The Top 10 Stories from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 was a busy year for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park made headlines in the national media on a couple of occasions, but also made headlines within the hiking community. Below is my rundown of the top 10 stories from the Smokies over the past year.

10) Smokies interpretive ranger, David Worth, set the new record for the fastest trek across the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains on May 19th. 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.

9) Great Smoky Mountains National Park received an early Holiday gift on December 14th when the Friends of the Smokies officially transferred 20 acres of new land to be added to the Park. The land lies along Soak Ash Creek in the Pittman Center community just east of Gatlinburg.

8) Four hikers had to be rescued by Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners during an early March snow storm. The ridgerunners escorted the hikers from the Double Springs Shelter to Park Rangers waiting at the Clingmans Dome Parking lot. The hikers were all dehydrated and suffered from mild-moderate to moderate-severe hypothermia, while one had an injured knee.

7) Earlier this year the restoration of the Appalachian Clubhouse was completed by the Park’s Historic Preservation Crew. Now restored to its original appearance in the 1930s, the clubhouse was used for social gatherings by tenants and guests of the Appalachian Club in Elkmont whose members, mostly from Knoxville, built rustic cabins nearby to serve as weekend or summer retreats in the years before the Park was created. In April the Park announced that the newly-restored clubhouse would be available for public day-use rental.

6) During the month of July the Smokies reported two separate drownings at the Sinks on the Little River (about 10 miles west of Gatlinburg).

5) In July Great Smoky Mountains managers announced that they were considering a move to make all backcountry camping permits (for all sites) go through, an online and call-in reservation service. The proposal would cost backpackers between $2.25 and $10.00 to make a reservation for a backcountry campsite (depending on which of three proposals is ultimately adopted). The announcement has created an on-going firestorm of controversy within the backpacking community.

4) On October 27th the Great Smoky Mountains announced that research findings from the experimental elk release indicated that the elk population was sustainable, had minimal impacts on the Park's resources, and human-elk conflicts were manageable. The approved plan, signed on October 20th by National Park Service Regional Director David Vela, culminates a 10-year effort to reestablish elk to their native range.

3) 2011 has been an extremely tough year for black bears in the Smokies. As a result of a terrible food crisis (limited berry and nut supplies) caused by heavy rains throughout the year, the Appalachian Bear Rescue has taken in a record number of bear cubs (31 through the end of November) this year, topping the previous high of 23 in 2009. Some are even starving to death when they arrive at the mission in Townsend.

2) Two sewage treatment plant employees in Gatlinburg were killed on April 5th when a wall on an equalization tank collapsed, resulting in a massive sewage spill. An estimated 1.5 million gallons of untreated effluent was released into the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River, a park-owned stream that bisects the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur of the Foothills Parkway.

1) On April 27th a massive tornado ripped through the west end of the Great Smoky Mountains. The tornado was categorized as an EF-4, with maximum wind speeds ranging between 165 and 170 miles per hour, and had an estimated maximum path width of one mile. The tornado touched down near Chilhowee Lake and moved northeast into the western portion of the Park, and was on the ground for 20 miles. Surveys by trail workers reported that more than 4500 trees were blown down, resulting in the full or partial closures of nine trails (more than 35 miles) in the Cades Cove area, including the popular Abrams Falls Trail. Three trails still remain closed.

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Renovation of Laurel Gap Shelter Complete

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Friends of the Smokies announced today that renovation of the Laurel Gap Shelter is now complete.

Joint efforts of labor and funding from Friends of the Smokies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club improved cooking and sleeping quarters for campers, while also reducing potential problems with black bears at the shelter located near Balsam High Top.

Reconstruction at Laurel Gap, the fifteenth and final shelter project, began in September, but weather prevented delivery of roofing materials by helicopter. The volunteer crew returned the first week of December to finish roofing the shelter under the threat of winter snows. Laurel Gap is located in North Carolina, near the intersection of the Sterling Ridge and Balsam Mountain Trails. Twelve of the Park’s 15 backcountry shelters are located on the Appalachian Trail; Mt. LeConte, Laurel Gap and Kephart Prong are not.

Funds from Friends of the Smokies and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy furnished supplies and helicopter delivery of materials to the remote shelter locations. The Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club provided the skilled volunteer labor necessary to rebuild each shelter; their work was supervised by staff from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Richard Haiman National Park Foundation contributed well over $100,000 to Friends of the Smokies since 1999 to support a dozen shelter projects, including Laurel Gap. Additional financial support came from Friends of the Smokies’ specialty license plate owners in Tennessee and North Carolina, Home Federal Bank, Maureen K. Wilder and William O. Young.

Architect Philip Royer of Knoxville, also a member of the Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee, drew the basic blueprint for every shelter rehab project, incorporating improved natural lighting, a cooking area to separate food odors from the sleeping space, improved bunk access, new roofs and masonry repair, the removal of chain-link fences, and drainage improvements. With these changes, overnight hikers enjoy a much safer and much more inviting camping experience.

Here's a before photo:

And an after photo:

The Laurel Gap Shelter is located off the Balsam Mountain Trail near the Mt. Sterling Trail junction.

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Start the year off with a First Day Hike

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Start the year off on the right foot by taking a First Day Hike in a state park near you. Across the country, state parks will be offering guided First Day Hikes on New Year’s Day 2012.

The idea for First Day Hikes originated over 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation State Park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year round recreation at state parks. Many other states have offered outdoor recreation programs on New Year’s Day, however, this is the first time all 50 state park systems have joined together to sponsor First Day Hikes.

An organization called America’s State Parks has compiled an online database of more than 350 hikes on their website. You can find a First Day Hike by clicking here.

If you're looking for a hike in Tennessee, you can more detailed information on the TN State Park website.

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46 Days

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

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46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis on the Appalachian Trail, is the brand new book that chronicles the trials, successes, joys, and frustrations of Jennifer Pharr Davis's record-breaking Appalachian Trail thru-hike this past summer.

46 Days is told through the eyes of Jennifer's husband, Brew Davis. Brew lead her "pit crew," a group of generous, loving hikers who supported Jen along the way, providing company along the epic trail, and as much food as Jen could stomach. Experience the trek with Jen and Brew as they battle shin splints and a stomach scare that threatens to end the attempt early, encounter wildlife at every turn, and meet the colorful cast of characters that help Jen complete her journey. 46 Days also includes an introduction and afterword by Jennifer with first-hand reflections on her life-changing voyage.

Brew is a teacher and lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife.

For more information on the new book, please click here.

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Nation’s forests are severely damaged by marijuana grow sites

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Marijuana cultivation sites in 20 states on 67 national forests have caused “severe” damage according to U.S. Forest Service director of law enforcement, David Ferrell.

“The illegal cultivation of marijuana on our National Forest System is a clear and present danger to the public and the environment,” Ferrell said.

His warning came in testimony earlier this month before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

“Many marijuana sites found on national forests are under cultivation by drug trafficking organizations that are sophisticated and include armed guards, counter-surveillance methods, logistics support and state-of-the-art growing practices,” Ferrell said. “It is incumbent on the agency to do what is necessary to ensure that the resources we manage are protected and visitors as well as employees are safe.”

Ferrell gave an example from efforts in California where the Forest Service completed cleanup and restoration on 335 sites which resulted in the removal of more than 130 tons of trash, 300 pounds of pesticides, five tons of fertilizer and nearly 260 miles of irrigation piping.

The effects of marijuana sites on natural resources are harsh. Native vegetation is cleared before planting. Thousands of feet of black tubing transport large volumes of water diverted from streams, lakes, and public drinking water supplies. An average size marijuana plot of approximately 1,000 plants requires up to 5,000 gallons of water daily.

Natural vegetation and wildlife are killed as growers use liberal doses of herbicides, rodenticides and pesticides, some of them banned in the United States. These chemicals can cause extensive and long-term damage to ecosystems. Human waste and trash in the grow sites are widespread. Winter rains create severe soil erosion and wash the poisons, this waste and trash into streams and rivers – including Congressionally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Recreation Areas.

Limited agency funds are impacted by the activity, costing approximately $5,000 an acre just to clean up a grow site. The restoration of the site to re-establish streams costs another $5,000 an acre. And yet another $5,000 an acre is needed to restore the area to its natural state. The typical marijuana site is between 10-20 acres.

The agency will continue to enhance partnerships with other federal, state, local and Tribal agencies in a cooperative effort to investigate and eradicate marijuana cultivation and other narcotic activities occurring on National Forest System lands, Ferrell said. The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on USFS managed land contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

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Donate Used Christmas Trees for Wildlife Habitat

Monday, December 26, 2011

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This is a great idea. I don't know of anyone else doing this, but the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests will be collecting used Christmas trees from December 27 through January 9th. They will only accept clean trees; trees containing sprays, paints, tinsel and other decorative materials are not safe for animals or the environment. You can deliver the trees to the James River Work Center, Dolly Ann Depot on Smokey Bear Lane in Covington, Va from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Simply follow the arrows to the drop off point. The trees will be added to existing brush piles for small non-game species.

“Over the past 12 years, hundreds of Christmas trees were turned into wildlife habitat” said District Ranger Pat Sheridan. “Recycling trees saves valuable space in landfills and keeps pollutants out of the air by eliminating the need to burn discarded trees.” For additional information contact the James River Ranger District at (540) 962-2214.

I'm not aware of Cherokee, or Pisgah, or any other national forests conducting similar programs. If not, this is something others should look at for future policy.

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Merry Christmas from

Friday, December 23, 2011

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Help Friends of the Smokies Win $10,000

Thursday, December 22, 2011

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Here's a great chance to help Friends of the Smokies win $10,000. All you have to do is vote. FOTS is one of four charities that were chosen by the parent company of the Travel Channel to receive this special holiday gift. Simply click onto Scripps Network holiday card link below, watch the short video (commercial), and then cast your vote. And you only have to vote once:

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Mountains-to-Sea Trail license plate approved

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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Late last month almost 1200 people voted in two surveys conducted by Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to decide the best design for the new Mountains-to-Sea Trail license plate. The voting process resulted in the design as seen above.

The next goal is to sell 300 plates. The North Carolina General Assembly has given FMST only a short time to sell the first 300 plates before the authorization for the plate expires. To help encourage the purchase of the new plates, FMST will enter everyone who sends them a completed plate application and check, by December 31st, into a drawing for one of three $100 gift cards (from Great Outdoor Provision Co, Mast General Store or REI).

For more information on the plates and an application form, please click here.

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BRP Issues Press Release to Clarify Future Recreational Uses

Monday, December 19, 2011

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Over the last several days I've posted a couple of blogs regarding concerns within the cycling community about the possibility of the Blue Ridge Parkway applying for National Historic Landmark status as a way of managing the parkway. The Adventure Cycling Association and the Virginia Bicycling Federation, and others, have expressed deep concern about the future of cycling on the Parkway as a result of this recommendation.

Last week Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent Phil Francis told Bicycle Retailer that "we’ve never had a discussion about limiting bicycle use as part of the GMP (draft management plan) process, not since I’ve been here." Francis also went on to say that "Our plan is to continue to welcome bicyclists; we are not planning to change our policy at all."

This afternoon Parkway officials published the following press release, clarifying their position, as well as some of the confusion being generated in some of these outlets:

The Blue Ridge Parkway was established for scenic driving and recreational purposes with a focus on the automobile. Over time, visitation trends have changed with an increased variety of uses, with both recreational vehicles and bicycles enjoying a scenic recreational experience. Both types of use have been accommodated on the Parkway. There is nothing in the General Management Plan (GMP) Preferred Alternative that precludes any existing uses from continuing, or precludes the consideration of new uses. There are many activities that occur on the Parkway - hiking, horseback riding, motorcycle use, running, bird watching - such uses are allowed where appropriate given resource protection and safety concerns. All uses of the Parkway motor road are currently and will continue to be managed under federal laws and National Park Service (NPS) policies.

The Parkway is National Register eligible because of its designed landscape, age, and contributing features and is world renowned as an example of rural Parkway design. NPS managers are required by law to manage eligible properties as if they were currently on the National Register of Historic Places. The historical significance of the Parkway motor road prism is based upon the design and spatial relationship of the travel lanes, grass shoulders, paved ditches, and cut and fill slopes. Keeping this relationship intact is critical to protecting the character and historic integrity of the Parkway, which NPS staff are charged with maintaining under the Organic Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and other NPS laws and policies.

Decisions about cultural and historic resources, like all Parkway resources and other day-to-day park management decisions, are dictated by NPS and Department of Interior (DOI) laws and policies, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, and other law and policy. The GMP provides overall direction for that management, but is designed to provide general guidancewhile allowing flexibility for management within the parameters of law and policy.

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'A Year of Adventure’ sweepstakes: Heli Skiing in Alaska

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‘A Year of Adventure’ sweepstakes, co-sponsored by Sierra Designs and Alaska Mountain Guides, continues with the final installment of its once-in-a-lifetime adventure giveaways.

Launched in April of this year, the ‘A Year of Adventure’ consumer sweepstakes is offering contestants an incredible opportunity to learn mountaineering skills in Ecuador, win a trek to Everest Base Camp, or access untracked powder via helicopter in the Alaska backcountry. Premier guide service Alaska Mountain Guides will lead the trips and Sierra Designs is supplying apparel and equipment.

The winner of the third and final sweepstakes will float through untracked powder on seldom-skied peaks in the Alaskan backcountry. The Heli Skiing in Alaska sweeps will start today. Contestants will be able to enter until midnight on April 17, 2012 with a winner drawn the following day. The Heli Skiing prize pack will include Sierra Designs Ministry 40 packs, Gnar down jackets, Mantra Fusion jackets, and Fusion pants.

For more information on the sweepstakes and how to enter, please click here. Each prizewinner will have up to one year to schedule their trip.

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Director Jarvis Signs Policy On Sale Of Disposable Plastic Water Bottles

Sunday, December 18, 2011

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Earlier this week National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis signed a policy to allow national park superintendents to discontinue the sale of water in disposable plastic bottles.

"Sustainability is a signature effort for the National Park Service," Director Jarvis said. "We must be a visible example of sustainability, so it is important that we move our sustainability program forward as an organization."

The policy came about after two national parks had discontinued the sale of water in disposable plastic bottles and more parks sought to do the same. Director Jarvis said the subject of disposable plastic bottles affects the entire national park system and warranted a national policy.

The policy addresses recycling, reduction of the sales of disposable plastic water bottles through visitor education as well as the end of the sales of these bottles if superintendents (1) complete a rigorous impact analysis including an assessment of the effects on visitor health and safety, (2) submit a request in writing to their regional director, and (3) receive the approval of their regional director.

Education is a big part of the policy. Parks will develop a proactive visitor education strategy that addresses visitor expectations and explains the rationale for whatever plastic bottle reduction, recycling, or elimination effort is implemented. This includes information about the environmental impact of purchasing decisions and the availability of reasonably priced reusable bottles which can be filled at water fountains or bottle refill stations.

You can click here to read more about the new policy.

** Only one day left for free standard shipping from Amazon before Christmas. You can find more details about all Christmas ordering cutoffs here.

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Appalachian Trail Conservancy Announces South Mountain Partnership Mini-Grant Awards

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This past Thursday the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announced 10 South Mountain Partnership mini-grant awards that will help support development of heritage tourism and conservation projects in the South Mountain region totaling more than $204,000. All grants are fully matched by grantees and partnering organizations at the local level, thus leveraging other funding to develop new projects and programming consistent with the South Mountain Partnership goals of preserving and promoting natural and cultural assets.

The grant awards, administered by the ATC and funded by state and federal dollars through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as part of their Conservation Landscape Initiatives program. This year’s projects focus on increased access to community and regional trails, development of new tools to promote tourism, preservation of natural and historical assets, and support for the region's agricultural legacy and local food systems. These many facets of the region's heritage earned the South Mountain region spanning Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and northern York Counties a state designation as one of DCNR’s Conservation Landscape Initiatives in 2008.

You can find more information on the 10 award recipients by clicking here.

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Last Minute Outdoor Gift Solutions

Saturday, December 17, 2011

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What gift is always the perfect size, color and ideal for every occasion? A Gift Card of course!

So, for all you last minute shoppers, here are a couple of gift solutions to save the day:

Outdoor gear and apparel company, Patagonia, offers both E-Gift Cards and Traditional Gift Cards. Their E-Gift Cards are delivered free of charge via email within 24 hours of purchase, and their traditional Cards are mailed for free via U.S. Postal Service First-Class Mail:

Top brand outdoor gear seller,, offers electronic “Gear” Certificates that can be sent via email to anyone at anytime:

If you prefer to send a gift card from a store that offers more than just outdoor gear, check out They offer email, Facebook, printable, as well as physical gift cards. The electronic versions of their gift cards are sent immediately, and you can receive free one day shipping on their physical cards. Another benefit with using Amazon gift cards is that they have several designs to choose from:

Amazon shoppers may also want to note that the last day for free standard shipping, before Christmas, is on Monday. You can find more details about all Christmas ordering cutoffs here.

Smoky Mountains Day Hiker Store
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The Great Smoky Mountains: 1936

Friday, December 16, 2011

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The Department of Interior takes a look at its effort in the Great Smoky Mountains in this interesting vintage film:

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park grows by 20 Acres

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Great Smoky Mountains National Park got an early Holiday gift on December 14, when the Friends of the Smokies officially transferred 20 acres of new land to be added to the Park. The land lies along Soak Ash Creek in the Pittman Center, TN community just east of Gatlinburg. Friends purchased the tract at auction in the summer of 2010 at a cost of $775,500.

According to Smokies Superintendent, Dale A. Ditmanson, "We had been interested in acquiring that property for many years if it ever came on the market, because it is surrounded by Park land on three sides, and is ripe for development. We are very happy to be able to prevent potentially intensive development right on the Park's boundary and it also protects an intact wetland. Along with the property we inherited a sprawling 5-bedroom home which we plan to make available for occupancy by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). The house also includes a large conference space which may occasionally host Park field trips by the Eugene W. Huskey Environmental Center when foul weather forces them indoors."

"We are so pleased to be able to help protect the Smokies through the addition of this key parcel. Friends President Jim Hart said. "We also are grateful to our Pittman Center neighbor and Friends Board member Jim Ogle whose annual "Picnics in Pittman for the Park" at his Emerts Cove home have raised over $500,000 which became the core of the purchase price. Other significant support included a $25,000 grant from the Foothills Land Conservancy.

Although the Friends have owned the property since last summer, the Park needed to complete a number of surveys of the structure and the land before accepting ownership of the tract. The Park is finalizing plans to lease the house to the ATC which will utilize the residence as a field office, as a training space, and as housing for the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners when they are off the trail and for use by ATC Trail Crews, which the Park brings in most years to take on major AT reconstruction projects.

In past years the ATC crews have been assigned to a 4-bedroom log dormitory directly behind Park Headquarters which, ironically, was also donated to the Park by the Friends in 1995. Park officials plan to re-purpose the log dormitory for use as the Park Communication/Dispatch Center. Currently dispatchers and their growing collection of computer equipment and incident files are crammed into two small offices in the Headquarters basement.

Ditmanson concluded, "This recent donation - when coupled with the reuse of the earlier log cabin gift, is just one more reminder of just how integrated the Friends have become into the Park's protection and infrastructure management."

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"First Hikes" Mark Arrival of New Year and 75th Anniversary of Tennessee State Park

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Harkening back to the long-standing Gaelic tradition of “First Footing” as an outdoor beginning to meet the New Year, Tennessee State Parks will be kicking off 2012, and their 75th Anniversary year, with a series of “First Hikes” at each park. All 53 Tennessee State Park will sponsor a free, guided hike on either Sunday, January 1st or Monday, January 2nd to welcome the New Year.

Here's a small sampling of some of the hikes being offered:

Roan Mountain State Park: Join the park for a Ranger-led hike down the Tom Gray Trail as it meanders along the beautiful Doe River. Following the hike, return to the Conference Center to enjoy hot cocoa and homemade cookies by the hearth.

Norris Day State Park: Ranger-led, 10-mile hike along Lake View Trail and Norris Lake. Hike is rated moderate with lots of elevation change. Bring some snacks and we'll have a pot luck refreshment stop!

Frozen Head State Park: Ranger-led hike to Emory Gap Falls. From Visitor Center, we’ll car pool to the trail head for 2.5-mile hike and return to Visitor Center for hot cocoa

Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail: “Gravelly Spur Hike at the Head of the Sequatchie” hike. Gravelly Spur Road led the earliest American settlers into Sequatchie Valley from Grassy Cove in the first decade of the 19th Century. This hike will explore possible segments of the road, some areas lined with beautiful dry stacked rock fencing, and a great view of the Hinch Mountain from the "back forty" at the Head of Sequatchie Resource Management Area.

For more information on these hikes, and hikes in all 53 state parks, please click here.

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Bicycles are Welcome on Blue Ridge Parkway, says Superintendent

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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This past Saturday I posted a blog about some concern within the cycling community regarding the possibility of the Blue Ridge Parkway applying for National Historic Landmark status as a way of managing the parkway, and how it will impact cyclists. In particular, both the Adventure Cycling Association and the Virginia Bicycling Federation have recently expressed deep concern about the future of cycling on the Parkway.

Yesterday, Bicycle Retailer published an interview they conducted with Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent Phil Francis. The superintendent told Steve Frothingham of Bicycle Retailer that "we’ve never had a discussion about limiting bicycle use as part of the GMP (draft management plan) process, not since I’ve been here." Francis also went on to say that "Our plan is to continue to welcome bicyclists; we are not planning to change our policy at all."

To read or listen to the full interview, including comments on a multi-use path parallel to the Parkway, and mountain biking in the Park, please click here.

Public comments on the draft management plan will be accepted through December 16th. You can submit written comments by mail to:

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

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CMLC Introduces New Conservation Story Series

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Late last week Peter Barr from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy sent me an email alerting me to a new feature on the CMLC website. Mr. Barr has recently published a series of conservation stories on the website.

In this new series you can read tales of the people who lived on North Carolina's conserved lands, the struggles and rewards their families experienced, and the fascinating and sometimes bizarre occurrences that tied them to the mountains. Peter's hope is that through these stories, the history of these special places will be preserved just like the land itself. Moreover, readers will have the opportunity to discover the heritage of the people who call these lands home.

CMLC’s protected lands possess an abundance of amazing natural features: waterfalls, scenic vistas, and striking biodiversity, to name only a few. All of these wonderful resources are highly visible to those who visit them, yet they reveal the value of the land only on its surface. Every tract has a story. Every mountain carries echoes of the past.

Nearly 400 acres of forest, farms, and natural lands are lost to unplanned development every day in North Carolina. In addition to the loss of their natural character, equally tragic is the loss of their histories and stories—elements that make up the core of our region’s heritage and influence our values. Those who have lived amongst our mountains, worked their soils, and explored their rugged slopes have bestowed as much identity to them as the animals that roam the forests or the water that flows in their streams. CMLC is not simply conserving land, but also the timeless stories that they hold.

Peter already has several stories published, and plans to add new installments on a regular basis that will tell the stories behind CMLC’s more than 20,000 acres of protected lands in western North Carolina. You can read those stories here.

Peter Barr is CMLC’s Trails & Outreach Coordinator. He is the author of two hiking and historical guidebooks: Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers and the forthcoming Hiking the Southeast’s Highest Peaks. He has also written for Blue Ridge Outdoors, Smoky Mountains News, and Lookout Network. An avid hiker, Peter has reached the summit of every southern Appalachian peak exceeding an elevation of 5,000 feet as well as hiked all 900 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 2010, he thru-hiked the 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

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Gov't Agencies Conduct First Wildlife Habitat Project near Max Patch

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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Last week the USDA Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) announced that work is underway on the first wildlife habitat enhancement project in western North Carolina conducted under a first-of-its-kind agreement between the federal agency and a state agency.

This first project encompasses about 15 acres in an area known as “Catpen,” near Max Patch, a mountain bald with 360-degree scenic vistas. Catpen is near the North Carolina border in the Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest. Planning is underway for phase two of the Catpen Project, which will improve Max Patch Pond.

In phase one of the project, NCWRC employees are clearing away woody debris around native apple trees to open up a young forest area. The goal is to increase wildlife food sources such as apples and acorns.

“The Catpen Project will benefit deer, turkey, grouse, bears, neotropical songbirds and other species,” said Gordon Warburton, NCWRC regional supervisor for Western North Carolina.

Young forests, which provide habitat for numerous wildlife species, have declined in the Southern Appalachians.

The Wildlife Commission is providing the equipment, staff and technical expertise for this and other projects implemented under the master agreement. The Commission is working closely with Forest Service biologists to maximize the benefits of these wildlife projects. The projects employ some local workers and use locally purchased materials and supplies. The agencies will also contract with small businesses on the stewardship projects.

The Catpen Project meets objectives in the Pisgah National Forest land and resource management plan. The efforts will also contribute to goals under the NCWRC Wildlife Action Plan. The project is made possible by stewardship contracting authority, provided by Congress for the Forest Service until 2013.

Earlier this year, the National Forests in North Carolina and NCWRC signed the master stewardship agreement that includes this project. Subsequent projects will improve wildlife habitat by establishing important grassy and brushy areas for nesting and cover. The projects will improve the health and vigor of oak species and create other special or priority habitats. Other project areas may include the Cheoah and Nantahala Ranger Districts in the Nantahala National Forest as well as the Uwharrie National Forest.

Vibram FiveFingers Sale at REI! 5 Styles of FiveFinger Shoes on Sale + Free Shipping!

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2012 BRP and Smokies Calendars

Looking for a cool stocking stuffer? Check out some of the new 2012 calendars for the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway now available for purchase on our Amazon store. Both wall calendars include stunning scenic photos by acclaimed photographer, J. Scott Graham.

Our Amazon affiliate store also carries several other hiking and national park related calendars, as well as calendars for the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. You can view our entire selection by clicking onto our store, and then clicking on the "Gift Ideas" tab.

Thanks for your support!

Holiday Sock Sale - Up to 30% off

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Great Idea for Preventing Frozen Water Bottles

Monday, December 12, 2011

Last week I presented some tips for preventing water bottles from freezing solid while hiking in cold weather.

In the posting I mentioned that if you’re storing water bottles in your backpack on a very cold day, you may need to insulate them to prevent them from freezing. Using an old wool sock will work. I also mentioned that you may want to turn the bottle upside down to prevent the water from freezing at the neck.

A couple of days after publishing this blog I learned of another trick. This comes courtesy of Christian Vande Velde, the pro cyclist and Tour de France veteran. Vande Velde told the Wall Street Journal that he spends part of his off-season training in his hometown of Chicago - in the dead of winter. Vande Velde said that he combats frozen water bottles by adding a half shot of Grand Marnier to the bottle before leaving his house.

I think he might be on to something!

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Study: Camping is the Safest Recreational Activity

According to a study conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, camping ranks as one of the safest recreational activities in America. The hunting advocacy organization recently compiled data from the National Sporting Goods Association and the Consumer Products Safety Commission to compare total injuries per 100,000 participants in 29 recreational activities. Campers only reported 4942 injuries in 2010, versus an estimated 44,700,000 participation nights, or 11 injuries per 100,000 participants.

I found it quite interesting, and perplexing, that mountain biking had a much lower injury rate than "bicycle riding", which I would interpret to mean road cycling. The only explanation that I can think of is that "bicycle riding" includes more children.

Unfortunately hiking was not included in the study.

Here are the top 10 safest activities:

Here are the most unsafe activities:

Of course this study only measures the number of incidents, and doesn't look at the severity of these injuries, which would likely tell a much different story. You can look at the full table of activities on the Fact Sheet published by the NSSF.

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Hiking Essentials for the Smokies

Sunday, December 11, 2011

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Below are a couple of stocking stuffers for anyone interested in hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. With more than 800 miles of trails in the park, detailed topographical maps and hiking trail guides are great ways for hikers to discover new trails and new destinations in the Smokies.

Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park, by local hiker and outdoor photographer Kevin Adams, covers more than 80 hikes in the Smokies. The guide features photos, up-to-date trail information, trail maps, elevation profiles, clear directions from major access points, difficulty and traffic ratings for each hike, vacation planning, a hiker's checklist, and quick reference trail highlights.

National Geographic now has two separate Trails Illustrated Maps for the Great Smoky Mountains - in addition to the old map. National Geographic has divided the Park in two, thus allowing each map to show much greater detail. The original map, which covered the entire Park, had a scale 1:70,000. The two new maps now have a scale of 1:40,000 (1” = .6 miles) and provide much greater detail such as backcountry campsites, footbridges, fords and stream crossings, nature/interpretive trails, as well as detailed trail mileages.

The map for the western section of the Park includes the Cades Cove, Elkmont and Fontana Lake areas.

The map for the eastern section includes Clingmans Dome, Mt. LeConte, Newfound Gap Road, Big Creek and the Cataloochee areas.

Coverage Highlights Areas and places featured in this map series include: the Appalachian Trail, Benton Mackaye Trail, and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The maps also include scenic overlooks and roadside pull-outs.

Of course the original map, which covers the entire Park, is still available as well.


To see our full library of hiking and travel books for the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail and the surrounding Southern Appalachian region, please visit our Amazon store by clicking here.

Thanks for your support!

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Cyclists being shut out of Blue Ridge Parkway's Future Plans?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

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Several weeks ago I posted information concerning a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Blue Ridge Parkway’s General Management Plan. This draft plan, the parkway's first comprehensive management plan in its 75-year history, will provide comprehensive guidance for the Parkway for the next 20+ years.

In my posting I highlighted some of the changes and impacts hikers and campers could experience, depending on which of the three proposals is adopted. However, I neglected to review the document for impacts on cyclists. Apparently there is concern within the cycling community about the fact that the Blue Ridge Parkway is applying for National Historic Landmark status as a way of managing the parkway in an era of diminished national park funding. The Adventure Cycling Association contends that:

"the designation clearly sets a bad precedent -- one that cannot be easily undone. Under this status, any changes within the parkway will go under intense historic and environmental review, called the Section 106 process. This could halt or stagnate trail building, road maintenance, or any number of future improvements for bicycle access. In addition, other national parks could begin using this designation to “preserve” the status quo. Despite the growing interest in bicycling, park managers wouldn't have to accommodate cyclists or other non-motorized and alternative transportation users."

The Virginia Bicycling Federation is also raising similar concerns in a blog posting from earlier in the week:

Most troubling is an over-arching reference to the Parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience…” The Parkway was formed through legislation in 1936. Its managers seem to have a vision of retaining a “golden age” of that time. But let’s be realistic, a “traditional driving experience” in 1936 was far different than how users would choose to enjoy the Parkway in the 21st century.

If you are a cyclist, and have concerns about the future of cycling on the Parkway, you should note that public comments on the document will be accepted through December 16th.

You can submit written comments by mail to:

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


Today is the last day for Holiday Flurry Week Deals for Electronics on Amazon. Last chance to find deep discounts on computers, HDTVs, home audio gear, GPS devices, cameras, MP3 players, video games, and cell phones. Click hereto begin shopping.


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NC National Forests Take Strategic Approach to Managing Trails

Friday, December 9, 2011

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The USDA Forest Service in North Carolina announced yesterday that it will host multiple workshops next year to address management of non-motorized recreation trails across the Nantahala, Pisgah, Uwharrie, and Croatan National Forests.

Reading between the lines in the press release, as well as on the linked pages, it sounds to me like the Forest Service might be interested in closing some trails. And/or possibly closing access to some activities such as mountain biking or horseback riding. If you have an interest in any outdoor activity on National Forest lands in North Carolina, it might be a good idea to attend one of these meetings to make your voice heard.

“Referred to as the Non-motorized Trails Strategy, this effort gives partners the opportunity to identify sustainable forest trail systems,” said Forest Supervisor Marisue Hilliard. “I believe this initiative will produce high-quality trail systems that will better serve our visitors and the land.”

Public workshops for Pisgah and Nantahala National Forest trails start in early January 2012. The Uwharrie and Croatan National Forests meetings start in summer 2012. A complete list of meeting dates and times is posted here.

Representatives from a wide range of trail-user groups, individuals who represent local communities and ecotourism, or individuals not represented by larger user groups are invited to collaborate in the process, which is expected to take up to a year to complete. The result will be recommendations for a comprehensive trail management plan for each national forest in North Carolina, along with a stronger community of volunteers to assist with these efforts.

The Forest Service initiated this process because use of forest trails in North Carolina is increasing every year. Resources used to maintain trails have been static or decreasing. The emphasis will be on high-quality experiences on sustainable trail systems.

Through this process, the Forest Service and users will work together to look at the trail systems and recommend how to make the best use of current and future resources. The agency will use information generated from this process for the Nantahala/Pisgah National Forests Management Plan revision slated to start in 2013.

The National Forests in North Carolina includes 1.25 million acres of public lands, more than 1600 miles of non-motorized trails and nearly five million visitors per year, making it one of the most visited forests in the nation. For more information on the Trail Strategy, click here.

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First Winter Ascent of Mt. Rainier on 1922 Newsreel

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Check out this film from 1922 that documents the first ever winter ascent of Mt. Rainier by Jean and Jacques Landry, Jacques Bergues and newsreel cameraman Charles Perryman. It's also the first motion picture ever taken on the summit of Mount Rainier, and is the oldest known climbing or skiing film in the State of Washington.

The film come courtesy of The Mountaineers. In 2003, Charles Perryman's grandson, Steve Turner, contacted The Mountaineers about the film after reading about Perryman's climb in the Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project. This led to an eight-year effort by Skoog to acquire the newsreel films. The project was completed in October 2011:

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12 Days of Christmas Deals Begins Today

Thursday, December 8, 2011

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Altrec Outdoors annual 12 Days of Christmas Deals begins today. Each day through December 19th, Altrec will feature a different set of bargains for shoppers to take advantage of. Today the online retailer is offering hot deals on women's outdoor gear, which also includes free shipping. Please click here to begin shopping.

This week is also Holiday Flurry Week Deals for Electronics on Amazon. Deep discounts on computers, HDTVs, home audio gear, GPS devices, cameras, MP3 players, video games, and cell phones ends this Saturday. Please click herefor more information.

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Do you recognize this man?

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Does this sketch look like anyone you know:

Law enforcement officials encourage area residents to continue reporting any information they may have that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the man accused of raping a woman in the Nantahala National Forest on Sept. 25, 2011.

Investigators say they have received a steady stream of information, and they would like to see the trend continue. Posting signs and a description of the suspect can help. Investigators appreciate the public’s help. As part of a multi-agency manhunt, law enforcement officials are aggressively working to solve the case by following up on leads and using numerous other investigative tools, including forensic evidence. Law enforcement officials are committed to finding the suspect and bringing him to justice.

The USDA Forest Service, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, and the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) are seeking information on the rape that occurred Sunday, Sept. 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, State Road 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 seek 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, 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. A composite sketch (below) was rendered to assist in identifying the assailant. The sketch is also posted online.

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 USDA 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.

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Holiday Specials on Cabins in the Smokies

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As a way of thanking the advertisers on, I wanted to let you know about the specials they’re offering on overnight lodging in the Smokies during the month of December. These cabin owners offer lodging in Townsend, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge as well as the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. If you or anyone you know is planning on visiting the Smokies this month, please check out these outstanding offers:

Gatlinburg Falls Resort:

* BUY 2 NIGHTS GET 2 NIGHTS FREE (WEEKDAYS ONLY) (12/05/2011-12/15/2011)

Heartland Rentals:

* Stay 3 nights and get the 3rd night half off.
* Stay 4 nights and only pay for 3 nights!
* Stay 5 or 6 nights in December and get the 5th night free!!
* Stay 7 nights and only pay for 5 nights.

All offers exclude Christmas and New Years!

Moose Creek Crossing:


* Book any cabin for three nights or more and stay between November 15th - December 20, 2011 and receive 50% off one night. Discount applied to the least expensive night. Remaining inventory only. Not combined with other discounts. Not during holiday weekends. Must call our office at 1-888-972-2246 to receive this discount.

Timber Tops Luxury Cabins:

* 3 Nights for the Price of 2!
* 25% All Remaining Cabins for 2 Nights
* 4 Nights for the Price of 3 on ALL Cabins!

Excludes Holiday Rates (12/23/2011-12/31/2011)

**When making a reservation, please be sure to mention that you saw these specials on**

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Oconaluftee Holiday Homecoming

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

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The Great Smoky Mountains provided a few more details yesterday on the upcoming Oconaluftee Holiday Homecoming.

On Saturday, December 17, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host a Holiday Homecoming at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on demonstrations of traditional crafts from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Children and adults will have the opportunity to make a corn shuck doll, buzz button, and cinnamon ornaments to take home, or if they wish, to hang on the visitor center tree.

From 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. there will be an acoustic old time jam session focused on holiday music. "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 visitor center will be decorated for the holiday season and will include an exhibit on Christmas in the mountains in the past. Hot cider and cookies will be served on the porch accompanied by a glowing fire.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Highway 441), two miles north of Cherokee, N.C. For more information call the visitor center at (828) 497-1904. All activities are free and open to the public. Generous support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

And, don't forget about the 36th Annual Festival of Christmas Past at the Sugarlands Visitor Center this Saturday. Click here for more details.

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Firestorm building on Smokies Backcountry Fees

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A firestorm seems to have erupted over a backcountry fee system Great Smoky Mountains officials proposed back in July.

The controversy has been brewing ever since Great Smoky Mountains managers announced that they were considering a move to make all backcountry camping permits (for all sites) go through, an online and call-in reservation service. The proposal would cost backpackers between $2.25 and $10.00 to make a reservation for a backcountry campsite (depending on which of three proposals is ultimately adopted).

Since then, John Quillen, a self-employed drug counselor and avid backpacker from Knoxville, and Johnny Molloy, a local hiking book author, have taken up the crusade to fight the proposal.

First of all, I completely empathize with the position Quillen, Molloy and others have carved out. However, I must say, that I am on the fence about the whole issue. But I must also point out that several of the arguments the opposition presents on their website has a few holes in them. states that the backcountry fee proposal is effectively an entrance fee and it targets backpackers. That simply isn't true. Just like any other visitor, backpackers are allowed to enter the park for free. As the proposal stipulates, they may have to pay a fee to use overnight facilities in the park in the future, just like front country campers currently have to. The website also laments as to why tax dollars aren't being used to pay for these services. But I would argue that tax payer dollars should never be used to subsidize any recreational activities. There are, afterall, costs involved with maintaining those campsites. As mentioned, the park already charges a fee to camp in the front country, and it effectively charges a fee to rent a bike or a horse in Cades Cove. I do, however, agree that this "is a foot in the door for other entrance fees". As with any other governmental agency, this fee could become the impetus for other fees - the proverbial slippery slope.

One of the reasons the Smokies wants to implement a fee system is due to overcrowding at some sites. The Southernforestwatch website points out that the number of backcountry users peaked in the mid-1990s, and has seen a significant drop since then. Therefore, as the website points-out, there is no need for a comprehensive reservation system. Moreover, the website thinks that the park is misleading the public on this issue. Southernforestwatch states:

Take, for example, a printout from the Park’s own figures for a typical recent year. It shows a total of 72,907 camper nights for 108 campsites. That comes out to 675 campers per site for a full year, or less than two people per night. That’s hardly overcrowded, and the figures would show that the Park is misleading the public in even worse fashion if you remove Mt. Leconte and Appalachian Trail shelters. Over half of backcountry campsites averaged less than ONE CAMPER PER NIGHT.

However, as we all know, statistics can be misleading. Is it possible that most of those bag nights are concentrated in a small group of campsites, thus overcrowding those sites as the park states? I don't know, and simply looking at those statistics certainly doesn't answer that question.

Secondly, the Park states that there is overcrowding of backcountry campsites by non-permitted campers. If this is true, those people aren't being counted in the official statistics cited above.

The Southernforestwatch website also misrepresents the role of, the firm that would handle the reservation system. They state: seems to have some political clout. Owned by, a CANADIAN company, they are more than ready to outsource Smokies backcountry camping reservations through concession. What do they know about our mountains? Apparently, according to Ditmanson, a considerable amount. Enough to entrust them with all reservations and "trip planning" whatever that entails.

Actually,, who currently handles reservations for front country camping in the Smokies, wouldn't handle any of the trip planning advice. As a 7/29/11 Press Release states, "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."

Southernforestwatch also misrepresents the issue of stimulus tax dollars. "Last year conferred another 64 million EXTRA stimulus tax dollars to build roads and fix horse trails, now he (Superintendent Dale Ditmanson) wants to take more of our money to increase his staff." Unfortunately, those tax dollars were earmarked towards specific projects. They were never meant to go into the general budget. This is not an issue Southernforestwatch should be taking up with Superintendent Ditmanson. If they have a problem with this stipulation they need to address it with the President and Congress.

The problem with the proposal:

The park wants to "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." But with more than 800 miles of trails, and more than 100 backcountry campsites and shelters, how many rangers would the park have to hire to effectively manage the backcountry? To me it seems quixotic.

Southernforestwatch states that the Smokies "backcountry office is only manned a few hours per day" and is "turning away volunteers in droves". If this is true, this is a big problem. If the issue of making a reservation, and receiving trip planning advice can be accomplished through willing volunteers, then the Park, at a minimum, is guilty of mis-management.

Why not implement an online (only) reservation system that could handle the majority of the current phone call load. This would then free up time for the current staff at the Backcountry Information Center, already working three hours a day, to help with trip planning advice. I'll emphasize "online only". Using the call center services to make a reservation at would drive up expenses, thus increasing costs for backpackers. Why not minimize these fees by employing an online only system, in addition to the three hours of phone service at the Backcountry Information Center. Why not give a system like this a test for a year or two to see if this solves the problem?

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Discover the Joys of Winter Hiking

Monday, December 5, 2011

Many hikers tend to run from the woods as soon as the first snow flakes begin to fall. However, winter is great time to hit the trail. Not only are the crowds gone, but many parks show off their true beauty after a fresh snowfall. With just a little more attention to detail beforehand, anyone can have a safe and enjoyable hike during the winter.

Although it might feel quite frigid at the trailhead, your body will begin generating plenty of heat after just 10 or 15 minutes of walking. The best thing you can do to keep the cold out is to dress in layers: a base layer that wicks moisture off your body, a fleece jacket for insulating warmth, and a shell to keep you dry and to keep the wind from penetrating your core. Most importantly, dressing in layers allows you to adjust your attire as you heat-up or cool-off. When dressing for a winter hike, always remember the adage: cotton kills! Never wear anything made of cotton while hiking in the backcountry. Once wet, cotton no longer insulates you from the cold. Moreover, it wicks heat away from your body and puts you at risk of becoming hypothermic.

Some people are prone to cold feet in the winter. One of the keys to keeping your feet warm is to make sure they stay dry. Wear a good pair of hiking socks, made of wool blends or synthetic fabrics, that wick moisture away from your skin, retain heat when wet, and dry faster if they become wet. I always keep an extra pair in my pack in case the ones I’m wearing do get wet. (Expert Advice: How to Choose Socks) You should also wear above-the-ankle hiking boots which help to keep snow away from your feet. You may want to consider wearing gaiters, especially if there are several inches of snow on the ground.

To round-out your winter apparel, don’t forget about a good pair of gloves, a ski cap and maybe even a balaclava.

If the snow is too deep in the mountains, consider hiking at lower elevations, or even wearing snowshoes. If you expect a lot of ice, especially in areas where there might be steep drop-offs, consider bringing crampons specifically made for hiking. These are sometimes referred to as traction devices, or in-step crampons, which you can either strap-on or slide onto your boots.

Trekking poles are another excellent choice for helping to maintain your balance on sections of trail with slick ice and snow.

After outfitting yourself with the proper winter gear, hikers will then need to focus on staying hydrated and properly fueled while out on the trail. Hiking in the cold, especially in snow, burns more calories. By some estimates, hikers can burn as much as 50% more calories when compared to similar distances and terrain in the summer. By not consuming enough calories while on the trail you become prone to getting cold faster. Make sure you bring plenty of high-energy snacks with you to munch on periodically throughout your hike. Watch out for foods that can freeze solid, such as some power bars. Or, instead of storing in your backpack, put some snacks inside your fleece jacket. Your body should generate enough heat to prevent them from freezing.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, it can actually be easier to experience dehydration in the winter, versus hiking in the summer. Dehydration can occur faster in cold weather because the air is much drier. Moreover, dehydration can be dangerous because it can accelerate hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure you bring plenty of liquids with you, and drink often while on the trail.

If you’re storing water bottles in your backpack during a very cold day, you may need to insulate them to prevent them from freezing. An old wool sock will work in this case. Also, you may want to turn the bottle upside down to prevent the water from freezing at the neck. If you plan to be out for several hours, consider bringing a thermos containing a hot drink, or even soup.

Other winter hazards hikers need to be aware of include hiking in steep terrain that’s prone to avalanches, or a storm that covers the trail with fresh snow, thus making navigation difficult. You should always carry a topographical map and a compass with you in case you ever need help finding your way back to the trailhead if you were to become lost.

Other gear to bring with you includes a first aid kit, firestarter, waterproof matches, a pocket knife, an emergency blanket and maybe even a bivy sack.

Finally, let someone know where you’re going, when you’ll be back, and who to call if they don’t hear back from you at a specified time.

With a little care and preparation up front, anyone can discover the joys of winter hiking.

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High Allegheny National Park

Saturday, December 3, 2011

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Did you know there's a movement afoot for the creation of a new national park in West Virginia? I caught wind of the proposed High Allegheny National Park on The Goat last night.

Apparently, at the request of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, the National Park Service is looking into the creation of a National Park that would encompass parts of the Monongahela National Forest, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and the Otter Creek Wilderness Area. According to the Friends of High Allegheny National Park website, most of the land in the propsed park is already federally owned, so implementation costs will be minimal.

The new park would include the headwaters of the Potomac, Monongahela, and Greenbrier Rivers, several Civil War sites, as well as portions of the historic Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, a National Scenic Byway. There will also be plenty of outdoor opportunities, including hiking, paddling and cross-country skiing.

There is some concern among many West Virginians that their right to hunt and fish on the existing national forest lands would be curbed. However, in a recent blog posting on the The Charleston Gazette website, John McCoy states that he received a phone call from Marni Goldberg, press secretary for Sen. Manchin, who explained that "Sen. Manchin would never support legislation that might curb hunting in West Virginia’s mountain highlands or anywhere else. She said Manchin was willing to consider the area as a preserve, but not as a full-fledged national park."

The Friends of High Allegheny National Park further explains the issue with this statement on their website: "Interconnecting public lands will be Preserve Areas, where hunting will be allowed".

According to an NPS press release published last week, a survey will be conducted during most of 2012 to determine whether the "project area" meets criteria for designation as a National Park.

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A Hike in the Smokies

Friday, December 2, 2011

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Below is an interesting video published about a month ago by Matt Harris. Matt provides a very artistic presentation of his hike to Andrews Bald. Not sure what the horses towards the end have to do with anything, but the overall videography is very beautiful:

A Hike in the Smokies from Matt Harris on Vimeo.

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Origins of the Trails in the Great Smoky Mountains

Thursday, December 1, 2011

There are roughly 850 miles of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There’s also a lot of history underneath those trails we walk along today. How were these trails established? Who blazed them, and why?

Some of the earliest trails in what would become the national park were simple game trails, created by migrating bison, elk, and other large animals. Many of these were later adapted by the Indians in the area. The Cherokee used these established routes for trading with other tribes, and for reaching favored hunting grounds.

Over the years, with the steady encroachment of white settlers, many of the old Indian pathways were converted into stock trails and wagon roads. By the late 1800’s, big lumber companies were converting Indian trails into logging roads and railroads to help with the harvest and transport of timber.

A few of these old settler roads eventually became the hiking trails we use today. If you hike along the Old Sugarlands Trail, the Little River Trail or the Meigs Mountain Trail, you’ll be walking on some of the same roads used by the pioneers and homesteaders of this area.

Some of the footpaths we use today were blazed by one pioneer in particular.

Wiley Oakley, also known as the “Roamin Man of the Mountains”, was born in 1885 at the base of Mount LeConte. Tragically, his mother died when he was a young boy. To help deal with his grief he began wandering the hollows and mountains near his home. Reflecting back as an older man, he spoke of how he would try to climb the highest peaks to see if he could catch a glimpse of her in heaven.

As he grew older, Wiley’s responsibilities also grew. At sill a relatively young age he began helping the family with hunting and fishing duties. It was during this time that he spent “roamin” and hunting that he was discovering the unique features of the mountains and was even blazing his own footpaths. Eventually he became a hunting and fishing guide, and gained such a renowned reputation that he was soon guiding politicians, celebrities and businessmen from all over the country, including Henry Ford.

During the Park’s formation, Wiley became a major consultant and was called on by surveyors to help determine Park boundaries. Some of those paths he blazed earlier in his life eventually became official park trails.

Another early explorer by the name of Paul Adams is credited with blazing the trail from Alum Cave to Mount LeConte, as well as for helping to establish the famous lodge atop that same mountain.

Adams, an avid hiker, joined the Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Association in 1924, a group dedicated to making the Smoky Mountains into a national park. Later that same year Adams led an expedition to the top of Mount LeConte for the purpose of showing Washington dignitaries the rugged beauty of the Smoky Mountains, and to help promote the cause for national park status. The delegation spent the night in a large tent. The following year Adams would build a cabin on that same spot which eventually led to the establishment of the LeConte Lodge.

Although many trails in the Smoky Mountains follow all or parts of the routes developed by migrating animals, Indians, pioneers and explorers, the majority of trails still in use today were developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The CCC was a work relief program established in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, the CCC was created to combat unemployment during the Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1942, the CCC used 4000 men to build trails, campgrounds, bridges and ranger stations in the Smokies.

Some of the trails built by the CCC include Bullhead, Alum Cave, Kephart Prong, Maddron Bald, Sweat Heifer and Sugarland Mountain.

Since the early days of the Park, various hiking clubs have worked to improve the original CCC trails, and in some cases, construct new ones. One of those pathways, the granddaddy of all trails, was the Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT, runs for more than 70 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, entering from the north at Davenport Gap and exiting in the south near Fontana Dam. The highest point anywhere along the 2175-mile trail is at Clingmans Dome (6625 ft.). The trail also passes by other notable landmarks in the Smokies such as Charlies Bunion, Rocky Top and the historic stone fire tower atop Mt. Cammerer.

Although the AT was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye, cofounder of The Wilderness Society, it was Harvey Broome and Paul Fink that made it become a reality in the Smokies.

Harvey Broome was an early environmentalist, another one of the cofounders of The Wilderness Society, and a longtime president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. He, along with seven others, hiked the 70+ miles of AT through the Park in 1932 before the trail was completed. He was largely responsible for sighting most of the AT thru the Park.

Paul Fink, another leader of the movement that led to the founding of the national park, was also instrumental in blazing the AT through the Smokies. Fink was a member of the Board of Managers of the Appalachian Trail from 1925 to 1949, and was the author of “Backpacking Was the Only Way”, an account of early 20th century camping and backpacking adventures in the southern Appalachians.

Over the years, the Park has closed certain trails for various reasons. In the future, it’s likely that other trails will be closed and new ones will be created, demonstrating that the park isn’t static, but a park that continues to evolve.

Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park, by Kevin Adams, covers 80 hikes in the Smokies, and includes photos, trail maps, elevation profiles, and quick reference trail highlights.

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