Jennifer Pharr Davis Breaks the A.T. Speed Record!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Roughly an hour ago team Davis posted this blurb on Jennifer's blog:

After 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes Jen has finally finished the 2,181 mile trail. She reached the end at 3:26 p.m. today. Hard to express how proud of her we are. Pics and more stories from the trail to come soon.

The now previous overall Appalachian Trail speed record was 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes. That means Jennifer has shattered the record by 22 hours!!

This also means she averaged almost 47 miles per day!

Here's an official press release from her publisher.

Major kudos and congratulations!


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The Times They Are a-Changin' for Backpackers

Earlier in the week the U.S. Postal Service announced that they will be conducting a study over the next several months to determine the need for some 3700 retail post offices. Potentially, the USPS could eliminate more than 10% of all their post offices around the country. Most of these closings will likely occur in rural areas, such as those along the Appalachian Trail.

A.T. thru-hikers, and section hikers, use the services of post offices to forward, or pre-deliver, food, gear and other supplies as they proceed along the trail.

There has been much made in the press this week as to the consequences that will be felt by backpackers as a result of these potential closings. Many backpackers fear that it will become much more difficult to thru-hike trails like the A.T., or the Pacific Crest Trail, due to possibility of having to carry significantly more weight in their packs. But I would argue that this fear may be somewhat unfounded. I believe the private sector will likely step-in to fill the void left by many post office closures. It's not too hard to envision places like the Hike Inn at Fontana Dam, as an example, to take up the business of handling drop boxes for hikers. If there's a demand for a product or service, some hungry entrepreneur will jump at the opportunity to fill the need. The downside, of course, is that hikers may have to pay a little more since the federal government will no longer be subsidizing parts of the cost.

Speaking of higher costs for backpackers; does anyone have any thoughts, comments or concerns regarding Friday's announcement that the Great Smoky Mountains is considering a move to make all backcountry camping permits (for all sites) go through an online/call-in reservation service?

Do you have any problems paying the $2.25 to $10.00 fees that are being proposed to make a reservation for a backcountry campsite? In comparison, most other parks with similar backcountry operations charge between $10 and $30 per reservation, and many have additional per person or per night fees.

Given the avalanche of debt we currently find ourselves in, I have to believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Down the road, we're very likely to see parks find new and different ways of charging fees for services that have been free in the past.

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GSMA Guided Hike to John Oliver Homeplace in Cades Cove

Saturday, July 30, 2011

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On Saturday, August 13th, join the Great Smoky Mountains Association and Park volunteer Jim Burbank for a guided hike to the John Oliver homeplace in Cades Cove.

Oliver, a veteran of the War of 1812, his wife Lucretia, and their young child, arrived in the Cove in 1818, and were the first permanent white family to settle here. The cabin dates from the 1820s and is one of the oldest structures in the Park.

The hike will begin from the Cades Cove Information Shelter (just before the entrance to the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road) at 10 a.m. Participants will hike 1.3 miles along the Rich Mountain Loop Trail to reach the cabin.

The GSMA asks that you wear good hiking boots, bring water, rain gear, and a light lunch or snack to eat upon arrival at the cabin.

The program is limited to 20 people, and you must pre-register by calling 865-436-7318, ext. 222 or 254. There is a nominal fee of $10 per adult; children 12 and under are free.

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Confirmed: Smokies considers online backcountry camping permits, with fees

Friday, July 29, 2011

Earlier in the day I posted some information stating that the Great Smoky Mountains is considering a move to make all backcountry camping permits (for all sites) go through, an online and call-in reservation service. The proposal will now cost backpackers between $2.25 and $10.00 to make a reservation for a backcountry campsite (depending on which proposal is ultimately adopted).

Although it wasn't officially confirmed as of this morning, the park issued a press release this afternoon, confirming park plans on this:

Managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are considering some changes in the process by which backpackers make reservations for overnight camping at the Park’s nearly 100 backcountry sites and shelters. The proposed changes, which would update the reservation procedure as well as increasing Ranger presence on the Park’s 800 miles of trails, would be covered by a minimal user fee. No fees are being contemplated for day hiking.

The Park currently requires that all those planning to stay overnight in the backcountry obtain a permit and those wishing to stay in the Park’s 15 shelters and most popular campsites make a reservation either by phone or in person at the Park’s Backcountry Information Center located in the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg. The reservations ensure that the number of campers on a given night do not exceed the carrying capacity of the site. Many other less sought-after sites do not require that a reservation be filed, but users are still required to self-register at one of 15 permit stations when they arrive in the Park.

Due to limited staffing, the Backcountry Information Center is open only three hours a day and the phone line is often busy or is unstaffed, which makes the process excessively time-consuming and often frustrating. Once backpackers do obtain their reservations and arrive at their campsites, they often find the area filled by individuals without permits. In addition site capacities are frequently exceeded, which results in food storage violations, increased wildlife encounters and the need to close campsites to protect visitors and wildlife. Lack of staff in the backcountry severely limits the Park’s ability to resolve these issues.

In response to these concerns, managers are evaluating the implementation of a computerized reservation system which would take reservations both online and via a call center for all its backcountry sites 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The reservations would be made by a contractor at: which is the site currently used to book frontcountry campsites. The Park would also expand the operations of the Backcountry Information Center to provide quality trip planning advice to help users develop a customized itinerary that best fits their available time and ability.

In addition, the Park would hire additional Rangers who would exclusively patrol the backcountry to improve compliance with Park regulations as well as helping to curb plant and wildlife poaching and respond more quickly to visitor emergencies.

Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said, “We feel that the proposed changes offer better customer service to backpackers, as well as reducing impacts to Park resources. In order to implement these changes we are considering several fee structures that would cover both the reservation contractor’s fee and the cost of field Rangers and staff at the Backcountry Information Center.”

The Park plans to solicit public input on the new plan both on-line and through two public meetings. Details of the proposal may be found here.

Comments may be emailed or mailed to: Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Informational open houses are scheduled for Tuesday, August 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Old Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 1194 Newfound Gap Road in Cherokee, and Thursday, August 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Park Headquarters Lobby at 107 Headquarters Road in Gatlinburg. Comments should be submitted by August 26.

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Backcountry Office & Permit System Restructuring Proposal for Smokies

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First, let me say, there is nothing official from the Great Smoky Mountains at this point. The information below was posted in a Backpacker Magazine forum, however, an article on one of the local news networks has more or less confirmed the following.

The bottom line on all this is that the Great Smoky Mountains is considering to contract with, an online and call-in reservation service, for all backcountry camping permits (for all sites), which will cost between $2.25 and $10.00 - depending on which proposal is ultimately adopted.

Park management is considering a proposal to improve visitor services by restructuring the park’s backcountry reservations and permitting processes as well as assisted backcountry trip planning services. The purpose of this document is to brief park partners, cooperators and stakeholder representatives and to solicit feedback on this proposal.

Background and Scope of Problem:
• The park consistently receives complaints about the amount of time and effort it takes for visitors to get a backcountry reservation and/or acquire backcountry planning information. This is a reflection of insufficient staffing for the volume of customers, both call-in and walk-in, requiring reservations and/or trip planning information.

• The park also frequently receives feedback from the public that they desire to see more rangers in the backcountry to address problems such as dogs on trails, and permit and camping violations. This includes overcrowding of backcountry campsites by nonpermitted campers. A greater National Park Service presence is also desired in the Backcountry Information Office to provide trip planning services.

• Non-reserved sites currently comprise over half the park’s backcountry campsite inventory. Because they are non-reserved, capacities are frequently exceeded, which results in food storage violations, increased wildlife encounters and the need to close campsites to protect visitors and wildlife. When the park needs to close one of these sites, staff must rely on closure signs at permit stations and at the sites themselves to notify campers, but this is not a reliable method of notification. A reliable system of notification is vitally important when closures are due to bears or other safety reasons.

Proposed Solution and Outcomes
1. Contract with, an online and call-in reservation service, to which customers will have 24/7 access and can print their backcountry permit prior to arriving in the park. is the official centralized reservation service used by all U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service recreational areas offering camping reservation services. These options will reduce the number of reservation calls to the Backcountry Information Office and allow staff to spend more time assisting customers with high-quality trip planning services, both walk-in and by phone. Although park research suggests that 80% of reservations will likely be made online and almost 20% by phone, there will also be an opportunity for customers to obtain reservations or permits on a walk-in basis at the Backcountry Information Office and potentially at one or two other select visitor contact stations in the park. The reservation system will dramatically increase reservation/permit customer service and ensure customers have greatly improved access to high-quality trip planning information, both through personal contacts and improved on-line planning tools. Customers will be able to make reservations and obtain permits at their convenience.

2. Create a cost recovery fee structure for reservations that will generate revenue to cover both the contractor cost of the reservation system and support an increased National Park Service presence in the Backcountry Information Office and in the park’s backcountry. Although Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been offering free backcountry permits for years, the park is in the minority when compared to other parks with comparable backcountry operations. Most other parks with similar backcountry operations charge between $10 and $30 per reservation, and many have additional per person or per person, per night fees. Parks use these fees in support of their backcountry operations programs and, in turn, offer improved services to the public. Similarly, beyond providing access to a more convenient reservation/permitting service, Great Smoky Mountains National Park proposes using these fees to increase ranger presence in the backcountry and improve customer access to trip planning services through the Backcountry Information Office.

Alternative fee structures that would allow the park to meet these objectives include:

- $10 per reservation + $5 per person; or,
- $10 per reservation + $2.25 per person per night; or,
- $4 per person per night.

3. Require reservations for all backcountry sites. The reservation system will have the capability of notifying reservations holders of site closures, safety issues, or emergency information via phone calls, text messages or emails. The park will be aware of, and have contact information for, users at each site. The park will be able to reliably contact each reservation holder with timely information about closures, safety issues and other important backcountry information. By placing all sites on the reservation system and having an increased ranger presence in the backcountry, negative impacts to both the natural environment and to the visitor experience from overcrowding and other conflicts will be reduced.

Implementation of this proposal will result in an improvement to customer service that will make obtaining backcountry reservations quick, easy and convenient for customers, as well as increase their access to Backcountry Information Office personnel for trip planning. Additional rangers in the park’s backcountry will improve visitor experience by actively addressing commonly reported backcountry camper concerns.

Additional Information & Comments:
• Written comments regarding this proposal may be addressed to the Park Superintendent by August 26th. Comments may be submitted via email to or by mail to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738.

• The park will also hold two informational open houses regarding this proposal to which partners, cooperators, stakeholder representatives and the general public are invited.

- Tuesday, August 16: Old Oconoluftee Visitor Center 5:30 – 7:30 pm.

- Thursday, August 18: Headquarters Lobby 5:30 – 7:30 pm

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Across the Smokies: The New Endurance Record

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Back in May I received an email from David Worth, announcing that he had just broke the record for the fastest trek across the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. David ran/walked/trekked 72 miles - from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap - in 14 hours and 50 minutes, besting the previous record set by Will Harlan of 15 hours and 57 minutes.

I didn't realize it at the time, because I don't know him, but David is a park ranger for the Smokies, and works as an interpretive ranger atop Mt. LeConte.

Earlier in the week the Great Smoky Mountains Association published a video about his recent feat. The narrator makes the points that David gained a total of 18,660 feet as he crossed the crest of the Smokies. This compares to "only" 13,000 feet of elevation that climber gain from base camp to the summit of Denali in Alaska.

David is also quoted as stating that he may be interested in tackling the speed record for the entire Appalachian Trail someday. He might want to note that his goal is about to get a little tougher. Jennifer Pharr Davis is just days away from shaving roughly a half-day off the existing record of 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes.

Anyway, here's the video:

© GSMA 2011. All rights reserved.

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Lost: The First Five Minutes

Thursday, July 28, 2011

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Is this still the trail?
Why are we going down when we should be climbing?
This direction doesn’t seem right.

Professor Hike has a pretty good article in Backpacker Magazine on how to prevent yourself from getting lost. The professor makes a great point in that the most critical time period is the first five minutes after you begin to question yourself as to whether you're on the right path or not.

He also offers three personal case studies to show what he's talking about. You can click here to read the article.

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Smokies Institutes New Firewood Restrictions

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park has announced that its current policy to prohibit the transportation of firewood from federal and state quarantined areas into the park has been tightened to include several neighboring counties in Tennessee. The affected areas, Blount, Knox, Anderson, Loudon and Union, and the most recent county just added to the list, Grainger, have been quarantined by either the state or federal government to prevent the movement of the destructive emerald ash borer (EAB) and thousand cankers disease (TCD), an associated fungal disease transmitted by a small twig beetle.

The current firewood quarantines cover ALL AREAS in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and PORTIONS of the following states: Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and for the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

These state and federal regulations allow the movement of firewood within a quarantined county and between one quarantined county and another. In an effort to protect the world-renowned biodiversity of the Smokies, Park regulations go a step further and prohibit visitors from bringing wood from any infested county into any part of the Park, unless the wood was purchased and bears a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pest-free certification seal. This restriction includes bringing wood from Blount County into the park, including those areas such as Cades Cove, Look Rock, and Abrams Creek which lie within Blount County. Movement of infested firewood has been implicated in the spread of destructive insects and diseases into urban and natural areas which has caused significant mortality among numerous tree species.

“Visitors who come to enjoy camping in the national park should be extremely cautious with the source of wood that they use for their campfires to help protect the Park’s great biodiversity of plants and animals,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.

Campers have four options for burning firewood in the Park: First, firewood can be purchased from local businesses that sell firewood bundles bearing USDA seals certifying that the wood may be transported safely. A second option is to purchase firewood from a Park concessioner at any of the three largest campgrounds in the Park—Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont. A third option is to use cut timber that is kiln-dried, finished and from which the bark was removed during the milling process. Though the National Park Service discourages the movement of firewood from one location to another, a fourth option includes bringing wood into the Park from a non-quarantined area. Visitors can reduce the risk of transporting destructive insects by using only dry, non-rotten wood with the bark removed.

This significant forest health problem stems from raw wood that is taken from trees that are stressed, diseased, or insect-ridden for firewood use, which frequently will contain wood pests that may have contributed to its demise. The presence of bark on wood increases the ability for wood pests to thrive. Yard trees are often used as firewood and could harbor these fatal organisms.

Biological invasions of nonnative organisms are the park’s number one resource threat to its forests and associated ecosystems. In addition to the most recent invasive species that have made their way to just beyond Park boundaries, there are several other known pests that are hitching a ride in firewood and moving around the states. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Risk Assessment there are eight organisms that have prompted federal and state quarantines that include the EAB, Asian longhorned beetle, gypsy moth, pine shoot beetle, sudden oak death, sirex wood wasp, hemlock woolly adelgid, and the European larch canker. These have already killed millions of trees in areas that they have infiltrated.

The EAB and TCD are originally from Asia but have been accidentally introduced to North America. They were first discovered in Tennessee in 2010. Neither EAB or TCD has been found yet in the Park. The tree species at risk if these were to enter the Park are ash (EAB), black walnut and butternut trees (TCD). The Park has been working closely with federal and state plant protection agencies to educate the public about risks associated with the transportation of firewood. Numerous stakeholders representing federal, state, private forestry, and academia are joining together to develop a national strategy to mitigate the risks associated with movement of firewood, including a highly charged public education campaign.

For additional information, please visit the Firewood Quarantine page.

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Boy Scouts Work To Improve Park Trails

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Three cheers for the Boy Scouts of America!

SummitCorps 2011 is in full swing at New River Gorge National River. Throughout the month of July, 1400 Boy Scouts between the ages of 14 and 21 will be volunteering their time and energy to construct and improve trails within the park.

Members of The Order of the Arrow, the Boy Scout’s National Honor Society, will be constructing 16 miles of completely new trails, rehabilitating another 12 miles of existing trails, and removing invasive plants. Each week, a new group of 250 to 350 Scouts will arrive from all across the country to participate in one of the largest youth service projects in national park history. Each boy raised $250 to participate in the event, plus travel costs, and will spend 32 hours working in the park.

“The National Park Service is extremely proud to be working with our longstanding partners at the Boy Scouts of America,” said Don Striker, the park’s superintendent. “This project will save taxpayers over $1 million, as the Boy Scouts clearly demonstrate their leadership in developing youth who understand the importance of community service and the shared stewardship of our national parks. It's remarkable that these boys are paying money to come and provide 32 hours of cheerful service to the park."

The Order of the Arrow was formed in 1915, one year before the National Park Service, and by 1925 was sponsoring trail building projects in Yellowstone NP. Glacier, Yosemite, Mount Rainier and Crater Lakes NPs all hosted Arrow Corps trail builders in the 1920s and 30s.

New River Gorge National River is delighted that the Order of the Arrow selected this park to renew their commitment to trail building in national parks. This project is the culmination of more than a year of planning, and is being managed by a joint OA/NPS incident command team that includes youth members in key ICT roles.

This is the first of many future partnership projects. The Boy Scouts of America are committed to future service projects in the park and the surrounding community, as they establish the new home of the Jamboree and a High Adventure Camp adjacent to park lands.

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Construction to close section of Blue Ridge Parkway for 1 Year

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

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The Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed to all traffic from Milepost 232.5 at Stone Mountain Overlook to Milepost 236.9 at Air Bellows Gap Overlook Parking beginning July 15, 2011, and lasting until the Summer of 2012. Detour traffic signage will direct Parkway visitors around the closure area via NC Route 18 and US Highway 21 through Laurel Springs and Sparta.

The Doughton Park Campground and Brinegar Cabin are open and accessible by traveling the Parkway from the south.

Beginning the Spring of 2012, additional closures and detours will follow between Milepost 218 near Cumberland Knob and Milepost 230. The Bluffs Lodge and Coffee Shop will remain closed for the season.

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 rehabilitates and reconstructs the most deficient wall sections.

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"Spectacular" Double Meteor Shower This Week

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Beginning later this week, and lasting for several nights, will be some of the best chances for observing meteors this year.

The lesser known Delta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to peak on Friday night, while the more famous and more productive Perseid meteor shower is just starting to ramp up.

The combined showers will produce anywhere between 15 and 30 shooting stars per hour.

According to the National Geographic News article, the simultaneous activity during the last days in July and early August will produce the best chance for meteor observers to see a lot of shooting stars during either shower.

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Mammoth Cave to commit $130,000 to backcountry trail repairs

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Mammoth Cave National Park will commit $130,000 to backcountry trail repairs, planned for August through November, Superintendent Patrick Reed announced last week. Trail users will experience some closures and delays. New trail construction of Big Hollow Trail will begin later this year.

“Extreme weather conditions over the last three years, plus increased use, have caused erosion and mires along several backcountry trails,” said Reed. “We are putting a five-year funding plan in place using Fee money to address the problem spots. Trails in the Lincoln and Wet Prong areas will be rehabbed this year.”

The park received $40,000 in NPS project funding for trail work this year. Beginning this year, Superintendent Reed intends to devote $90,000 from the park’s Recreation Fee Program to backcountry trails each year for the next five years.

The connector trail between Lincoln trailhead and Collie Ridge Road was identified in the Comprehensive Trail Management Plan as a target for trail work. The park’s trail monitoring program pointed to the upper end of the Wet Prong of Buffalo Trail as being one of those in the greatest need of repair.

During August, the Lincoln Trailhead and the Lincoln Connector Trail (.37 miles) will be closed for rehabilitation. The crew will define the trail, make it more sustainable by hardening it with dense-grade gravel, and construct runoff controls, like water bars and low bridges.

When Lincoln is complete, crews will move to the northern end of Wet Prong of Buffalo Trail, working in from the First Creek trailhead; both trails will be open September 2-5 to accommodate Labor Day weekend visitors. A few parking spaces at First Creek trailhead will be closed for storage of materials and equipment. Each week, the trail will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; crews will work a Monday-through-Thursday schedule. Riders and hikers will be allowed to pass through the work area; a cell phone number will be posted at both ends of the work zone for people on the trail to call the workers and inform them that a group is approaching.

Later this year, the park will begin construction on Big Hollow Trail and the extension of Raymer Hollow Trail.

• Big Hollow: Planning and environmental/archeological compliance are complete for the new Big Hollow Trail, a multi-loop bike-hike trail that will lie east of Green River Ferry Road-North. Bike use on Sal Hollow will be permitted until September 1, 2011, when Sal Hollow Trail will be designated for horse use and hiking only.

• Raymer Hollow Trail extension: A new extension of Raymer Hollow Trail will serve as a connector between Big Hollow Trail, Maple Springs Trailhead, Maple Springs Group Campground, and the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning. Horseback riding, bicycling and hiking will all be authorized on this trail.

Beginning in 2009, the park implemented a multi-year trail monitoring program. Information from this program helps park staff prioritize trail maintenance, identify volunteer projects, and quantify impacts on park resources and visitor experiences. During the summer of 2009, 2010, and 2011, Student Conservation Association interns monitored 39.4 miles of northside trails:

• assessing the physical parameters of trails (width, depth, length);
• observing general tread conditions;
• noting the number of unauthorized trails (shortcuts, parallel trails) present; and
• assessing the health of macro-invertebrates communities in nearby streams.

For the trails monitored in 2010, data showed 20 percent were highly eroded and 712 unauthorized short-cuts or short detours had been created. The stream health assessments showed the overall quality of the backcountry streams to be excellent.

Volunteers make a significant contribution to trail upkeep. The fall Backcountry Workdays will focus on the segment First Creek Trail that lies between the trailhead and Clell Road. Anyone interested in volunteering at the park may contact the Volunteer-In-Park Coordinator, Eddie Wells at 270-758-2143. The workdays are on September 24, October 15, and November 19.

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Gunter Fork Trail is closed

Monday, July 25, 2011

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The Gunter Fork Trail on the eastern end of the Great Smoky Mountains has been temporarily closed due to landslides. The 4.1-mile trail connects the Camel Gap Trail with the Balsam Mountain Trail. No word on how long the trail will be closed.

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American Hiking Society Announces 2011 National Trails Fund Recipients

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The American Hiking Society enjoyed another great year of awarding funds to selected trail projects across the country through its 2011 National Trails Fund. Thanks to the generous support of their Charter Sponsors, L.L. Bean and Cascade Designs (Therm-a-Rest and MSR), the National Trails Fund (NTF) awarded $27,000. This was a landmark year because NTF eclipsed the half million dollar mark with total awards of $514,500 since its inception in 1998.

“Our goal of providing access to trails for all Americans is more urgent and timely than ever,” stated Gregory Miller, American Hiking Society’s President. “Reaching the half million dollar milestone of awarded trail grants would not have been possible without the unwavering support from L.L. Bean and Cascade Designs.”

American Hiking Society received 114 applications from 38 states seeking funding from the NTF in 2011, of these, eight outstanding projects were chosen.

The following organizations have been awarded grants ranging between $500 and $5,000 to support their trail project:

• Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, CO
• Friends of Deer Creek, CA
• Great Eastern Trail Association, VA
• Horse-Shoe Trail Conservancy, PA
• Mohican Trails Club, OH
• North Fork Watershed Project, WV
• San Bernardino National Forest Association, CA
• Victor Hiking Trails, NY

The funds allow recipients to create, expand and renovate hiking trails throughout their areas. This year three recipients submitted plans to construct foot bridges along their trails. Foot bridges are important to protect environmentally sensitive areas and natural habitats and they also allow hikers to access unique areas. Other projects include installation of directional signage and plaques, which, enables hikers to feel safe, as well as preserving sensitive natural spaces by keeping hikers on the trail.

American Hiking Society awarded a youth specific grant to the San Bernardino National Forest Association. With these funds, the National Children’s Forest will manage a youth volunteer trail crew to maintain a 5.25 mile trail.

Applications will be accepted beginning in early November 2011 for the 2012 NTF grants so organizations can continue their great work of protecting our nation’s trails.

About American Hiking Society:

Founded in 1976, American Hiking Society is the only national, recreation-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting America's hiking trails, their surrounding natural areas and the hiking experience. Since its inception in 1998, the National Trails Fund has granted over a half a million dollars to trail projects across the United States. Community preservation efforts include land acquisition, constituency building campaigns and a variety of trail work projects. With more than 200,000 miles of trails in the United States, the National Trails Fund is the only national private grants program that helps trail-maintaining organizations build and improve hiking trails and galvanize volunteers to ensure long-term trail sustainability.

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Why is visitation in the Smokies down significantly?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

-Yogi Berra

Visitation to the Great Smoky Mountains dropped 17.6% in June, and is down 11.9% through the first six months of the year. This represent nearly a half million fewer visitors so far this year!

Park spokesman, Bob Miller, has been quoted in the press stating that managers aren't exactly sure as to the reasons for the decline, but think that high gas prices and the continuing weak economy are to blame.

It's true that a gallon of gas costs roughly $1.00 more when compared to last summer, Gross Domestic Product is down from last year, and the unemployment situation is roughly the same, but visitation across the entire National Park System is down only 1.1% for the YTD.

Incidentally, visitation to the Blue Ridge Parkway has jumped 23.5% this year. Superintendent Phil Francis, however, said the increase was due to the Parkway opening on time this year as a result of an easier winter that brought fewer trees down on the road. I'll buy that analysis when comparing the early spring numbers, but the BRP still saw an increase of 1.7% for the month of June.

So there has to be another reason(s) for the significant drop in the Smokies relative to the rest of the National Park System. Have there been significant increases in hotel and cabin rental rates? Is the park's reputation for being too crowded catching up with the general public? Did reports of the April Cades Cove tornado give the impresson that major portions of the park were damaged? Has Pigeon Forge and/or Gatlinburg lost any significant convention business?

Anybody have any insight?

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Much Pharr-ther down the road

Saturday, July 23, 2011

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Since the last time we checked-in on her, Jennifer Pharr Davis has made some serious progress in her quest to break the overall record for the fastest hike of the Appalachian Trail.

By my calculations she's hiked 1656 miles through 36 days, and has averaged 46 miles per day! During one 5-day stretch Jennifer put in a whopping 261 miles!

Although the terrain in Maine is quite tough, I was a little concerned that her daily mileage was a little low after averaging "just" 40 miles per day over the course of the first 10 days. But once she got into New York her daily mileage really picked up.

On the latest blog posting, which is likely through July 20th, her crew estimates that she will be finishing up at Springer Mountain in Georgia either on Sunday night, July 31st, or Monday morning, August 1st.

As of that last posting she was in southwest Virginia, and has 524 miles to go, meaning, she expects to average roughly 47.6 miles per day over the final 11 days of her quest. This also means she will have surpassed the current record of 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes, by roughly a half day!

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Patagonia Sale

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For the next couple of days Patagonia will be holding their 30% Off Sale on spring and summer styles. They're also offering Free shipping on orders over $75. Patagonia doesn't have many sales, so if you're a fan of their outdoor clothing, this might be a good opportunity to purchase some new threads at a discount. The sale ends on July 27th. Just click on the Ad for more information:

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Alcoa Grant to Benefit Teachers Near the Smokies

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Alcoa Foundation has granted $15,000 to Friends of the Smokies to support teacher enrichment programs, including teacher workshops and opportunities for three teachers to spend a summer working as park rangers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“We all share an interest in improving student achievement in science and technology,” said Liz Dupree, Chief of Resource Education at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “By sharing our science and teaching resources with local teachers, we can reach thousands more students each year.”

Using the Alcoa Foundation grant funds, Friends of the Smokies will work with National Park Service staff to offer two science and technology workshops for a total of 60 teachers in the spring and summer of 2012. Grant funds will also pay for stipends and uniforms for three teachers to assist with the park’s resource education programs in the summer of 2012. Through both programs, teachers will learn about the park’s newest science programs and technology, efforts to encourage inquiry-based learning, and suggested lesson plans that address recent state-mandated curriculum changes.

Alcoa’s Tennessee Operations is the world’s largest producer of rolled aluminum can sheet for beverage cans and is based in Blount County, Tennessee. Alcoa employs more than 1,200 workers at its smelting and fabrication plants in Blount County, its hydropower facilities, and its downtown Knoxville office. Their Community Advisory Board assists Alcoa’s Tennessee Operations in prioritizing its philanthropic resources by representing the needs of the board’s constituents and communities.

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Alcoa Foundation supports conservation and education work worldwide through its local and regional contacts. Alcoa Foundation has granted more than $350,000 to Friends of the Smokies since 2001, making them one of the top ten all-time donors to the Friends organization.

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Smokies Invites Comments on Proposed Historical Artifacts Storage Facility

Friday, July 22, 2011

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Managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are inviting comments on an Environmental Assessment which lays out the impacts of a proposed new storage facility which will preserve 422,000 historical artifacts and 450,000 archival records. These items help document the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other National Park Service (NPS) areas in East Tennessee.

The historic artifacts include pre-historic projectile points, logging-era equipment, vintage weapons, clothing, farm implements, tools and other possessions that would have been found on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days. The archival collections include such things as land records, oral histories, historic photos, and Park operating records.

Currently these items are scattered among numerous sites that do not meet National Park Service standards for physical security, or environmental controls of the temperature and humidity that are essential to protect the items from mold, insects, and fire. The proposed new facility would house all these irreplaceable materials in a central location which meets all the criteria for their long-term preservation.

The National Park Service is finalizing the design for a new approximately 13,000 square-foot Joint Curatorial Collection Facility which would be located on a 1.6 acre parcel of land adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center (GSMHC) in Townsend, TN. The land is currently owned by the GSMHC, but would be donated to the National Park Service before any construction would take place. When completed the facility would be owned and operated by the National Park Service.

The items to be stored in the new facility would come not only from the Smokies, but from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and Obed Wild and Scenic River. Consolidating the collections of all the NPS areas with the Smokies’ materials would both ensure their protection and also allow for a single Museum Curator to oversee all the collections.

The EA is available for review on-line at the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website: Comments may be submitted either through that website or by mail to: Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Attn: Joint Curatorial Facility, 107 Park Headquarters Rd. Gatlinburg, TN 37738. The comment period extends through Friday, August 26, 2011.

No word on whether or not the facility would include a public museum for people to be able to see some of these artifacts. Might be a great way for the Park to generate some revenue.

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Cleaning Up After the Tornado in Cades Cove

Crews in the Great Smoky Mountains continue to make progress in clean-up efforts in the aftermath of the April 27th EF-4 tornado that ripped through the western edge of Cades Cove. The Great Smoky Mountains Association recently published a short video providing an update on those efforts:

© GSMA 2011. All rights reserved.

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Don't urinate on the trails in Olympic National Park

Thursday, July 21, 2011

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Visitors to Olympic National Park are being advised not to pee near trails, or face the risk of being attacked by mountain goats.

This warning stems from a fatal goring that occurred in the park last fall. Witnesses at the time of the attack described an aggressive male mountain goat, weighing more than 350 pounds, that approached, followed and fatally gored a Port Angeles man while he was hiking last October.

The warning is a new measure park officials are instituting as part of their revised Mountain Goat Action Plan. Biologists point out that hikers that urinate along trails are turning the pathways into "long, linear salt licks", which attracts the mountain goats. To avoid potential conflicts, park officials are advising hikers and campers to urinate at least 50 yards from a trail or campsite.

The report also provides some examples of unacceptable mountain goat behavior:

* Goat does not retreat when comes in sight of people, lets people approach within 150 feet.

* Goat approaches and follows people on trails or at camp or rest sites.

* Goat aggressively seeks out areas where humans urinate and consumes soil and vegetation where human urine is deposited.

* Goat makes contact with clothing or equipment; chews gear seeking salt.

* Goat displays aggressive postures or behavior to people when encountered on or off trail.

I think this advice should be taken by anyone who hikes out west, not just in Olympic National Park. Long time readers of this blog may recall my run-in with a mountain goat family on Quandary Peak in Colorado last year. Looking back now, these goats clearly demonstrated "unacceptable mountain goat behavior".

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Backcountry Campsites 84 & 85 Changed to Reservation Only

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced a decision to transition backcountry campsites 84 and 85, along the Hazel Creek Trail in North Carolina, from non-reservation campsites to reservation-only. This change takes effect on August 1, 2011. The decision was made as a result of repeated bear-human conflicts, which have necessitated lengthy closures of these two sites in the past couple of years.

Campsites 84 and 85 are currently available on a first-come first-served basis, which very often results in the sites being overcrowded. One consequence of overcrowding is lack of space on the food storage cables for everyone to properly store their food and other odorous items that tend to attract bears.

Park officials expect that limiting the number of people at these campsites to the actual capacity will help ensure all campers have access to the food storage cables. When food and odorous items are properly stored bears have less incentive to visit campsites, which means fewer opportunities for bear-human conflicts. Fewer bear-human conflicts will, in turn, reduce the likelihood of campsite closures and allow more visitors to enjoy use of these sites during the season.

The reservation requirement will not affect the current capacity which allows a maximum number of 6 campers per night at campsite 84 and 10 people and 6 horses per night at campsite 85.

To make a reservation, campers must call the Backcountry Reservation Office at 865/436-1231. The office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily and reservations may be made up to one month in advance. In addition, campers must obtain an overnight backcountry camping permit, available at 16 backcountry permit stations throughout the Park.

For more information about proper food storage, backcountry regulations or trip planning, visit the Park’s website anytime at or call the Park’s Backcountry Information Office at 865/436-1297. The office is open 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m. to noon.

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The Next Great Mountain Towns

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Hikers and adventurers are already familiar with towns like Asheville, Gatlinburg and Damascus, but the Southern Appalachians are full of lesser-known small towns that boast vibrant scenes and access to incredible adventure. Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine has compiled a list of 11 candidates that are poised to become the South’s Next Great Mountain Town.

A couple of the towns I had never heard of, and only one on this list have I ever stepped foot in: Bryson City. In case you want to start checking out some these towns for yourself, author Graham Averill provides some important information for each town - where to play, eat, mingle, and what some of the top nearby events are for each town.

You can check out the list by clicking here.

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REI Awards the ATC a $20,000 Grant for Appalchian Trail Community Program

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is pleased to announce that it has received a $20,000 grant from the REI, a national outdoor retailer committed to connecting people with nature. The funds will go towards recruiting and training Appalachian Trail Community™ Ambassadors, in support of the Appalachian Trail Community™ program.

The Appalachian Trail Community™ program is designed to recognize communities that promote and protect the A.T. Towns, counties, and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by A.T. hikers and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. The program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T. To date the ATC has approved 11 communities for designation and plans to designate another three in the upcoming year.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited to have the opportunity to expand and support our Appalachian Trail Community™ program,” stated Julie Judkins, Community Program Manager of the ATC. “Thanks to organizations like REI, we are able to increase capacity and resources to our trailside communities.”

The Appalachian Trail Community™ Ambassadors initiative was announced at the ATC’s 2011 Biennial Conference on July 1-8, 2011. Ambassadors will coordinate a series of Trail-related volunteer stewardship events over the course of one year. Ambassadors will connect community citizens and potential new volunteers with ongoing and new ATC and affiliated Trail-Club events, functions, and volunteer opportunities such as invasive-exotic plant monitoring and control, or trail crews. They will act on behalf of the A.T. at community meetings, events, and assist in support of ATC initiatives.

REI has provided support to the ATC for nearly a decade. Annually, REI dedicates a portion of its operating profits to help protect and restore the environment, increase access to outdoor activities, and encourage involvement in responsible outdoor recreation. For more information about REI, visit

“REI applauds the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s commitment to preserving one of the nation’s most treasured trails,” said Angie Perez, REI’s Northeast District Outreach and Events Administrator. “This program complements our vision of connecting individuals, families and entire communities to nature through volunteerism and outdoor stewardship.”

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Land trusts win $2.7 million to protect scenic byways

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

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North Carolina’s land trusts have for a second time been entrusted with federal funds to help them complete land protection projects that will protect the views from 20 of our state’s scenic byways, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and three National Byways.

The Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program recently awarded $2.7 million to the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and 10 local land trusts to advance the permanent protection of natural, historic, cultural and visual resources along the designated scenic byways.

Land trusts will use the new grant funding to build on accomplishments under a 2006 Scenic Byways grant, which helped 10 land trusts prepare conservation plans along 25 Scenic Byways in North Carolina. The 2011 grant will pay to implement elements of those plans, such as outreach to landowners regarding conservation efforts and acquiring property and conservation easements, and will finance new conservation plans along additional byways.

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) will use funds from this second grant to help with two land acquisition projects along Drovers Road Scenic Byway: a 26-acre trailhead property in Henderson County and 90 additional acres on the summit of scenic Bearwallow Mountain, part of an ongoing effort to protect the entire peak. The funds will also pay to create scenic byway corridor plans for six routes in Western North Carolina.

As in the first phase of the project, land trusts will team up with local, state and federal agencies, and other non-profit partners to protect the byway landscapes that communicate to travelers about North Carolina’s history, culture, geography and wildlife habitat.

The protection projects will not only safeguard scenic farms, other landscapes and critical wildlife habitat along the byways, but will help to strengthen the economies of byways communities and expand recreational opportunities for local residents and visitors.

"State figures show that tourists in North Carolina spent a record $17 billion last year, directly supporting 185,500 jobs across the state," CTNC Acting Executive Director Margaret Newbold said. "North Carolina is renowned for its scenic drives, from the Outer Banks Scenic Byway to the Sandhills Drive and Pottery Road in the Piedmont to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which by itself welcomes 16 million to 17 million visitors a year. We must protect the breathtaking natural landscapes that bring people to these regions."

The 11 land trusts involved in the 2011 phase of the project are: Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, Sandhills Area Land Trust, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Triangle Land Conservancy, Piedmont Land Conservancy, Catawba Lands Conservancy, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

The targeted routes traverse rural North Carolina and include the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina’s only All-American Byway), three National Byways (Cherohala, Forest Heritage and Outer Banks) and 16 State Byways. (Funding for a project along an additional State Byway was approved but the project is no longer in the works.)

CTNC will administer the grant and also will use a share of the grant funds to preserve the Blue Ridge Parkway’s scenic and natural corridor at the Heffner Gap Overlook and parking area, as well as provide public access to almost a quarter-mile of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVT). CTNC will acquire property adjacent to the Overlook and link 1.5 protected miles of the OVT to the north with 1.7 miles of the OVT immediately to the south. The grant will also help CTNC identify and map additional significant natural, cultural, and scenic properties along the Blue Ridge Parkway for protection.

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Top 10 North Carolina Waterfalls near Asheville

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North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville is home to hundreds of waterfalls, so the choices can be overwhelming. According to the readers of the popular online travel vacation guide, here are the Top 10 Waterfalls that visitors should not miss during the summer and fall of 2011:

1. Sliding Rock: Each summer, thousands of people of all ages slip and slide down this favorite natural, 60-foot cascade down a sloping boulder in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard and 38 miles from downtown Asheville. Lifeguards work daily and facilities include restrooms and changing rooms.

2. Looking Glass Falls: You don't even have to get out of your car to see this 60-foot waterfall, located near Sliding Rock along U.S. 276 north of Brevard, about ten miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Enjoy the view from the parking area or take stairs down to the base and dip your toes in the water.

3. DuPont State Forest: A three-mile easy hike takes you to three waterfalls: Hooker, Triple and the 150-foot High Falls. While swimming is not allowed here, Triple Falls has plenty of space by the water for a picnic on large rock outcroppings.

4. Graveyard Fields: This popular hiking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway features a loop trail that takes you to two waterfalls on the Yellowstone Prong. One waterfall, Second Falls, is just 1/3 mile from the parking area.

5. Rainbow Falls: This spectacular 150-foot waterfall is located in the Nantahala National Forest. Park and take the hiking trail from adjacent Gorges State Park. Continue on the trail to Turtleback Falls for sliding and swimming.

6. Linville Falls: Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Erwin’s View Trail is a moderate hike of 1.6 miles round trip with four overlooks, each with beautiful views of the waterfalls and spectacular Linville Gorge.

7. Crabtree Falls: This beautiful 70-foot waterfall, located near Linville Falls, is accessed by a 2.5-mile loop hiking trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

8. Upper Whitewater Falls: The highest waterfall east of the Rockies plunges 411 feet. Enjoy the a majestic view of the waterfall via an easy, short paved trail.

9. Hickory Nut Falls: This 404-foot waterfall at Chimney Rock Park was featured in the movie The Last of the Mohicans. It is a perfect example of what geologists call a "hanging valley." A hiking trail takes you to its base, complete with a picnic table.

10. Dry Falls: Located near Highlands, get the rare treat of walking safely behind this 75-foot waterfall in the Nantahala National Forest. Nearby, drive behind Bridal Veil Falls.

For details, photos and videos on these and other waterfalls near Asheville, Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.

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Hannah Mountain Trail Reopens

Monday, July 18, 2011

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According to the latest update on the Great Smoky Mountains Temporary Road Closures page, the Hannah Mountain Trail has reopened. The trail had been closed as a result of the tornado that swept through the far western end of Cades Cove on April 27th. Crews continue to make progress on opening the trails that were closed after more than 4500 trees were downed by the EF-4 tornado. Five trails, as well as three campsites, still remain closed at this point:

• Backcountry Campsites 3, 11, 15

• Beard Cane Trail

• Cooper Road Trail from the Beard Cane/Hatcher Mountain Trails junction to the Cades Cove Loop Road

• Hatcher Mountain Trail North of its intersection with Little Bottoms Trail

• Rabbit Creek Trail from its junction with Hannah Mountain Trail east to the junction of Abrams Falls Trailhead

• Wet Bottom Trail

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Battle brewing on the Upper Chattooga River

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Late last week, the US Forest Service released a controversial Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) on managing recreation uses on the upper segment of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River. The announcement includes the selection of a preferred alternative (number 12) that would allow high-quality whitewater boating on the upper river in the winter and preserve a boat-free experience for other users the rest of the year.

“We chose Alternative 12 as our preferred alternative because it would protect the river’s outstandingly remarkable values while allowing whitewater boaters, trout anglers and other forest visitors to co-exist on the upper Chattooga with minimal conflict,” said Paul Bradley, forest supervisor on the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests. “Our preferred alternative also would set new capacities to protect opportunities for solitude, something people who visit this special place value more than anything else.”

However, this didn't sit to well with American Whitewater, who fired off a press release late yesterday stating that the DEA continues to "deny the American public the simple right to float in canoes and kayaks down the Wild and Scenic Upper Chattooga River for most or all of the year depending on the section of river."

The release goes on to point out that: "paddlers remain singled out for inequitable and harsh limits based solely on the Agency’s unfounded belief that user conflicts would occur if boating were allowed."

“Let’s be clear,” says Kevin Colburn, American Whitewater’s National Stewardship Director. “The user conflicts the USFS is basing the boating limits on are imaginary: they have never occurred, do not occur elsewhere, and will not occur on the Upper Chattooga. This federal analysis of imaginary impacts is costing taxpayers millions of dollars, and is damaging the relationship that citizens have with the agency, the river, and each other.”

The conflict comes from the belief that boaters are creating numerous unauthorized campsites and social trails along the river.

The DEA is available for a 30-day public review. During this time period, comments can be sent to For more background and more information on the DEA, please click here.

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US Forest Service Finds Global Forests Absorb One-Third of Carbon Emissions Annually

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Forests play a more significant role in removing carbon from the atmosphere than first reported - by absorbing one-third of carbon emissions annually, a new U.S. Forest Service study says.

“Forests provide us with abundant clean air,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This study shows the important role global forests play in keeping the air clean and it also broadens our understanding of how climate change relates to forest management in today’s world.”

Forests absorb carbon like a giant sponge into what scientists call a carbon sink. Oceans serve as the only other natural source for absorption of significant amounts of carbon. Until these new findings, many experts said forests played a less important role in removing carbon from the air we breathe. Today’s report indicates otherwise.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and a team of scientists from around the world, was recently published in the journal Science online, at the Science Express website, an online publication of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science.

One of the key findings in the study is that global forests have annually removed 2.4 billion tons of carbon and absorbed 8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or about one-third of fossil fuel emissions annually from the period of 1990-2007.

“The new information suggests forests alone account for the most significant terrestrial carbon sink, and that non-forest lands collectively cannot be considered a major carbon absorption sink,” said Dr. Yude Pan, a U.S. Forest Service scientist and a lead author of the study.

The study reveals the dominant role of tropical forests. Tropical forests that have not suffered from deforestation absorb enormous amounts of carbon, more than all other northern hemisphere forests combined. The analysis also identified an additional large carbon uptake of 1.6 billion tons per year in tropical re-growth forests that are recovering from deforestation and logging, which partially compensates for a large carbon source from tropical deforestation.

The study also highlights the risk of passively relying on forests to continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Such carbon sequestration is reversible through increased drought, wildfire and forest degradation.

The study is an important example of the use of monitoring data on the state and change of forests around the world, and of the need for global cooperation among the scientific community to address the impacts of human activities on the earth system. For a copy of the study, e-mail

So how does this new information change all the existing climate change/global warming models being used to make predictions about the future? More importantly, how many other climate model inputs are incorrect due to faulty assumptions or lack of hard scientific data?

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NPS Introduces Online Water Safety Lessons

Sunday, July 17, 2011

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Heading to the water is a great way to beat the heat of summer. However, it is important to take precautions. Before hitting the beach, have the kids play two new National Park Service Junior Ranger WebRanger games to learn about rip currents and general water safety. They can be found at

According to the Great Smoky Mountains website, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the park.

“Millions of people every year enjoy swimming, fishing, paddling, and boating in national parks,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “However, regardless of age, every person needs to be properly prepared around water. This point was reinforced last month at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. A seven-year old girl enjoying the waves on an air mattress was swept out into rough waters and flipped off the mattress. She survived only by staying calm and recalling instructions from a swim class she took last year. She floated on her back and tread water for 17 minutes until a rescue boat could reach her. Although exhausted, she was OK because she knew what to do in an emergency situation.”

The WebRanger activities present scientifically sound information but in a child-friendly manner. The water safety module includes information about appropriate floatation devices and swimming locations. The rip current activity teaches children how to identify and escape from this common shore hazard. Even the most seasoned swimmer cannot go against a rip current. It is important to stay calm and swim parallel to the beach until free of the current. If unable to swim out of it, remember that rip currents only travel about 50 yards before dwindling.

The games were developed by the country’s leading experts on water safety, including scientists and practitioners from the National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Life Guarding Association.

"These interactive games are the result of an incredible collaboration between many groups interested in increasing awareness and saving lives,” Jarvis said. “We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors and we want everyone to go home safely.”

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Nature Valley's PreserveTheParks to benefit Smokies

Saturday, July 16, 2011

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As summer travel season heats up, Nature Valley® has partnered with travel expert and TV personality Samantha Brown to encourage Americans to experience the beauty of our national parks, while helping to raise awareness for the importance of preservation efforts. The program, called the National Parks Project, benefits the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), whose mission is to help preserve America’s national parks for generations to come. Nature Valley is making a $400,000 flat donation to the NPCA and this summer, consumers can help raise an additional $100,000 for our parks by entering Universal Product Codes (UPC) from specially marked packages of Nature Valley products at

How to Get Involved

Our national parks face chronic budget shortfalls and natural threats that have the potential to limit, and even degrade, their preservation. “Insufficient funding and support threatens the quality of our parks and our ability to preserve them,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. “With the upcoming centennial of the National Parks Service in 2016, now is the best time for Americans to rally behind our parks – by visiting them, volunteering or helping raise funds through initiatives like the National Parks Project.”

This summer, consumers can join Samantha Brown and Nature Valley by:

• Visiting and entering UPCs from Nature Valley products to help raise money for the NPCA. For each UPC entered now through October 31, 2011, Nature Valley has agreed to donate $.10 to the NPCA, up to $100,000, to support their preservation work near various parks across the country.

◦ Beginning July 12, 2011, Nature Valley is increasing donations to the NPCA from $.10 to $1.00 for a short time (maximum donation still $100,000). Visit to learn more about this promotion.

• Entering for the chance to win a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks at or the Nature Valley Facebook page. No purchase necessary. See website for complete rules and information on how to enter.

• Browsing the “Preserve the Parks” section of the Nature Valley Facebook page for park tips and inspiring photos from Samantha Brown and Nature Valley to help them make the most of their national parks experience this summer.

The National Parks Project

This marks the second year of the National Parks Project, a partnership between Nature Valley and the NPCA. Nature Valley’s $400,000 flat donation and the additional funds raised from UPC entries, up to $100,000, supports restoration projects surrounding six national parks this summer and throughout the year, including:

• Acadia National Park
• Biscayne National Park
• Grand Teton National Park
• Great Smoky Mountains National Park
• Joshua Tree National Park
• Yellowstone National Park

Samantha Brown’s involvement with the National Parks Project represents a growing list of public figures that have shown their support for our parks since the program’s launch, including most recently, actor Josh Holloway.

“Nature Valley loves the national parks and we’re passionate about their preservation,” said Scott Baldwin, marketing manager for Nature Valley. “We want to help remind families and individuals to enjoy nature this summer, and visit some of the beautiful parks in their own backyard.”

Water and Hiking Sandal Sale - Up to 30% off

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The Cataloochee Valley

Friday, July 15, 2011

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Interesting (artistic?) video of the Cataloochee Valley by Matt Brass. Apparently he and his buddies recently spent a few days camping in the southeastern portion of the Smokies when they shot this:

Cataloochee (GSMNP) from Matt Brass on Vimeo.

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Road work on the Cherohala Skyway

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Cherokee National Forest officials announced yesterday that the Tennessee Department of Transportation will be working on the Cherohala Skyway beginning in July, and continuing through August. The work will be ocurring on Mondays through Thursdays.

TN DOT will be resurfacing and installing new guardrails along the entire length of the Skyway, and be working on a large landslide near mile marker 7. Sections of the Skyway will be down to one lane, therefore visitors should be prepared to experience slower traffic and long waits.

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Guided hike to Cattail Peak

Thursday, July 14, 2011

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In celebration of its seasonal beer, Cattail Peak Organic Wheat Beer, the Highland Brewing Company, in partnership with staff from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, will be hosting a free guided hike this Saturday to Cattail Peak in Yancey County.

This will be a strenuous hike along the Black Mountain Crest Trail, starting from the parking lot on top of Mount Mitchell. The hike will follow the trail north along the crest of the Black Mountain Range and cross famous peaks such as Mount Craig and Mount Big Tom. From Big Tom Peak hikers will follow the trail into Big Tom Gap and continue to the top of 6516-foot Cattail Peak. This hike is about 7 miles roundtrip and is a challenging climb with some uneven footing and a tricky boulder section.

Start time for the hike is 10:00 am on Saturday, July 16th, from Mount Mitchell State Park.

For more information, please contact

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Oconaluftee Old Time Music Jam Sessions

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is starting an acoustic old time jam session every third Saturday of the month starting July 16 at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

“Musical expression was and still is often a part of daily life in the southern mountains, and mountain music is strongly tied to the Smokies history and culture,” said Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger, Oconaluftee Visitor Center. She continued, “We would like to invite musicians to play traditional Appalachian tunes such as gospel songs and traditional ballads as they were played on the porches in the old days.”

The jam will be held on the porch of the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center which offers nice roof cover for shade and protection from rain in a beautiful setting. “We would like to grow this event so that it becomes part of the experience of the many visitors who come to the visitor center. The idea is to perhaps perpetuate the customs of handing down songs and music through the generations. Visitors have an opportunity to learn and observe first hand these traditions,” Doucette continued.

Anyone who plays and would like to share their talents can join in the music gathering regardless of playing level even beginner musicians. The jams will follow an “around-the-circle” format, where folks may lead tunes/songs or pass the tune choice to the next person. “We hope people will get their instrument and come on out to enjoy a step back in time with us.”

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l’Etape du Tour: Mission Accomplished!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is the final posting by guest blogger, Michael Lowe. On Monday of this week, during one of the Tour de France rest days, Michael had an opportunity to ride in the Étape Du Tour, an epic cycling event that takes riders from the town of Modane to the famous and storied climb of L'Alpe D'Huez. Below is his story and some of the photos he took along the way. Major kudos and congratulations for conquering the mountains of France!

Made it! Exciting, difficult, hot, beautiful, rewarding, memorable ... all of these words and more would apply. I've had some long tough rides in my career, but this was one of the hardest overall, and DEFINITELY the hardest back to back to back set of climbs I have ever done. Hats off - or "Chapeau!" - to the Tour riders who do this near the end of this year's Tour. They will do it with 18 stages already in their legs. It will be a real challenge!

Climbing the Col du Telegraphe:

The Col du Telegraphe was a long steady climb in the cool of mid-morning and under the shade of many trees. It was not that difficult, though it did exact a cost. The Col du Galibier on the other hand was a real challenge. The sun was high, the heat was in the 80's, and there was no shade and no wind. But the views were spectacular - especially against the clear blue sky. From many of the tight curves one could look back down and see thousands of riders stretched out over miles of roads - like a long, long line of ants.

One thing of note for you hikers. As you climb a ridge in the Smokies there are no signs saying 10 km to the top AND the grade is 12%. I kinda liked the distance alert. But I could have done without the gradient info! My legs were already telling me about that aspect.

At the top of the Galibier I felt great! My body and legs were good. I celebrated with a photo of the descent behind me. Looking at it I realized I would not be taking photos while riding down at 40 mph. (By the way, hiking downhill is irksome as your feet slide forward in your boots. Riding a bike down a steep slope really gets to the hands. Squeezing those brake handles gets pretty old!)

Atop the Col du Galibier:

After the long 20 plus mile descent there was a quick flat stretch and then we hit the bottom of Alpe d'Huez. It surprised me. I was quickly in my lowest gear as the first 2 km average 10%, with little ramparts much higher than that. No wonder the strong climbers launch their attacks right at the start. I settled into a rhythm, stopped taking many photos and concentrated. It was hot. My legs were tired. The big sport was watching the signs counting down the corners - 21 , 20 , 19 , 18 ... I learned on some of the very steep parts that I can ride 3 mph and not fall over!

At the bottom of l'Alpe d’Huez:

In short, it was a sufferfest of the first magnitude, but I made it to the finish. Out of the 9500 riders who started, I understand that 3000 did not. Including my roommate. His hamstring gave out at turn 15, so he walked the remaining 5 miles, pushing his bike. The official results will say DNF by his name but he hiked over the finish line at 5:15 pm, took a photo of himself, and coasted the five blocks to the hotel. No medal, but he DID finish!

Michael - what ever happened to that red polka dot jersey and those podium girls you were telling me about???

I finished in just under seven hours. I only averaged 10 mph! But while it was tough, it was also a memorable ride. If you would like to see the ride, tune in to the Tour on the Versus Channel next Friday, July 22nd.

Thanks for reading my blog entries! I hope they were a pleasant diversion. Keep up your support of this website, and I will be looking for you out on the foot trails!!

Michael Lowe splits his time between Louisville, KY (his home) and Bristol, VA (his workplace). He's an avid cyclist, and also enjoys writing, photography, gardening, travel and hiking. He's hiked portions of the AT inside GSMNP, but completing a thru hike of the entire AT remains on his bucket list. His notes on l'Etape were written as a friend in support of this site, and we'd like to say thanks by pointing out that if you're a fan of adventure fantasy, we recommend Michael's books Wizardmont and Bryunzet, the first two parts of his Promise of the Stones series. If you're a fan of history, check out Charlotte's Story, the true story of how Michael's mother survived as a young girl in Berlin, Germany between 1943 and 1951.

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Visitor Drowns In Little River

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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A drowning victim was recovered yesterday from a section of the Little River at the Townsend Wye, a popular day use area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dick Chijioke, 34, from Plano, Texas, was tubing with his family when his rental tube tipped and he fell into a 12-foot deep pool of water. Eyewitnesses reported that he failed to resurface after he slipped out of the innertube. Several people from his group, along with other visitors, attempted to find him underwater before emergency personnel arrived.

The park received a report about the accident shortly before noon from Blount County 911. The Blount County Special Operations Dive team was called in to assist with their underwater rescue gear. They located Chijioke about an hour later near the area where he fell into the water. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him on the way to Blount Memorial Hospital, but he was pronounced dead by hospital officials at 1:05 p.m. Townsend Police and Volunteer Fire Departments, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, and Blount County Fire Department also assisted.

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Keeping Up With The Pharr Davis's

Sunday, July 10, 2011

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Last time we checked-in with Jennifer Pharr Davis she had already completed 242 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and was on her way to tackling the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

Two weeks later, Jennifer is now in New York with another 460 miles under belt (through 18 days reported on her blog).

Davis is attempting to break the overall Appalachian Trail speed record of 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes. Jennifer will need to average roughly 46.5 miles per day. So far she's averaging a little more than 42 miles per day, but this includes some very tough terrain in Maine and New Hampshire.

Around day 5 of her A.T. odyssey she started feeling severe pain from shin splints. Using a regimen of tape, ice, ibuprofen and compression socks, she's been able to manage the pain, and seems to be on the road to recovery.

While in the White Mountains she also had some stomach problems, and saw a lot of nasty weather - rain, wind and sleet. But in the last few days her quest seems to be hitting stride.

You can keep up with her adventure by visiting her blog.

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