Sunday, September 24, 2017

Back in the USA!

Last week Kathy and I returned from our hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies. Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks have been on my bucket list for a long time, and we finally got a chance to visit them this year. Despite heavy smoke on some days from all of the wildfires plaguing the area, the Canadian Rockies did not disappoint. We saw some absolutely stunning scenery during our trip, including Lake O'Hara. We were simply extremely lucky in obtaining bus tickets months in advance for this highly coveted trip, as well as having a beautiful bluebird day on the day of our visit. Over the next several days I'll be posting photos from our hike around Lake O'Hara, as well as most of our other hikes.

Despite missing the beautiful mountain scenery already, it's still great to be home!



Jeff
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Friday, September 22, 2017

Smokies Hosts Volunteer Trail Opportunity for National Public Lands Day

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is hosting a volunteer trail maintenance workday on Saturday, September 30 in celebration of the 24th annual National Public Lands Day. Participants are invited to participate on a trail rehabilitation project along the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Volunteers will perform trail maintenance including installation of drainage features, rehabilitation of trail surfaces, and removal of brush. While jobs may vary in complexity, volunteers must be able to hike at least 2 miles and safely perform strenuous manual labor. Volunteers should be comfortable lifting heavy objects and using hand tools such as shovels, rakes, pick-axes, and sledgehammers. Minimum age of participants is 16. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a responsible parent or guardian.

Volunteers should wear long pants, long sleeves, sturdy closed-toed shoes, and appropriate layers for cool weather. The park will provide gloves, safety gear, and tools for the day. All participants should bring lunch, water, and rain gear. Interested participants should contact Trail and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or adam_monroe@nps.gov for more information and registration.

National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort to improve and enhance the public lands across America. This year’s celebration is expected to draw more than 200,000 volunteers at more than 2,600 sites. For more information about National Public Lands visit https://www.neefusa.org/public-lands-day.



Jeff
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Smokies Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society, will offer a stargazing program in Cades Cove on Saturday, September 23, 2017 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Experienced astronomers and numerous telescopes will be on hand to provide a discovery of the spring sky’s position of stars, galaxies, and constellations, including the Milky Way. In case of rain or cloud cover where night skies are not visible, the program will be cancelled.

“It’s a great opportunity to gaze at the star-studded sky without the obstruction of artificial light as seen in developed areas outside the park,” said Park Ranger Mike Maslona. “People will be amazed at the vast depths of this planetary world and all that they can see in the complete darkness. This program mixes astronomy, legends, and the beauty of the stars to create a worthwhile exploration into the wonders of the heavens.”

Participants for the program will be directed to park near the orientation shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road. A park ranger will walk with the group one-third of a mile to a nearby field to the viewing location. No vehicles are allowed to drive to the site.

Those planning to attend should dress warm and bring a flashlight. Participants might also like to bring a lawn chair or blanket for sitting, along with binoculars which can be used for stargazing. Carpooling is strongly encouraged.

The program is subject to postponement due to rain or cloud cover. Call the day of the event to confirm that the program will take place at 865-448-4104.



Jeff
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Friends of the Smokies Awarded Grant to Promote Bear Safety on AT

Friends of the Smokies and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will continue their partnership to assist Great Smoky Mountains National Park with proactive bear management. The ATC’s North Carolina specialty license plate grant program awarded Friends of the Smokies $4,000 to support repairs of food storage cables at campsites and shelters along the Smokies stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

For more than 20 years, 50% of shelters and campsites in the Smokies have experienced some form of human-bear conflict annually. The installation and maintenance of food storage cables, in combination with warning signage, closures, and visitor education, enables the National Park Service to optimize bear management and keep wildlife wild. Thanks in part to ATC funding, every backcountry campsite in the Smokies has food storage cables, creating a safer environment for bears and hikers alike.

The Appalachian Trail runs for more than 71 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, entering the park from the south at Fontana Dam, and exiting in the northeast at Davenport Gap. More than 15,000 people have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entirety from Georgie to Maine, with many more completing the Smokies section along the North Carolina-Tennessee border.



Jeff
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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 Adam_Monroe@nps.gov. Prior notice of your attendance is mandatory for project planning. More information and Frequently Asked Questions can be found at https://friendsofthesmokies.org/trailsforever/volunteer/.



Jeff
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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.



Jeff
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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.





Jeff
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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.



Jeff
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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.



Jeff
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