Several trails to be closed in Joyce Kilmer for 2 weeks

Sunday, October 31, 2010

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Several trails in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest will be closed for the next two weeks in order to remove dead and dying hemlock trees.

Beginning tomorrow, all or portions of the Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail, Stratton Bald Trail, Naked Ground Trail and the Jenkins Meadow Trail, will be closed until November 14th.

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest near Robbinsville, NC, has been heavily impacted by the hemlock wooly adelgid infestation over the last several years. Forest managers will be removing roughly 150 dead or dying hemlocks in order to assure the safety of hikers.

Interestingly, rather than chain saw the trees, the Forest Service plans to use explosive charges at varying heights on the trees in order to mimic the effects of natural events, such as wind storms.

The Memorial Forest is a 3800-acre tract of land that is named after Joyce Kilmer, a poet and journalist who was killed in World War I. Kilmer was the author of a poem called "Trees."

Many of the trees in Joyce Kilmer are over 400 years old, with the largest rising to heights of over 100 feet, and circumferences of up to 20 feet.

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Haunted Reading

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Today is Halloween, and what better way to celebrate if you're not out trick or treating yourself than to curl up underneath the covers and read about America's scariest trails, haunted hikes, or paranormal activity in the deep woods to scare the bejeebers out of you next time you venture into the wilderness.

Here are a few links to check out to get you into the mood of the holiday:

* Just in time for the scariest season of the year, Backpacker Magazine has put together a collection of "America's Scariest Trails."

* Earlier this month Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine published a list of the five most spookiest hikes in the southeast - each leading to a cemetery.

* Over at the Hiking Boots blog they put together an interesting collection of videos purportedly showing various paranormal activities in the wild.

* If that's not enough for you, check out Juanitta Baldwin's Smoky Mountain Ghostlore, a collection of ghost and paranormal tales from the Smokies that just can't be explained. Or, how about Andrea Lankford's Haunted Hikes, a collection of "Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America's National Parks" from a former national park ranger.

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Photo: New Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Saturday, October 30, 2010

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This photo comes courtesy of the Smokies Cub Report from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. It shows the progress on the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Looking pretty good so far:

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Winter Mountaineering School

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If you're looking to expand your winter hiking, backpacking and mountaineering skills, or possibly looking for an alternative vacation this coming winter, you may want to note that the Adirondack Mountain Club has just published the dates for this years' Winter Mountaineering School.

For more than 50 years the Adirondack Mountain Club has hosted the annual Winter Mountaineering School near Lake Placid, New York. They typically cover the following areas of instruction:

* Winter backpacking skills
* Snowshoe, crampon and ice axe techniques
* Proper clothing and temperature management
* Steep snow and ice travel
* Safe above-treeline travel under winter conditions
* On- and off-trail navigation; map and compass review
* Trip planning
* How to pack a winter backpack
* Group gear review
* Hydration and nutrition
* Constructing snow shelters and a winter backcountry kitchen
* Wilderness first aid
* Avalanche awareness
* Decision making and risk management
* Winter "Leave No Trace" principals

Past participants have included three season hikers and backpackers looking to expand their winter skills, as well as more experienced skiers, trip leaders and winter mountaineers who are wishing to refine their skills or are looking for some excitement and adventure. The organization has an experienced, all-volunteer staff, with a low student-to-instructor ratio.

They offer weekend day hikes, weekend backpacking, and weeklong backpacking options from January 28 through February 3, 2011. The deadline for registration is January 15 , 2011. You may also want to note that space is limited, so it might be a good idea to register quickly.

For more information, please click here.

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Blue Ridge Parkway closes Mt. Pisgah Trail - again

Friday, October 29, 2010

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For the third time in the last couple of months, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the US Forest Service will implement a limited closure of the Mount Pisgah Trail located at Milepost 407.6.

The television broadcasting tower located at the top of Mount Pisgah is scheduled to undergo painting, which will require closure of the top of the mountain while the painting is being conducted. In addition to the top one-quarter of the trail, the viewing platform and the immediate area around the television tower will be closed; however, the trailhead and parking area will remain open, as will the bottom half of the trail. Hikers will be able to walk within a quarter mile of the top but will not be allowed to progress further. The closure will begin on today, October 29, 2010, and conclude on Sunday, October 31, 2010.

Blue Ridge Parkway management regrets the inconvenience this closure may cause our visitors.

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Red River Gorge seeks 3 campers for wildfire

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Last weekend an illegal campfire in Red River Gorge, set during a declared fire ban, has spread to more than 400 acres and has led to the closure of Tunnel Ridge Road, a portion of Kentucky Highway 7, and several trails in the Auxier Ridge area.

The U.S. Forest Service (Daniel Boone National Forest) is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the three individuals responsible for the escaped campfire. The fire began just after midnight on Saturday.

The escaped campfire led to an emergency Forest Supervisor’s Order that closed an estimated 3,000 acres in the Auxier Ridge area. Forest Service officials spent most of Sunday morning searching for more than 50 backcountry campers and hikers who had vehicles parked in the closure area. All visitors associated with the vehicles were found safe.

Forest Service law enforcement officers witnessed three individuals running from the escaped campfire and getting into their car parked along Kentucky Highway 77. An investigation is under way. According to law enforcement officials, the individuals starting the fire would be best served by coming forward.

The wildfire has led to the closure of Tunnel Ridge Road, a section of Kentucky Highway 7 from Nada Tunnel to the Martins Fork parking area. Trails closed due to the fire include Grays Arch, Rough Trail, Sheltowee Trace, and the entire Auxier Trail system which includes Auxier Ridge, Courthouse Rock and Double Arch (click here for a map of the impacted area).

Earlier this week, Daniel Boone National Forest officials increased the fine for violating the ban on campfires from $75 to a $500 minimum.

Since the ban, Forest Service law enforcement officers have issued nearly 200 violations for illegal campfires in the Red River Gorge.

All violations will require a mandatory appearance in federal court. Up to six months imprisonment could be incurred in addition to a fine. Individuals who allow a campfire to escape and result in a wildfire may be required to pay restitution for suppression costs.

Anyone with information about the fire should call Forest Service Patrol Capt. Kimberly Kipp at (606) 875-5042.

For more information on the Red River Gorge in central Kentucky, please click here.

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Wilderness First Aid Course Offered

In conjunction with the Carolina Mountain Club, the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) will be offering a Wilderness First Aid Course at the Asheville School Campus on November 13-14, 2010.

The two-day, hands-on introductory course covers a wide range of wilderness medicine topics for people who travel and work in the outdoors.

The cost for the course is $150, however, if you're a member of the CMC, you will be reimbursed for 50% of the cost after completion of the course.

If you're interested in attending you will need to complete an application packet by November 1, 2010.

For more information click here or contact Nan Needs at

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Ramsey Prong Road to be closed for bridge repairs

Thursday, October 28, 2010

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief of Facilities Management Alan Sumeriski announced today that the Ramsey Prong Road in the Greenbrier Area of the park will be closed for bridge repairs from Monday, November 1 through Friday November 5.

For safety reasons the Ramsey Prong Road beyond its junction with the Porters Creek Road will be closed to all use including, cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Park officials have advised that all vehicles will have to be out of the Ramsey Cascades Trailhead by Sunday night, October 31.

According to Sumeriski, “Bridge inspections performed by the Federal Highway Administration showed deficiencies which will be corrected during the closure period. One bridge will be stripped to the support beams, and be totally re-decked and get new bridge rails, while the other will receive less extensive repairs to both end of the wooden bridge deck. Barring any extreme weather conditions, rock slides or other complications we should reopen the road by the end of the day on Friday.”

This will obviously impact access to the Ramsey Cascades Trail, as well as the Old Settlers Trail.

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More road closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Blue Ridge Parkway officials have just announced another multi-month road closure between Asheville and Mount Pisgah.

Beginning November 1, 2010, and continuing into early spring 2011, the Parkway will be closed from Milepost 399 at Pine Mountain Tunnel to Milepost 405 at NC Route 151. Due to dangerous conditions in the work zone, all traffic by foot, bicycle, and motor vehicle will be prohibited.

The project includes stabilization work on a failing hillside near Milepost 400.

Detour routing is as follows: For southbound traffic, follow NC Route 191 to NC Route 280, interconnecting to US Route 276 in Brevard and back to the Parkway south of Pisgah Inn. The detour can be taken in the opposite direction for northbound traffic.

Parkway travelers should also be aware of another repavement project near milepost 465 that will cause a few delays next week.

A project to reconstruct pavement in the Sherrill Cove Tunnel at Milepost 466 and the Rattlesnake Mountain Tunnel at Milepost 465 will begin at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, November 1, 2010. Pavement reconstruction will involve milling the pavement surface and repaving through the tunnel. Milling and repaving, replacing centerline and edge striping, installing pavement markers, and other related repairs will require the tunnels to operate under one-lane flagmen controlled traffic for the entire week of November 1-5, 2010.

Reconstruction work is expected to be completed and the tunnels open to traffic by Friday, November 5th.

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Reminder: 6-month closure on Blue Ridge Parkway

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As a reminder, the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed to all traffic from Milepost 241 near Doughton Park to Milepost 244.9 at Basin Cove Parking Overlook beginning next Monday, November 1, 2010, and lasting until April 29, 2011. Detour traffic signage will direct Parkway visitors around the closure area via NC Route 18 and US Highway 21 (you can click here for a map of the detour route). Access to the Bluffs Lodge and Coffee Shop following the regular seasonal operating schedule will remain open from the north via the Parkway. Signs will be in place to direct visitors to the Bluffs Lodge and Coffee Shop.

Upon completion of the first phase of construction, additional closures and detours will follow between Milepost 218 near Cumberland Knob and Milepost 240.7 near Doughton Park. The project is scheduled to be completed in May 2012.

The Historic Stone Guardwall Reconstruction Project will involve 28 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 217 to Milepost 245) that contain 32,000 linear feet of historic rock masonry walls. A significant portion of the walls are severely deteriorated due to settlement and the effect of freeze-thaw cycles over the past 75 years. This project will rehabilitate and reconstruct the most deficient wall sections.

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Two Bears Killed in Smokies

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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The latest Smokies Cub Report from the Great Smoky Mountains Association is reporting that two bears have been killed in the park this month.

The report states that:

At least two bears were hit by motor vehicles and killed in the park this October. Many of these tragedies can be prevented if motorists obey posted speed limits and drive cautiously.

The GSMA also goes on to warn motorists that:

Very sudden appearances of bear, deer, elk, bobcat, or falling rocks are always a possibility in the national park.

The Cub Report also mentions that the Little River and Jakes Creek trailheads are now open. The GSMA also urges visitors to check out the restoration project of the Appalachian Clubhouse in Elkmont. The facility will be available for day use for events like meetings, reunions, and receptions next year.

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Win a pair of Hi-Tec’s Yeti II 200i Hiking Boots

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The folks over at are giving away a free pair of Hi-Tec’s Yeti II 200i Hiking Boots this month. To enter the contest all you need to do is answer the question: Where will your new Hi-Tec boots take you and why?

Simply answer the question in the comments section of the blog post by clicking here.

The staff over at will then pick the best comment and the winner will be announced on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. All you need to do then is choose your size and color.

They look like a very nice pair of boots - and I could use a new pair myself!

By the way, take a look at the blog, they have some very interesting material.

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Shenandoah National Park Begins 75th Anniversary Celebration

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Shenandoah National Park will launch a year-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of its establishment with a ceremony at McCormick Gap Overlook at milepost 102 on Skyline Drive at 2:00 p.m. on November 5, 2010.

Park Superintendent Martha Bogle will receive the "mantle of celebration" from Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, whose 75th anniversary celebration took place in 2010. Due to limited space along Skyline Drive, parking for the event will be at Afton Mountain on Route 250, and shuttles will provide transportation to the ceremony at the McCormick Gap Overlook. Shuttle service will begin at 12:30.

The program will feature remarks by Alisa Bailey, President and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, followed by "A Journey Through the Decades," a program marking the milestones of achievements and honoring Shenandoah's partners. Among the participants will be Matthew Mesher, great-great grandson of President Herbert Hoover, whose Rapidan Camp retreat lies within what is now the boundary of Shenandoah National Park; Robert Jacobsen, former Shenandoah National Park superintendent; and Mike Breeden, descendent of former residents of the land from which the park was created. Hammered dulcimer player, Madeline MacNeil will provide entertainment at the overlook from 1:00 until 2:00.

In announcing the event, Superintendent Bogle remarked, "We are excited about the beginning of this year-long celebration of Shenandoah National Park. We look forward to remembering the vision and dedication of the park's early supporters, the sacrifice of the residents and landowners, and inspiring a new generation of park stewards."

A rededication of Shenandoah will occur on June 25, 2011.

For more information about the 75th Anniversary, please click here.

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Advance reservations now required for Cataloochee Campground

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Dale A. Ditmanson announced today that when the park’s Cataloochee Campground reopens for the season next March 11th, campers will be required to have made advance reservations through Historically, the popular, but remote, 27-site campground has operated on a first-come-first-served basis, which did not provide prospective campers any way of knowing whether they would be able to get a site until after they arrived at the Campground.

“Cataloochee Campground offers one of the park’s most sought-after camping experiences, but getting there involves a 30 to 40 minute, 11-mile, drive off I-40, with much of that along a very-narrow and circuitous gravel road.” Ditmanson said. “There is no cell or landline phone service and no regularly-assigned staff assigned at the campground, so there is no way for anybody to check to see if sites are available. The reservation system will eliminate the frustration of finding no campsites left after having made the difficult drive to the campground.”

“The new reservation system will allow all interested campers an equal chance to plan their visits up to six month in advance with the assurance that they will have a site.” Ditmanson continued. “

The reservation system typically allows reservations to be made up to six months in advance, but the reservation database for Cataloochee in this first year is not expected to be active until February 1, 2011. On that date, reservations for sites from the March 11 campground opening date through August 1 will be reservable at once. Each day after February 1, 2011 a new date, six months ahead, will become available. Reservations will be made either online at: or toll-free at 1-877-444-6777.

The Cataloochee Campground is too small to have regularly-assigned staff on-site to collect fees, so reservations must be made in advance by phone or on-line. The cost of camping at Cataloochee in 2011 will be $20 per night beginning in March 2011. This fee is consistent with other park campgrounds with similar amenities that are available via the reservation system.

The park has been using the same reservation system with a high degree of visitor satisfaction for many years at its other three most popular campgrounds; Smokemont, Elkmont and Cades Cove as well as at all park horse camps, group campsites, and picnic pavilions.

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Last minute getaway offer

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I just received an email from one of our advertisers, Hidden Creek Cabins, and they are offering a 50% discount on all remaining cabins this week and next. This is an outstanding offer, especially with fall colors hitting peak during this time. According to Tom Harrington's latest report on the Great Smoky Mountains Association website, fall colors in the lower elevations are expected to peak between now and early November.

For more information on this special offer, please call Hidden Creek Cabins at 1-888-333-588 and ask for Kevin.

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The 127 Defining Moments

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Next weekend is the opening of 127 Hours, the new film about Aron Ralston, the adventurer who sawed his arm off after it became pinned under a boulder in an isolated slot canyon in Utah

To celebrate the release of the film, Outside Magazine is launching the 127 Defining Moments Contest, which seeks to inspire people to share their own life-changing or death-defying experiences in the great outdoors.

Outside will select 126 of those entrants to go along with Aron's to create the 127 Defining Moments. The 126 winners will receive some great outdoor gear from Eddie Bauer, Sierra Designs, Larabar and CamelBak, including Ten Grand Prize gear packages.

The contest ends November 12. For more information and to enter, please click here. To read some of the current submissions, please click here.

You can check out the trailer for the film by clicking here.

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Land purchase in New River Gorge helps clear way for 100-mile trail

Monday, October 25, 2010

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On September 14th, with assistance from the West Virginia office of The Nature Conservancy, the United States purchased approximately 618 acres at New River Gorge National River for $980,000. Congress appropriated the money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives revenue from offshore oil and gas leases.

The property is located underneath the New River Gorge Bridge on river left, and it stretches approximately 5.6 miles downriver to Hawks Nest State Park. A large portion of this property was added to the park boundary with legislation enacted in 2002.

Gary Driggs, owner and developer of adjacent Bridgeview Estates, sold the land to the USA. Driggs constructed a network of trails through the 618-acre parcel that connects with Bridgeview Estates, providing a recreational enhancement for the subdivision residents.

"This purchase is critical to New River Gorge National River in many ways,” said Superintendent Don Striker. “Protecting these large, intact forests is crucial to protecting the gorge. But it also will allow us to add six miles to the through-the-park trail, which will eventually stretch 100 miles through the park."

Bridge Day, occurring on the third Saturday in October, is the one time of the year New River Gorge Bridge is open to pedestrians and closed to vehicle traffic, and this willing seller purchase will help preserve the view on the southeast slope of the canyon downriver from the bridge, which is shown on the West Virginia State Quarter.

Here's a flavor of what Bridge Day is all about:

Jeff Detailed trail information for the Great Smoky Mountains; trail descriptions, key features, pictures, maps, elevation profiles, news, books and more.
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Brand new national park added to NPS

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This past Friday the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe, Michigan, was officially announced as the 393rd park in the National Park System. The War of 1812 battlefield was set aside by Congress with legislation and signed on March 30, 2009.

NPS Director Jon Jarvis called the new park “an important addition to the National Park System. The War of 1812 is often forgotten, remembered only for the birth of our national anthem, but it was as significant as any war in our history,” said Jarvis. “At the Battle of the River Raisin in January, 1813, American forces suffered one of the worst defeats of the War of 1812. When the battle was over, Indian allies of the British killed wounded American prisoners, so enraging Americans that the phrase "Remember the Raisin" became a rallying cry for future engagements in the war. We should all know about this engagement for its significance and now as the newest park in the National Park System.”

Fought along the north bank of the River Raisin in Monroe, Michigan, from January 18th to January 23rd, 1813, the battle pitted American and British troops against each other in a contest for control of all of Michigan and the Lower Great Lakes. At stake were America’s independence and the futures of Frenchtown (known today as Monroe, Michigan), Canada, and Tecumseh's alliance of Native American tribes.

The British and their Indian allies destroyed an entire American army at the River Raisin and in the process raised Native Americans’ hopes that their alliance with the British would result in the preservation of their land. Frenchtown was laid waste, and the Ohio frontier was exposed to invasion and raids by the British and Indians. The Battle of the River Raisin was not a decisive turning point of the war, but it did have significant effects on the campaign for the Great Lakes. Following the defeat at River Raisin, American forces would struggle for nine months before they could regain their momentum.

The park visitor center is open from June through October on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. While the visitor center is closed November through May, the park grounds are open to visitors year-round. National Park Service personnel are already on site and will continue to work closely with the Monroe County Historical Society to make the battlefield more available to the public.

For more historical information on the battle, please click here.

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Winter forecasts for the Smokies

Sunday, October 24, 2010

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Two long range forecasts for this winter for the United States have been published in the last couple of days: one from, the other from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Overall, both reports are very similar, but differ a little with respects to the Great Smoky Mountains region. They both expect a weather phenomenon known as La Nina to be the main player governing weather patterns this winter. La Nina occurs when sea surface temperatures across the equatorial central and eastern Pacific are below normal. This weather phenomenon can have a significant impact on weather patterns across North America for several months. This year appears to be no exception.

Both forecasts expect warmer temperatures for the southeast, including the Smoky Mountains region:

However, the two forecasters differ a little on how much precipitation the Smokies could receive this winter. While NOAA is predicting normal precipitation amounts:

Joe Bastardi at is predicting that precipitation levels will be below normal this winter season:

Bastardi also goes on to state that the overall dry weather pattern expected across the southern tier of the nation could lead the region into a "perilous period" similar to the 1950s and 1960s, which was drier than normal. Drought conditions and water shortages could become major problems from Southern California into the Deep South.

The Deep South is already in the midst of a severe drought, and a lack of precipitation this winter will only make matters worse. According to the Climate Prediction Center, it's likely that drought conditions could develop in the Smokies over the next three months - but not anywhere near the levels seen in the surrounding region:

Interestingly, and consequently, the highest incidents of forest fires in the Smokies occur during the months of February, March and April. Hopefully an unexpected wet weather pattern will develop at some point to give the southeast some much needed relief.

To read the full AccuWeather report, please click here.

To read the full NOAA report, please click here.

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Johnson Farm organizes day hike to Panthertown

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Historic Johnson Farm is teaming up with Gary Eblen of Diamond Brand Outdoors early next month for a hike in Panthertown.

Nicknamed 'the Yosemite of the East,' Panthertown Valley is home to sheer granite cliffs and domes, cascading waterfalls, valley floors, and rare high altitude bogs.

Interested participants should meet at the Pisgah Forest Ranger Station on Rte 276 in Brevard at 9 a.m. on November 6th.

Organizers ask that you wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately for the weather. Bring water and a lunch. A map, compass and trail snacks will be provided. The 4-6 mile hike is moderately difficult and is appropriate for those over 16. No pets are permitted.

Since the guided hike is limited to only 10 people, please make your reservation by calling Historic Johnson Farm at 828-891-6585 before November 2nd. The cost is $25 per hiker.

Contact Gary Eblen at if you would like to borrow a day pack or trekking poles.

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Hiker killed by mountain goat versus my recent experience

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Most of you have probably already heard the story about the hiker that was fatally gored by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park last weekend.

After reading the details that have emerged this week, I couldn’t help but relate this to my own recent experience on Quandary Peak in Colorado.

Here's a quick recap of the incident in Olympic:

Last Saturday 63-year-old Robert Boardman of Port Angeles, WA was hiking with his wife and a friend on the Switchback Trail in the national park. They stopped for lunch at an overlook when a goat appeared and began acting aggressively toward them. After chasing him for a bit, the ram gored Boardman in the thigh, then stood over him as he lay bleeding to death, staring at people trying to help.

That goat was killed shortly thereafter, but rangers and biologists continue to investigate the area for other signs of aggressive goat behavior.

I pointed out in my blog posting from a couple of weeks ago that the highlight of our hike up Quandary was seeing a family of mountain goats. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a mountain goat. However, the story of Boardman’s death hit a little close to home as the goats we encountered appeared to express a degree of aggressiveness towards us as well.

The first indication of this behavior was when the largest male goat laid down on the trail as we approached from below, thus preventing us from proceeding forward. The only reason the ram started moving again was due to another group of hikers ascending the trail below us. This group included a dog.

Although the goats were at least walking again, they stayed on or near the trail, not allowing us to pass. This went on for several minutes until another group of hikers approached from above, prompting the goats to move off the trail. We were finally able to safely pass, and got about a quarter of a mile away from the goats when we decided to take a quick bathroom, food and drink break. Because we were on a fairly narrow ridge, we were just off the trail at this point.

After sitting down on a rock for a couple of minutes we noticed the goats moving again. The large male, the same ram that plopped down on the trail earlier, was making a direct bee line towards us. In a somewhat similar situation as the Olympic incident, I told my wife to get moving as quickly as possible. She was already up the trail when I was finally able to get my backpack together and hurriedly moved out as the goat got to within 75 feet of me. It was the last time we saw the goats.

Interestingly, since the incident in Olympic, park officials there have warned hikers not to urinate on or near the trail because goats are attracted to the salt. Was this the reason the ram approached us?

Obviously I’m not a mountain goat expert, so I don’t know if this behavior is considered normal or aggressive, but I’m going to forward this posting to rangers at the White River National Forest as an FYI.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park
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Shenandoah announces night closing of Skyline Drive during hunting season

Friday, October 22, 2010

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Park Superintendent Martha Bogle announced yesterday that portions of Skyline Drive, the famed mountain road through Shenandoah National Park, will be closed at night during the upcoming hunting season. She noted that this is the thirtieth year that this closure has been undertaken and stressed its importance at reducing illegal hunting activity within the park, a sanctuary for wildlife, during Virginia's hunting season outside the park.

From November 8, 2010, through January 1, 2011, the Skyline Drive between Front Royal (Mile 0 at U.S. Highway 340) and Thornton Gap (Mile 31 at U.S. Highway 211), and between Swift Run Gap (Mile 65 at U.S. Highway 33) and Rockfish Gap (Mile 105 at U.S. Highway 250), will be closed daily between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. The central portion of the Drive, between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap, will remain open for overnight access to Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Campground until those facilities close on November 28. Then, beginning November 28, 2010, through January 1, 2011, the entire length of the Skyline Drive will be closed daily from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m.

Superintendent Bogle said, "Closing portions of the Skyline Drive enables rangers to concentrate patrols on problem areas and to increase contacts along the park boundary."

Superintendent Bogle also reminded the public that the park has a reward program to assist in combating illegal hunting in the Park. "A reward will be paid to anyone who furnishes information which leads to the conviction of any person who hunts, transports, or attempts to transport illegally taken wildlife within the park," said Bogle. Anyone with information about such activities should call the nearest Ranger Station or Park Headquarters (toll free, 1-800-732-0911; or (540) 999-2227). The identity of persons furnishing information will be kept strictly confidential, and a person does not have to reveal his or her name.

For more information on hiking in Shenandoah, please click here.

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Friday's Video

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Members of the Great Smoky Mountains Association recently joined naturalist Wanda Dewaard on a mission to tag and release monarch butterflies in Cades Cove. The tags will help researchers with the Monarch Watch program learn more about the flight patterns of these butterflies as they migrate to Mexico for the winter.

Here's a GSMA video highlighting the process of tagging the butterflies:

© GSMA 2010. All rights reserved.

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Landslide on Little River Road / Elkmont Closing

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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The Great Smoky Mountains website is reporting that a landslide on Little River Road, two miles east of Metcalf Bottoms, has closed one lane of the road. Drivers should expect delays in this area as crews work to clear the road.

Also, the Elkmont Historic district, including the Little River/Jakes Creek Trailhead area in the Elkmont area, will be closed to public use today and tomorrow (Oct 21-22).

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Seasonal Road Closing Season

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If you intend to hike any of the trails along the Balsam Mountain Road or the Heintooga Ridge Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park before winter arrives, you have less than two weeks left before these roads are closed for the season.

Both roads are located in the Southeastern corner of the park between Maggie Valley and Oconaluftee in North Carolina. The two seasonal roads will close on Monday, November 1, and won’t reopen again until late next May.

Of course the trails along these roads will continue to be open, but you may have problems reaching the trailheads. The following trails will be impacted: Flat Creek Falls, Hemphill Bald, Rough Fork, Palmer Creek, Balsam Mountain, Beech Gap and Hyatt Ridge trails.

Heintooga Ridge Road is accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 458. This two-way road dead-ends into the one-way Balsam Mountain Road.

Balsam Mountain Road is a thrilling ride on a one-way gravel road. Along the way you’ll see sweeping mountain vistas overlooking the vast wilderness area where many Cherokee Indians retreated in order to avoid removal on the tragic Trail of Tears. The road also passes the highest picnic area in the park, which affords outstanding views as well.

Five other seasonal roads, Roundbottom, Parson Branch, Rich Mountain, Roaring Fork and Clingmans Dome Road, will be closing throughout the month of November.

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Body of crime suspect found in Smokies

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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The body of a man wanted by local police was found just inside the Great Smoky Mountains' boundary near the city limits of Gatlinburg yesterday afternoon.

A Pigeon Forge Police Department canine unit found the body, later identified as that of Mark Christian, 45, of Lebanon, Tennessee. Pigeon Forge police were assisting the Gatlinburg Police Department in their ongoing search for Christian, who was wanted for unspecified reasons. The body was found at the base of a very steep slope along the north bank of Dudley Creek on the south side of U.S. 321, which investigators believe he may have attempted to climb. No weapon was found at the scene to indicate suicide and there was no immediate indication of foul play.

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'Click It or Ticket' starts on Blue Ridge Parkway

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Blue Ridge Parkway rangers announced this week they will be starting an aggressive fall foliage "Click It or Ticket" campaign. Any one caught not buckling up on the parkway will be ticketed and fined.

“Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year,” said Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett. But a drive on a beautiful fall day can quickly turn to tragedy if you fail to buckle up.”

The crackdown, beginning October 18 and ending October 29, marks the second of many seat belt enforcement mobilizations throughout the Blue Ridge Corridor designed to increase seat belt use and decrease motor vehicle fatalities. Motorists can expect to see an increase in enforcement patrols and other enforcement efforts to drive home the message: Click It or Ticket – day and night.

According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 200 passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in America’s national parks from 2005-2009, and almost half of them (46 percent) were not wearing their seat belts.

For more information, please contact the Chief Rangers Office at (828)271-4779.

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Hiker with severe injury evacuated from Alum Cave Trail

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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The NPS Digest has this report on their website this morning regarding a rescue on the Alum Cave Trail:

Ranger Brad Griest was heading up the Alum Cave Trail on the afternoon of October 10th to checkout a report of an ill hiker when another hiker told him that a man had fallen on the trail about three miles further on and that he’d sustained a head injury and was complaining of back and neck pain.

Griest reached him about 45 minutes later. The man reported that he had no feeling below his neck, and Griest found an obvious spinal deformity in the upper back and confirmed that the man had no motor or sensory functions below the deformity. He put a cervical collar on him, administered oxygen, managed for spinal trauma, and monitored the man’s vitals until a litter crew comprised of 13 park personnel arrived on scene.

The man was secured to a rigid backboard and placed on a litter. The evacuation was complicated by steep and rocky terrain, deep creek crossings, a short section of technical rope belay, and darkness. The carryout was completed just before 10 p.m.

The man was taken by Gatlinburg FD ambulance to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and flown via Lifestar helicopter to the Level 1 trauma center at University of Tennessee Hospital.

Unfortunately there's no word on what exactly happened, or any follow-up on the victim's condition at this point.

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Final Full Moon Hike in Cades Cove

Monday, October 18, 2010

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This Saturday night, October 23rd, is the final "Full Moon Hike" of the year in Cades Cove of the Great Smoky Mountains.

This is an excellent opportunity to take a stroll in Cades Cove under the light of a full moon. If interested, meet at the Orientation Shelter near the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road. The hike is from from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

Free Shipping over $45 at Altrec Outdoors

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Regulations Eased on First Amendment Demonstrations in National Parks

Sunday, October 17, 2010

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The National Park Service is reporting, that effective immediately, national parks will no longer require individuals or small groups to secure a permit for First Amendment activities in any of the 392 national parks.

The change is a result of an August 6 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (Boardley vs. Department of the Interior) that determined that National Park Service (NPS) regulations requiring individuals and small groups to get a permit for First Amendment activities in parks were too broad. The court said that NPS regulations related to demonstrations and distribution of printed matter were unconstitutional but upheld the NPS practice of setting aside designated areas in parks and requiring a permit for larger demonstrations and the sale of printed material.

This week, the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to appeal the court’s decision.

Under the new regulation, individuals and small groups wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights in national parks will not need a permit and can proceed directly to a designated area and express their views and distribute printed material related to their issue.

The NPS will still require a permit for larger groups. The permit process allows NPS to protect park resources and guarantees groups a priority for a space when multiple groups or individual demonstrators want to use a designated area in a park.

Good grief. For crying out loud, please, just stay home. In my opinion, national parks should never be used for any demonstrations, protests, political speech or prosthelytizing.

I realize that we all have First Amendment rights, but national parks are completely inappropriate places for trying to espouse your view points onto someone else.

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Regional Fall Color Round-up

Saturday, October 16, 2010

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The following are the latest fall color updates for the various park areas in the Great Smoky Mountains region:

* Tom Harrington's latest update on the GSMA website states that fall colors are now at their peak in the upper elevations of the Great Smokies (above 3,000 feet), and will remain at peak for the next couple of days. He also expects autumn colors for the lower elevations to be at or near peak by next week.

* Virtual Blue Ridge posted this report late Thursday:

In Virginia the Peaks of Otter is reporting color in Tulip Poplar, Dogwood, and Sourwood on the mountainside. A variety of Oaks and Mountain Ash are also showing fall colors. The Rocky Knob and Mabry Mill area are probably at peak color this coming weekend. Dogwood and Poplar are also pretty, along with Sassafras along the roadsides in the area of the Blue Ridge Music Center. This weekend will probably be the peak of color there.

High up on the sides of Mount Mitchell north of Asheville, visitors will also see some color showing nicely. The area south of Asheville is one of the highlights now with Graveyard Fields turning peak after a cold night in recent days. This is by far the best place to see good color along the southern end of the Parkway. A few of the higher elevations around Devil's Courthouse, Richland Balsam and more are about 50% right now while the rest of the Parkway south of there is about 30%-40% color. Still a nice drive with enough color to show that fall is finally here.

You can read the full report by clicking here.

* Tennessee State Parks has a new “color watch” tool on their website to help visitors plan for the best leaf peeping opportunities. For nearby Roan Mountain, ETSU professors are projecting a magnificent season of color throughout October. The website also highlights state park events, including fall hikes at South Cumberland, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and along the Cumberland Trail.

* Grandfather Mountain State Park in NC is reporting that fall colors are at their peak right now.

* And finally, earlier this week, the National Park Foundation announced its 2010 ‘Top National Parks for Fall Foliage’ list. Included on the list was the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area where peak fall colors are expected through Thanksgiving.

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Cades Cove Loop to close for two days

Friday, October 15, 2010

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The Great Smoky Mountains announced today that the Cades Cove Loop Road is tentatively scheduled to be closed for two days during the week of November 29 for hemlock woolly adelgid control. Spray operations are weather dependent.

Actual closure dates will be posted on the national park website a few days prior to the closure.

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Friday's Video

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Ever wonder what it is like to be rescued off of a big mountain like the Grand Teton because you are too injured to get down on your own? Well, it goes a little something like this:

Shattered from getungrounded on Vimeo.

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Chasteen Creek Falls: Where the Waters Sing

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Join a Great Smoky Mountains ranger this Sunday, 10/17/2010, for a moderate 3-mile round-trip hike alongside the Bradley Fork to Chasteen Creek Falls.

Meet at 12:00 PM near the registration office of the Smokemont Campground, located roughly 3.5 miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee. Rangers ask that you wear sturdy walking shoes, bring water and pack a snack. The hike is expected to last for three hours.

In addition to this Sunday, this same hike will be offered on 10/24/2010 and 10/31/2010.

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Final BRP "Hike of the Week" for 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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Tomorrow is the final Hike of the Week in the Pisgah District of the Blue Ridge Parkway for 2010.

Join Parkway rangers tomorrow at 10:00 AM for a walk in the woods and hunt for the color red along an easy one mile section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Mills River Valley Overlook near Milepost 404.5. Rangers ask that you bring a sketchpad, journal, camera, or binoculars to connect with nature.

For more information please call BRP headquarters at 828-271-4779.

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European nations approve Appalachian Trail extension

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The original Appalachian Trail, completed in 1937, extends roughly 2175 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Many don't know this, but in 1995 and 2002, the AT was extended north into Canada. This extension, known as the International Appalachian Trail, treks 1900 miles from Mt. Katahdin all the way to Belle Isle in northern Newfoundland.

This extension of the trail is completely logical as the Appalachian Mountains extend all the way into that part of Canada.

Now comes word that the Europeans have endorsed a project to extend the AT across the Atlantic.

Last week, trail clubs in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Ireland and Wales formally joined the International Appalachian Trail during a meeting in Aviemore, Scotland.

Greenland and Scotland joined the IAT last year, and the IAT hopes to add Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria next year.

In the not-to-distant future, hikers will be able to continue along the IAT by crossing the Atlantic Ocean by boat or plane, and picking up the trail in Greenland and Iceland, IAT officials said.

The rationale for the extension is that the mountains that formed the Appalachian range were created millions of years ago when the continental plates of North America and Europe collided. After the continents split apart again, the mountains of eastern Europe and North Africa became known as the Caledonian and Atlas Mountains.

Thus, as the thinking goes, since the multiple mountain ranges were once part of one super range, it follows that the Appalachian Trail should traverse the entire historical range on all three continents.

Once completed, the IAT will become the largest trail network in the world, with multinational membership on three continents.

I'm not really sure what to make of this. With multiple, non-contiguous segments, can you really call it one trail? What does Appalachia mean, or what kind of connection is there for someone hiking the trail in Morroco or Belgium? Does it in anyway diminish the accomplishments of all the people who have completed the original AT?

Has the pursuit of ultra-long distance trails finally jumped the proverbial shark?

Anyone have any thoughts on this - especially those that have completed the original AT?

At least the trail will be passing through some stunningly beautiful territory. Check out the photos on IAT website.

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Ranger Guided Hikes: Kephart Trail

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Join a Great Smoky Mountains ranger on the last three Fridays of October for a guided hike along the Kephart Prong Trail.

This Friday, 10/15/2010, as well as 10/22/2010 and 10/29/2010, meet at the Kephart Prong Trail, located roughly 5 miles north of the Smokemont Campground on Newfound Gap Road, for a moderate 4-mile round-trip hike to explore the deep woods alongside the singing waters of the Kephart Prong.

The times for all three Friday hikes are from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

For more information on the trail, please click here.

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A Park Ranger's Life author at Peaks Of Otter

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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Bruce Bytnar, author of A Park Ranger's Life, will be at the Peaks Of Otter Lodge this Friday, October 15, for a book signing. Bruce will be in the lobby of the Lodge, located at mile post 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, starting at 5 pm.

A Park Ranger's Life chronicles the amazing stories from Mr. Bytnar's thirty-two-year career as a National Park Ranger. Just some of the stories he relates include:

* A wild bear who favors Kentucky Fried Chicken

* A fugitive wanted in eight states

* A dog that saves his owner's life

* A ghost haunting a colonial mansion

* Hikers who stay lost because they think searchers calling their names are wild animals

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Little River/Jakes Creek access road reopening delayed

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An update on the Great Smoky Mountains website is reporting that the Little River/Jakes Creek Trail access road in the Elkmont area will be closed to public use until October 23rd now.

The repaved road, with new parking areas near the Little River and Jakes Creek trailheads, was scheduled to reopen on October 15th.

For now, parking for trail users is available on an extremely limited basis at the walk-in camping area in B loop. There's a marked route through the campground to both trailheads.

Click for more information on hiking the popular Little River Trail and the Cucumber Gap Trail (from the Jakes Creek Trailhead).

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Wilderness Weekend at Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park will honor America's wilderness heritage during its 10th annual Wilderness Weekend, October 16 - 17, 2010. This year commemorates the 34th anniversary of Shenandoah's wilderness designation. Celebrate wilderness by viewing Shenandoah's wilderness from Skyline Drive, hiking a wilderness trail, joining a ranger program, completing the Wilderness Explorer Ranger Activity Guide, or exploring a visitor center exhibit.

Special events take place at Byrd Visitor Center, milepost 51 on Skyline Drive. Shenandoah National Park Trail Crews and PATC volunteers share their expertise in the traditional tools used to maintain trails in wilderness. Visitors can try their hands at using these tools and gain insight on the important role trail maintenance plays in protecting wilderness for future generations. Short talks by rangers during the day explore the history and values of Shenandoah’s wilderness.

Visitors are also encouraged to stop by park visitor centers for more opportunities to learn about Shenandoah's wilderness through exhibits and films. The highly interactive exhibit at Byrd Visitor Center, "Within a Day's Drive of Millions," tells the story of Shenandoah's establishment including the significance of wilderness designation. Visitors can explore the history and meaning of wilderness through a computer touch screen exhibit, "The Spirit of Wilderness." A newly released film narrated by Christopher Reeves, American Values: American Wilderness, will be available for viewing on request.

Shenandoah's wilderness was designated by Congress in October 1976. Forty percent of the park, almost 80,000 acres, is wilderness and represents one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States. Areas preserved as wilderness provide sanctuaries for human recreation, habitat for wildlife, sites for research, and reservoirs for clean, free-flowing water.

For more information on the weekend's events, please click here. For information on hiking in the park, please click here.

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Smokies Fall Color Update

Monday, October 11, 2010

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Tom Harrington, park naturalist and volunteer, has posted his latest Fall Color Report on the Great Smoky Mountains Association website today.

His report states that fall colors have surged - almost overnight - and he expects the colors at the higher elevations (above 4,000 feet) to be at their peak over the next 10 days.

At the lower elevations, he's predicting that peak colors are likely to be at least 10 days away.

You can read the full report by clicking here.

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October Night Hikes in Cades Cove

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Join Great Smoky Mountains rangers each Friday during the month of October for a night-time walk to listen to the spirits of Cades Cove.

Each Friday, on 10/15/2010, 10/22/2010 and 10/29/2010, rangers will lead an easy 2-mile walk starting from the orientation shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road.

The walks will begin at 7:00 PM and will last roughly 2.5 hours.

Rangers ask that you wear comfortable walking shoes. Flashlights are recommended and children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information, please click here.

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Chasing Legends

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Below is a trailer from Chasing Legends, a movie about the Tour de France. Although it premiered back in May, it's still has a few dates left on its U.S. tour. The DVD is also available for purchase.

The film takes viewers on an epic ride into the greatest cycling race of all time. It was filmed using a multitude of high tech, high def cameras mounted on bikes, motorcycles, helicopters and team cars, and includes historical race footage as well. Fittingly, the movie is narrated by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.

It looks like it's a "must see" movie for any cycling enthusiast!

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The Heart of Greenbrier: Porters Flat

Sunday, October 10, 2010

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Join a Great Smoky Mountains ranger this Tuesday, 10/12/2010, for a hike into the "Heart of Greenbrier".

Meet at the Porters Creek Trailhead, located in Greenbrier - 6 miles east of Gatlinburg, to hike with a ranger to discover the natural and cultural wonders of the Greenbrier area of the Smokies. Wear sturdy walking shoes and bring water. This is an easy to moderate hike to Porters Flat.

The hike begins at 11:00 AM, and is expected to be completed around 1:00 PM.

In addition to this Tuesday, this same hike will be offered on 10/19/2010 and 10/26/2010.

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Five Hikes for Halloween

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With Halloween just three weeks away our friends over at Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine have published a list of the five most spookiest hikes in the southeast - each leading to a cemetery.

The magazine points out that the rich history of the Southern Appalachians, including the frontiersmen, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and the Cherokee and the Scotch-Irish cultures with their rich storytelling traditions, have created a recipe for an abundance of ghost tales.

Among their list are hikes to the Sarver Hollow Shelter on the Appalachian Trail, the Ghost House Trail in Big Ridge State Park, Corbin Cabin in Shenandoah National Park, and South Mountain Battlefield in Smith Mountain State Park.

They also have a hike to two cemeteries in the Great Smoky Mountains. They list the name of the trail as "Norton Creek Trail". Now I could be wrong, but I believe they actually mean the Noland Creek Trail (please correct me if so).

You can read the full article by clicking here.

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Trail workday: Twentymile Loop Trail

Saturday, October 9, 2010

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As mentioned in previous posts, Danny Bernstein from the Carolina Mountain Club has organized a series of trail workdays in the Great Smoky Mountains this summer and fall. The workdays are in conjunction with the Trails Forever program.

The final workday is scheduled for next Saturday, October 16th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Volunteers will be working on the Twentymile Loop Trail out of the Twentymile Ranger Station in the southwestern area of the Park. Work will include cleaning drains, pruning vegetation, and digging out sloughed off bank to redefine the trail head.

If you would like to get involved and lend a much needed hand, please contact Christine Hoyer at 828.497.1949 or email her at

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, and more.
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Mt. Pisgah Trail Closure Extended

Friday, October 8, 2010

Virtual Blue Ridge is reporting that the closure of the Mt. Pisgah Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway has been extended until tomorrow.

The trail was originally scheduled to be closed for only one day - on Wednesday, but the project is obviously taking longer than expected.

The television broadcasting tower located atop Mt. Pisgah is undergoing an upgrade of select antennas, requiring closure of the top of the mountain to visitors.

The trail, located at Milepost 407.6, is now projected to reopen on Saturday, October 9th.

The trailhead and parking area will remain open, as will the bottom half of the trail. Hikers will be able to walk within a quarter mile of the top but will not be allowed to progress any farther.

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Friday's Video

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Several weeks ago a fire near US 129 and the Calderwood Dam burned almost 300 acres in the western Smokies area. The Great Smoky Mountains Association recently published a video on how the fire was started and what the park's strategy was for dealing with it:

© GSMA 2010. All rights reserved.

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Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die / My top hikes

Thursday, October 7, 2010

After the BBC published its list of the “50 places you must see before you die” several years ago, author Chris Santella has been making a living off of writing about other “50 Places”.

Published just last week, his latest offering in his best selling series is Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die. Santella, along with top expedition leaders, explores the world's greatest hiking adventures, including Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the Lunana Snowman Trek in Bhutan, the Kangshung Valley Trek in Tibet, as well as the more leisurely village to village hike along the Nakesando Trail in Japan.

After looking over the write-up for this book I decided I was going to attempt to create my own top 10 list. I couldn’t do it. It’s much too hard to narrow down a list of favorite hikes, and then rank them. What I’ve discovered over the years is that the last trail that I hiked tends to be my favorite. So what I did was I simply tried to narrow down a list that represents the “best of the best”. I guess you could say the following are my all-time hall of fame hikes. In no particular order:

• Hallet Peak (Rocky Mountain N.P.)

Sky Pond (Rocky Mountain N.P.)

Old Ute Trail (Rocky Mountain N.P.)

Bluebird Lake (Rocky Mountain N.P.)

• Chasm Lake (Rocky Mountain N.P.)

Scenic Point (Glacier N.P.)

Dawson Pass (Glacier N.P.)

Cascade Canyon (Grand Tetons N.P.)

Rocky Top (Great Smoky Mountains)

Gregory Bald (Great Smoky Mountains)

Mt. Rogers (via Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands S.P.)

Grassy Ridge Bald (Roan Mountain - Cherokee N.F.)

• Mt. Elbert (near Leadville, Colorado)

• Blue Lakes (near Ouray, Colorado)

• Horsethief Trail (near Ouray, Colorado)

Quandary Peak (near Fairplay, Colorado)

Gilpin Lake / Gold Creek Loop (Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, Colorado)

• Skyline Trail (Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia)

How about you? What are some of your all time favorites?

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BRP Ranger Hike: Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Join Blue Ridge Parkway rangers tomorrow at 10:00 AM for an easy, three mile round trip hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

The hike will start from the Rough Butt Bald Overlook (Milepost 425) and will take hikers through a spruce/fir forest. Wear good hiking shoes, bring water, and be prepared for changeable fall weather.

The guided hike is free. For more information, call 298-5330, ext. 304

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National Park Service / NASA offer space station sightings

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Because the space station is more spectacular away from skyline clutter and light pollution, NASA and the National Park Service have partnered to share information with park visitors about where and when to look up.

Sightings depend on lighting, weather conditions and the station’s location as it orbits 200 miles above Earth at 17,500 mph. With the help of the Park Service, NASA recently imported the coordinates of 507 locations, including national parks and seashores, historic sites, monuments, and wild and scenic rivers. The station’s Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston uses these locations and the orbital path of the space station to predict times when people can see the station zoom across the sky.

Sighting predictions are available on NASA's SkyWatch website, via the agency's new mobile website, and NASA iPhone and iPad applications. Many park rangers who present night sky programs and park event calendars also will have the information available for park visitors.

"It's a good idea to check the sighting opportunities ahead of time," said Chad Moore, a scientist with the National Park Service night sky program. "Many remote national parks, which offer the best night sky conditions, have limited Internet or cell phone coverage."

The space station usually appears over the western horizon and disappears over the eastern horizon in a matter of minutes. The best time to observe the station is near dawn or dusk, when the viewer is in near-darkness, and the passing station continues to reflect light from the rising or setting sun.

For detailed sightings information, please click here.

For more information about the International Space Station, please click here.

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Pecks Corner area trail construction advisory

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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The Great Smoky Mountains added an advisory to their website this morning concerning trail construction in the Pecks Corner area that will occur from October 13-20.

Park officials state that they do not anticipate closing the trail, however, there may be delays of up to 15 minutes. For your safety, they ask that you make your presence known as you approach the job site.

The park doesn't mention which trail, but Pecks Corner is located near the junction of the Appalachian Trail and the Hughes Ridge Trail - roughly 6 miles east of Charlies Bunion.

Other trail advisories:

• The Russell Field Shelter is closed due to on-going rehabilitation project.

• Water sources from campsite 113 to Spence Field are still unreliable. Water is currently available at Derrick Knob, which is approximately 23 miles from Fontana. Please plan your hike accordingly.

• The Little River/Jakes Creek Trail access road in the Elkmont area will be closed to public use through Oct 15.

Trails with bear warnings posted:

• Laurel Falls Trail
• Rainbow Falls Trail and parking area
• Lower Mount Cammerer Trail - Sutton Ridge Overlook area

For a complete list of bear warnings and temporary closures, please click here.

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Winners of National Natural Landmarks Photo Contest

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The National Park Service recently announced the winners of its 7th Annual National Natural Landmarks Photo Contest.

Top honors in the contest went to John Pilarski of Milwaukee for his photograph of Grapevine Mesa Joshua Trees in Arizona. Second place went to Christopher Jordon of Indianapolis for a photo of Dunes Nature Preserve in Indiana, and third place went to Rodrigo Roesch of Glenview, Illinois, for his image of Volo Bog Nature Preserve.

These photos and 10 Honorable Mentions will be featured in next year’s NNL calendar to increase awareness of natural landmarks and celebrate the great diversity of our nation’s natural history.

There are 586 national natural landmarks across the United States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

You can view the 13 winning photographs from this year’s contest by clicking here.

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Blue Ridge Parkway trail closures

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

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Virtual Blue Ridge is reporting a couple of trail closings off the Blue Ridge Parkway you may want to be aware of.

The first closure will impact the Mt. Pisgah Trail tomorrow.

The television broadcasting tower located at the top of Mt. Pisgah is scheduled to undergo upgrading of select antennas, which will require the closure of the viewing platform as well as the immediate area surrounding the TV tower. The closure will occur tomorrow, October 6, and will reopen the next day. The trail is located at Mile Post 407.6.

Virtual Blue Ridge is also reporting that a portion of the Boone Fork Trail from the western access in the Julian Price Memorial Park Campground to the agricultural lease (about 1,800 feet) will be closed beginning on October 4, 2010. The trail will be closed for approximately one week to allow for the construction of a wastewater system improvements. The public is advised to avoid the area for safety purposes and to prevent delays in construction.

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First snow of the year in the Smokies

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Allyson Virden, resident manager at the LeConte Lodge atop Mt. LeConte is reporting the first snow of the year in the Smokies. On her "High on LeConte" blog, Ms. Virden is reporting that the mountain received 3 inches of snow on Monday morning, and another half-inch overnight.

She also stated that this is the biggest first snow since 1979.

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The first Great Smoky Mountains park brochure

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Thanks to the Friends of the Smokies for providing a link to the very first park brochure published in 1933.

The brochure includes photographs by George Masa and Jim Thompson, as well as information regarding the Qualla (Cherokee) Indian Reservation, fishing, hiking, wild animals, etc. You gotta love some of these quotes:

“The Indians still play the Cherokee game of ball — a sport far too strenuous for members of the Caucasian race.”

“As the United States is prohibited by law from undertaking any development of the park until the minimum of 427,000 acres has been turned over to it for that purpose, visitors will not find the conveniences and interesting activities they are used to in the other national parks of the system.”

“Deer are practically exterminated.”

Please click here to see the entire brochure.

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Great Smokies: Visitor Services Study

Monday, October 4, 2010

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The Park Studies Unit of the National Park Service Social Science Division is in charge of conducting visitor surveys throughout the National Park System. They use customer satisfaction cards, focus groups and periodic in-depth Visitor Services Project (VSP) visitor studies.

Through these VSP in-depth surveys, park managers obtain accurate information about visitors - who they are, what they do, their needs, and opinions.

The most recent VSP studies for the Great Smoky Mountains were conducted during the summer and fall of 2008, with final reports being sent to park officials in 2009.

I pulled together a few stats that I thought were interesting, and compared them between the summer (late June) and fall (early October) surveys to see if there were any significant differences:

* The average length of stay for visitors to the Smoky Mountains was 1.8 days / 1.9 days.

* Interestingly, during the summer survey, North Carolina ranked only fifth as the state of origin among visitors. During the fall survey the state improved to third. So why are visitors from states like Florida, Ohio and Kentucky flocking to the Smokies more often than North Carolinians? Is it because there are comparable outdoor areas in places like Pisgah National Forest that are closer and easier to reach for the residents of NC? Tennessee, as you would expect, ranked first in both surveys.

* A total of 44% / 47% of all visitor groups said they spent less than 3 hours outside of their car while in the park!

* This coincides with 55% / 57% of all groups stating that they spent time driving the Cades Cove Loop Road.

* 3.6% / 2.8% of all visitor groups hiked to Laurel Falls during their visit.

* 64% / 60% spent time hiking, walking or backpacking while in the park (Interestingly, the 1996 study reported that only 46%/43% of visitors spent time participating in the same activities).

* 23% / 20% said that hiking was the most important activity during their visit.

You can view both studies by clicking on the summer and fall VSP reports.

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