Monday, December 31, 2012

RaysWeather.Com to offer webcams for the Blue Ridge Parkway

RaysWeather.Com announced on their Facebook page this week that they will be releasing a webcam and weather site for the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. RaysWeather.Com has provided detailed weather forecasts for northwestern North Carolina since 1999.

The new website will include "about 18 weather stations and webcams when we are done in January 2013". The project is funded by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.

As a sneak peak you can view the camera at the Mt. Pisgah Campground. The webcams allow you to select a 12-hour (or 24-hr) tab to view weather in a time-lapse loop.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Top 10 Stories from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012

2012 was another busy year for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park made headlines in the national media on a couple of occasions. Weather played a major role in shaping headlines this year. Below is my rundown of the top 10 stories from the Smokies over the past year:

10) Back in February the Appalachian Trail Conservancy granted $2,000 from its specialty license plate funds to the Friends of the Smokies to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies.

9) In June Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials confirmed the presence of invasive emerald ash borer beetles in the park. The beetles were discovered near Sugarlands Visitor Center and in the Greenbrier area. In November an infestation was discovered on an administrative trail in the Greenbrier area.

8) According to a study released by the National Park Service in January, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the nation's most visited national park, but it also tops the 397 national park units in visitor spending.

7) On July 1st, Mt. LeConte reached the highest temperature ever recorded atop the mountain. During the middle of a three-day heat wave, the thermometer topped-out at 81.5 degrees.

6) In October, Trails Forever officials announced that the first phase of the multi-year, Chimney Tops Trail Rehabilitation project was completed.

5) On June 8th a 44 year-old female was sexually assaulted while hiking on the Gatlinburg Trail. The victim received multiple stab wounds to the neck, shoulder and hand. She made her way to the Gatlinburg Bypass where she flagged down a passing motorist for assistance. The victim was then taken by helicopter to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where she was treated for her injuries. The assailant still hasn’t been caught, even after additional clues were released.

4) Back in March Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Dale A. Ditmanson announced that the proposal to begin collecting backcountry camping fees had been approved by the National Park Service. Ever since it was announced, the fee proposal has been an on-going controversy within the backpacking community, and has resulted in a lawsuit by the Southern Forest Watch.

3) In late October Hurricane Sandy dumped 34 inches of snow on Mt. LeConte, and 36 inches at Newfound Gap. The snow caught many people of guard, including one Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who became stranded on a remote section of trail between Pecks Corner and Tricorner Knob. The 56-year-old North Carolina man had to be airlifted from the trail, which was caught on video.

2) One of the great mysteries in the Smokies over the last year occurred when two young men went missing in two separate incidents, within one week. On March 15th Derek Leuking went missing from Newfound Gap. Five days later Michael Cocchini’s abandoned car was found about a mile south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The circumstances surrounding both cases were a bit odd. In August, park employees discovered items thought to belong to Cocchini near the area where his vehicle was originally found on Newfound Gap Road.

1) The biggest story of the year occurred on July 5th when an extreme thunderstorm, known as a derecho storm, swept through the west end of Great Smoky Mountains National and killed two visitors, caused multiple injuries, felled thousands of trees, and closed several trails for many days and weeks afterwards. The storm was caught on video here and here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, December 28, 2012

FMST Proposes Two Routes Through the Smokies

The December issue of the Carolina Mountain Club newsletter published a letter by the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that outlines their routing recommendations for the MST through the Great Smoky Mountains.

After months of review and public sessions, including input from the CMC, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has made a recommendation to the Southwestern Commission about the route of the MST in Western North Carolina. The FMST recommends two routes for for the trail:

* a northern route through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that takes advantage of the trail the CMC is about to complete to Heintooga Road.

* a southern "river valley" route that follows the Tuckaseegee River from Bryson City through Sylva, returning to the GSMNP route at Waterrock Knob.

To read the full letter, please click here.

To read a statement from Marcia Bromberg, the CMC President, please click here.

For more information on hiking the MST through the Smokies - as it exists right now - please click here.

Happy New Gear! Save up to 80% Off - Only at The Clymb through January 2nd at 859a PST.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tennessee State Parks Kick Off 2013 with First Hikes of the New Year

A couple of weeks ago I posted some information about the "First Day Hikes" program taking place across the country. Yesterday, the Tennessee State Parks website published their full list of scheduled hikes.

Tennessee State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes on New Year’s Day in commemoration of the park system’s 75th Anniversary. Each state park will host its own special hike in the first few days of the New Year.

From Meeman-Shelby to Fall Creek Falls to Roan Mountain and every state park in between, the 2013 First Hikes are designed for all ages and abilities. Some hikes will be approximately one mile in length and tailored for novice hikers, while others are lengthier and geared toward more experienced hikers. For a more in-depth look into planned First Hikes across the state, please visit

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter Scene in the Smokies

This photo was taken on the Bullhead Trail, near the junction with the Rainbow Falls Trail. When snow and ice make passage on the Alum Cave Trail a little sketchy, the Bullhead Trail, or the Rainbow Falls Trail are probably your best options for the hike up to Mt. LeConte in the winter.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Backpackers in Smokies enjoy improved food storage systems with help from friends

While enjoying a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, backpackers like to keep a respectable distance from black bears. With help from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the Friends of the Smokies, they can continue to do so in some of the most backpacker friendly wilderness hiking in the Southern Appalachians. The ATC has provided $800 from its specialty license plate funds to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail, a national park unit within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Using the grant funds from the ATC, Park staff and volunteers have installed cables that backpackers and trail improvement crews use to store food out of the reach of black bears. Cabling systems were renovated at the Derrick Knob shelter along the A.T. and installed at the new base camp of the Rocky Top Trail crew.

The improved storage system increases both visitor and bear safety by helping reduce the reasons bears would be attracted to shelter areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist with GSMNP. “The cables help protect hikers, campers, and the Rocky Top Trail Crew,” Stiver continued, “Not to mention keeping the bears from learning to depend on human food.”

Friends of the Smokies and the ATC have partnered in many additional ways to decrease the impacts on GSMNP from the heavy amount of use that the A.T. and Park see as well as impacts from overnight sites on wildlife. Privies have been repaired and all of the backcountry shelters along the A.T. in the Smokies recently renovated. Additionally, through the Ridgerunner program the two organizations provide a backcountry presence on the A.T. to help ensure a safe and pleasant experience.

“It’s all about working together to protect two great national parks, their visitors and their natural resources,” said Holly Demuth, North Carolina director of Friends of the Smokies. “We do best when we work together.”


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Forest Service Completes Repairs to Balsam Lake

The U.S. Forest Service yesterday announced that it has repaired the Balsam Lake dam and that the lake is being filled.

“We look forward to the stocking of fish in the spring, so visitors can again enjoy this majestic water” said Mike Wilkins, Nantahala District ranger, Nantahala National Forest.

In recent weeks, the Forest Service worked to fix a leak in the dam’s splash boards that control lake levels.

The design of the previous splash boards allowed too much water to pass around the end of the boards. A slight adjustment was made to the riser board installation, which controls lake levels. The adjustment will help maintain proper lake levels in the future.

Balsam Lake is located in the Nantahala Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First Day Hikes to be offered at every North Carolina State Park

Earlier in the week I posted some information on the "First Day Hikes" program being offered across the country on January 1st. Here's some additional information on what's going on at North Carolina State Parks:
First Day Hikes will be offered in every North Carolina state park and state recreation area Jan. 1, giving everyone an opportunity to exercise and celebrate nature as a New Year’s Day tradition, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

On the 2012 New Year’s Day, 1,392 hikers in North Carolina joined rangers and volunteers to walk a combined 4,573 miles along trails in the state parks and state recreation areas. For the second year, North Carolina’s state parks system will partner with American’s State Parks and the National Association of State Park Directors to nationally promote First Day Hikes.

“Exploring the year-round splendor of nature is quickly becoming a New Year’s Day tradition,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. “Every one of our state parks and state recreation areas is open on the holiday, and the ranger-guided hikes are an excellent way to keep fit during the holidays, connect with nature and develop a deeper appreciation for the rich natural resources that distinguish North Carolina.”

There will be at least 40 guided hikes in the North Carolina state parks system and more than 600 throughout the 50 states as part of the event, ranging from easy to challenging. At Falls Lake State Recreation area, a scavenger hunt will be part of a kid-friendly hike, and Hammocks Beach State Park plans an “Early Bird Hike” at 8:30 a.m. Hanging Rock State Park will present the “Five Overlooks Challenge, a 10-mile excursion across the park’s scenic peaks, while hikers at Weymouth Woods Historic Nature Preserve will visit the world’s oldest known longleaf pine. The Eno River Association will offer both long and short hikes as part of a decades-old tradition at Eno River State Park.

Details about First Day Hikes in North Carolina can be found under “Education” at and at, which also lists all hikes nationally.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Partners Complete New Shelter on Appalachian Trail

Hikers of the Appalachian Trail (AT) have a new shelter where they can rest their bones. The U.S. Forest Service today announced the completion of the Long Branch Shelter, located in the Standing Indian Basin in the Nantahala National Forest.

“Thanks to a lot of hard work and donations from partners, hikers of the AT can now seek shelter from the elements in a new solid, timber-framed structure,” said Mike Wilkins, ranger of the Nantahala District, Nantahala National Forest. “Because it is so well built, the Long Branch Shelter will serve AT hikers for decades to come.”

The shelter is located at the head of the Long Branch Drainage along the AT, a little more than two miles north of Forest Service Road 83. The shelter is about 17 miles from the City of Franklin.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy paid for the supplies. The Nantahala Hiking Club provided the labor, and local contractor Goshen Timber Frames provided the timbers and assisted in frame assembly. Nantahala Ranger District employees provided heavy machinery and logistical support during construction.

The Long Branch Shelter replaces the old Big Springs Gap Shelter, which was located just north of Albert Mountain. The Big Springs Gap Shelter will soon be dismantled because it has fallen into disrepair. The site had also suffered severe soil compaction and erosion over the years.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Take a First Day Hike

Start the year off on the right foot by taking a First Day Hike in a state park near you. All across the country state parks will be offering guided First Day Hikes on New Year’s Day 2013.

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, all 50 state park systems have now joined together to sponsor First Day Hikes.

An organization called America’s State Parks has compiled an online database of more than 600 hikes on their website. You can find a First Day Hike by clicking here.

There are numerous options for a First Day Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains region.

Countdown to Christmas! Last chance to save up to 85% on Camping Gear!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nantahala Ranger District Announces Seasonal Road Closures

The Nantahala Ranger District today announced season road closures from Jan. 2 to April 1, 2013.

During this period, the following roads are susceptible to freezing and thawing, and they become soft and easily damaged by traffic.

The roads to be closed are Boardtree (#388), Upper Nantahala (#67), Deep Gap (#71), Shingletree Branch (#713), Shope Fork (#751), Ball Creek (#83), and Connelly Creek (#86 through Alarka-Laurel), Wayah Bald (#690, Little Yellow Mountain (#367), Big Creek (#4567), Cold Spring Gap (#4663), Moses Creek (#4651), Old Bald Rd (#4652), Sugar Creek (#4665), Gage Creek (#4648), Wolf Mountain (#4663C), Charley Knob (#4654), and Beech Flats (#4668).

Winespring/Whiteoak (#711) will be left open as long as weather conditions permit. In addition, the Wayehutta Off-Road Vehicle area will close on Dec. 15, 2012.

For more information, contact Bryan Killian at 828-524-6441

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Great Smoky Mountains in Timelapse

Finally! A really good video of Great Smoky Mountain National Park in timelapse. At least this is the first that I can recall. What do you think of this short film by "MILapse":

Great Smoky Mountain Timelapse from MILapse on Vimeo.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, December 14, 2012

Proposal to merge NHP with Shenandoah National Park

A proposal to realign Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park with Shenandoah National Park will be discussed next week during a park advisory commission meeting in Strasburg, Virginia.

The December 20th meeting will include updates on several new projects, as well as a discussion on the proposed realignment of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP with Shenandoah National Park.

Individuals who are interested are encouraged to attend the December 20, 2012 meeting, which will take place at the Strasburg Town Hall, 174 East King Street, in Strasburg, Virginia. The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public. Questions may be directed to Diann Jacox, Park Superintendent at (540) 868-9176.

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP commemorates a nationally significant Civil War landscape and antebellum plantation by sharing the story of Shenandoah Valley history from early settlement through the Civil War and beyond. The park is located within the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, a National Heritage Area.

Created on December 19, 2002, the park encompasses approximately 3,700 acres across three counties and includes the key partner sites of Belle Grove Plantation (owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by Belle Grove, Inc.), Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation lands and Headquarters, Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation lands, and a developing Shenandoah County Park. The partner sites continue to be owned and operated independently.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Study: Hiking Improves Creative Reasoning

"Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

John Muir said this after visiting the future Glacier National Park area in the early 1890s. He obviously knew something back then that's taken researchers some 120 years later to prove.

In a study published this week on PLOS ONE, researchers from the University of Kansas and the University of Utah show that backpackers score almost 50% higher on creativity and problem-solving tests after spending four days in nature - while disconnected from all electronic devices.

The study was conducted on 56 people who went on 4-to-6 day wilderness hiking trips, organized by Outward Bound, in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, and Washington. No phones, tablets, computers, or other electronic devices were allowed on the trips.

Of these people, 24 took a 10-item creativity test the morning before the trip, and 32 took the test on the morning of the trip's fourth day. People who had been backpacking for four days got an average of 6.08 of the 10 questions correct, compared with 4.14 among people who had not yet begun the backpacking trip.

The research, however, could not conclude as to whether the increase in creativity was a result of being immersed in nature, or from being disconnected with technology.

To read the research article from the study, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

LBL Announces Winter Eagle Viewing Trips

Once again the Land Between The Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area will be offering bald eagle viewing excursions this winter, which will include van trips and river cruises.

Several opportunities are available to participate in eagle viewing trips during January and February. LBL guides take visitors to the best wildlife viewing hot spots on the 170,000-acre National Recreation Area. Visitors will most likely see migratory bald eagles, gulls, and other waterfowl, as well as native wildlife species, such as deer and turkey. Enjoy viewing the eagles December through February. Van trips meet and depart from the Golden Pond Visitor Center unless otherwise indicated. Dress appropriately for the weather, wear shoes suitable for moderate walking, and don’t forget to bring binoculars and field guides.

Back by popular demand, LBL will also host a weekend of river cruises January 19-21, including a special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day cruise January 21, for up close views of eagles from the water. Despite cold temperatures that usually keep people indoors, bald eagles thrive in winter conditions. What better way to view bald eagles than by relaxing on a river cruise in the comforts of the spacious and beautifully appointed CQ Princess? The 96-foot luxury yacht offers wonderful views from both outside on deck and indoors where it’s toasty warm!

Reservations and full deposits are required for all trips. Because eagle excursions are very popular, early reservations are encouraged. Gift certificates are available.

“LBL is a major wintering spot for bald eagles from northern areas such as Michigan and Canada,” stated Carrie Szwed, Nature Station Public Programs Coordinator. “Due to excellent coordination between state and federal agencies in past years to restore eagle habitats and populations, we have seen tremendous increases in eagles wintering and nesting in this area."

Reservations & full deposits are required for all trips. For more information or to reserve your space, call 270-924-2020 weekdays, 8am-4:30pm.

Van Tours: Moderate walking required. Dress for the weather. Meet and depart from the Golden Pond Visitor Center. ($5 ages 12 & under, $7 ages 13 & up.)

Jan. 5: 1-4:30pm
Jan. 6: 1-4:30pm
Jan. 12: 1-4:30pm
Jan. 13: 1-4:30pm
Jan. 27: 1:30-5pm
Feb. 2: 1:30-5pm
Feb. 3: 1:30-5pm
Feb. 10: 1:30-5pm

River Cruises: Cruises are $60 per person (meal included). Tours depart from Kenlake State Resort Park Marina. Visit for a peek at the CQ Princess luxury yacht.

Jan. 19: 8:30-11:30am (brunch cruise)
Jan. 19: 1-4pm (lunch cruise)
Jan. 20: 11am-2pm (lunch cruise)
Jan. 21: 11am-2pm Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (lunch cruise)

For additional information and prices visit or call 800-LBL-7077 or 270-924-2000.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Part of Davis Creek Road to Remain Closed until Next September

The USDA Forest Service today announced that a portion of Davis Creek Road on the Tusquitee Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest, will remain closed to thru traffic until Sept. 1, 2013 to complete road improvement work. Residents of the Tipton Creek Community will be able to access their property from both ends of Davis Creek Road.

The contract road work affects approximately three miles of the National Forest System Road (NFSR) 420-1 (also known as Davis Creek Road or Tipton Creek Road), from the intersection of NFSR 420-5 south to the intersection of NFSR 420-4. This construction work is incomplete and currently inactive, but will resume as soon as possible.

The project will result in greatly improved, safer, all-season access both to national forest lands and the Tipton Creek Community, as well as better access from Murphy north toward Tellico Plains in Tennessee. The Forest Service will construct a new asphalt route that will bypass steep switchbacks, which will be eliminated and restored to natural grade. The remaining portion of Davis Creek Road south, past Allen Gap to the pavement, will remain gravel. The project will close Davis Creek Road to traffic in the construction zone.

Travelers wishing to go west or north from Murphy toward Tennessee should use alternate routes during the closure period, such as Joe Brown Highway or Beaverdam Road. Questions concerning the road work may be directed to Karl Buchholz, engineer, at 828-257-4262.

The $508,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project will improve a roadway that serves visitors to the national forest and residents of surrounding communities.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, December 10, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Launches 469 Challenge

For the second time in two years, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation announces a year-end giving initiative - the 469 Challenge.

Inspired by the miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469 Challenge is an end-of-year effort to bring in one donation for every mile. According to Director of Development Christy Bell, “The 469 Challenge is our way to show the Parkway what it means to us. This campaign focuses on the act of giving, and gifts of any size will help us complete this challenge. This is a great opportunity for all Parkway neighbors and enthusiasts to get involved and really make a difference!” The 469 Challenge takes place during the last two months of the year, In 2011, the Foundation raised 452 donations towards the 469 Challenge. As of December 5th, the Foundation has raised 233 donations towards the 2012 Challenge.

As the primary fundraiser and trusted steward for the Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is charged with preserving the past, enhancing the present and safeguarding the future of the Parkway. Since its founding in 1997, it has worked in close cooperation with the National Park Service to meet the needs of the Parkway, providing over $3.4 million to fund needed projects that enhance and protect the natural, cultural, historic, and recreational qualities that make the Parkway an American treasure. In 2012, the Foundation has funded projects at popular spots including Graveyard Fields near Asheville, the Heart Pond and Price Lake in Blowing Rock, and Abbott Lake near Roanoke. The Foundation also funds year-round initiatives like Parks as Classrooms, allowing interpretive rangers go into schools in Parkway communities to connect students to the natural world and the cultural heritage of the region in a way that is real and meaningful, making over 45,000 contacts with schoolchildren annually.

With over 16 million visitors a year, the Parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park Service, more than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined. Yet with no entrance fee like these and other parks, declining federal budgets and the vast needs of an aging and expansive resource, the Parkway must rely on those who value it to continue to be the priceless resource treasured by millions. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation seeks the help of all Parkway neighbors and enthusiasts to complete the 469 Challenge to help protect the Parkway for today and the future.

You can learn more or donate online at

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Seeks Volunteer Community Ambassadors

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) seeks to fill fifteen volunteer positions as Appalachian Trail (A.T.) Community Ambassadors. These Ambassadors will support the A.T. Community™ program and their designated communities with outreach, education, local projects, events and initiatives in 2013. Applications are being accepted through December 20, 2012.

Launched in 2010, the A.T. Community™ program recognizes and thanks communities for their role in promoting the A.T. as an important community, national and international asset. The program also assists communities with local initiatives such as sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T. experience.

Ambassadors played a key role on the local community level to bolster volunteerism and stewardship of the Trail. They coordinate and support events in their local community, reach out to non-traditional hiking audiences, and/or recruit local citizens to work on maintenance, management and conservation projects on the A.T.

This year’s Ambassadors did everything from providing a series of classes and workshops for local residents, to leading hikes, including an African American History Hike in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which drew interest from across the region.

These positions offer volunteers the chance to gain experience in volunteer recruitment and coordination, play a key role in A.T. cooperative management partnerships, and make a difference in their own communities.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited about expanding its volunteer base by providing A.T. Ambassadors to designated A.T. Communities™ who help increase local stewardship of public lands and support healthy lifestyles for community citizens,” stated Julie Judkins, Community Program Manager of the ATC.

The ATC was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. Stretching from Georgia to Maine, the A.T. is approximately 2,180 miles in length, making it one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world. Volunteers typically donate more than 220,000 hours of their time doing trail-related work each year, and about 2 to 3 million visitors walk a portion of the A.T. each year. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of the A.T.

For more information or to apply contact Julie Judkins at 828-254-3708 or email

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Walkabout in the Smokies

In early October of 2012, Chris Gallaway spent two weeks hiking a circuitous route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Part of his motivation for this hike was to test his backpacking and camera setup - in preparation for the Appalachian Trail thru hike he's planning for next spring. Here are some of the sights, sounds and people he encountered during his fall hike in the Smokies:

Walkabout in the Smokies (filmed with the Nikon d800) from Horizonline Pictures on Vimeo.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, December 7, 2012

CD of Old-Time Smokies Music Nominated for Grammy

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is pleased to announce that the CD, Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music, produced by the Park's nonprofit educational partner, Great Smoky Mountains Association, has been nominated for a Grammy Award. The CD includes 34 historic songs, ballads, and instrumentals recorded in 1939 by "song catcher" Joseph S. Hall.

The Recording Academy announced the Grammy nominees on December 5 at a live program broadcast from Nashville and televised by CBS. Great Smoky Mountains Association's executive director Terry Maddox said, "This has been a huge surprise and a huge honor for a small association like ours. We're overjoyed at the nomination and proud that we've played a role in preserving these very special recordings."

The little-known Smoky Mountain recordings were collected when Hall was a young graduate student on a project to collect genuine Smokies speech and music. The creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1930s forced hundreds of families to pack up and leave their mountain homes and relocate elsewhere. Hall's mission was to preserve as much as he could before the unique culture had dispersed.

Performers Hall recorded were influenced both by their unique traditions as well as modern inventions like record players and radios. Even though the stereotypical mountain cabin had no such appliances and its residents were thought to be utterly cut off from the outside world, in reality, even in 1939, many folks gathered around their music machines to listen to stars like Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and Roy Acuff. Their music evolved like music everywhere, blending the old and new, the local with the national. Songs featured on the CD include "My Home is in the Smoky Mountains," "Don't Forget me Little Darling, Mule Skinner Blues, Ground Hog, On Top of Old Smoky, and Up on Pigeon River."

As part of Great Smoky Mountains Association's effort to produce the CD and preserve the cultural history of the area, the producers issued news releases throughout the region to track down any surviving musicians featured on the recordings or their descendants. The response exceeded their expectations. At least 18 relatives of the original musicians featured on the CD responded enthusiastically and sent photographs and anecdotes about their relatives. Two of the musicians recorded in 1939 were still alive. The photos and information were incorporated into the 40-page liner note booklet that accompanies the CD.

Three scholars integral to the development of the CD and its extensive liner notes were Dr. Michael Montgomery of the University of South Carolina, Dr. Ted Olson of East Tennessee State University, and Park Ranger Kent Cave of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dr. Montgomery has dedicated decades to preserving Hall's works and publishing materials related to his collections, including the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Dr. Olson is an accomplished banjo player and professor of Appalachian Studies. He is also editor of the Journal of Appalachian Culture. Ranger Cave is a renowned expert on Smoky Mountain history and co-editor of Smokies Life Magazine, History Hikes of the Smokies and many other publications. Others contributing to the project include Lisa Horstman, graphic artist and cover designer, John Fleenor, sound engineer, Betsy Layman, lyrics transcriber, and Steve Kemp, co-editor and co-producer.

Great Smoky Mountains Association is a private non-profit organization whose mission it is to support the preservation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park through education, interpretation, and research. Established in 1953, the Association has since provided over $29 million in support to the national park. To learn more about the association's projects and membership opportunities, please click here.

For more information regarding the Grammy Nomination, please visit

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Park Hosts Holiday Homecoming at Oconaluftee Visitor Center

On Saturday, December 15, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host a Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on traditional craft demonstrations from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Children and adults will have the opportunity to make a corn shuck doll, buzz button, and cinnamon ornament to take home. Visitors will be encouraged to make a cinnamon ornament to hang on the visitor center tree for years to come.

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 apple cider and cookies will be served on the porch with a fire in the fireplace.

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. Support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Video: Cades Cove Prescribed Burns

Last month Great Smoky Mountains officials announced plans for a prescribed burn in Cades Cove. The burn was part of a long term effort to prevent the fields in Cades Cove from returning to forest. Selected fields in Cades Cove are burned on a three year rotation as part of a cost-effective strategy to maintain an open landscape, reminiscent of the days of farming. In the latest video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association, see how the park's fire crew controls one of nature's destructive, yet renewing forces, and uses it to preserve the character of the most popular destination in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Man Arrested for Breaking into Cars in the Smokies

From NPS Digest:

While conducting a surveillance operation on the morning of Sunday, December 2nd, a ranger saw what appeared to be a man breaking into a vehicle parked at the Chimney Tops Trailhead on Newfound Gap Road. The man then left the area in a Ford pickup. When rangers attempted to stop the truck on Little River Road west of Sugarlands Visitor Center, the man fled and continued to elude rangers until he exited the park at the Townsend Wye. Once outside the park, rangers turned over the pursuit to Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who took the 38-year-old Tennessee man into custody after he crashed his truck.

Rangers and special agents subsequently confirmed the theft of property from a visitor’s Ford Explorer parked at Chimney Tops Trailhead. The investigation of the offenses occurring within the park continues; federal charges are anticipated.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, December 3, 2012

Database of the Smokies: New UT online bibliography of the Smokies

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Libraries has released a free online bibliography of Great Smoky Mountains material. “The Database of the Smokies” (DOTS) provides citations to written works about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and bordering communities from 1935 to the present.

The bibliography is indexed by subjects and also searchable by keywords to accommodate different search strategies. Links to the full text of resources are provided when available. Sources published before 1935 are covered in the upcoming annotated bibliography, Terra Incognita: Writings on the Great Smoky Mountains from 1544 to 1934.

Formats included in the bibliography are:

• published books
• scholarly and popular articles
• personal narratives
• government reports
• theses
• travel guides
• maps
• literature
• handbooks

To visit the database, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, December 2, 2012

UNC-TV series examines environmental issues in North Carolina State Parks

A three-part series on North Carolina state parks, produced by UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication students, will air Dec. 3-5 at 7:30 p.m. on UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Now.”

The reports look at environmental issues facing Gorges State Park in the mountains of Transylvania County, Eno River State Park in Orange and Durham counties, and Fort Macon State Park on Bogue Banks near Morehead City.

The series was written and produced by students in the school’s Medical and Science Journalism Program as part of professor Tom Linden's “Science Documentary Television” course.

“This series focuses on three of our state’s natural and historical treasures,” said Linden, who narrated the reports and served as executive producer. UNC-TV videographers Mike Oniffrey and Pete Bell shot the series, along with additional videography supplied by the students and Patrick McMillan, a Clemson University biology professor.

"The learning experience between state parks, UNC, Dr. Linden and his students demonstrates the tremendous opportunities made possible through partnerships," said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. "We greatly appreciate the commitment and hard work of the students and the public outreach and education benefits created through this partnership and we look forward to similar cooperative projects in the future."

Ledford and Jonathan Howes, former secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and former chair of the N.C. Parks and Recreation Authority, assisted the class with the project.

The first part of the series examines how a temperate rain forest in Gorges State Park supports one of the most diverse ecosystems in the eastern United States. The second report tells the story of an exotic plant from Asia that threatens to upset the natural ecosystem in the Eno River. The final report traces the long battle to save Fort Macon from the ocean's relentless onslaught.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 30, 2012

Appalachian Trail Re-opens - Black Mountain Fire 100% Contained

The Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain and its approach from Amicalola Falls State Park reopen today after a five day closure imposed while the U.S. Forest Service and partners battled a large wildfire in the area.

The Black Mountain Fire is now one hundred percent contained within a 455 acre containment area. It began Saturday near the Black Mountain and Springer Mountain area of the Chattahoochee National Forest near the Dawson, Gilmer, Fannin and Lumpkin County lines. A large response team was mobilized which included the local U.S. Forest Service Type 3 Incident Management Team and crews from a neighboring national forest. Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lumpkin County Fire Department and Gilmer County Fire Department all assisted in the response.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The wildfire did not affect any structures, including the Black Mountain trail shelter, and was not a threat to Amicalola Falls State Park or the Len Foote Hike Inn.

All temporary closures have been lifted for the Appalachian Trail approach trail from its crossing on Forest Road 28-2 at Nimblewill Gap to the Springer Mountain trailhead parking area on Forest Road 42. In addition, Forest Road 46 between Nimblewill Gap and High Shoals Church Road is now open.

Hiking in the Smokies

Memorial To Dana Bruce Dedicated

At noon on November 15th, friends, family, and coworkers of maintenance worker Dana Bruce gathered in the courtyard of headquarters of the Blue Ridge Parkway to dedicate a memorial to him. Dana, a third year seasonal employee, died while mowing Haw Creek Valley Overlook on May 7th.

During comments made by Shawn Benge, deputy regional director for Southeast Region, the attendees were reminded that every NPS employee is impacted by Dana’s death.

“I take my role in employee safety very seriously,” said Benge.” In Southeast Region, we’re working to increase our capacity in delivering strategic safety service to the field through the implementation of an executive safety committee, which the parkway has helped plan. There is nothing more important to the regional directorate than for you to arrive home safely each day.”

The memorial was designed by Blue Ridge employees, created at the Carolina Bronze Foundry, and constructed by Brandon Hensley. It rests near a memorial honoring Joe Kolodski, a ranger who died in the line of duty in 1998.

Superintendent Phil Francis and deputy superintendent Monika Mayr reflected on Dana’s contributions and invited his widow, Denise, to visit the memorial to her husband whenever she could: “We are reminded of our responsibility to care for all of you and for ourselves as we go about the activities of this – and every – day. We must remember what these memorials mean to us.”

“We are deeply saddened by this loss of a committed employee and friend who came to the NPS after retiring from his career,” said Gordon Wissinger, acting regional director for Southeast Region and a former chief ranger at Blue Ridge Parkway. “We work together to prevent similar future incidents. Tragic accidents like this remind us to slow things down a bit – especially on those work duties that are routine – and to continue to look out for each other. We are as strong as our team commitment to safety.”

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Great Smoky Mountains Celebrates Christmas Past

Great Smoky Mountains National Park announces the 37th annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration scheduled Saturday, December 8th, 9:30 am to 4:00 pm, at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The event, sponsored in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, is free to the public.

Festival of Christmas Past is an annual celebration of the culture of the Smoky Mountains, with an emphasis on the Christmas season. "Around Christmas time, people gathered in churches, homes, and schools and many of them celebrated the holiday through music, storytelling, and crafts. Festival of Christmas Past allows us to pause and remember some of these traditions," said Kent Cave, North District Resource Education Supervisor.

The festival will include old-time mountain music and traditional harp singing. Demonstrations of traditional domestic skills such as the making of rag rugs, apple-head dolls, quilts, and apple butter will be ongoing throughout the day. There will also be several chances to experience these traditions hands-on, with crafts to make and take home.

The Christmas Memories Walk will be held at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm to teach visitors about the spirit of the season in these mountains in the time period from the 1880s to 1930s. "The Memories Walk always gets everyone in the Christmas spirit," said Cave. "Our wonderful volunteers portray some colorful characters that you might have found in a mountain community. We have a great time developing these skits each year."

The full schedule of events for the day includes:

• 9:30 am - Old-fashioned Harp Singing led by Bruce Wheeler, Paul Clabo and Martha Graham
• 11:00 am- Old Time Music with Lost Mill String Band
• 12:00 pm- Stories of the Past panel discussion, presented by the Smoky Mountain Historical Society
• 1:00 pm - Old Time Music with the South of the River Boys
• 2:00 pm - Old Time Music with Boogertown Gap Band
• 3:00 pm - Old Time Christmas with Tony Thomas and Judy Carson
• 11:00 am -12:30 pm and 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm - "Christmas Memories Walk" - Costumed interpreters will lead a short walk from the visitor center and talk about life in the mountains during the holidays in the early days of the 1880s to the 1930s.

"Local craftspeople and musicians come together to share their ancestral skills with the public during this annual festival. We invite the public to participate in the day's activities and learn about winter life and work in the Great Smoky Mountains," said Cave.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cades Cove Loop Road To Be Closed for Adelgid Spraying

Managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced plans to implement a complete closure of the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road to all vehicular traffic on Monday, December 3, and to impose a partial closure on Tuesday, December 4. During that time, Park forestry technicians will treat hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA)-infested hemlock trees with a horticultural oil sprayed from large truck-mounted units as they have been doing since 2004. In the event of heavy rain or freezing weather, the operation will be rescheduled. To check the status of the road closure, visitors can call the Park's general information number at 865/436-1200 or follow our roads status on Twitter at

During the full closure on December 3, only hikers will be allowed to travel the Loop Road. Bicyclists will not be allowed to enter the Loop Road for safety reasons since there will be heavy equipment on the road making it unsafe for bicycling. Park personnel will be working at the entrance and exit areas of the Loop.

The spraying operation on December 4 will only impact the western end of the Loop Road. Motorists and cyclists will be able to enter the Loop as they normally would, but will have to detour across the Loop via Hyatt Lane (the second gravel crossroad) to exit Cades Cove. Hikers can continue through the closed portion. The detour will shorten the length of the trip to an 8-mile tour of Cades Cove. The Hyatt Lane bypass will eliminate access to the Cades Cove Visitor Center and Cable Mill area as well as the several trailheads located on the western end of Cades Cove: Abrams Falls, Cooper Road, Rabbit Creek, and Wet Bottom Trails, and Gregory Ridge trailhead.

As part of the Park's control efforts of the hemlock woolly adelgid, actions include spraying hemlock trees with the oil/soap application in high-use developed areas that are easily accessible by vehicles such as Cades Cove, campgrounds, picnic areas and along roadsides.

Jesse Webster, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Project Coordinator, said that, "In addition to spraying trees in developed areas, the Park is utilizing a systemic pesticide to treat some of the larger hemlocks in the spray zone. The systemic treatments move into the tree canopy with sap flow and can effectively control adelgids for 5-7 years which can be a more practical and cost effective approach to management. The spray acts as a quick knockdown allowing the systemics to catch up."

The park employs a three-prong approach that also includes the release of predator beetles. All of the chemical and biological control techniques are showing positive effects in areas of these treatments, despite the noticeable decline of tree vigor and mortality throughout the Park. Currently about 600 acres are being sprayed annually, over 220,000 hemlock trees have been hand-treated with systemic pesticides spread across 8,000 acres, and about a half-million predator beetles have been released.

Hiking in the Smokies

The Smoky Mountain Explorer: Clingmans Dome

Next spring the Great Smoky Mountains Association will be releasing a documentary based on Clingmans Dome, and the Spruce Fir Forests that cling to the spine of the highest mountains in the Southern Appalachians. These unique rare ecosystems are very vulnerable, and are relics from the last ice age. This documentary will be the first in the new Smoky Mountain Explorer series, which will encompass and document a large portion of the parks unique habitats, wildlife, and flora.

The Smoky Mountain Explorer series will be approximately 8 segments of 40 minutes apiece, with Clingmans Dome kicking off the series. The film will be available at GSMA stores in blu-ray format, and through digital downloads through iTunes.

Here's the official trailer for the first film:

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Extreme Hiking: Angels Landing

One of Zion National Park’s most famous features is the death-defying hike up to Angels Landing. The trail climbs 1200 feet in roughly 2.4 miles. The last half-mile features sharp drop-offs along a very narrow path, and includes chains for hikers to hold onto. The chains are there for a very good reason. In the past eight years alone, six people have plunged to their deaths after losing their footing along this trail.

Below is an excellent video that shows what hiking this trail is all about. Back in September my wife and I visited Zion. Although this trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park, we opted not to take it. Instead, we hiked up to Observation Point, which is a bit safer, and arguably offers better views, including a birds-eye view of Angels Landing.

If you've never been to the park, I highly recommend it. The question is, would you hike to Angels Landing? With a baby?

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, November 26, 2012

Forest Service Responds to Black Mountain Wildfire

The U.S. Forest Service and partners are responding to a wildfire burning approximately 215 acres near the Black Mountain and Springer Mountain area of the Chattahoochee National Forest near the Dawson, Gilmer, Fannin and Lumpkin County lines. A large response team has been mobilized, including the local U.S. Forest Service Type 3 Incident Management Team and crews from a neighboring national forest. Partners including Georgia Forestry Commission, Lumpkin County Fire Department and Georgia Department of Natural Resources are assisting in the response. The fire was first reported on November 24 around 7:00 p.m. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Officials have not identified any structures being threatened at this time. The wildfire is not threatening Amicalola Falls State Park or Len Foote Hike Inn.

Officials are advising the public to avoid the area. A temporary closure has been issued for the Appalachian Trail approach trail from its crossing on forest road 28-2 at Nimblewill Gap to the Springer Mountain trailhead parking area on forest road 42, including the Black Mountain trail shelter. Forest road 46 is also temporarily closed between Nimblewill Gap and High Shoals Church Road.

You can view vicinity and local area maps showing the location of the Black Mountain Fire by clicking here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Help Support This Season

As you do your Christmas and Holiday shopping this season, please keep in mind that you can help support by shopping from our Amazon affiliate program. By clicking on the AD below (or any Amazon AD on our website) you receive the exact same low prices and great service that you would receive if you went directly to the Amazon home page:

Thanks again for all you support - we really appreciate it!

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Discover the Joys of Winter Hiking

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.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 23, 2012

Essentials for the Smokies Hiker

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 sections, 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, Oconaluftee 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.

As always, thanks for your support!

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, November 22, 2012

White County/Helen, Georgia Designated an Appalachian Trail Community

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), along with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) and the city of Helen, invites the public to attend the official designation of White County/Helen, Georgia as the newest Appalachian Trail Community™ on November 30, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. The ceremony will be held at the Bandshell Amphitheater located 100 feet north of the Chattahoochee River near Hwy 17/75 in downtown Helen, Georgia. This event is free and open to the public.

Over 40% of White County is comprised of state and federal public lands, making outdoor recreation a dominant feature of this mountain community. The city is most known for its Bavarian flavor, giving tourists a taste of the southern Appalachians.

The designation ceremony will begin with the national anthem performed by Charles Aiken, thru-hiker and longtime GATC volunteer and Trail-maintainer. Aiken was first introduced to the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) at age 12 and has continued to share his passion for the Trail ever since. He recently developed a hiking program, now active in various North Georgia schools, where students can learn about the history of the A.T. and experience the outdoors.

Following the national anthem, various guests will present including Mark Wenger, executive director/CEO of the ATC, Morgan Sommerville, southern regional director of the ATC, Mayor Judy Holloway and Tom Aderhold, former president of GATC and longtime volunteer awarded the 50 Year Service Award by the National Park Service for his efforts managing the A.T.

The Appalachian Trail Community™ is a new program of the ATC, the nonprofit responsible for management and protection of the A.T. Launched in 2010, this program recognizes and thanks communities for their part in promoting the A.T. as an important local and national asset.

* White County/Helen, Georgia A.T. Community Designation Ceremony
* Date: November 30, 2012
* Time: 11:00a.m.
* Locations: Bandshell Amphitheater in downtown Helen, 100 feet north of the Chattahoochee River near Hwy 17/75

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Smoky Mountains Confirms Emerald Ash Borer Infestation in Backcountry

Park Resource Managers recently confirmed the Smokies first backcountry emerald ash borer (EAB) infestation. According to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Biologist, Glenn Taylor, "The emerald ash borer is a 1/2 inch-long metallic green beetle that lays eggs on the bark on all species of ash trees. After hatching, the EAB larvae burrow under the bark, and create feeding tunnels that cut off nutrient and water flow to the tree. The tree can die in three to five years." Accidentally introduced to North America from Asia, EAB was first discovered in southeast Michigan in 2002, and has spread to 16 states and two Canadian provinces killing tens of millions of ash trees.

Since 2009, officials have been monitoring for the presence of EAB. Front country infestations were confirmed in June 2012 at Sugarlands Visitor Center and at the Greenbrier entrance to the Park. An off-duty park employee discovered the backcountry infestation on an administrative trail in the Greenbrier area on November 8, 2012. The employee noticed a pile of bark chips at the base of several ash trees. Signs of woodpecker activity on ash trees is an excellent indicator of an EAB infestation. Paul Merten, a forest insect specialist from the USDA Forest Service in Asheville, NC, confirmed EAB at the site by looking under ash tree bark for feeding tunnels left by the immature beetle. "The infestation is well established, probably two years old or older," Merten said.

Complete eradication of EAB is not currently feasible, but Park Resource Managers are developing a management plan to maintain public safety and protect ash trees where possible. EAB and other tree pests can be transported in firewood. Park regulations prohibit bringing firewood to the Smokies from areas that have been quarantined for EAB or other destructive pests. For more information about firewood regulations at the Smokies, visit the park website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Forest Service Kicks Off Revision of Nantahala-Pisgah Management Plan

Kristin Bail, forest supervisor of the USDA Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina, has announced that the agency is beginning the formal process of revising the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan (the Plan). The Plan will guide management of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests for approximately 15 years.

“I am pleased to announce that the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan will be among the first forest plans across the country to be revised under the new Planning Rule, unveiled earlier this year,” said Bail. “Today, we start the multi-year process of using the best available science and input from a wide variety of stakeholders to formulate a Plan that will guide management of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests into the future.”

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are two of four national forests in North Carolina that are managed by the Forest Service. The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are found in western North Carolina and encompass more than 1 million acres. Together, they are among the most visited national forests in the nation.

The Plan revision process will occur over a three-to-four year period. It begins with the Assessment Phase, which will take about a year to complete. During this phase, the Forest Service will collect and compile data and other information on the current state of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. The Planning Phase, which follows the Assessment Phase, will take two to three years to complete. After the Plan is completed, the Monitoring Phase will begin and continue until the next Plan revision.

In the coming months, the Forest Service will provide details on meetings and other information that foster public participation in the Plan revision process. Information about the Plan revision process is available online at: To receive email updates on the Plan revision, visit and click on “To receive News and Alerts by Email, ” then select Nantahala or Pisgah National Forest.

Originally published in 1987, the Plan received a significant amendment in 1994. Each national forest and grassland is governed by a management plan in accordance with the National Forest Management Act. These plans set management, protection and use goals and guidelines.

The 2012 Planning Rule guides the planning process. The rule includes stronger protections for forests, water and wildlife, while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities. It requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions. The 2012 rule strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process.

Hiking in the Smokies

The Top 10 Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last week we announced the launch of our brand new hiking website for Rocky Mountain National Park. Today I wanted to offer you my top 10 hikes in case you're considering a visit to this beautiful national park in Colorado. If you're unfamiliar with the park, I think you'll find this list to be a helpful guide as you make your plans.

Hallett Peak - For those that feel that Longs Peak is just a little too hard, or maybe too dangerous, Hallett Peak just might be the perfect mountain to satisfy your big mountain, “summit fever”. Reaching a height of 12,713 feet, the mountain provides a great opportunity to feel like you’re on top of the Rockies, without being exposed to dangerous drop-offs

Chasm Lake - Hands down this is the best lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to outstanding panoramic views on the way up, you’ll have a front row view of the famous “Diamond”, the east-facing wall of Longs Peak which rises more than 2,400 feet above this incredibly beautiful alpine lake.

Emerald Lake - The hike to Emerald Lake takes you deep into the Tyndall Gorge, and visits three other beautiful subalpine lakes along the way. Although Bear Lake and Dream Lake are nice stops, Emerald Lake is the true gem in this chain of lakes fed by the Tyndall Glacier.

Ute Trail - Want great panoramic views without having to climb a lot of altitude? The Ute Trail is the perfect choice. This relatively flat hike along Tombstone Ridge offers hikers the chance to explore the alpine tundra zone, while soaking in the outstanding views of Forest Canyon, Longs Peak, Moraine Park and Estes Park.

Sky Pond - Surrounded on three sides by sheer cliff walls, Sky Pond offers hikers a dramatic scene. What makes this hike a RMNP classic is that you’ll visit two waterfalls and two other stunning lakes along the way. However, the scramble next to Timberline Falls to reach the basin may present a challenge for people with a fear of heights.

Bear Lake to Fern Lake TH - As a result of Rocky Mountain National Park’s excellent shuttle system, hikers have the option of taking the spectacular one-way hike from Bear Lake to the Fern Lake Trailhead in Moraine Park. Along the way you’ll visit four magnificent lakes, a 60-foot waterfall, plus you’ll make the spectacular descent into the Odessa Gorge.

Lake Helene - Although Lake Helene is denoted on the official park map, the side trail leading to its shore isn’t marked with a trail sign. Don’t let this deter you - this is one of the most scenic lakes in the park.

Bluebird Lake - This is another hike that offers several attractions along the way, including three waterfalls. Bluebird Lake, which fills a deep cirque beneath Ouzel Peak along the Continental Divide, is the star attraction.

The Keyhole on Longs Peak - This hike should probably rank higher, but I had to take it down a few notches due to its level of difficulty. In terms of distance and elevation gain, this is a very difficult hike. The terrain - crossing the Boulder Field and then making the scramble up to the Keyhole - makes this an extremely difficult hike, and is likely the most difficult hike I’ve ever been on. However, the payoff is quite large. The views along the way, as well as from the Keyhole itself, are simply amazing.

Lake Haiyaha - Lying in the heart of Chaos Canyon, Lake Haiyaha offers a stunning vista of the surrounding area. From its rugged shore hikers will have outstanding views of Otis Peak and Hallett Peak.

You should also consider the Mount Ida Trail. If you think most of these hikes are too long, or maybe too strenuous, check out my list of the Best Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Are Threats of Budget Cuts Closing National Parks Overblown?

A lot is being made recently on how Congressional budget cuts could possibly close several national parks around the country. Earlier in the month, Craig Obey, Senior Vice President for the National Parks Conservation Association, published this statement on the NPCA website:
“With looming closures throughout the national park system if scheduled cuts occur in January through the budgetary sequester, we are encouraged to hear President Obama and congressional leaders focusing on the necessity of a balanced approach to addressing the federal deficit. In fact, the first leg of that stool was the Budget Control Act, which already cut significant funds for national parks and other worthwhile programs. It is time for our leaders to bring more balance to the equation.

“If Congress fails to find a solution by January, more than $200 million dollars could be cut from the National Park Service budget, which would likely close visitor centers and campgrounds, and could put as many as 9,000 rangers and other park employees out of a job. These cuts could close as many as 200 park sites across the country.

“According to a recent poll, 92 percent of Americans believe funding for national parks should either remain steady or be increased. Sequester or not, our national parks will face a tough decade ahead. They cannot afford additional cuts after two consecutive years of cuts and a budget in today’s dollars that is 15 percent less than it was a decade ago.

“America’s 398 national parks – from the Statue of Liberty to Yellowstone’s geysers, to the magnificent Grand Canyon – are treasured places that tell the stories of our country’s shared heritage, drawing tourists, and tourist dollars from throughout the world. We call on the President and Congress to find a balanced approach that doesn’t mindlessly cut national parks, which generate more than $30 billion in economic activity each year.”
I'm going to have to take the contrarian view here, and say that these fears are simply overblown. Whenever the idea is floated that parks could be closed due to budget cuts, it conjures up images of the Great Smoky Mountains or Glacier National Park being shut down. In reality, those headlines are referring to national park units that most people have never heard of, such as Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in Texas, or River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Michigan. The cynical side of me thinks that these assertions are meant to scare people into coughing up more of their tax dollars.

Right now there are 398 national park units, which include national parks, monuments, battlefields, lakeshores, seashores, historic sites, etc. Based on the current budget shortfalls within the National Park Service - even before the proposed cuts - it's pretty obvious that the NPS has over-extended itself. From my perch it's clear that the NPS has taken on responsibilities for far too many properties beyond the scope of their charter.

Wouldn't it be better if the federal government sold parks such as Devils Postpile National Monument, or Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, back to the states to be managed under state park systems? Or, what if some parks, such as Weir Farm National Historic Site, or Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, were sold to private entities - with certain stipulations - and run as for-profit organizations, or maybe even as a non-profit foundation, similar to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello?

In my view, this would allow the NPS to concentrate its limited resources on running the parks and monuments that deserve national recognition and preservation, more efficiently.

What are your thoughts?

Hiking in the Smokies