Monday, September 18, 2017

Additional Volunteers Needed For Rainbow Falls Trail Rehabilitation Project

Earlier this summer, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials recruited for volunteers to assist the Trails Forever trail crew with a rehabilitation project on the Rainbow Falls Trail. Citizens from across the region responded and their volunteer effort has significantly helped in moving the project forward these past few months. In order to maintain the momentum, officials are now issuing a second request for volunteers.

Volunteers are needed every Wednesday from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Volunteers must register at least one week in advance by contacting Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator, Adam Monroe, whose contact information is provided below.

The Trails Forever crew will focus rehabilitation efforts on several targeted locations along the 6-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park leading hikers to Rainbow Falls and Mt. Le Conte. The planned work will improve overall trail safety and protect natural resources by reducing social trails and improving drainage to prevent further erosion.

“Thanks to the generous support of volunteers along with the hard work of park staff, we have been able to progress nicely with this Rainbow Falls Trail renovation project,” said Tobias Miller, Trails and Roads Facility Manager. “Once complete, the trail will be a national treasure and volunteers will be a part of its legacy for generations to come.”

The Trails Forever program provides opportunities for both skilled and non-skilled volunteers to work alongside park crews to make lasting improvements to park trails. The Rainbow Falls Trail project provides a great opportunity to improve a part of the park that was damaged by the 2016 wildfires.

Trails Forever volunteers will perform a wide range of trail maintenance and trail rehabilitation work depending on volunteer experience level including installing drainage features, rehabilitating trail surfaces, constructing raised trail segments, removing brush, or planting vegetation. While these jobs may vary in complexity, all Trails Forever volunteers must be able to hike at least four miles and safely perform strenuous and often difficult manual labor. Volunteers should be comfortable lifting heavy objects and using hand tools such as shovels, rakes, axes, and sledgehammers. The park will provide all the safety gear, tools and equipment needed for the projects. Volunteers will need to wear boots and long pants and bring a day pack with food, water, rain gear and any other personal gear for the day.

The Trails Forever program is a partnership between the national park and Friends of the Smokies. To sign up for a work day or for more information, contact Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or Prior notice of your attendance is mandatory for project planning. More information and Frequently Asked Questions can be found at


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Remaining Blue Ridge Parkway Closures Require Time and Public Cooperation

On Friday, September 15, 2017, many sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway previously closed for downed trees have reopened.

Work continues in the following sections with these updates, including estimated opening times, from north to south include:

• Milepost 331 – 355, from the NC Minerals Museum to Mt. Mitchell, will be open by 5:00 p.m. on Friday.

• Milepost 355 – 382, from Craggy Gardens to US-70, is expected to be closed through this weekend.

• Milepost 393- 408, from NC-191 to Mt. Pisgah, will be open by mid-day on Friday. Power has been restored to Pisgah Inn and operations there will also resume mid-day on Friday.

• Milepost 443 – 455, from Balsam Gap to US-19, will be open by 5:00 p.m. on Friday

• Milepost 455 – 469 is expected to be closed through this weekend.

These sections of Parkway remain closed to ALL traffic, including cyclists and hikers. Attempts to route around gates and barriers require staff time, which in turn delays opening times. Visitors behind closed gates will be asked to turn around. The public’s cooperation with these remaining closures is important to personal safety as well as the protection of Parkway resources.

“Staff will continue their work during the weekend to address the large amount of down and hazardous trees in the remaining closed sections of the Parkway,” said Acting Superintendent John Slaughter. “While we are working to provide access to the Parkway as soon as possible, it is vitally important for visitors to respect the closures in place.”

Updates regarding visitor center openings and closure areas will be posted on the Parkway’s social media sites, @BlueRidgeNPS.


Monday, September 11, 2017

The Best Fall Hikes in the Smokies

Fall hiking season is rapidly approaching, and soon leaf peepers will be out in full force in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The beauty of the Smokies is always spectacular, but never more so than during the autumn when the mountains are ablaze with the colors of fall.

The timing of the fall color season depends upon many variables, making it virtually impossible to predict the exact date of "peak" colors in advance.

One of the most important variables is elevation. At the higher elevations in the Smokies, fall color displays begin as early as mid-September when yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry begin to show their autumn colors. If you’re looking for good fall foliage hikes during this time period, you’ll want to be at the highest elevations in the park; however, you’ll also want to avoid hiking in areas that are predominantly spruce-fir forests.

Suggested mid-late September hikes: Andrews Bald, Mt. LeConte, the Jump-off or Rocky Top.

From early to mid-October, during most years, fall colors begin to reach their peak above elevations of 4,500 feet. Trees such as the American beech and yellow birch begin to turn bright yellow, while mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple show-off brilliant shades of red.

In the lower elevations you may notice a few dogwoods and maples that are just beginning to turn. You may also see a few scattered sourwood and sumac turning to bright reds as well.

Suggested early-mid October hikes: You’ll still want to hike in the higher elevations. In addition to the suggestions above, check out Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Spence Field, Albright Grove or the Sugerland Mountain Trail starting from Clingmans Dome Road.

Autumn colors usually reach their peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is usually the best time to be in the park as you'll see the spectacular displays of color from sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories. Your hiking choices will have greatly expanded during this time period as well. You can continue to hike at elevation to take in the fall colors from above, or you can walk among the autumn colored trees.

Suggested mid-late October hikes: If you wish to hike at elevation for spectacular fall views try exploring the Rich Mountain Loop, Alum Cave, Hemphill Bald, Shuckstack, Bullhead, Charlies Bunion or Mt. Sterling trails. If you wish to hike among the trees, check out Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers or the Porters Creek Trail.

As the fall color season begins to wind down in early November, you’ll want to hike at the lowest elevations in the park. Check out the Meigs Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap, Abrams Falls, Oconaluftee River Trail, Indian Falls, or the Deep Creek Loop.

Monitoring Fall Color Progress:

* To get a general idea of when leaves are approaching peak colors you can follow the fall foliage map on the Weather Channel site.

* To get a birds-eye view on changes in fall colors, you can periodically check out the four Smoky Mountain web cams.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

NPS Releases Review of Chimney Tops 2 Fire

Last week the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued an independent review of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned 11,410 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in November 2016 and merged with other area fires, which caused 14 deaths and millions of dollars in damage in the Gatlinburg area.

The report outlines the origins and growth of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It identifies a number of factors that contributed to the growth of the fire over the course of six days within the park before the fire moved beyond the park boundaries to merge with other fires and become the Sevier County fires. The report also provides a summary of findings and recommendations regarding the park’s fire management planning and response capabilities.

“While visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week, I met with park staff, local officials, and members of the Gatlinburg community that were impacted by this devastating fire,” said Secretary Zinke. “Based on those meetings and my review of the report, I am satisfied that it accurately describes the unusual and unexpected conditions that resulted in the largest fire in the park’s history and a series of other fires around the park, which caused so much devastation to the community of Gatlinburg. I am committed to leading efforts to ensure that the National Park Service, along with other land management agencies, state and local governments take the lessons learned from this horrific fire and make changes that will help us prevent tragedies like this in the future” This report will be combined with other reports and investigations to ensure that every action can be taken to prevent similar fires in the future. Among next steps, the National Park Service is working to:

* Upgrade Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s radio communications system to ensure interoperable communication between the park’s emergency responders and local cooperators, with capacity to accommodate multiple simultaneous incidents. This is a $2.5 million initiative through a public-private partnership with the Friends of the Smokies and the National Park Service.

* Issue seven neighboring fire departments portable radios and personal protective equipment this fall with funding through the Department of the Interior Rural Fire Readiness program.

* Implement the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which prioritizes healthy and resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities, and safe and effective response. This includes efforts to actively manage vegetation and fuels effectively, removing dead and dying trees.

* Assemble a Management Action Team of fire and leadership experts to take immediate action at the local, regional and national levels based on the findings and recommendations from the report.

* Participate in a review of the broader Sevier County fires with local, state and other federal officials.

“We see this report on the Chimney Tops 2 Fire as the first steps of a journey that will help us institutionalize the lessons learned from the tragic Sevier County fires,” said National Park Service Fire and Aviation Division Chief Bill Kaage. “The review report is only the beginning of a longer process.”

The chief for the National Park Service (NPS) Division of Fire and Aviation in Boise, ID delegated the review of the Chimney Tops 2 fire to an independent team of seven interagency fire experts in February 2017. The team was charged with identifying the facts leading up to and during the Chimney Tops 2 Fire within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as making recommendations on planning, operational, or managerial issues which can be addressed locally, regionally, and/or nationally to reduce the chances of a similar incident in the future.

Between February and April 2017, the review team conducted research and interviews of personnel and leadership involved in the Chimney Tops 2 Fire. They used materials and information gathered during the fire cause investigation, their own interviews of involved NPS staff and cooperators, as well as fire weather data and other information to create a narrative of the event from the time it ignited on November 23, 2016 through the time when it left the park at 6:08 p.m. on November 28, 2016.

Joe Stutler, a senior advisor for Deschutes County, Oregon, led the interagency fire review team and thanked the park, local community leaders, and fire response personnel for their support during the fire review process.

“We appreciate everyone who assisted with the review effort and helped us get a complete picture of the firestorm that impacted Sevier County last November,” Stutler said.

The review report is located on the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned site at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website.


Friday, September 1, 2017

National Park Service Ends Effort to Eliminate Sale of Disposable Water Bottles

In its commitment to providing a safe and world-class visitor experience, the National Park Service is discontinuing Policy Memorandum 11-03, commonly referred to as the “Water Bottle Ban.”

The 2011 policy, which encouraged national parks to eliminate the sale of disposable water bottles, has been rescinded to expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks. The ban removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks. The change in policy comes after a review of the policy’s aims and impact in close consultation with Department of the Interior leadership.

“While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds.

Currently only 23 of the 417 National Park Service sites have implemented the policy. The revocation of the memorandum, which was put in place on December 14, 2011, is effective immediately. Parks will continue to promote the recycling of disposable plastic water bottles and many parks have already worked with partners to provide free potable water in bottle filling stations located at visitor centers and near trailheads.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Time to Make Plans for Your Fall 2017 Hiking Trip to the Smokies

For anyone considering a trip to see the beautiful fall colors of the Great Smoky Mountains, now is the time to make plans and have your reservations in place. October in the Smokies is the second most popular month in terms of park visitation. And with the awesome beauty the autumn season provides, it's really no wonder.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this fall - or even during the upcoming Holiday Season - please take a few moments to check out our Accomodations Listings for a wide variety of lodging options in Gatlinburg, Townsend, Pigeon Forge and the North Carolina side of the Smokies.

We really appreciate you supporting our sponsors, which helps to keep this blog and the website up and running.

Finally, if you need any help on where to hike this fall, check out our fall hiking page for the best hikes throughout the autumn period.

As always, thank you very much!


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Clingmans Dome Tower Rehabilitation Project Begins Today

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower will be closed beginning today, August 23rd, through the remainder of the 2017 season to complete rehabilitation work thanks to funding received from a Partners in Preservation (PIP) grant. The $250,000 grant was awarded last summer to the Friends of the Smokies on behalf of the park after being one of the top nine, most voted for parks in the Partners in Preservation: National Parks Campaign in 2016.

Straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee state line at 6,643 feet, the tower is a prominent landmark and destination as the highest point in the park. The rehabilitation work will consist of repairing the worst deteriorated areas on the concrete columns and walls, stabilizing support walls at the base of the ramp, and repointing some stone masonry. To accomplish this work in a timely manner and for the safety of our visitors the tower will be closed for the duration of the project.

While visitors will not be able to climb the tower for views out over the surrounding tree tops, the Clingmans Dome parking overlook will be open and offers outstanding mountain top views. The visitor contact station and store, the trail to the tower, and all access to the trailheads in the vicinity will remain open, including the trail to Andrews Bald. Visitors should expect some construction traffic in the vicinity of the contact station and along the trail.

The observation tower is a precedent-setting design of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 program, which transformed park planning, management, and architecture and fundamentally altered the visitor experience in national parks. Since 1959, millions of visitors have climbed the tower, where they can see distances of up to 100 miles over the surrounding mountains and valleys. Some minimal preservation work today on the tower will ensure that visitors continue to experience this unique structure spiraling up from the highest point in the park.

For more information about the Clingmans Dome Tower, please visit he park website at

About Partners in Preservation: Partners in Preservation is a program in which American Express, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, awards preservation grants to historic places across the country. Since 2006, Partners in Preservation, a community-based partnership, has committed $16 million in preservation funding to nearly 200 diverse sites in eight different cities across the country.

Through this partnership, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation seek to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of historic preservation in the United States and to preserve America’s historic and cultural places. The program also hopes to inspire long-term support from local citizens for the historic places at the heart of their communities.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Programming Note: Friends Across the Mountains Telethon on Wednesday Night

This Wednesday, August 23rd, is the 23nd annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon. The event will again be broadcasted on WBIR-TV Channel 10 in Knoxville, TN and WLOS-TV Channel 13 in Asheville, NC from 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM.

The broadcast will highlight projects and programs that Friends of the Smokies has funded over the years. It's a fun event that raises awareness of both the Park's needs (as the only major national park without an entrance fee), and the ways that Friends of the Smokies helps to fulfill some of those needs every year. The telethon raises roughly $200,000 each year, and has raised more than $3.5 million dollars over the last 20+ years.

Volunteers will be on hand to help answer phones and keep running totals of the money raised throughout the evening.

If you wish, you can make a donation right now by clicking here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, August 18, 2017

Smokies Reminds Visitors to Be Prepared for their Solar Eclipse Experience

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are urging visitors to review the Frequently Asked Questions information posted on the park’s 2017 Solar Eclipse website at to assist in planning a safe solar eclipse experience.

Everyone is reminded to use only approved solar eclipse glasses when directly viewing the eclipse. Glasses can only be removed during the brief few seconds when in the area of totality. The duration of totality varies greatly across the park and region. A common cause of eye injury during a total eclipse is immediately following totality when viewers forget to put their glasses back on.

“A large number of people will be making Great Smoky Mountains National Park their destination for eclipse viewing on Monday,” said the park’s Chief Ranger, Steve Kloster. “We want to make sure everyone who comes here is as prepared as possible and understands that we expect traffic to be heavy and many park areas to be crowded. The better prepared our visitors are, the more enjoyable and safe the experience will be for everyone.”

Visitors should bring plenty of food and water and make sure their vehicle has a full tank of gas before entering the park. The high amount of traffic expected will cause difficulties for towing companies to reach vehicles in need. The traffic could also cause temporary road closures throughout the day as the park manages the influx of vehicles entering the park. Anyone planning to travel to or through the park should have an alternate route in mind in case the first path or viewing location is no longer available.

Visitors are asked to remember to respect the park and it’s wildlife by staying at least 50 yards from bears and elk and not feeding any park animals. Trash should be packed out or put in an appropriate trash receptacle to keep our overlooks and viewing areas clean. Backcountry hikers are reminded to follow Leave No Trace principles and to make sure they are prepared for the distance and mountainous terrain of their planned hike.

Visitors should also remember that Clingmans Dome Road will be closed to public access beginning at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 19 through the evening of Monday, August 21 following the eclipse event. No overnight parking will be allowed at Clingmans Dome Parking Area or pull-offs, parking areas, and trailheads along the road during this time period. The road will be closed to all motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The Clingmans Dome Trail will be open to the public, but the tower will be accessible to media only. The event at Clingmans Dome will be livestreamed at


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Friends of the Smokies Announces $2.5 Million Emergency Radio Upgrade in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In celebration of the organization’s 25th anniversary next year, Friends of the Smokies is delighted to announce a milestone capital campaign to fund a critical radio system upgrade in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).

The total cost of the radio system upgrade is $2.5 million. “Our target for this campaign is to raise $1.25 million by this time next year, making it our biggest fundraising goal in a decade,” said Jim Hart, president of the nonprofit organization. Federal funding sources and other grants will be used to match donations to Friends of the Smokies dollar for dollar to reach the total cost. “We know our generous supporters will rise to meet this challenge in spectacular fashion, especially when such a significant project is at hand.”

The radio communications system currently used in GSMNP has exceeded its recommended maximum lifespan. Replacement parts are difficult to come by and repairs and maintenance are costly on a tightening federal budget. The proposed project will replace microwave and repeater equipment at nine radio tower sites around the park as well as portable radio units and mobile units in patrol vehicles and fire engines. This will allow park rangers and emergency dispatch to directly communicate with police, fire, and emergency services in jurisdictions outside park boundaries including agencies in North Carolina and Tennessee. The total cost of the upgrade also includes a Computer Aided Dispatch system which allows dispatchers to prioritize and record emergency calls and locate first responders in the field.

Steve Kloster, Chief Ranger in GSMNP said, “The ability to effectively communicate with different agencies in the field can make all the difference in a life-threatening situation where every second counts. A good communications system truly is the backbone of any emergency response and this stateof-the-art upgrade will put the Smokies on par with any unit in the National Park Service.”

In addition to improving emergency response for law enforcement, search and rescue, and wildland fire, this upgrade will provide operable and dependable equipment for day-to-day operations across more than 522,000 acres of the national park. Where before, facility maintenance might share the same channel with an active search and rescue operation, the upgraded communication system will provide dedicated emergency frequencies.

“A new radio system is absolutely vital for responding to emergencies quickly and effectively, preserving the cultural and natural resources of this park, and protecting our visitors and first responders,” GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash added. “We are thankful to the Friends for their willingness to tackle this request head on and still provide funding for other needs across the park.”

“Delivery of a large-scale project like this radio system is the perfect way to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year,” said Brent McDaniel, marketing director at Friends of the Smokies. “Big, important projects like this are nothing new to Friends of the Smokies and we are excited to help protect 11 million visitors and keep our park rangers safe.”

Friends of the Smokies has contributed millions of dollars towards milestone projects including matching $2 million from the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville in 2008 to create the Trails Forever endowment. Now grown to more the $5 million, this endowment funds a full-time trail crew that focuses on rehabilitation of the park’s most heavily used trails, including Chimney Tops, Alum Cave, and Rainbow Falls. Recurring support from Friends of the Smokies to GSMNP for programs like environmental education, historic preservation, and wildlife management exceeds $1 million annually.

To make a matching gift to support this critical radio system upgrade, please visit or call 800-845-5665.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Blue Ridge Parkway Prepares for Total Solar Eclipse

Blue Ridge Parkway staff and volunteers are actively preparing for the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. That day, from approximately 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the eclipse will cross much of the southern section of Parkway on its journey across the United States. Weather permitting, visitors to this section of Parkway, from Milepost 417 – 469, will have the opportunity to experience 100% totality in approximately 17 overlooks. Additional overlooks in this section, and extending north of this area, will experience varying partial totality.

In anticipation of an unprecedented volume of visitors on the day of the eclipse, Parkway managers are asking anyone interested in experiencing the eclipse on the Parkway to plan ahead and follow these guidelines:

•Expect heavy traffic. Have plenty of patience and make sure you have full tank of gas. Rangers may implement short term closures if parking becomes full or roads become congested.

•Plan several options for viewing locations and get there early. If parking is full at your first choice location, move to another.

•Be prepared. In addition to special viewing glasses, visitors should bring food, plenty of water, a first-aid kit, flashlight, and provisions for changing weather.

•Pack it in, pack it out. To help protect park resources, visitors should pack out any trash generated during their time on the Parkway.

Additional information about what to expect and how to prepare is available on the Parkway’s website. On the day of the eclipse, the Parkway will use its Twitter channel for any updates or announcements.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of 21 National Park Service sites in the path of the eclipse. National parks offer a memorable setting for watching the eclipse; and during the eclipse, park rangers and volunteers will be on site at selected overlooks throughout the day reminding visitors about the many other ways to experience the Parkway’s natural and cultural resources throughout the year.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shenandoah National Park To Host Night Sky Festival and Solar Eclipse Viewing

Shenandoah National Park will celebrate the importance of dark skies and the beautiful night skies that Shenandoah protects with the second-annual Night Sky Festival from Friday, August 18 to Monday, August 21. Join Park Rangers, special speakers, and local volunteer astronomers during four exciting days of talks, walks, audio-visual presentations, and sky viewing throughout the Park. The event will culminate with a viewing of the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. Shenandoah and other national parks provide excellent opportunities to experience starry night skies and natural darkness. Join us to learn the basics of astronomy, discover the importance of protecting dark night skies, enjoy some close up views of stars and planets, and learn about eclipses.

On August 21, 2017, the final day of the festival, the 2017 Solar Eclipse will cross the continental United States. While Shenandoah National Park will only experience 80-85% coverage of the sun at approximately 2:40 p.m., and will not experience a total eclipse, it is still a great place to learn about and experience an eclipse. Join Rangers throughout the weekend and on the day of the eclipse to learn why a solar eclipse happens, what to expect, and how to view it safely.

Activities will take place in a variety of locations throughout the Park. For a complete list of the weekend’s events, see the Night Sky Festival schedule. All programs are free. There is a $25-per-vehicle entrance fee to the Park which is good for seven days.

Participants are encouraged to dress for cool mountain nights during evening activities and bring blankets, chairs, and flashlights for stargazing. Night sky viewing may be canceled depending on cloud cover or inclement weather.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Shenandoah National Park Announces Temporary Trail Closure during Helicopter Operations

Shenandoah National Park managers will temporarily close the area surrounding Corbin Cabin (see closure map, red rectangle) to all hiking and backcountry use during helicopter operations associated with the restoration of the historic cabin. Since the cabin is located in a remote area, a helicopter will be used to remove construction materials related to the project.

The temporary closure will be in effect from 6:00 a.m. August 8 through 6:00 p.m. August 11. The closure area is located southeast of Skyline Drive (mileposts 37 and 38) in the vicinity of the upper Nicholson Hollow/ Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail. Trails closed include all of the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail and the Nicholson Hollow Trail from the intersection of the Indian Run Trail eastward to 1/4 mile east of the Corbin Cabin. There will be no closures on Skyline Drive or the Appalachian Trail.

As soon as the project is completed, the temporary closure will be lifted.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hit-and-Run Suspect Seriously Injures Girl along Little River Road

The National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) is investigating a hit and run accident that occurred at approximately 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 29 along Little River Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A motorcyclist fled the scene after striking and seriously injuring a 13-year old, female pedestrian at a pulloff between the Townsend Wye and the Sinks.

The motorcyclist was traveling west along Little River Road at a high rate of speed when he lost control of his motorcycle and struck a 13-year old girl who was standing near a parked vehicle at the pulloff. He abandoned his wrecked motorcycle and fled the scene. The injured girl was flown by Lifestar to UT Medical Center.

Investigators are looking for information from anyone who may have witnessed the incident or observed the two motorcycles traveling from Gatlinburg, TN towards Townsend, TN on Little River Road between 7:45 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Additionally, any witness to the accident scene who took photographs or video of the scene is requested to contact the investigators through the tip line.

Respondents may contact the investigators through any of the following means:

• CALL the ISB Tip Line at 888-653-009
• TEXT to 202-379-4761
• ONLINE at and click “Submit a Tip”
• MESSAGE on Facebook @InvestigativeServicesNPS or Twitter @SpecialAgentNPS


Friday, July 28, 2017

Bear Reports at Table Rock Picnic Area

Pisgah National Forest staff report several recent instances of bear encounters in the Table Rock Picnic Area on the Grandfather Ranger District. Please exercise caution in this area, and always be aware of your surroundings.

Black bears in the wild are opportunistic, feeding on whatever is readily available. Food odors and improperly stored garbage will attract bears to campsites and picnic areas, even when humans are around. Though bears are naturally afraid of humans, bears habituated to human food can begin to associate human scents with the reward of food. Due to this, bears can become a threat to humans, property, and themselves. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear.

You can protect yourself and protect bears by storing trash and food in safe locations during your visit. This can be done by keeping items in bear-proof canisters, inside trailers, and in the trunk of a vehicle. Food and trash left in passenger areas of vehicles can still attract bears and potentially lead to property damage. Do not leave food or coolers unattended. Never store scented items in your tent, including toothpaste, deodorant, beverages, or snacks. Pick up all garbage around your site, including inside fire rings, grills, and tables and properly store with your food or dispose in a bear-proof trash receptacle.

If a bear is observed nearby, pack up food and trash immediately and vacate the area. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts or making noise. If a bear approaches, do not run, but move away slowly and get into a vehicle or building. In the event of a bear attack, do not play dead. Try to fight back and act aggressively. Carrying EPA registered bear spray is another way to combat bear attacks.

If you encounter a bear while on the forest, please inform the district office. You can find more information by visiting


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Armed Suspect Search Closes Portions of Pisgah Ranger District

On Saturday, July 22, 2017, Transylvania County Sheriff’s Deputies received a BOLO from Henderson County in reference to a suspect vehicle in a breaking and entering in Mills River near the Transylvania and Henderson County Line. Later this same morning, Patrol Deputies with the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office located a vehicle matching the description in Pisgah National Forest, just off U.S. Highway 276 North. When a patrol deputy attempted to initiate a vehicle stop on Avery’s Creek Road, the suspect refused to stop and a vehicle pursuit ensued.

The suspect continued on Avery’s Creek Road, and at one point quickly exited his vehicle, and stole a mountain bike, while pointing a firearm (unknown handgun) at the victim / owner. The suspect placed the stolen bike in his vehicle, and the vehicle pursuit continued. TCSO Deputies were unable to make contact at that instance due to the crowded nature of hikers and campers on the roadway. The suspect then blocked the roadway, parking his vehicle sideways, got on the stolen mountain bike, and fled into the woods.

A perimeter was established in the area, and the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team (SRT) was called out to attempt to locate the suspect. Other agencies assisting in the manhunt include the Brevard Police Department, the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement, the NC State Highway Patrol (including helicopter support), the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office (including a Special Response Team), the NC State Bureau of Investigation, and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of this press release, the suspect has not been located.

The suspect has been positively identified as Phillip Michael Stroupe II (photo and updates here), Date of Birth 7/25/1978 (38 years old), with a last known address of Weaverville, NC. He is described as a white male, approximately 5-feet 8-inches tall, with a small build; he has a shaved head and a large distinct tattoo on his neck just under his chin. HE IS CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS. The suspect has a history of violence and resisting law enforcement. He has outstanding warrants in Buncombe County for kidnapping, and he also has pending charges in Yancey County.

If anyone has any information, please contact the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office at (828) 884-3168.

The latest closure information:

Highway 276 on the Pisgah Ranger District and Davidson River Road (#475) have now reopened.

Attractions along Highway 276 are now open except for the Cradle of Forestry. Sliding Rock is open but restrooms are closed and no lifeguards are on duty today. Regular operations will resume tomorrow.

Remaining closed are North Mills River Campground, Wash Creek Group Horse Camp, Yellow Gap Road, and Wash Creek Road due to continued law enforcement activities in those areas.

Numerous law enforcement agencies led by Transylvania County Sheriff's Office are engaged in a search for a suspect who is known to be armed and dangerous.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Pisgah National Forest issues Warning about Black Bears in the Pink Beds Vicinity

The Pisgah National Forest is warning visitors going to the Pink Beds in the Pisgah Ranger District to be on the look-out for black bears.

The warning comes after a recent bear encounter was reported by campers in the Pink Beds. The encounter resulted in minor property damage and no injuries. The campers reported that the bear rummaged through their belongings after they heard the bear and left the site. The campers also reported that their food was stored in the trunk of their car.

This time of the year black bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips. While black bear attacks on people are rare, such attacks have resulted in human fatalities.

To avoid bear attacks, experts recommend the following:

* If you notice a bear nearby, pack up your food and trash immediately and vacate the area as soon as possible.

* If a bear approaches, move away slowly; do not run. Get into a vehicle or a secure building.

* If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, by banging pans together, or throwing rocks and sticks at it.

If you are attacked by a black bear, try to fight back using any object available. Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms. Playing dead is not appropriate.

Visitors are encouraged to prevent bear interactions by practicing these additional safety tips:

* Do not store food in tents

* Properly store food and scented items like toothpaste by using a bear-proof container

* Clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills, or other areas of your campsite

* Do not leave food unattended

* Never run away from a bear—back away slowly and make lots of noise

The large number of bear sightings and encounters in the past few years has led to required use of bear-proof canisters in the Shining Rock and Graveyard Fields areas. Backcountry users must use commercially-made canisters constructed of solid, non-pliable material manufactured for the specific purpose of resisting entry by bears.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Join Park Rangers for Smokies Service Days

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are excited to announce a new opportunity for the public to participate in service projects across the park. Park staff have coordinated ten Smokies Service Days on Saturdays beginning July 22 through October 28. Individuals and groups are invited to sign up for any of the scheduled service projects that interest them including unique opportunities to help care for park cemeteries, campgrounds, trails, roadsides, rivers, and native plant gardens.

This new volunteer program will help complete much needed work across the park and is ideal for those seeking to fulfill community service requirements including students, scout troops, civic organizations, visitors, families, and working adults with busy schedules. Each project will provide tasks appropriate for a wide range of ages. Volunteer projects will begin at 9:00 a.m. and last until noon on Saturday mornings. In addition, each project will be followed by an optional enrichment adventure to immerse participants in the abundant natural and cultural resources of the park.

Tools and safety gear, including gloves and high visibility safety vests, will be provided by park staff. Participants will be required to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, closed-toe shoes, and bring water. Volunteers planning to stay for the optional enrichment activity must also bring a sack lunch.

Those interested in volunteering need to contact Project Coordinator, Logan Boldon, at 865-436-1278 or at least three days prior to the scheduled event date to register.

Service opportunities include:

July 22: Litter Patrol on the Spur
August 5: Gardening at Oconaluftee
August 12: Cemetery Rehabilitation at Elkmont
August 26: Campground Clean-Up at Elkmont
September 9: Campground Clean-Up at Smokemont
September 30: Trail Rehabilitation for National Public Lands Day
October 7: Farm Maintenance at Oconaluftee
October 14: Vegetation Management at Twin Creeks
October 21: Historic Preservation and Campground Clean-Up at Cataloochee
October 28: Litter Patrol and Stream Restoration at Deep Creek


Friday, July 14, 2017

Smokies Reminds Visitors about Clingmans Dome Road Closure for the Solar Eclipse Event

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are reminding visitors that Clingmans Dome Road will be closed to all access beginning at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 19 through the evening of Monday, August 21 following the event. No overnight parking will be allowed at Clingmans Dome Parking Area or pull-offs, parking areas, and trailheads along the road during this time period. The road will be closed to all motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

During the closure, all trails, campsites and shelters in the backcountry will remain open, but backpackers should carefully consider the road closure when planning their itineraries. All vehicles must be clear of Clingmans Dome Road by 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 19. An interactive map is available on the park website at where backcountry users can view which backcountry campsites are within the path of totality.

Clingmans Dome Road is the only park road closed for the solar eclipse event, but park visitors should be prepared for high volume traffic across all park roads on Monday, August 21. Vehicles cannot stop in the roadway and must be parked in designated parking areas. If roads become congested or cause a safety concern, rangers may temporarily close them to additional inbound traffic until after the eclipse to reduce traffic congestion and allow access for emergency response. Visitors should expect temporary road closures throughout the day.

While the western half of the park lies within the path of totality, there are limited roads and parking areas available for travel. The risk of traffic jams and road closures is likely to increase throughout the morning of August 21. Managers suggest that visitors plan ahead to find the right eclipse experience for their situation. Many communities outside of the national park are hosting special events to observe and celebrate the celestial phenomena and those locales may be a great alternative for locals or travelers not wanting to risk traffic congestion in the park. Visit the park website for more information at


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Partnership Rekindled Between Smokies and the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and U.S. Forest Service officials gathered to announce the re-establishment of an important partnership between the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (JCCCC) and the park. The two organizations signed an agreement establishing a pathway for career developmental opportunities for youth.

“We are fortunate to have the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center in our backyard,” said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “This partnership will allow hard-working youth an opportunity to acquire important, trade skills as they work alongside park staff. These skills can help them transition into the workforce of tomorrow.”

This partnership will provide robust training opportunities for students which will enable them to support the National Parks commitment to the preservation and conservation of our public lands. Students will receive on-the-job training and hands-on experience by working jointly with national park staff in the protection of resources, prescribed fire, facility maintenance, and administration.

“We are truly elated to partner with the National Park Service,” said Oconaluftee Job Corps Center Director Jimmy Copeland. “This partnership brings education, awareness, and training opportunities to our youth thus creating pipelines for employment and resource awareness in their future. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an integral part of the success of our center and we are excited to work more closely with them in serving our communities.”

Over the past 30 years, students from the Oconaluftee JCCCC have assisted the park in the removal of exotic plant species, treatment of forest insect pests, facility construction, and wildland fire fighting. Some students have gone on to receive seasonal and permanent employment with the National Park Service. This renewed partnership will allow students to receive important certifications along with job training.

The Oconaluftee JCCCC is nestled within Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Cherokee, NC. The Job Corps program is the nation’s largest residential, educational, and career technical training program that prepares economically disadvantaged youth, ranging in age from 16 to 24, for productive employment. Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (JCCCCs) are associated with national forests or grasslands and are operated by the Forest Service under an inter-agency agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, which has the overall management of the Job Corps program.

USDA Forest Service operates 26 JCCCCs that span seven Forest Service regions, 23 national forests and grasslands and 17 states with a capacity to house, educate, and train over 5,000 enrollees. In addition to offering enrollees the opportunity to earn their high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, and enroll in college classes, JCCCCs offer vocational training in more than 30 occupations, many of which are pre-apprenticeship programs managed international trade unions.


Friday, June 30, 2017

District Attorney Issues Statement on Chimney Tops 2 Fire: Charges Dropped

The following is a statement issued today by James B. Dunn, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District:

For the past seven months, an investigation has been underway into the origin, cause and consequences of a fire that started on November 23, 20165, in an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park referred to the Chimney Tops. The investigation is now complete the investigation was led by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with the assistance of the National Park Service and local law enforcement, as well as various other local, state and federal agencies. The investigation involved thousands of investigative hours, over 100 witness and expert interviews across multiple states, thousands of potential witnesses, as well as thousands of pages of documents, records photographs and hours of video evidence and audio recordings.

After a comprehensive review of all of the evidence gathered and presented by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Gatlinburg Police Department, Pigeon Forge Police Department, Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, the State, in consultation with other law enforcement agencies and various experts in wildfire progression, has determined that the unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable wind event that started in the early morning hours of November 28,2016, approximately four and a half days after the initial origin of the fire, was the primary reason of the Chimney Tops II fire traveled outside the park into Gatlinburg. But for the winds that reached speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour, it is highly unlikely and improbably that the Chimney Tops II fire would have left the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and reached Gatlinburg.

Because of this intervening weather event, the State is unable to prove the criminal responsibility of two juveniles beyond a reasonable doubt for the devastation that occurred outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to the wind, the State’s cause is further complicated by the fact that there were other fires in the area and other confirmed ignition points in the Gatlinburg area from multiple downed power lines that were felled by the wind. Some of these fires appear to have erupted prior to the fire from the Park breaching the Gatlinburg city limits. Once the investigation confirmed multiple fires with multiple points of origin, it became impossible to prove which fire may have caused the death of an individual or damage to a particular structure. Based upon this evidence, the State’s case was narrowed to prosecuting conduct that occurred wholly within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Once the State determined that is prosecution may be limited to conduct and actions occurring within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the District Attorney’s Office conducted additional research and investigation into jurisdictional issues regarding criminal prosecution by the State for actions or events that occur wholly within National Park land. This investigation and research revealed the existence of two documents or “Memoranda of Agreement” regarding concurrent criminal jurisdiction between the State of Tennessee and the National Park Service. One of these documents specifically lists the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as being part of a concurrent criminal jurisdiction agreement between the State of Tennessee and the National Park Service on behalf of the Federal Government. The second of these documents is an exact duplicate of the first, save one critical difference: it does not include the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the agreement. Eleven other National Park Service on behalf of the Federal Government. The second of these documents is an exact duplicate of the first, save one critical difference: it does not include the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the agreement. Eleven other National Park Service properties are listed on each document. It is unclear how both of these documents got into circulation, but it is clear that both have been used by various agencies in different contests.

After becoming aware of these competing documents, the State notified the Defense immediately and sought advice from the State Attorney General’s Office as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office as to which document was controlling and whether or not the State could prosecute criminal acts that occur within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After reviewing the documents, both the State Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office advised that it was their respective opinions that the State of Tennessee does not have jurisdiction to prosecute criminal acts that occur wholly within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Therefore, any prosecution for criminal conduct occurring entirely within the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must be initiated by the federal government.

Based upon these findings, the State has no other option but to dismiss the charges currently pending in state court as there is no subject matter jurisdiction that would allow the state court to take any action. To retain jurisdiction, the State must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one element of a criminal offense occurred outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and within the State’s jurisdiction. The State has concluded that this burden cannot be met due to the intervening weather event that occurred before any fire reached the State’s jurisdiction. Therefore, the decision to prosecute any individuals alleged to have caused a fire within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is now within the purview of the United States Department of Justice.

The District Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial District would like to thank all agencies, law enforcement and otherwise, including the TBI, the National Park Service, the Sevier county Sheriff’s Office (with special recognition for the outstanding work done by the GIS Division), the Gatlinburg Police Department, the Pigeon Forge Police Department, the Pittman Center Police Department, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, for their incredible hard work in investigating this unprecedented event. This office would also like to thank and commend the hundreds of firefighters and police officers from the national, regional, state and local levels for their extraordinary bravery and courage in confronting these fires.


Friday, June 23, 2017

USDA Announces $20 Million for Jobs for Young People, Veterans

USDA and partners committed $20 million in 21st Century Conservation Service Corps partnership agreements to provide 4,000 work opportunities for youth, young adults and veterans up to 35 years old, a move that will help the U.S. Forest Service accomplish mission-critical infrastructure and landscape restoration projects on the ground. The U.S. Forest Service is one of seventeen USDA Agencies.

The funding represents investments by USDA of $13 million and $7 million from partner organizations. Contributions by the Forest Service and partners are expected to reach $40 million by the end of 2017 and provide 11,000 work opportunities. Some funds are already placed with 21st Century Conservation Service Corps partnership agreements; other funds will continue to be obligated throughout the summer.

“The 21st Century Conservation Corps is not merely a summer jobs program,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This is about nurturing our public lands as well as our veterans, youth and young adults through a variety of opportunities to develop leadership potential and professional and personal connections through work across many diverse landscapes.”

The work accomplished by participants will include hundreds of miles of trail maintenance and improvements, watershed protection, removal of vegetation as part of wildfire prevention, improvements to recreation facilities, and other essential work on lands managed by the Forest Service.

Since the program started in 2014, the Forest Service generated nearly 30,000 opportunities for youth and veterans to work on projects that benefit public lands. Corps partners provide hands-on service and job training while working with the Forest Service and other land management agencies to build America’s rural and urban economies, strengthen America’s infrastructure, and modernize the way government works.

Involving veterans in these opportunities helps them learn new skills while continuing to serve their nation and local communities. In FY 2016, 910 veterans were engaged on Forest Service volunteerism and service projects, of which 170 participated in 21st Century Conservation Corps projects. In FY 2017, the agency expects to hire 186 veterans.

About 20 percent of the 4,000 opportunities funded by this year’s commitment will be for Youth Conservation Corps jobs, a summer employment program on public lands that employ high school-aged youth. About 25 percent of the dedicated resources will support high-priority trail maintenance and improvements.

Projects will be on public lands in rural communities from coast to coast and will include diverse work experiences.

Annually, the Forest Service engages about 100,000 volunteers and 21st Century Conservation Service Corps participants. As part of an emphasis on strengthening and deepening connections with the public through outdoor experiences, the agency is committed to expanding its capacity for greater volunteerism and community service. The goal is to increase engagement to 115,000 volunteers by 2020 mostly through individual and partner organizations committed to the conservation of the public lands legacy.

To participate in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps contact a member organization.

For additional information about funded projects, jobs, volunteering and other opportunities for young people, visit the Forest Service online Working with Us page.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse Will Cross Thru Cherokee National Forest

On August 21, 2017 at approximately 2:30 pm EDT a total eclipse of the sun will pass over parts of southeast Tennessee. What some are calling the "Great American Eclipse" will pass over 12 states, including Tennessee. The eclipse (partial) will be visible throughout the United Sates. A 70 mile wide path of total darkness begins in Oregon and exits the nation at South Carolina. Areas within the 70 mile wide path will experience total darkness for up to 2 mins 40 seconds. The southern portion of the Cherokee National Forest (Ocoee & Tellico Ranger Districts) is within the 70 mile wide total darkness path.

During a total solar eclipse shadow bands are often seen on the ground as totality approaches; Light filtering through leaves on trees casts crescent shadows as totality approaches; Wildlife often prepare for sleep or become confused; and temperatures can drop several degrees during totality.

Community Events: The total eclipse path will pass through the southern portion of the Cherokee National Forest in Monroe, McMinn and Polk counties. Communities throughout the area will be hosting celebrations and showcasing local and regional culture. Many of these areas offer excellent opportunities to view the eclipse while enjoying art, music, and local cuisine. These events are easily accessible and offer various amenities. There are a number of online sources to learn more about the eclipse and activities in the area. One such site is:

Cherokee National Forest: Some people may wish to view the eclipse in a more natural setting. Much of the Cherokee National Forest is remote and rugged, and the environment is much different than in urban areas. Planning your visit ahead of time may help make it more enjoyable and safer.

Some locations that may seem suitable for viewing the eclipse in the southern Cherokee National Forest may have environmental or road access concerns associated with them. Many locations outside of developed recreation areas have rough dirt/gravel roads leading to them with limited access, parking, crowd capacity, restricted traffic flow and no sanitation facilities or water.

National forest visitors should expect many locations to be heavily visited and congested. Forest Service management is focused on public safety and protecting the natural and cultural resources. It may be necessary to control traffic and parking and to restrict vehicular access to some locations. Management measures for a number of locations are being developed. When these are finalized, a summary for each location , and other information, will be publicized and posted to the Cherokee National Forest website:


Friday, June 16, 2017

Shenandoah National Park Announces a Fee Free Day on June 17 in Honor of Park Neighbor Day

Shenandoah National Park will waive entrance fees for all park visitors on Saturday, June 17 in celebration of Park Neighbor Day, an annual event held on the third Saturday of June to honor our neighbors who live in the counties and gateway communities surrounding the Park.

Visitors are encouraged to stop by the Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51 on Skyline Drive) from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. to learn about the rich heritage and diverse amenities available in our gateway communities. The Park's partner organizations (Shenandoah National Park Trust, Shenandoah National Park Association, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and Delaware North Corporation) will also be present to highlight the important activities they undertake to support Shenandoah National Park. There will be music by local artists and exhibits by our local communities to showcase the variety of features they have to offer.

Superintendent Jennifer Flynn said, "Shenandoah National Park is a part of the fabric of our communities, providing nearly $96 million in economic benefit, as well as health benefits and recreational opportunities. The Park's surrounding communities enrich our lives and our visitors' experiences with their vibrant downtowns, agritourism, and historical resources, including Civil War battlefields and so much more. We hope many of our neighbors will take advantage of the fee free day to rediscover the park and enjoy the activities offered during Park Neighbor Day."

Other special events will also be taking place at Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 Skyline Drive) on Saturday, June 17. Renowned author Jeff Alt, of the book Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun will present a program at the Byrd Visitor Center auditorium from 11:00 a.m - noon. Join Jeff as he teams up with Shenandoah National Park Rangers to lead kids and accompanying adults on a short hike loaded with hands-on family hiking tips and ways to explore the outdoors. This short family stroll turns a walk in the park into a fun-filled, multi-dimensional adventure that kids of all ages and parents will enjoy. Jeff will return to the Byrd Visitor Center on Sunday, June 18 from 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. to present a program featuring interactive time travel adventures based on his book The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time Traveling through Shenandoah National Park. Jeff’s Bubba Jones stories are designed to engage kids with wild animal encounters, interesting history, science, and the environment and will have your entire family excited to take your own Shenandoah adventure. These programs are free to park visitors.

A special presentation on June 17 by Artist-in-Residence Kevin H. Adams will take place at 1:30 p.m. in the Byrd Visitor Center auditorium. Come and experience his interactive demonstration showcasing his artwork that is inspired by the wonder of the national parks. This program is also free.

Shenandoah National Park's official concessionaire, Delaware North will welcome park neighbors by providing residents of the surrounding counties with discounts. They will provide a 10% discount on select items in their retail stores and a 10% discount on food and some beverage items at all their restaurants. Visitors wishing to take advantage of these discounts will be required to provide proof of residency by showing their Virginia driver's license.

For more information about our special events, please visit our website at


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Volunteers Needed for Rainbow Falls Trail Rehabilitation

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is currently recruiting for volunteers to assist the Trails Forever trail crew for a rehabilitation project on the Rainbow Falls Trail. Volunteers are needed every Wednesday from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Volunteers must register at least one week in advance by contacting Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator, Adam Monroe, by email or phone.

The Trails Forever crew will focus rehabilitation efforts on several targeted locations along the 6-mile trail to improve visitor safety and stabilize eroding trail sections. Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park leading hikers to Rainbow Falls and Mt. Le Conte. The planned work will improve overall trail safety and protect natural resources by reducing trail braiding and improving drainage to prevent further erosion.

“This work will be a long-term solution to the various safety and route finding issues found along this section of the Rainbow Falls Trail and will allow visitors to enjoy the trail and the scenic areas surrounding it safely for years to come,” said Tobias Miller, Trails and Roads Facility Manager. “This project would not be possible without the generous support from our park partner, Friends of the Smokies, who provide funding for the project through the trails forever endowment program.”

The Trails Forever program provides opportunities for both skilled and non-skilled volunteers to work alongside park crews to make lasting improvements to park trails. The Rainbow Falls Trail project provides a great opportunity to improve a part of the park that was damaged by the 2016 wildfires.

Trails Forever volunteers will perform a wide range of trail maintenance and trail rehabilitation work depending on volunteer experience level including installing drainage features, rehabilitating trail surfaces, constructing raised trail segments, removing brush, or planting vegetation. While these jobs may vary in complexity, all Trails Forever volunteers must be able to hike at least 4 miles and safely perform strenuous and often difficult manual labor. Volunteers should be comfortable lifting heavy objects and using hand tools such as shovels, rakes, axes, and sledgehammers. The park will provide all the safety gear, tools and equipment needed for the projects. Volunteers will need to wear boots and long pants and bring a day pack with food, water, rain gear and any other personal gear for the day.

The Trails Forever program is a partnership between the national park and Friends of the Smokies. To sign up for a work day or for more information, contact Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or Prior notice of your attendance is mandatory for project planning. More information and Frequently Asked Questions can be found at


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

After the Fire, the Smoky Mountains Surge Back

The following is a guest blog from Gatlinburg Falls Resort:

Spring 2017 brought good news for anyone worried about Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park experienced headline-grabbing wildfires in December 2016, leaving many who love the park worried about its condition. We’re happy to report that both GSMNP and the city of Gatlinburg have recovered nicely.

The forest floor is recovering rapidly with new green shoots in the scattered burn areas, and Gatlinburg is in full swing as a bustling attraction filled with fun, music, people and excitement.

As spring came to the Smokies in 2017, we saw the whole area become green. Soon we learned that, of the 800 miles of hiking trails in the national park, only 4 trails would remain closed for upgrade work, while all the rest were already reopening. Park rangers worked hard through the winter to restore the greatest accessibility for the greatest number. And visits to the park, by the end of April, had actually edged up slightly over last year, which was itself a record-breaking year.

Throughout the winter it was clear also that food supplies for wildlife were unaffected, and habitat damage was minimal. The animals experienced the same terrifying kind of trauma and sometimes individual loss as the humans in the area, but for the most part they survived. And in spring we've seen great activity in the national park. 2017 is a good year to catch sight of new bear cubs with Mama Bear, deer and their fawns, coyotes and even the elusive, fast-moving bobcats.

It's a strange thing to say, after the loss and heartbreak of the winter fires, but springtime in the Smoky Mountains this year reminded us that Nature can put a forest fire to very good use for regeneration and renewal. The fires probably killed a lot of parasites and already-weakened plant systems, including the dead hemlock trees that were such a sorrowful sight. What's happening now is the intense regrowth that follows a fire.

The Understory

The fires were always about the forest floor. We lost some canopy trees, but much of the burn involved dead leaf and undergrowth. Some bark was singed but roots were largely untouched, and most trees escaped intact, leaving the national park with its numerous forests and more than 100 species of trees.

During March and April we saw an amazing bloom of wildflowers, and the forest floor - the understory - came alive with regeneration. The tireless volunteers of Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) recorded video clips and photographs of some of these quiet events happening low to the ground.

This YouTube video clip from March shows the regrowth beginning with Table Mountain Pines, a fire-adapted species whose seeds are helped to propagate through fire: Table Mountain Pine Stand.

And here in a Facebook video clip are the parasite-devastated hemlock trees that looked so bare and were such an anxiety for lovers of the forests. They were taken by fire, almost perhaps as nature's way to reduce their presence? It's an interesting thought: The Fire and the Hemlock.

Down at the soil level, fungus proliferates. Fungus seems to heal all soils, and in the burn areas fungal colonization is coming on strong. Here are some pictures of mycorrhizae, perhaps the most beneficial fungi throughout the world, the hidden helpers that coexist with plants and trees - often the first to appear after wildfires, beginning the process of renewal: These Are the Mycorrhizae.

1. Mycorrhizae - Image courtesy of GSMA

And in this latest “Smoky Mountain Minute” video from GSMA, University of Tennessee professor Karen Hughes describes a variety of fungi that are abundant this spring: Wildfire Mushrooms.

Telling the Story

It was always hard to get the word out that Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas were only sporadically hit by the fires. We're accustomed to watching wildfires on TV that cover thousands of acres in one huge swath of fire, marching on against firefighting efforts, and leaving a vast, monolithic area of devastation in its wake. But this fire was very different.

The fire started on the ironically and aptly named Chimney Tops, a high outcrop hard for firefighters to get to. Then the winds came, with storm-force velocities that picked up embers and threw them across many miles, so that new hot spots sprang up with no warning, often surrounding firefighters who were then hard-pressed to flee for their lives. And 14 people didn't make it out alive of the dizzying cauldron of fires. The speed and surprise of the countless new small fires are what made this fire event so terrifying. But also, by contrast, this sporadic and random effect left immense areas - and all the major attractions of the area - completely untouched by fire.

If the extreme winds carried the sparks very far, they also seemed to carry bad news across the country instantly, long before the more sober reality could catch up. In the first hours we heard that Ober Gatlinburg, the ski area on Mt. Harrison above Gatlinburg, was completely destroyed. But when the smoke cleared, the resort was untouched, although as with many local businesses, some employees had lost their homes in the area.

Some 2,400 structures were burned by the fires, many of them cabins in the forests, but still only a fraction of the built infrastructure of the area. And as local organizations such as Cabins of the Smoky Mountains tried to tell in releases and updates, less than 5% of the land area was touched - some 17,000 acres in the entire region, while Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone holds half a million acres. Even in the first days, it was possible to drive all around the area without running into evidence of fires. And so it is now, even more so in this green summer in the Smoky Mountains.

2. Gatlinburg Sky Lift, May 2017 - Image courtesy of

As for the people of the area, they call themselves mountain tough, on terms with Nature and its events. On Friday, May 26, 2017, a landmark event took place, as the Gatlinburg Sky Lift reopened, in time for Memorial Day weekend. A great favorite for countless thousands of visitors over many decades, the Sky Lift offered one of the best views of Gatlinburg and the layered ridges of the Smoky Mountains all around. It was a fun way to lift up out of the bustle of the main drag and experience the true vastness of the area - a breath of air and a sense of place. The Sky Lift was one of the few attractions in Gatlinburg to be touched by the fires, and the owners decided to rebuild it completely.

And in this way, life goes on, while the soil renews and the towns are alive and eager for guests to return. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fully open for "business" (it's the only national park in the country with free admission). And it's a good year, here in 2017, to visit the Smoky Mountains, and the magical towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Nantahala and Pisgah To Hold Open Houses On Forest Plan Revisions

The U.S. Forest Service will hold open houses across the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests from late June to early August to provide the public with opportunities to talk with Forest Service staff about local issues, district projects, and the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan revision.

"Public attendance at meetings like these helps us to understand your needs, concerns, and values and helps you understand Forest Service programs and activities," explains Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor for National Forests in North Carolina.

The open houses allow the public to talk directly with Forest Service staff one-on-one. Each District Open House will highlight the areas within that district. District rangers and members of the Forest Plan revision team will be available to discuss the materials each of the following days and locations:

June 29, 6-8 p.m.: Grandfather Ranger District at Foothills Conference Center, 2128 S. Sterling St., Morganton

July 11, 6-8 p.m.: Nantahala Ranger District at Tartan Hall, 26 Church St., Franklin

July 13, 6-8 p.m.: Pisgah Ranger District Office, 1600 Pisgah Hwy, Brevard

July 25, 3-6 p.m.: Appalachian Ranger District at Appalachian District Office, 632 Manor Road, Mars Hill

July 25, 3-6 p.m.: Cheoah Ranger District at Cheoah District Office, 1070 Massey Branch Road, Robbinsville

August 8, 3-6 p.m., Tusquitee Ranger District, Brasstown Community Center, 255 Settawig Rd, Brasstown

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests have been revising their Forest Plan, a required document that provides a general framework to guide management of the Forests. As part of the process, 30 public meetings have been held in communities throughout western North Carolina.

Over the past year, the Forest Service has been releasing pre-draft plan materials on the National Forests in North Carolina website - Additional materials are posted to the site’s Plan Revision Under Construction page as they become available.

"This material is not a preferred alternative or even a draft plan. It represents our latest thinking which has been shaped by public input," said Michelle Aldridge, planning team lead. "In particular, we heard a lot from the public about how places matter to them, so we created a new chapter on Geographic Areas to reflect that."

By separating the Forests into 12 distinct landscapes, Geographic Areas highlight opportunities for restoration and sustainable recreation; connections to nearby communities; and partnerships with the public, other organizations, and governments in different parts of the Forests. Each geographic area also has goals identified that will serve as emphases for management during plan implementation.

Management Area plan components outline how the general forest areas of Interface, Matrix, and Backcountry will be managed. A set of pre-draft maps shows these places on the forest landscape, and adjacent lands not managed by the U.S. Forest Service are included for context. Results from the required Wild and Scenic River Evaluation and information on possible Special Interest Areas are also currently posted on the website.

By fall 2017, the public will have had an opportunity for early review and input on nearly all aspects of the developing plan. When the Forest Plan draft is finalized, the public will again have an opportunity to review the plan during the formal comment period after the complete draft plan and alternative analysis are released in spring 2018.

While there is no formal NEPA or legal comment period at this time, the Forest Service is accepting input at with the subject line "Spring 2017 material Plan Building Blocks" or by mail at this address: Attn: Plan Revision, National Forests in North Carolina, 160A Zillicoa St, Asheville, NC 28801. Comments will be most useful when received by August 31.