwassee River and east off Highway 411. The turn off from Hwy 411 is signed and is approximately 6 miles north of Benton and 5 miles south of Etowah.

Participants should bring long sleeve shirts, thick leather gloves and wear boots or sturdy shoes and safety glasses. Trash bags will be provided. A cookout hosted by Trout Unlimited will be held afterwards for participants.

The upper Hiwassee River is designated as a State Scenic River and is managed by the Forest Service, TVA, TWRA, and Tennessee State Parks. Come help in making the Hiwassee one of the most beautiful rivers in the southeast.

For additional information please contact Bo Reynolds at (423) 338-3319


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Glacier National Park

58NationalParks produced this excellent overview of Glacier National Park. If this video inspires you to visit Glacier this year, the best way to explore this wonderful park is to hike along one of the many trails that meander throughout the park.

If you do plan to visit Glacier this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your vacation planning.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Funding Approved for Smokies Historical Collection Site

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday that the U.S. Department of Interior has approved federal funding to complete the $4.3 million Joint Curatorial Collections Facility that will house more than 800,000 historical artifacts and archival records at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Construction could begin as early as this summer.

“This is great news for everyone who loves the Great Smoky Mountains, especially because the new center will honor families who once lived in the park,” Alexander said. “This was made possible only because of years of effort by dedicated park service employees and by the generosity of friends of the Smokies.”

The Joint Curatorial Collections Facility will preserve 422,000 historical artifacts and 450,000 archival records, including land records, oral histories, historic photos and park operating records, and items such as clothing, vintage weapons, logging-era equipment, farm tools and other possessions from the individuals and families living on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days. The archival collections will also include President Andrew Johnson’s presidential papers.

The total cost for funding the facility is $4.3 million, with approximately $2.3 million coming from private donations. In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, other federal park and recreation areas will be able to make use of the new joint facility, including the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and Obed Wild and Scenic River. These sites currently house artifacts and records in facilities that do not meet National Park Service standards for physical security, or environmental controls to protect them from mold, insects, and fire.

There is no word as to whether these artifacts will be on display to the public, which would truly be a shame if they weren't. When this was discussed a couple of years ago, a museum open to the public was not part of the plan. Lets hope the DOI and/or the NPS have a change of mind on this.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Seasonal requirement for bear-resistant canisters on the AT in the Blood Mountain Wilderness

The USDA Forest Service and Appalachian Trail hikers are experiencing fewer black bear conflicts along a 5-mile section of trail from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap in the Chattahoochee National Forest after implementation of a seasonal requirement for all overnight campers to carry bear-resistant canisters to contain personal garbage, toiletries and foods. The requirement goes into effect again this year beginning March 1st and ends June 1st.

The regulation was first issued in 2012 by the Forest Service as an alternative to closing the area along the Appalachian Trail in the Blood Mountain Wilderness to camping. In previous years, concerns about hiker safety after repeated bear conflicts required temporary, seasonal camping closures for the area. Now, hikers have the option of camping in the area year-round as long as they carry and use a bear-resistant canister in the springtime. The requirement was developed in consultation with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division.

“We took this measure to protect hikers and make our campsites less alluring to the bears that live here,” said Blue Ridge District Ranger Andy Baker. “So far, we are seeing fewer bear-hiker interactions, and that’s a good thing for both the hikers and the bears.”

Bear-resistant canisters trap odors inside, eliminating the lure of food, and they are designed to be tamper-resistant against extreme force. The regulation requires that the canisters used must be solid and non-pliable. These canisters can be purchased or rented at most retail stores and online sellers that stock camping gear.

“Any bear that associates people with food is a dangerous bear because it’s going to be aggressive,” said Baker. “By removing the lure of foods and other odors, we stop giving bears a reason to approach a campsite.”

The storage regulation is mandatory for all dispersed camping in the Blood Mountain Wilderness within a quarter mile of the trail from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap, which includes the Blood Mountain Shelter and Woods Hole Shelter. It also includes the dispersed camping areas within Jarrard Gap. Hikers who choose not to camp along this section of trail are not required to carry a canister.

Traditional food storage methods in the wilderness, such as hanging food bags between trees, are not allowed as a substitute for using a bear-resistant canister under this regulation. Although these methods are not are not as effective as bear-resistant canisters at preventing bears from retrieving food, the Forest Service does encourage this practice at other times and in other areas of the forest not covered by the canister requirement.

Forest officials say black bear encounters have increased significantly in recent years in the Blood Mountain Wilderness. Bears become more active as the seasons and weather change. They are particularly attracted to human food brought into wilderness in the early spring when natural food sources are not yet plentiful. This is also the peak season for northbound Appalachian Trail hikers to begin their journeys.

For more tips on how to protect yourself and also protect black bears when visiting the National Forest, visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests website or contact the Blue Ridge Ranger District Office at (706) 745-6928. A map of the area covered by the regulation is available online, at nearby trailheads, and at the District Office.


Temporary Road Closure on Blue Ridge Parkway North of Roanoke

Beginning Tuesday morning, February 18, 2014, and continuing for a two week period, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance personnel will be conducting cutting operations along the roadside between Bearwallow Gap (at Virginia State Route 43 ) and the interchange of U.S. 460 and the Parkway. During the period, both lanes in this section of the Parkway will be closed to all activity (cars, bicycles, and hikers) to ensure the safety of the maintenance workers as well as Parkway visitors. The planned work will not affect travel along Route 43 at the Peaks of Otter south to Bearwallow Gap.

Annually, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance and resource management staff conducts maintenance activities that help control invasive vegetation growth along the Parkway. To help insure safe sight distances and a clear right-of-way, this work requires using a large tractor with a cutting head on a long arm, or boom. This tractor must remain in the travel lanes during operation to properly perform its work while cutting the banks and road shoulders.

Affected sections will close at approximately 7:45 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily about 5:00 p.m EST on Tuesday, February 18 thru Thursday, February 27, 2014, between Mileposts 95 and 106. Those who normally commute on the Parkway on Monday through Friday may want find alternate routes. The affected area will be open on Saturday and Sunday, February 22 – 23, 2014.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Last Wilderness

As far back as I can remember I’ve had this fantasy about chucking civilization, building myself a cabin, and living off the land in some far-off wilderness - just like Dick Proenneke, or even Skip Robinson from The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. Well, I never actually had the courage to make such a drastic move, but fortunately for us dreamers, we can still read about the people who do have that pioneering spirit.

One such person, Michael McBride, recently published an autobiography about his life in the Alaskan bush, and how he grew his humble cabin into a world class lodge.

In The Last Wilderness, McBride tells the story of how he and his newlywed spent their entire life savings on supplies, rented a shuttle boat, and crossed over Kachemak Bay in 1969 to carve out a new life on China Poot Bay, roughly 10 miles from Homer, Alaska. The young couple literally had nothing to fall back on if they failed. Moreover, they made their move in November, just as the cold Alaskan winter was beginning to take hold. The only thing that would protect them from the elements was the old abandoned trapper’s cabin on their new property.

At first the McBride’s weren’t even sure how they were going to make a living. And, like the early settlers, they didn’t have electricity or running water for the first couple of years. They didn’t even have a boat to return to civilization in the event of an emergency.

Over time that old trapper’s cabin and the surrounding property would grow to become the Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, and in the process, the McBride’s would become one of the early pioneers of ecotourism – long before it was even a word. Soon the lodge was attracting guests from all over the world. Feature articles about it would appear in National Geographic, the New York Times, Men’s Journal and Outdoor Life. European royalty would also seek refuge at this beautiful outpost.

In addition to being a master guide, licensed skipper, bush pilot, marine biology expert and a Nationally Certified Yoga Teacher, Michael is also an outstanding writer. He’s very eloquent in his descriptions and observations, with almost a John Muir quality in his style. However, I thought there were times where he lapsed into ethereal rhetoric, where it was hard to tell what he was referring to. There were times where he didn’t provide enough background or context to a story, or it was difficult to ascertain the chronological order of events. However, I should say that I still found the McBride’s story of carving out a life in the harsh wilderness and building a successful business against all odds to be a great read.

It’s likely most of you have no realistic illusions of ever moving into the wilderness, but this book may inspire you to spend a few days or weeks in an isolated outpost of civilization someday, such as the Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge.

For more information on this book, please click here.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Trails Volunteer Program Unveiled at the Big South Fork

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has started a new volunteer activity called the Trail Keepers program for people who love the park's trails and want to help take care of them. The goal of the program is to provide an extended presence in the backcountry and at the same time provide the Big South Fork's staff with information on trail conditions and issues.

People who adopt a particular trail are expected to hike that designated trail at least four times during the calendar year, report on overall trail conditions, pick up any trash, and submit a trail condition report after each hike. Being a Trail Keeper does not involve heavy trail maintenance or the use of any kind of power equipment. Trail Keepers may use a small handsaw to cut out small trees that are down across the trail and may move branches and do light maintenance by hand.

The program is being launched first for the trails in the Kentucky side of the park but eventually will be available for every trail in the Big South Fork.

"There are so many people who love to hike, bike, and ride the trails at the Big South Fork.With more than 400 miles of trails to take care of, we think this program will be a great way to have folks who have a special interest in a particular trail help the Park Service keep it in great shape," said Niki Stephanie Nicholas, park superintendent.

To learn more about the Big South Fork Trail Keeper program, please click here, or call Effie Houston, the park's volunteer coordinator, at (423) 569-9778.


Mariposa Grove

Ever since the first Euro-American laid eyes on them in 1849, people from all over the world have been in awe of the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove. To Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect, the trees seemed like “distinguished strangers,” which had “come down to us from another world”. After visiting the grove in 1871, Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “The greatest wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.”

Without the help of people like Olmsted, Emerson, Galen Clark and John Muir, these ancient treasures may never have been preserved for the generations that came after them. If you ever get the chance to visit Yosemite National Park, a trip to over to Mariposa Grove is an absolute must!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chimney Rock State Park primary visitor area to close for road repair project

The Chimney Rock Access at Chimney Rock State Park will be closed beginning today for up to three weeks as repairs are made to the main entrance road, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

This closure affects the Chimney Rock spire and its elevator access, the Outcroppings Trail and all other visitor facilities in the vicinity.

In May, a 75-foot section in one lane of the road collapsed during a period of heavy rainfall. A contractor will be replacing a retaining wall that supports the section of roadway near the park entrance. After a 21-day construction period, single-lane access to the park will be available as road repair continues.

Throughout the period, the park’s Rumbling Bald Climbing Access will remain open.

For more information, contact the park office at 828-625-1823.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Ecosystem Improvement Project to Begin in Pisgah Ranger District; Some Trails Closed

The U.S. Forest Service will soon begin the first phase of an ecosystem improvement project in the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, that includes 64 acres of timber harvesting. The effort, called the Brushy Ridge Project, will provide a number of environmental benefits such as controlling non-native species, improving fish habitat and promoting wildlife habitat.

To help ensure public safety during timber harvesting activities the Forest Service will close trails and roads in the Trace Ridge Area of Henderson County in the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, beginning in early February 2014 and continuing through May 2014. The following trails and roads will be closed during this time:

* Hendersonville Reservoir Road (FS 142)
* Fletcher Creek Road (FS 5097), to intersection with Spencer Gap Trail (Trail 600)
* Wash Creek (Trail 606)
* Trace Ridge (Trail 354)
* North Mills River (Trail 353)
* Yellow Gap Trail (Trail 611)

Trace Ridge Trailhead will not be accessible and the use of the trails and roads is prohibited. Please use caution while traveling in the area, particularly Wash Creek Road as logging truck will be on the area roads.

The Forest Service designed the Brushy Ridge project to fulfill management objectives in the current Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest management plan. This project allows the agency to implement a variety of management activities to improve ecological diversity, as well as promote forest health and sustainability.

The Forest Service’s management practices will:

* Regenerate favorable tree species such as oaks and hickories and maintain a variety of hardwood tree species
* Improve the growth and health of remaining trees through thinning treatments
* Improve habitat for aquatic species, including trout, by replacing culverts and bridges that are restricting flow and causing erosion issues
* Improve habitat for wildlife, including game species such as turkeys and non-game species
* Control non-native invasive species
* Plant hybrid American Chestnut trees as a first step toward restoring them to Southern Appalachian forests and plant blight resistant butternut seedlings
* Designate an additional 231 acres of old growth forest areas

The Forest Service will implement the second phase of this project, which involves an additional 63 acres, this spring or summer. Seniard Mountain Road (FS 5001) and Bear Branch Trail (Trail 328) will be closed during this phase. The agency will issue a news alert to announce the closures.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Big South Fork Announces Wildflower Discovery Weekend in May

Is it too early to talk about spring on this first day of February? Apparently not for the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Earlier this week they announced a partnership with the McCreary County, Kentucky, Tourism Commission and the U.S. Forest Service in the area's first Wildflower Discovery Weekend, scheduled for Friday, May 2nd, and Saturday, May 3rd.

The event will include a series of natural history talks and walks on wildflowers, black bears, geologic arch formations, amphibians, birds, waterfalls, and the area's rich cultural history. Hikes are scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on both Friday and Saturday. Pre-registration is required and group size is limited. The hikes will begin at the Yahoo Falls Picnic Area and the Blue Heron Interpretive Center. There will also be an indoor presentation that Friday evening discussing the area's threatened and endangered species, starting at 7:00 p.m., at the train depot in historic Stearns, Kentucky.

The Yahoo Falls area provides a stunning variety of spring flowers on a short, moderate hiking trail. In addition to wildflowers, spectacular scenery is provided by the 113-foot tall Yahoo Falls, towering sandstone cliffs, a huge rock shelter, and an outstanding overlook of the Big South Fork River. The hikes will be led by U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service rangers and local volunteers. The Yahoo Falls Picnic Area is accessed from Highway 700, west of Whitley City, Kentucky.

The Blue Heron Interpretive Center at the historic Blue Heron Mining Community is a great place to learn about the history of the area, but it is also surrounded by dense diverse forest offering great opportunities to view wildflowers. Blue Heron is accessed by following signs from U.S. 27 south to 92 west and turning on 1651. Watch for signs to Blue Heron. Turn left on Mine 18 Road (Highway 742). Mine 18 Road ends at the Blue Heron Interpretive Center.

For further information, contact Tara Chaney of the McCreary County Tourism Commission at (606) 376-3008 or visit the website. To see the complete schedule of talks and hikes and to register for the events, please click here.