Monday, April 30, 2018

Smokies Celebrates 20 Years of New Species Discoveries

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating 20 years of conducting biodiversity inventories. Park managers, biologists, educators, and non-park scientists initiated an effort to discover all life in the Smokies through an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) on Earth Day in 1998. The non-profit partner Discover Life in America (DLIA), created in 1998, coordinates the inventory. Over the last 20 years, biologists have not only documented thousands of plants and animals, but have also identified nearly 1,000 new species previously unknown to science.

“We are grateful for the partnership between the park and DLIA, and the variety of institutions and individuals that have participated in this project,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “This has been a tremendous scientific effort to help us better understand the Smokies and how we might better protect it for the next generation of owners.”

The Smokies have a long history of research, and prior to the ATBI, about 10,000 species were documented in the park. That number is now nearly doubled, and some of the more surprising new records include species of well-studied groups like mammals and vascular plants. Some of the new species to science found during the ATBI include 31 moths, 41 spiders, 78 algae, 64 beetles, 29 crustaceans, 58 fungi, 21 bees and their relatives, 18 tardigrades (known as waterbears), and 270 bacteria! With collection records from every corner of the park, managers now have a much better understanding of what species exist and what environmental conditions they require.

Through the years, the park and DLIA have hosted over 1,000 researchers from 150 different universities, museums, and institutions in the US and around the world. Numerous ATBI-related education events and workshops have been held since 1998, involving over 200,000 students and 6,500 teachers. Over 1,000 volunteers have been trained by DLIA in citizen science workshops and have contributed over 60,000 volunteer hours toward this project. In addition to the park and DLIA, the Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association have significantly contributed to this ATBI through financial support.

“At the heart of this project are the scientists, park staff, and volunteers who fan out across the park on a regular basis to dig in the leaf litter, wade in the streams, and look under rocks for anything and everything alive,” said Todd Witcher, Executive Director of DLIA. “They are the true heroes of the Smokies and the remarkable number of new species discoveries is a testament to their passion and perseverance.”

The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world. Through the eons, forces such as wind, rain, freezing, and thawing eroded the peaks. Although glaciers did not reach this far south, their influence on the climate combined with the range of elevations and the southwest to northeast orientation of these mountains accounts for the striking variety of living things found in the park. The biological diversity of the Smokies was the impetus for conducting the ATBI, and the project has now grown to be the largest sustained natural history inventory in the United States.

This scientific effort has produced a baseline for one of the most diverse ecosystems in the United States. Park managers now have a better understanding of the resources, and can better predict how changing conditions in the future may impact them. ATBI information also provides a foundation allowing for future park managers to make better-informed decisions. For more information about special events celebrating the 20th anniversary year of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, please visit DLIA’s website at https://dlia.org/.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
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Friday, April 27, 2018

Smokies Announces Paving Project on Newfound Gap Road

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that a paving project will begin the week of April 30 on Newfound Gap Road. Work will take place along the road between the Newfound Gap area south to the park boundary at Cherokee, North Carolina. The project should be completed by September 20, 2018, though work schedules are subject to revision as needed for inclement weather.

Visitors traveling on Newfound Gap Road should expect weekday, single-lane closures and traffic delays April 30 through June 16 and again from August 16 through September 20. Lane closures are permitted from 7:00 a.m. on Mondays through 12:00 p.m. on Fridays and will be allowed to hold traffic for up to 10 minutes at a time. The lane closures will be managed with flagging operations and a pilot car to lead traffic through work zones. In addition, some parking areas and pull-offs will be closed intermittently. To better accommodate visitors during periods of high visitation, no daytime lane closures will be allowed on weekends, holidays, or from June 16 through August 15.

The Federal Highway Administration awarded the $3 million paving contract to Estes Brothers Construction. Roadwork will include the application of a thin lift pavement overlay.

For more information about road conditions, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/grsm



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Smokies Announces Synchronous Firefly Viewing Dates

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the dates for firefly viewing in Elkmont. Shuttle service to the viewing area will be provided on Thursday, June 7 through Thursday, June 14. All visitors wishing to view the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont must have a parking pass distributed through the lottery system at www.recreation.gov.

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Since 2006, access to the Elkmont area has been limited to shuttle service beginning at Sugarlands Visitor Center during the eight days of predicted peak activity in order to reduce traffic congestion and provide a safe viewing experience for visitors that minimizes disturbance to these unique fireflies during the critical two-week mating period.

The lottery will be open for applications from Friday, April 27 at 12:00 noon until Monday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. Results of the lottery will be available on Wednesday, May 9. A total of 1,800 vehicle passes will be available for the event which includes: 1768 regular-parking passes (221 per day) which admit one passenger vehicle up to 19’ in length with a maximum of six occupants, and 32 large-vehicle parking passes (four per day) which admit one large vehicle (RV, mini-bus, etc.) from 19’ to 30’ in length, with a maximum of 24 occupants. Lottery applicants must apply for either a regular-parking pass or large-vehicle parking pass and then may choose two possible dates to attend the event over the eight-day viewing period.

The lottery system uses a randomized computer drawing to select applications. There is no fee to enter the lottery this year. If selected, the lottery winner will be charged a $20.00 reservation fee and awarded a parking pass. The parking pass permits visitors to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and allows occupants to access the shuttle service to Elkmont.

Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season. All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail on May 9 that they were “successful” and awarded a parking pass or “unsuccessful” and not able to secure a parking pass.

The number of passes issued each day is based primarily on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity and the ability to accommodate a large number of viewers on site. Arrival times will be assigned in order to relieve traffic congestion in the parking lot and also for boarding the shuttles, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg. The shuttle buses will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area at 7:00 p.m. A $2.00 round-trip, per-person fee will be collected when boarding the shuttle. Cash is the only form of payment accepted.

The shuttle service is the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors are not allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

Visitors may visit the website www.recreation.gov and search for “Firefly Event” for more information and to enter the lottery. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials encourage the use of the online process. The $20.00 reservation fee covers the cost of awarding the passes, viewing supplies, and nightly personnel costs for managing the viewing opportunity at Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont.

For more information about the synchronous fireflies, please visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Evening Under the Stars to Support Science Education in the Smokies

Smoky Mountain starry skies will be the backdrop of Friends of the Smokies’ second annual stargazing event at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob. On Friday, May 18, Friends of the Smokies will partner with the Astronomy Club of Asheville to raise money for science education in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The evening will begin at sundown with live music, dessert, and drinks at Purchase Knob, a grassy bald at more than 5,000 feet in elevation. After dark, the Astronomy Club of Asheville will provide telescopes to view the night sky.

Purchase Knob is home to one of a growing network of Research Learning Centers managed by the National Park Service, and hosts schoolchildren from across Western North Carolina and scientists from around the country. The event supports the Kathryn McNeil Endowment, which provides funding for a full time teacher-ranger at the Learning Center.

“When young people experience the wonders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park they forever have a connection to this spectacular place. Parks as Classrooms program ensures that over 15,000 have this opportunity to learn in nature each year. I’m proud that Friends of the Smokies continues to grow the Kathyrn McNeil Endowment, which provides support for this critical program in perpetuity,” says Chase Pickering, Friends of the Smokies Board Member.

For more information and tickets ($75), visit FriendsOfTheSmokies.org/donate or call (828)-452-0720.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Smokies Hosting Birds of Prey Program

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is again teaming up with the Balsam Mountain Trust for a special program on Birds of Prey at the Oconaluftee Multipurpose Room near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Friday, April 20.

Michael Skinner, Executive Director of the Balsam Mountain Trust, will conduct an hour-long Birds of Prey program beginning at 11:00 am. This program will provide visitors with an up-close glimpse of some of the planets most recognized and revered wild animals such as the tiny eastern screech owl and northern bald eagle.

“We are delighted to continue our partnership with Balsam Mountain Trust,” said Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger. “This program provides an opportunity for park visitors to see and learn about these beautiful birds first hand.”

Balsam Mountain Trust is a local non-profit whose mission is the stewardship of the natural and cultural resources on Balsam Mountain Preserve and the Blue Ridge Mountain region, through effective land management practices, scientific research, and environmental education. The Trust has earned special distinction as a place where non-releasable birds of prey are taken in, cared for, and then utilized as educational ambassadors.

The Oconaluftee Multipurpose Room is adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road, 2 miles north of Cherokee, North Carolina. For more information on the upcoming Birds of Prey program, please call the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at (828) 497-1904.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Monday, April 16, 2018

HikingintheSmokys.com Celebrates 10th Anniversary

It's hard to believe, but its been 10 years since we launched HikingintheSmokys.com. Building this website has given me an outstanding opportunity to explore dozens of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains that I likely never would've considered in the past - simply because I would've continued hiking the most popular trails. Moreover, this website has given me an opportunity to discover many things about the park that I otherwise probably wouldn't have taken the time to learn, such as its rich and extensive human history, as well as its natural history, including its wide range of flora and fauna.

When I first launched this website in 2008 I covered roughly 20 hikes. Today the site covers a total of 67 hikes, and continues to grow each year. Over the last 10 years I've committed myself to making this the best possible online hiking resource for the Smokies by providing accurate trail descriptions, providing interesting historical anecdotes pertinent to as many trails as possible, and providing photographs that accurately showcase the beauty and the highlights of each hike.

Since launching HikingintheSmokys.com in 2008 my wife and I have launched three additional sister websites for three other national parks. They include HikinginGlacier.com in 2011, RockyMountainHikingTrails.com in 2012, and TetonHikingTrails.com in 2014. If you've never had the opportunity to visit any of these parks, I highly recommend all three of them. Like the Smokies, each of these parks offer many outstanding hiking opportunities.

Thanks to all of you for your support over the years!



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Friday, April 13, 2018

National Park Service Announces Plan to Address Infrastructure Needs & Improve Visitor Experience

As part of its ongoing efforts to address aging park infrastructure and improve the visitor experience, the National Park Service (NPS) announced today changes to the entrance fees charged at national parks. The changes, which come in response to public comments on a fee proposal released in October 2017, will modestly increase entrance fees to raise additional revenue to address the $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance across the system of 417 parks, historic and cultural sites, and monuments.

Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 and will be implemented in many parks beginning June 1, 2018. Yosemite National Park for example will increase the price of a seven-day vehicle pass to the park from $30 to $35. More than two-thirds of national parks will remain free to enter. A complete list of park entrance fees may be found here.

All of the revenue from the fee increases will remain in the National Park Service with at least 80 percent of the money staying in the park where it is collected. The funds will be used for projects and activities to improve the experience for visitors who continue to visit parks at unprecedented levels. Increased attendance at parks, 1.5 billion visits in the last five years, means aging park facilities incurring further wear and tear.

“An investment in our parks is an investment in America,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Every dollar spent to rebuild our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality. I want to thank the American people who made their voices heard through the public comment process on the original fee proposal. Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to larger increases proposed for 17 highly-visited national parks. The $11.6 billion maintenance backlog isn’t going to be solved overnight and will require a multi-tiered approach as we work to provide badly needed revenue to repair infrastructure. This is just one of the ways we are carrying out our commitment to ensure that national parks remain world class destinations that provide an excellent value for families from all income levels.”

The price of the annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80.

“Repairing infrastructure is also about access for all Americans,” Secretary Zinke said. “Not all visitors to our parks have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities. In order for families with young kids, elderly grandparents, or persons with disabilities to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers.”

Fees to enter national parks predate the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. For example, Mount Rainier National Park began charging an entrance fee in 1908. Factoring in inflation, the $5 entrance fee the park charged in 1914 would be the equivalent of a $123 entrance fee today—more than four times the price of the new seven-day $30 vehicle pass.

Entrance fees collected by the National Park Service totaled $199 million in Fiscal Year 2016. The NPS estimates that once fully implemented, the new fee structure will increase annual entrance fee revenue by about $60 million.

In addition to implementing modest fee increases and enhancing public-private partnerships aimed at rebuilding national parks, Secretary Zinke is working closely with Congress on proposed bipartisan legislation to use revenue derived from energy produced on federal lands and waters to establish a special fund within the Treasury specifically for “National Park Restoration”. The billfollows the blueprint outlined in Secretary Zinke and President Trump's budget proposal, the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund.

The National Park Service has a standardized entrance fee structure, composed of four groups based on park size and type. Some parks not yet aligned with the other parks in their category will raise their fees incrementally and fully incorporate the new entrance fee schedule by January 1, 2020.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Park Plans Prescribed Burn Operation in Little Cataloochee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire management officials plan to conduct a 120-acre prescribed burn in Little Cataloochee on Thursday, April 12, weather permitting. Little Cataloochee Trail will be closed to all public use on Thursday, April 12 through Friday, April 13. Visitors should expect to see smoke in the area.

The burn unit is located along Little Cataloochee Trail between the trailhead on Old Highway 284 and the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church. The area is bounded by Little Cataloochee Creek and Coggins Branch. This prescribed burn is one in a series of low-intensity controlled burns used over a number of years to restore oak woodland communities that provide habitat for wildlife including elk. The prescribed burn will be conducted by national park staff and is being funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cades Cove Loop Road to Close Early on Thursday, April 12

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced a temporary closure of the Cades Cove Loop Road beginning Thursday, April 12, at 5:00 p.m. for pavement repairs near the Loop Road entrance. This early closure will not affect hours for the Cades Cove Campground, Cades Cove Store, Cades Cove Visitor Center, or Cades Cove Riding Stables. The road will re-open to traffic on Friday morning, April 13. This work is part of the $2.5 million paving contract occurring along Laurel Creek Road, Townsend Entrance Road, and Tremont Road.

The entire project should be completed by June 15, though work schedules are subject to revision as needed for inclement weather. Visitors traveling to Cades Cove should expect weekday, single-lane closures and traffic delays throughout the project. Single-lane closures will be allowed for up to two miles at a time on Laurel Creek Road and half a mile on Townsend Entrance Road and Tremont Road. The lane closures will be managed with flagging operations and a pilot car to lead traffic through work zones. In addition, some parking areas and pull-offs will be closed intermittently. Contractors may elect to work during the evening and nighttime hours as needed. To better accommodate traffic during periods of heavy visitation, there will no lane closures on weekends, or holidays.

For more information about road conditions, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rainbow Falls Trail Project Resumes on April 16th

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the second phase of a 2-year trail rehabilitation project will begin Monday, April 16 on the popular Rainbow Falls Trail. The trail will be closed April 16 through November 15 on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly. Due to the construction process on the narrow trail, a full closure is necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The trail will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and on federal holidays.

“I encourage everyone to hike the trail this season on the open days to see the transformation taking place first hand,” said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “It is truly inspiring to see the craftsmanship our Trails Forever crew brings into the design of trail improvements. The rehabilitated sections are not only more sustainable and safer for hikers, but they also blend naturally into the landscape.”

The Trails Forever crew will continue to 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.

Hikers can still reach Mt. Le Conte, LeConte Lodge, and the Le Conte Shelter by using one of the other four open trails to the summit including Alum Cave Trail, Boulevard Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, and the Brushy Mountain Trail. The Mt. LeConte Lodge will remain open and can be accessed from any of these routes during the Rainbow Falls Trail closure. The Bullhead Trail remains closed due to the 2016 wildfire.

The Mt. Le Conte backcountry shelter will be closed to the public for eight, 7-night periods beginning July 18 through October 24 to accommodate members of the American Conservation Experience trail crew working on the rehabilitation project. For more information on the shelter closure, please contact the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends have donated over $1,500,000 to support the program, in part through the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park including the recently restored Alum Cave Trail, Chimney Tops Trail, and Forney Ridge Trail. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations.

For more information about you can volunteer to support the Trails Forever program, please visit https://friendsofthesmokies.org/trailsforever/volunteer/.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Intro to Backpacking Courses to Help Prepare Appalachian Trail Hikers

Aspiring Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers now have an opportunity to hone their backcountry skills by participating in “How to Hike the A.T.” backpacking courses. Developed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), these courses are designed to enhance participants’ understanding of important backpacking practices and lead to a lifelong love of hiking.

Designed for novice hikers, each course will cost $375 and include all meals and snacks. Participating hikers will be taught by expert ATC staff members and former thru-hikers, exploring important topics such as gear selection, choosing and setting up campsites, and Leave No Trace backcountry principles. Participants will gain first-hand experience in sleeping, cooking, packing efficiently and other important backpacking skills. Course graduates should leave as competent, responsible hikers and have an increased confidence to prepare for future hiking adventures.

“These courses will help aspiring thru-hikers move one step closer to achieving their dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail while gaining a new sense of appreciation for the A.T. as a public resource, as well as the work that goes into managing it,” said ChloĆ« de Camara, course instructor and trail education specialist for the ATC.

Each course is an intensive three-day, two-night backpacking trip — rain, snow or shine. Courses will be held once monthly at the following locations:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – June 8-10
Pisgah National Forest – July 27-29
Nantahala National Forest – August 17-19
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – September 14-16
Pisgah National Forest – October 5-7

To submit your application and view additional information, including course agendas and gear lists, visit appalachiantrail.org/HikingCourses.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com

Monday, April 2, 2018

Pisgah Ranger District seeks public input on proposed recreation project

The Pisgah National Forest will be holding an open house on Tuesday, April 10 from 5-7 p.m. at the Pisgah Ranger Station to discuss a proposed project to increase the sustainability of recreation.

"The project is not intended to address all possible improvements on the Pisgah Ranger District, but includes timely projects that consider the social, ecological, and economic elements of sustainable recreation," said Dave Casey, District Ranger. "This includes construction of connector trails, re-routing trails, trail head modifications, change of authorized trail use, select roadside campsite closures, watershed improvements, road decommissioning, and heavy trail maintenance." The proposed changes to the trail system fit within the larger trail system goals below:

Reduce erosion and sedimentation associated with trails
Reduce trail user conflicts
Create beginner trail user and loop opportunities
Maintain clean/safe trails
Increase education about responsible trail use
Increase support of and recruitment of volunteers and partnerships

Public input will help to evaluate the proposed actions and identify potential issues. Comments for the project can be submitted by attending the open house on April 10 or by submitting them online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?project=53329

Comments can also be submitted by visiting the Pisgah Ranger Station from 9:00 am-4:30 pm or mailed to Pisgah Ranger District, USDA Forest Service, Attn: Jeff Owenby, 1600 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC. Comments will become part of the project record and may be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

To be most useful, please submit comments within the official 30-day scoping period which ends April 27.

More details on the project can be found on the project website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53329



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com
HikinginGlacier.com
TetonHikingTrails.com