Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hiker Hell: Two Hikers Seriously Injured In Consecutive Falls

Late this past week NPS Digest reported that two hikers in the Lost Valley area of the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, were seriously injured in consecutive falling accidents on Monday, October 24th.

Brian Anderson, 22, and Jennifer Anderson, 23, were hiking with another couple near Eden Falls when they decided to climb to another cave beyond the end of the designated trail. Brian entered a V-shaped canyon slot where he slipped on wet leaves, slid approximately 20 feet, and fell another 40 to 50 feet to a rock basin above Eden Falls Cave. Jennifer heard the sounds of the accident, and while investigating, she too fell down the same slope. One of their friends was able to reach them while the other left the scene to call for help.

Park dispatch was notified in the early evening, and Buffalo National River Search and Rescue was called out. A unified command was established that included the park and Newton County Search and Rescue. First responders arrived to assist the couple at 7 p.m. and NorthArk medics arrived at approximately 9 p.m. and began patient care on scene.

A total of 36 search and rescue personnel assembled two high-angle “lowers” to safely transport the victims downslope, where they were transferred to a litter. The first lower involved a drop of 30 feet; the second lower was 40 feet. The carryout team transported the victims via litter two miles to the Lost Valley trailhead, where they were transferred to an ambulance and transported to a waiting medevac helicopter on Highway 43. Owing to the severity of his injuries, a compound fracture of both bones of his right forearm and right ankle as well as head injuries, Brian was transported first. Jennifer suffered two fractured ankles.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Greenbrier Off-trail GSMA Hike of the Month

The latest edition of the Cub Report from the Great Smoky Mountains Association announced an off-trail hike in the Greenbrier area as their hike of the month for November.

On Saturday, November 19th, Carey Jones will lead a Naturalist Ramble on the Rhododendron Creek Trail, a trail that's no longer maintained by the Park Service. There are several waterfalls on the trail, as well as some old home sites. The hike is considered easy, although there are 1 or 2 creek crossings without foot logs, and is an approximately 4-mile round trip hike. For those interested, the GSMA asks that you meet at the Greenbrier Ranger Station no later than 10 a.m., and that you bring some water and a snack, and a hiking stick.

There is a $10 fee for adults and children 12 and under are free. There is a limit of 20 participants. For reservations call 865.436.7318 ext 222 or 254.

* Also, for Great Smoky Mountains history buffs, check out this online crossword puzzle on the GSMA website.


Park Prescription: Take a Hike and Call me in the Morning

Amid the twin crises of health care and a tough economy, national parks and protected lands are a largely unrealized source of public health benefits. National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis says, “Being outdoors has positive effects on health that don’t cost a dime.”

Jarvis will share more of those thoughts in a keynote speech Sunday in Washington before thousands of public health leaders at the 139th meeting of the American Public Health Association.

To cover Jarvis’ speech visit the APHA press site:

National parks have always been loved for their symbolism and scenery, Jarvis said, “but they can also act as medicine and therapy.”

Simply taking an hour-long walk in a natural environment can bring about a drop in blood pressure and heart rate because of the immediate relaxation you experience. And because health care costs are center stage in the debate about the nation’s economy and its future, “When you consider the power of the outdoors and its universal – and free – availability, there’s no health care investment that yields a better return,” Jarvis said.

National parks and all public lands and open space have enormous potential for our good health but we need to move beyond potential, Jarvis said. “The National Park Service is engaged in a wide-ranging effort to bring the outdoors into the public discussion about public health and to expand alternatives for Americans seeking a more active lifestyle, making choices about nutrition or reawakening their relationship with nature.”

National Park Service actions include:

* A pilot program with concessioners in select parks to offer nutritious, locally grown food. It encourages healthy eating habits and sustains the local economy.

* “Park Prescriptions.” Partnerships with local health care providers who actually prescribe a park visit to get patients outside to exercise and get the benefits of sun and fresh air. Three national parks – Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, Indiana Dunes and Golden Gate – are participating so far.

Jarvis said local, regional and state parks are also part of the greater outdoors health resource. The National Park Service, for 45 years, has helped communities develop local places where residents can get physical exercise through its Rivers and Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. “In Little Rock, Arkansas we partnered with the city and doctors to establish a trail known as the Medical Mile that offers not only a waterfront view but exhibits and media with a focus on health and exercise.”

The connection of people and nature is at the center of the worldwide Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement. Last spring, the National Park Service hosted the Healthy Parks, Healthy People – US conference to discuss ways to address America’s human and environmental health challenges.

The actions and partnerships Jarvis describes are part of a five-year plan – A Call to Action – to prepare the National Park Service for its second century of stewardship when the bureau turns 100 in 2016.

Given the unprecedented challenges we face, the future demands not only a new way of looking at the natural world and our place in it, but an understanding of how our physical well-being is tied to that of the environment.

“Parks are going to be a critical factor in this equation,” Jarvis said. “For the health of the human species and of the global ecosystem that supports us, we need to reach back to what our rural forbears instinctively knew: That we are part of the natural world, that it sustains us in ways that are profound and absolutely essential, that whether we’re aware of it or not, there is a part of us that is always outdoors.”


Friday, October 28, 2011

Smokies to Conduct Prescribed Burns in Cades Cove Next Week

Fire managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park plan to conduct a series of prescribed burns of fields in Cades Cove on Tuesday through Friday, November 1st through 4th if weather conditions permit. Park managers plan to burn several tracts totaling about 550 acres.

The selected fields are being burned as part of a cost-effective strategy to prevent the open fields from being reclaimed by forest. The Park contracts to mow about 950 acres of fields that are clearly visible from the Cades Cove Loop Road twice a year. Other fields that are less visible from the Loop Road, totaling around 1,500 acres, are kept open by burning or mowing on a three year rotation.

Without being either mowed or burned, the open meadows of the Cove would very quickly revert to pine and hardwood forest. That process would both alter the historically open landscape which characterized the Cove during its period of settlement, and deprive Park visitors of the excellent wildlife viewing opportunities that the Cove affords.

The burn will be conducted by the members of the Great Smoky Wildland Fire Module and the Cumberland Gap Wildland Fire Module, with additional resources from Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The Fire Modules are National Park Service teams which travel throughout the Southeast to conduct prescribed burns on National Park Service units as well as other federal lands. Firefighters and a Park engine will be assigned each day to ignite the grass lands and to make sure the fire stays within its prescribed boundaries. Strips of grass surrounding each field slated for burning have been mowed short to provide containment lines.

"At this point we do not expect to have to close the Cades Cove Loop Road, but will monitor the situation for smoke or other safety hazards," said Great Smoky Wildland Fire Module Supervisor, Shane Paxton. "The public, of course, will notice smoke in the valley but it will dissipate quickly and not unduly impact their visit," he said.


Smokies Elk Management Plan Receives Approval

In June of 2010, the Great Smoky Mountains published an Environmental Assessment (EA) outlining the findings of the 8-year experimental elk release (2001-2008), and to determine the most appropriate and feasible approach for permanent management of elk in the park. Late last week the park announced (PDF) that their "Preferred Alternative" would have no significant impact on the environment, public health, public safety, threatened or endangered species, historical sites, or any other areas of the park that offer unique characteristics of the region.

The 8-year experimental elk release proved that a sustainable elk population has been established in the Smokies. The only question that remained for park officials was how to manage the herd on a long-term basis.

As part of their "Preferred Alternative" for managing the herd, the park has established three goals:

1) GSMNP will maintain a healthy elk population that is managed within the capabilities of GSMNP and in consideration of other land uses within the park.

2) GSMNP will identify, monitor, and mitigate when necessary impacts of elk and the elk population on vegetation or other natural or cultural resources.

3) GSMNP will maintain safe viewing opportunities of elk, while educating the public regarding their natural history and biology.

The latest Elk Progress Report, from July 2011, reports that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding land is currently home to approximately 140 elk. During the 2011 calving season, 19 calves were born (so far, at that point), 16 of which have survived.

Thanks to the National Parks Traveler for pointing this report out.

Update: here's a press release the park issued this afternoon.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

LeConte Hiking Feats

The latest edition of the Cub Report from the Great Smoky Mountains Association is reporting that three hiking feats and records were set in the Smokies or on the AT this summer.

I was already aware of the fastest hike ever on the entire 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, set by Jennifer Pharr Davis back in July. However, I was not aware of two amazing accomplishments set on Mt. LeConte last month:

* On September 22nd, Davis Soehn and friends hiked all 6 trails to Mt. LeConte in 22 hours and 2 minutes, hiking roughly 50 miles in the process. That's just over 2.25 miles per hour - every hour! You can read their report here.

* Another man set a record by hiking the most trips to Mt. LeConte in a single day. On September 30th John Northrup hiked to LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail 5 times in a day. That's 50 miles in just under 17 hours (just under 3 miles per hour!). Last year he hiked all 6 trails to Mt. LeConte and all the overlooks in under 17 hours.

The GSMA didn't mention (though they did in a previous issue) that David Worth broke the record last May for the fastest trek across the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies. David ran/walked/trekked 72 miles - from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap - in 14 hours and 50 minutes (a little less than 5 miles per hour!).

Congrats to all!


American Hiking Society Announces 2012 National Trails Fund

The American Hiking Society announced yesterday that they will begin accepting applications for the 2012 National Trails Fund on November 1, 2011. AHS is a non-profit that is dedicated to promoting and protecting foot trails and the hiking experience and provides support to grassroots trail organizations around the country.

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. Awards typically range from $500 to $5,000 per project.

Projects that will be considered include:

* Those with hikers as the primary constituency, though multiple human-powered trail projects are eligible

* Projects which secure trail lands, including acquisition of trails and trail corridors and the costs associated with acquiring conservation easements

* Those that result in visible and substantial ease of access, improved hiker safety and/or avoidance of environmental damage

* Ventures which promote constituency building surrounding specific trail projects, including volunteer recruitment and support

All applications must be submitted to American Hiking Society by midnight on December 15, 2011. Grants will be announced and awarded in spring of 2012. View grant guidelines and requirements at


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway section near Asheville to close for several weeks

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announced earlier today that a section of the Parkway, just south of Asheville, will be closed for up to seven weeks.

Beginning on November 1, 2011, and until further notice, the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed for all visitor use from Milepost 388.3 at US Route 25/Hendersonville Road to Milepost 393.6 at NC Route 191/Brevard Road. This Parkway closure is necessary for contractors to repair deteriorating conditions on the south approach of the bridge over Interstate 26. Repairs are expected to be complete no later than Monday, December 5, 2011.

The detour will direct visitors off the Parkway north of the closure at Milepost 384.7 to US Route 74 north, then to I-40 west, then to NC Route 191 south and back to the Parkway at Milepost 393.6 where NC Route 191 passes under. The detour is approximately 11.5 miles long and expected to take approximately 25 minutes to drive. The Parkway will remain open between US Route 74 and US Route 25 for the duration of the project.


Forest Service Reports Illegal Firewood Cutting

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have seen a dramatic increase in illegal firewood cutting. Large healthy oak trees, some as much as two feet in diameter, are being illegally cut and removed from the national forest. Cutting dead trees for firewood is allowed throughout most of the national forest with the appropriate permit; however, cutting live trees is only permissible in designated firewood cutting areas on tree marked with green or yellow paint.

In addition to the unlawful removal of live trees, some wood cutters are illegally accessing trees by driving vehicles or equipment off-road into the forest. Others are leaving limbs and tree tops in roadside ditches which prevents proper drainage, often resulting in plugged culverts and damaged roads.

Law enforcement officials have increased patrols and are issuing citations to people who are cuttting firewood illegally or driving off-road illegally.

The USDA Forest Service is asking the public to report illegal firewood activity by contacting the local sheriff’s office or the Eastern Divide Ranger District at (888) 241-6669.


Projects to temporarily close roads in Chattahoochee National Forest

The Federal Highway Administration is preparing to improve travel through the Chattahoochee National Forest. Contractors for the agency will repair several roads and replace a bridge. Much of the road work addresses damage caused by a major flood event in September of 2009. That work is carried out through the Emergency Relief of Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) Program. Other road work is conducted through the Federal Highways Program. This program provides funding to resurface, restore, rehabilitate, or reconstruct certain public roads that provide access to or are within National Forests or Grasslands.

While the Forest Service is not administering the projects, we will do our best to provide updates on all the projects taking place in the Forest as they progress. Check back here for updates.

The ERFO program will include work on the following roads:

FSR 54C Abe Gap
FSR 92 Red Root Road
FSR 389 Frady Branch Road
FSR 92E Brady Hill Road
FSR 1043 Goolsby Road
FSR 907 Power Line Road
FSR 908 Long Hole Road

The Frady Branch Road work is of particular interest to many people who use the Frady Branch Trail System was initially closed for public safety due to the extent of damage to the road. The trail is open to the public but the trail head and parking area remain closed until repairs are completed. The flood actually washed out some trails and a big culvert near the entrance to trailhead parking area. Work is expected to start on Forest Service Road 389, Frady Branch Road, in early November 2011.

Another major project is the replacement of the Coleman River Bridge on Forest Service Road 70, the Tallulah River Road. This work is expected to begin in late October. Since some of the work requires tree felling, travelers should expect minor delays of 15 to 20 minutes during those times. A temporary crossing will be installed while the new bridge is built.

While these projects may cause some inconvenience, it will be well worth it to have a better and safer road system that will benefit visitors and our local communities.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fee Free Days at Big South Fork NRRA

Earlier in the year Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the National Park Service will once again offer fee free days this year in order to encourage Americans to visit these national treasures.

National Park Service sites across the country that charge fees for entry will waive these entrance fees on November 11-13 in recognition of the Veterans Day weekend. Parks that do not charge entrance fees have the discretion to waive other types of fees on these days. Niki Nicholas, Superintendent of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, has authorized fee waivers for the Alum Ford Campground and backcountry camping permits during the Veterans Day weekend (November 11-13). Everyone is encouraged to visit the Big South Fork and take advantage of these special days.

For more information, call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Three trails closed by April tornado reopen in Cades Cove

According to the Great Smoky Mountains website, three trails that have been closed in the Cades Cove area as a result of last April's tornado have been reopened. There are still two trails that remain closed.

The Cooper Road Trail, Rabbit Creek Trail and the Wet Bottom Trail are all officially open as of today. Backcountry Campsites 15 has also reopened.

The Beard Cane Trail and the Hatcher Mountain Trail (north of its intersection with Little Bottoms Trail) remain closed. Backcountry Campsites 3 and 11 remain closed as well.

According to the park website: "Two trails and campsites on the western end of the park are closed until further notice due to extensive damage caused by a EF-4 tornado."

Other backcountry closures you may want to be aware of:

• The parking area at the Curry Mountain trailhead on Little River Road has been closed for safety and resource protection purposes. Hikers should park in the nearby Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.

• Gunter Fork Trail closed due to landslides

• Laurel Gap Shelter is closed through November 13 for construction

• Backcountry Campsites 35 and 68 are closed due to bear activity


National Parks Conservation Association says Interior Appropriations Bill falls short

On Friday of last week, the National Parks Conservation Association issued a press release critical of the recent Senate Interior Appropriations Bill. In their press release, the NPCA states:

“The proposed funding for park operations however falls short of protecting park resources and serving visitors. Although the Senate has proposed a more robust allocation than the House, the NPS operating account is cut more than twice as much. We appreciate efforts by both the House and Senate subcommittees to protect park operating accounts, however reducing operations funding $20 million below last year’s level should be reconsidered. Maintaining this account is critical to meeting fixed operating costs so that seasonal and other ranger levels can be maintained. We strongly encourage the House and Senate to work together to come as close as possible to meeting fixed costs. In addition, our national parks cannot sustain continual reductions to the construction budget, as contemplated here by a 40 percent cut in line-item projects, when NPS already estimates they receive $325 million less every year than needed to keep the maintenance backlog from growing."

Unfortunately, this is the new reality. Given the dire straights of our public finances, I really don't see national parks being fully funded for a very long time, if ever. Given all of the other priorities, in addition to the mounting debt problem, national parks will be one of the first departments to be squeezed. Take a look at what's happening to state parks around the nation for evidence of this.

There are ways to solve this problem though. I think national parks should be given more leeway for generating revenue. It's a matter of thinking outside the box. As just one example: why not allow parks to offer special private tours for high paying donors? Several years ago I saw a PBS program in which James Taylor (folk singer from the 70s for the younger readers... :) ....) did a multi-day rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. At the end of each day of rafting, JT would sing and play a couple of songs next to the camp fire. Imagine the Park Service holding similar tours, with a celebrity, or a famous biologist, etc., and charging a fee to high paying donors.

Why not have the Great Smoky Mountains build a museum so that the public can see all of the artifacts that are currently collecting dust in a warehouse? I would have to think this would be something a large number of people would be willing to spend money to see.

There are other proven ways of raising money. Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association are two great examples. The Blue Ridge Parkway recently announced that they have disbursed more money this year than at any time in their history. This was driven in large part by the more than 27,000 Blue Ridge Parkway specialty license plates that are now on the road. The BRP Foundation receives $20 for every plate sold.

The reality of the situation is that no matter how much we raise taxes, there will never be enough to fully fund our parks. Our exploding debt will eat every non-entitlement dollar collected. National parks must come to grips with this, and begin looking for ways to raise funds, or the result will be closed parks, reduced hours, or reduced services, just as many state parks have already endured.


Annual Bridge Day Celebration Draws Huge Crowd

Some pretty amazing stats from this mornings' NPS Digest on the most recent Bridge Day at New River Gorge:

Bridge Day was held in the park on the Saturday before last and drew almost 100,000 visitors.

The bridge over New River Gorge National River is a prominent icon in West Virginia. Dedicated and officially opened on October 22, 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge spans 1,700 feet with an overall length of 3,030 feet; it is the longest single arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest in the world. At 876 feet high, it is the second highest bridge in the United States. It is owned by the West Virginia Department of Highways, and the Bridge Day celebration is a cooperative effort between the National Park Service and numerous state and county agencies.

The first New River Gorge Bridge Day was held on November 8, 1980. The celebration is held annually on the third Saturday in October and is West Virginia’s largest single-day event.

The event is keynoted by the largest BASE jumping event in the world. For six hours during the festival, the New River Gorge Bridge is the launching point for BASE jumps, rappelling teams and high line rides done under permit. This year there were 868 rappels, and 750 BASE jumps completed by 421 jumpers. This included 11 tandem jumps, a first for the event. Boat rescue teams made 180 water pick-ups; there were eight ambulance transports for back injuries, broken limbs, and other injuries. One BASE jumper failed to open his parachute in time and hit the river at about 60mph and was hospitalized with spinal injuries, lung injuries, and a fractured pelvis.

The event is managed under the incident command system, with fourteen agencies participated in the operation.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

25 Unforgettable National Park Hikes

In the latest edition of GoParks, the National Park Foundation presents a quick guide to "25 Unforgettable National Park Hikes".

The list includes several classic hikes from Acadia to Zion, and everywhere in between. Making the list was the Andrews Bald hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. Most of the hikes are easy to moderate, but there are a couple of relatively strenuous hikes on the list. I've been fortunate enough to have hiked a couple of these trails, but there are a few that have been, or are now on my bucket list, such as The Narrows in Zion, Artist Point in Yosemite, and Bright Angel in the Grand Canyon.

You can view the entire list by clicking here (PDF file).


Thursday, October 20, 2011

“Good Times on the Appalachian Trail” Photo Contest

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is looking for great photos of people enjoying the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in 2011! The ATC is looking for images that illustrate your idea of a perfect day on the A.T.

Creative and unique shots are encouraged. Send the ATC photos of you and your loved ones hiking your favorite section, enjoying an overlook, staying overnight at a shelter, swimming in a lake, or just enjoying being out on the Trail. Whatever it may be, the ATC wants to know how you enjoyed your time out on the Trail this year.


• Photos must be taken on the A.T. during the year 2011.
• Photos must contain an image of at least one person.
• You must be the owner of the photo.
• Participants can only submit one photo.
• Any photos conflicting with the ATC’s Leave No Trace™ (LNT) principles will be disqualified. For more information about LNT principles visit
• No photos can include nudity, inappropriate or illegal activities.
• Photos must be in .jpg format at 300 DPI as an email attachment.


Submissions should be sent to as email attachments between October 18th and November 10th. Then, the ATC’s panel of judges will select the top 20 photos.


• Photo Submission: October 18, 2011 - November 10, 2011
• Voting Period: November 11, 2011 – December 11, 2011
• Photos showcased in the ATC’s Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry, WV: November 12, 2011 through November 19, 2011 from 9am-5pm each day.
• Winner Announced: Week of December 12th, 2011


Prizes will be awarded to the Top 3 contestants.

The Grand Prize winner will have their photo featured in A.T. Journeys (ATJ) as well as receive a set of LekiSummitAS Antishock Trekking Poles valued at $100, generously donated by Leki. The poles features a RoundTop COR-TEC Grip, Classic Expander Lock System,Triple Spring Antishock System, a performance basket, a universal carbide tip, with an ultra sonic finish.

Second and third place winners will also have their photos featured in ATJ and will receive a small recognition prize from the ATC.

For more information or questions regarding the Photo Contest, contact Claire Hobbs, Information Services Assistant, at or (304)535-6331 ext. 134.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vote for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail license plate design

The NC Legislature has authorized a special license plate for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and the Friends of the MST want your opinion about what that design should look like.

The Friends of the MST have come up with five potential designs for the plate, and are asking citizens of NC to vote for their favorite. The Friends group will choose the most popular plate as the one to "put on the road."

The plate will help to raise funds and awareness for the trail. Each plate will cost an additional $30 above the cost of a standard plate, with $20 being donated to the Friends of the MST to help build, protect and promote the trail.

The deadline for voting is Monday, October 31st. You can click here for more information, to see the plate designs, and to take the survey.


Two Men Arrested For Cultivating Marijuana in Mammoth Cave National Park

Back in June, officials at Mammoth Cave National Park set up a reward program for information leading to successful prosecutions of crimes within the park. In the press release, Ranger David Alexander, one of the park law enforcement officers. was quoted as saying that; "Drug activity is a major concern. Every year we find marijuana plots in the park. We need the community's help in tracking down the growers."

Well, he wasn't kidding:

Today's NPS Digest is reporting that on the morning of October 8th, rangers saw a vehicle leave the park that they believed to be associated with a marijuana cultivation operation. They followed it and noted that it had an inoperative brake light and that a strong odor of unprocessed marijuana was emanating from within. Rangers David Alexander, Jonathon Bledsoe, and Kelly Brownson stopped it at one of the park’s overlooks and found more than three pounds of fresh marijuana buds in a black trash bag, plus fertilizer, shears, coated wire, other cultivation devices, two cell phones and a GPS unit.

The two men inside – Robert Williams, 25, and Ryan Pitcock, 20, both of Bowling Green, Kentucky – waived their Miranda rights. During questioning, Pitcock admitted he had several cultivation sites inside the park and also admitted that he had been visiting those sites since the early spring. Williams admitted that he had been dropping Pitcock off in the park and picking him up for the past three weeks. He also admitted to transporting harvested marijuana back to their apartment in Bowling Green.

Based on these statements, the Kentucky State Police Special Investigations Division was able to obtain a search warrant for the apartment and visited it that same day. During the search, approximately two pounds of processed marijuana, 34 grams of processed mushrooms, two indoor mushroom growing operations, and two indoor marijuana growing operations with ten plants were confiscated. A large amount of drug paraphernalia and distribution evidence was also seized.

A field search conducted by rangers the next day yielded ten un-harvested marijuana plants and evidence of a total of 31 cultivated plants in five plots. Pitcock had nearly 50 waypoints on his GPS located within the park which have yet to be checked. The arrests brought to a culmination an investigation by rangers which began this past May. Both men are currently in jail and face numerous federal and state charges.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Visitation up 4.4% in September in Smokies

Through the first nine months of the year, visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are 6.2% below the numbers for the same time last year. Through September the park has seen 6,797,955 visits.

For the month of September, however, visitation was up by 4.4%.

Interestingly, the number of people camping in front country campsites in the park is down 6.8% for the year. However, the number of backcountry campers has increased by 16.9%! No wonder the park wants to charge fees for camping in the backcountry! Or, are people trying to get in as many "bag" nights as possible before the fees kick-in?

In other parks:

* So far this year the Blue Ridge Parkway has seen 12,938,118 visits. That represents a 7.7% increase over 2010 figures for the same time period. However, for the month of September, visitation was down 10.2%.

* Visitation to Shenandoah National Park was down a whopping 25.1% in September, while dragging it into negative territory for the year (-1.1%).

* Finally, at the Big South Fork NRA, visitation was down 3.8% for the month of September, and is down 9.2% for the YTD.


Monday, October 17, 2011

National Parks Announce Fee Free Days for 2012

To encourage Americans to explore America’s natural beauty, rich history and culture, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the National Park Service will waive admission fees on 17 days in 2012.

Salazar emphasized that our national parks and public lands serve as an economic engine for many local communities, supports jobs and driving tourism. Recreation in national parks, refuges, and other public lands fueled nearly $55 billion in economic activity and supported 440,000 jobs in 2009. The fee free dates for 2012 are:

* January 14 to 16 (Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend)

* April 21 to 29 (National Park Week)

* June 9 (Get Outdoors Day)

* September 29 (National Public Lands Day)

* November 10 to 12 (Veterans Day weekend).

More information is available at In addition, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service will waive their entrance and standard amenity fees January 14 to 16, June 9, September 29, and November 10 to 12.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also have a fee free day on October 14 in recognition of National Wildlife Refuge Week. The Bureau of Reclamation will waive standard amenity fees on September 29 and November 12. Many park-related hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and tour operators will offer specials on fee free days. “The majority of national parks don’t have an entrance fee and those that do charge a maximum of $25 a week for an entire family” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We realize there are additional expenses when visiting a park so many associated businesses will have discounts and enhancements on the fee free days.” “One of the great things about a national park vacation is it can be as economical or luxurious as desired,” added Jarvis. “A visit can be a few hours or several days. One could pack their lunch or eat at a snack bar, cafeteria, or gourmet dining room. One could sleep under the stars in the backcountry or stay in a campground, motel, or majestic lodge.

There is something for everyone at each of the country’s 395 national parks. So mark the dates, grab a friend or family member – especially one that has never been to a park before – and come visit one of your national parks.”


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Upcoming Road Closings in the Smokies

Earlier in the week GSMNP officials announced a couple of upcoming road closings you may want to make note of in case you plan to visit sometime during the late fall:

• Old NC-284 between Big Creek and Cataloochee is schedeled to be closed for approximately two weeks between mid-November and early December for bridge repair. The actual dates of the closure will be posted on the Smokies website once they become available.

• Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed for two days during the week of November 28-December 2 for hemlock woolly adelgid spraying. Spray operations are weather dependent. Exact dates will be posted on their website once they are determined.


Friday, October 14, 2011

National Natural Landmarks Photo Contest Winners Announced

One hundred and fifty-two images representing 92 different National Natural Landmarks sites across 31 states were submitted to the 8th Annual NNL Photo Contest. A National Park Service-wide vote took place in mid-August and the winners were announced today. Top honors went to Debra Miller of Highlands Ranch, Colorado for her photograph of Hanging Lake, east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The three winning photos and the 10 Honorable Mentions will be featured in the 2012 NNL calendar, specially designed to commemorate the NNL Program’s 50th Anniversary. “These stunning photographs not only highlight the beauty of these spectacular places, but the longevity of the National Park Service’s relationship with partners for resource conservation,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

There are 591 national natural landmarks across the United States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. NNLs are designated by the Secretary of the Interior following rigorous scientific study, and include features on private, state, municipal, and federal lands. Participation in the program is voluntary.

To view the 13 winning photographs from this year’s contest, please click here.



Matt Brass just published another video this week, one which he calls "Bear". he claims on his Vimeo site that this is the second in a series of clips from a year long documentation project of the Smokies:

Bear from Matt Brass on Vimeo.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway releases General Management Plan

Yesterday the National Park Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Blue Ridge Parkway’s General Management Plan for review and comment. Public comments on the document will be accepted through December 16th.

The draft plan provides comprehensive guidance for perpetuating natural systems, preserving cultural resources, and providing opportunities for quality visitor experiences along the parkway for the next 20+ years. This is the parkway's first comprehensive management plan in its 75-year history.

The draft plan evaluates a range of alternatives to compare the advantages of one course of action to another. The planning team developed two "action" alternatives (B and C). The third alternative (A) is the "no-action" alternative that describes how the parkway is currently managed, providing a basis for comparing the other alternatives. The comments and suggestions that many of you provided earlier were considered when developing the action alternatives presented in the plan.

Alternative B

Alternative B has been identified as the National Park Service's preferred management approach. The preferred alternative emphasizes the original parkway design and traditional driving experience, while enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities and regional natural resource connectivity, and providing modest improvements to visitor services.

In essence, the preferred alternative seeks to reinvest in the parkway's aging infrastructure, update inadequate visitor services and facilities, and protect a biologically diverse natural environment that is only surpassed by two other units in the national park system. This reinvestment echoes the original thinking of the parkway founders during the Great Depression — to invest in building the parkway to create a catalyst for long-term, regional economic vitality.

Here are just a few issues that will impact hikers and campers under the Parkway's preferred plan:

* 10,139 acres (12.3%) of parkway lands would be designated as recreation zone in order to enhance outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors. This would be primarily accomplished by accommodating a wider range of trail-based recreational activities, which would likely attract more visitors to these parkway lands. Certain trails would be improved to allow for mountain biking, horseback riding, or simply to withstand more hikers. Additional backcountry campsites, picnic tables, restrooms (i.e., vault toilets), and interpretive media would also be found within these areas.

* All of the parkway’s nine campgrounds would be upgraded to provide showers and RV water and electrical hookups, which would require expanded sewage treatment facilities and electrical lines.

* A paved multiuse trail would be developed parallel to the parkway along portions of the Highlands segment in the Boone/Blowing Rock area. This path would be separate from the roadway to minimize interaction between pedestrians/bicyclists and automobiles and to maintain the historic integrity of the parkway’s designed landscapes. Along this segment, the trail would extend approximately 16 miles from milepost 281 to milepost 297.

* The parkway would provide designated parking spaces for visitors accessing trail systems along the Asheville segment of the parkway. This would reduce the effects of vegetation damage along the road shoulder caused by the high frequency of vehicles currently parking in unpaved areas.

Alternative C

Under alternative C, parkway management would be more integrated with the larger region’s resources and economy. More emphasis would be placed on reaching out to communities and linking to regional natural, recreational, and cultural heritage resources and experiences.

The parkway would continue to be managed to retain the fundamental character of the traditional designed landscape and scenic driving experience. However, a variety of more modern recreational and visitor service amenities would be provided, primarily concentrated in visitor services areas. As a result, portions of some recreation areas would be redesigned.

Comments can be submitted in the following ways:

1) Submit comments on the NPS planning website by selecting the "Open for Comment" link on the left.

2) Submit written comments by mail to:

Superintendent Philip A. Francis, Jr.
Blue Ridge Parkway
199 Hemphill Knob Road
Asheville, NC 28803

3) Submit comments during one four upcoming public meetings:

Date: Wednesday November 2, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Folk Art Center, Milepost 382, Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, NC

Date: Thursday November 3, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, 7738 U.S. 321 Bus, Blowing Rock, NC

Date: Wednesday November 9, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Nelson Memorial Library, 8521 Thomas Nelson Highway, Lovingston, VA

Date: Thursday November 10, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Brambleton Center, 3738 Brambleton Avenue, Roanoke, VA


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yellowstone Gray Wolf Euthanized

It's 2011....and people are still feeding wild animals!

A habituated gray wolf believed to be conditioned to human foods was killed by Yellowstone National Park staff on October 8th.

Since July, the 110-pound male wolf had approached staff and visitors at close range at least seven times and had been unsuccessfully hazed each time from the Fishing Bridge developed areas. The wolf was a member of Mollie's Pack from the Pelican Valley area, and was estimated to be between 2 and 4 years old.

The decision to remove the wolf came following a history of fearless behavior in the presence of humans, repeated visitation to developed areas within the park and numerous unsuccessful hazing attempts. Each of these factors was indicative of the wolf's potential habituation to human food, which posed an increased risk to park visitors and staff.

Efforts to relocate food-conditioned animals have generally proven unsuccessful because they simply return to the areas from which they were removed.

What does it take for people to understand that feeding wildlife is bad for the animal, and potentially bad for other people? You can read the rest of the press release by clicking here.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oconaluftee Visitor Center Special Fall Programs

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials invite the public to attend two special programs held at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center complex on Saturday, October 15, and Monday, October 17.

On October 15, an hour-long Birds of Prey program will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. by naturalist Doris Mager at the Oconaluftee Multipurpose Room. Mager, also known as the "Eagle Lady", has been working with raptors for over 35 years. She will bring four birds with her, including an American Kestrel, a Screech Owl, and a Great Horned Owl, allowing the public to "get up close and personal" with these fascinating creatures.

At age 86, Mager still travels the whole Eastern United States giving educational programs such as this one. She has cared for over 80 injured eagles and hundreds of other raptors, and has housed up to 36 birds of prey in her backyard at one time.

On Monday, October 17, between 5:00-6:30 p.m., park staff and volunteers will provide a variety of cultural demonstrations and storytelling during "An Evening on the Farm" in the midst of the Mountain Farm Museum's century-old buildings for a look at life in the past.

The Davis/Queen farmhouse will also be open for visitors to walk through. "The evening hours offer visitors the opportunity to sit and visit for awhile and see the Farm Museum when it's less crowded," said Park Ranger Lynda Doucette. Hot cider will be served and all activities are free.

The Mountain Farm Museum is located on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, 2 miles north of Cherokee, N.C. For more information, call the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at (828) 497-1904.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Hiking News Updates

Hiking news from around the region:

* The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is recommending that anyone spending time outdoors in areas that see hunting activity, should consider wearing blaze orange. Blaze orange clothing stands out against an outdoor background and studies have proven it increases visibility of the wearer in low light situations. *California hunter safety course online***

* The Southeastern Foot Trails Coalition will be conducting a Leave No Trace Trainer Course for those seeking to learn the seven principles of outdoor ethics for personal enrichment or to teach others. The course features a short easy backpack and overnight campout in Vogel State Park. The course fee includes food and educational materials.

* The Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners, Pa. is seeking a Museum Manager. The primary responsibilities of the Volunteer Coordinator are to recruit, motivate and train volunteers and schedule volunteer docents whenever the Museum is open. The coordinator also supervises other volunteers, is the local representative of the Museum, maintains visitation and other records, and other tasks as agreed upon.

* The Appalachian Trail hiker photo database is available online. If you passed through Harper's Ferry while hiking the A.T. and had your picture taken between 1979 and 2008, chances are that your photo, or photo of someone you may have hiked with can be found in the database.

* The hotly debated Transmission Line Project that will result in 200-foot towers and power lines being built across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic River, and the Appalachian Trail, has been "Fast-Tracked" for approval by the federal government.

* Learn more about the Wilderness areas of WNC and explore the adventures they have to offer at the REI store in Asheville on October 18th.

* The REI store in Asheville will also hold a Cold Weather Backpacking Basics seminar on on October 19th. The course will cover backpacking essentials: choosing a backpack, selecting proper clothing, gloves, socks, the right footwear, tips on staying warm, and understanding the basic gear you need to reach your destination.


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Rut

Matt Brass has published another wonderful video from the Cataloochee side of the Smokies. This time he explores "The Rut":

The Rut from Matt Brass on Vimeo.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Glacier National Park Wildflowers

Over the last couple of weeks I've been sharing photos and stories from my trip to Glacier National Park. This will be the last posting on that subject. I thought I'd end this series with a few wildflower photos.

Although the ice and sheer cliffs at Iceberg Lake get all the attention, the wildflowers in the alpine meadows just before reaching the lake are quite amazing:

Indian Paintbrush:

A Glacier Lily peaking out of the snow near Cobalt Lake:

The next three photos are from the Highline Trail:

This photo was taken in a meadow next to a small lake just below Iceberg Lake:

More beargrass:

Official REI Coupons & Rebates page.


This weekend: WNC OutdoorAthlon

Nestled in the heart of the Appalachians in Western North Carolina, Franklin, NC is a small town located at a key crossroads that consistently funnel in the region’s most valuable resource – tourism. For the first time ever, on October 8th and 9th, 2011, this quaint mountain town will host a unique event unlike any the region has ever seen. The focus: highlight the outdoor resources and community resources that will ultimately yield a more intimate connection between the landscape, businesses and visitors that serve each other so well. There’s no disputing that tourism in the region is anchored on our landscape and climate. However, most visitors rarely see more than what’s visible from a road overlook or a cabin window.

The organizers of the WNC OutdoorAthlon have strategically planned a 2-day festival that will be offering something fun for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a mountain thrill or an Appalachian chill, visitors and locals of all ages will have many opportunities to celebrate the natural resources that set Western North Carolina apart from the rest of the world. Offerings include great music, distinguished food and limitless recreation at your own pace. The marquis slogan anchoring the event is “Live, Love, and Learn about the Mountains of North Carolina”.

This family-friendly event will feature free clinics for all things outdoors – from fly fishing sessions with some of the area’s most respected guides, to kayak demos and a rock climbing wall. Intros to biking, hiking, disc golf… even pilates, and area information from recreation experts will be abundant. Guest’s will have lots of opportunities to up the intensity by participating in six competitive events including the area’s first ever adventure triathlon, ultimate frisbee team tournament, disc golf skills competition, cornhole tournament, or the classic 5k run. And lets not forget the kids – the WNC OutdoorAthlon will feature an interactive kids zone and competitive Kid’s Duathlon for little adventures, ages 6-12. If you’re not up for honing your skills or trying something new, attendees are invited to relax in front of the live music stage featuring 5 talented performances, including national recording artist, Zach Deputy. The vendor promenade will host only local vendors and non-profits that pride themselves in promoting regional outdoor resources and ethical outdoor awareness.

For more information, please click here.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Join the Friends of the Cumberland Trail for the inaugural Hiketoberfest. This event is a celebration of the Cumberland Trail’s immense diversity of fauna and flora, its rich musical and cultural heritage, and the breathtaking geology of Signal Mountain, the Cumberland Plateau and the Tennessee River Gorge.

The event is this sunday from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the Shackleford Ridge County Park facility in Signal Mountain just outside of Chattanooga. In addition to guided hikes on 12 miles of trail, the event offers storytelling, history, good music, food and fun. Registration is $15 (kids 12 and under free and must be accompanied by a registered adult). All proceeds help support the Friends of the Cumberland Trail. For more information and to register, click here, or email


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fall Color Roundup

Although most of the region is still in the early stages of autumn, the highest elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains are already approaching peak fall colors. Below are a few fall color updates from around the Smokies region:

Steve Kemp of the Great Smoky Mountains Association states in the latest Fall Color Forecast from yesterday that, "Colors should be peaking at the higher elevations over the next 7-10 days. Look for a peak at the lower and mid elevations in late October and early November."

Steve points out that the impressive fall colors already seen in the mountains are a result of the recent cold snap.

The October 3rd Fall Color Report for the Blue Ridge Parkway was also posted yesterday. For the most part, it sounds like the BRP is still several days away before visitors can expect to see the best of what the road can offer. Blue Ridge Parkway Journeys does suggest checking out "the section around Clark’s Gap at milepost 40 which is showing nicely along the road edge with color frosting to a rich green backdrop. At the Peaks of Otter at milepost 80-90, visitors will find Dogwood, Sourwood, Sumac, Sassafras, Sour Gum, and as always Virginia Creeper and even some Poison Ivy which is nice and red."

In the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, peak viewing of fall colors is estimated to be October 15th through the 25th this year. Right now Brasstown Bald and Rabun Bald are the areas with the greatest amount of color.

For a general overview on the progression of fall colors throughout the southeast, check out the maps from the Foliage Network.

For a list of the best hikes in the Smokies throughout the fall season, please click here.


Wilderness Weekend at Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park will honor America's wilderness heritage during its 11th annual Wilderness Weekend, October 15 - 14, 2010. This year commemorates the 35th 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.

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.


Monday, October 3, 2011

The Best Of: Glacier's Waterfalls and Lakes

With roughly 200 waterfalls, and 762 lakes - 131 of which are named, including "No Name Lake" - many of the hikes in Glacier National Park end at a lake or waterfall. Below are a few of my favorites.

Redrock Falls is an outstanding choice for an easy hike in the Many Glacier Valley. You'll have great opportunities for seeing wildlife, it passes two picturesque lakes, and ends at one of the most scenic series of waterfalls in the park. Although the lower falls are far more interesting, the upper falls had this beautiful mountain backdrop:

Running Eagle Falls, also known as "Trick Falls", is located in Two Medicine area. The waterfall receives its nickname due to there being two separate waterfalls in the same location. During the spring run-off water rushes over the upper falls for a 40-foot drop, while obscuring the lower falls. By late summer the upper falls dries up. However, water continues to rush over the lower 20-foot falls, while seeming to flow out of the rock wall, as you see in this photo:

Okay, this isn't a lake or waterfall, but there is a lake below those mountains. This is a meadow that hikers walk through on their way to Medicine Grizzly Lake:

Below is the 50-foot Virginia Falls, perhaps one of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen. And to top it off, there are three other incredibly beautiful cascades and falls you'll pass on your way up to this set:

Cracker Lake in the Many Glacier area has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Prior to reaching the lake, about a mile from the trailhead, hikers will have this view of Cracker Flats. The mountains across the upper reaches of Lake Sherburne create this magnificent scene during the morning hours:

Five miles later hikers finally reach Cracker Lake. The best vantage point is from an outcropping of rocks where you’ll stand about a hundred feet above the lake. Directly across the lake is 9376-foot Allen Mountain. Towering above the south end of the lake is 10,014-foot Mt. Siyeh, and sitting like a gem more than 4000 feet below is Cracker Lake:

The lake is the most beautiful turquoise color you’ll ever see. If you could ignore the magnificent scenery of the surrounding mountains, it would still be well worth the hike just to see the amazing color of this lake. The deep turquoise color is a result of light refraction through its suspended load of glacial silt:


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Should there be a Maine Woods National Park?

The multi-millionaire founder of Burt's Bees, Roxanne Quimby, is proposing to donate 70,000 acres to the federal government, a tract of land that lies just east of Maine's Baxter State Park. Her vision is to create a brand new Maine Woods National Park.

Below is a discussion with Ms. Quimby, and others who oppose the controversial proposal, on Maine Public Broadcasting Network's Maine Watch program with Jennifer Rooks:

Watch the full episode. See more Maine Watch with Jennifer Rooks.

For more information on the Maine Woods National Park, you can visit the Maine Woods Coalition website.


Agencies Seek Help in Finding Nantahala N.F. Rape Suspect

The Macon County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service and the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) are seeking information on a rape which occurred Sunday September 25, 2011, at approximately 4:00 p.m. in Macon County within the Nantahala National Forest.

The incident occurred at the intersection of Forest Service Road (FSR) 711 and the Wayah Road, FSR 1310. A female driving through the area stopped to render aid to a person she believed was incapacitated who was lying beside the road. At that time a firearm was used to subdue the victim and she was allegedly forcibly raped.

Law enforcement authorities are seeking information and assistance in identifying a possible suspect. Authorities are looking for a white male, 6’0”, 200 pounds, between the ages of 30 and 40, having brown wavy short hair, no facial hair, green to blue eyes, having a deep voice and a fair complexion. The suspect was last seen wearing dark blue jeans and a medium blue shirt. The subject is armed and considered dangerous and may be carrying a backpack. No vehicle information is available at this time. The attached composite sketch was rendered to assist in identifying the assailant.

On the same date and approximate location, a motor grader was vandalized and diesel was stolen. Earlier the same day, three individuals were observed around the motor grader that may have information relevant to the case. These individuals or persons knowing these individuals’ identities are asked to call law enforcement.

Persons having information to pass on to law enforcement may call the U.S. Forest Service Special Agent at 828-231-0288, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office at 828-524-2811 or the SBI at 1-800-334-3000.

To view the composite sketch of the suspect, click here.

U.S. Forest Service also offers these safety tips when visiting National Forests (or any public lands):

* Do not hike alone.

* Always be aware, alert and cautious. Some visitors have different agendas, which may include drug production, theft, arson or illegal acts.

* Lock your car. As simple as this seems, many people still forget.

* Don’t leave your travel plans on the windshield of your car. Leave your plans with someone at home, like a neighbor, relative or friend.

* Research your camping area. Read up about the camping area you will be visiting.

* For your safety and reassurance, ask about whether there are risks associated with certain areas.

* Back away from any people who appear to be angry, intoxicated or otherwise out of control.

* Keep children, pets and personal property away from anyone or any situation that appears to be suspicious. Caution is the best policy.

* Notify law enforcement officials of any suspicious behavior or situation.

Click here for more information from the USFS website.


Preservation group awards Daniel Boone N.F. for rock shelter protection efforts

On Thursday, September 22, Preservation Kentucky recognized the Daniel Boone National Forest for achievements in protecting cliff rock shelters in the Red River Gorge.

State and federal archaeologists joined other resource management officials for a brief ceremony. Forest Supervisor Frank Beum accepted the award on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service.

“Preservation Kentucky is proud to recognize the U.S. Forest Service's great efforts to preserve these important prehistoric and historic places on national forest lands,” said PK Executive Director Rachel Kennedy.

“Because of their leadership in this effort, we presented a Best Practices Award to the U.S. Forest Service. We hope that others can follow their lead and protect these invaluable resources for future generations.”

In the Red River Gorge, archaeological evidence indicates human inhabitance of rock shelters beginning at least 12,000 years ago. The artifacts found at these sites represent the daily lives of Native Americans who once lived in Kentucky. Rock shelters also include the remains of many historic period industries, such as saltpeter mining and moonshining.

The examination of rock shelters in the gorge indicate that Native Americans began domesticating plants as food crops more than 3,700 years ago. Scientists often rely on the archaeological resources of the Red River Gorge to address the origins of agriculture in eastern North America.

In 2000, the Forest Service closed all rock shelters in the Red River Gorge to camping. In 2011, all rock shelters occurring in the Daniel Boone National Forest were closed to camping in an effort to preserve these fragile sites.

At the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center in the gorge, the Forest Service interprets the significance of rock shelters for visitors. The center is host to the annual Living Archaeology Weekend, which took place over the weekend.

Thursday’s award ceremony was attended by representatives from the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Heritage Council/Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office, Frenchburg Job Corps, Forest Service and Preservation Kentucky.

Preservation Kentucky is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Kentucky’s historic resources through education and advocacy. They sponsor the “Most Endangered Historic and Prehistoric Places” list every year to highlight trends and threats to historic preservation in the Commonwealth. This year, the list included archaeological resources.