Delicate Arch

Sunday, September 30, 2012

If not the best known arch in the world, Delicate Arch certainly qualifies as the most iconic rock formation in Arches National Park.

The hike to the arch begins from the Wolfe Ranch parking area, located in the east-central portion of the park. If you wish to go home with some great photos the park recommends hiking the trail in the late afternoon. However, summer afternoons are usually quite hot. You may want to consider hiking in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are a little cooler and the crowds are a little thinner.

The first stop on the trail is the Wolfe Ranch. John Wesley Wolfe settled at this location in the late 1800s, and was joined by his family in 1906. Although the cabin they built on this 100+ acre homestead was a little rustic, it was still stocked with fine china ordered from the Sears Catalog.

Beyond the cabin is a petroglyph panel depicting bighorn sheep and Ute hunters on horseback. It was carved sometime between 1650 and 1850. The side path leading to the petroglyph re-joins the main trail further up-trail, and can be taken on your return trip from the arch if you prefer.

The first three-quarters of a mile are relatively flat as the trail passes through desert scrub, but then turns sharply up a steep, slickrock slope. Hikers should keep an eye out for rock cairns to help guide the way for most of the remainder of the route (or just follow the crowds - see photo below!). After climbing for roughly a half-mile the trail levels out. However, just before reaching Delicate Arch, the path traverses a rock ledge for about 200 yards while passing over a fairly steep drop-off.

Once past this section Delicate Arch comes into view for the first time:

Delicate Arch stands 65-feet high, and has an opening roughly 46 feet in height and a width of nearly 32 feet. In the background, roughly 35 miles away, are the La Sal Mountains.

With virtually no shade along the way, this can be a very hot hike. You should take at least 1 quart of water per person.

Trail: Delicate Arch
Roundtrip Distance: 3 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 535 feet
Max Elevation: 4820 Feet

Best Easy Day Hikes Canyonlands and Arches National Parks: this fully updated and revised edition includes trail descriptions and maps of the best short hikes that venture into some of the most scenic sections of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

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Astronomy Programs at Big South Fork Saturday October 6th

Saturday, September 29, 2012

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Paul Lewis from the University of Tennessee and the Big South Fork astronomy volunteers will be at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area on Saturday, October 6, 2012, for two special programs.

A telescope with a sun filter will be positioned in front of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to allow for solar viewing. The use of special telescope filters will allow safe viewing of the sun. The sun should never be viewed without proper sun filters or permanent damage to the eyes may occur.

The cooler nights and clear skies of autumn make it a perfect time to observe the stars, planets, and deep space objects. On Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), Paul Lewis will describe which objects to look for in the night sky of October. This program will be held in the parking lot across from the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. Telescopes will be available for night sky observation after the presentation. You may want to bring a blanket or chair for comfortable seating. There is no charge to attend these programs.

In the event of rain or inclement weather, the evening program will be moved indoors to the Interpretation and Education Building next to the Bandy Creek Visitor Center, and night sky observation with the telescopes will be cancelled. For additional information or questions, please call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275.

For additional information about the park, call (423) 286-7275.

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Cherokee National Forest Acquires Final Rocky Fork Tract

Friday, September 28, 2012

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US Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest say a four year effort with The Conservation Fund to protect the Rocky Fork property is complete with the recent purchase of nearly 1,200 acres of the tract. Click here for map.

For years a broad-based coalition of local, state and federal leaders worked together to save Rocky Fork. They did this because of the property’s natural resources, economic values and importance to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

In December 2008 The Conservation Fund purchased 7,476 acres of the nearly 10,000 acre tract, while the Forest Service acquired another 2,237 acres. Since that time the Forest Service has acquired a total of 7,677 acres with more than $30 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal land protection program that receives funds from the development of federally-owned offshore oil and gas resources. $5 million of those LWCF funds was appropriated by Congress in Fiscal Year 2012 for this final acquisition, and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, through Walmart’s 2012 Acres for America program, also enabled the completion of this phase. The remaining 2,036 acres are protected with previous state and private funds and will be held by The Conservation Fund. The total cost of the Rocky Fork property was $40 million.

The Rocky Fork property is located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border in Unicoi and Greene counties. Rocky Fork, named after the cool waters of the creek that runs down its center, lies within Cherokee National Forest and abuts Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, creating a vast unfragmented haven for wildlife and protecting water quality for neighboring communities. Rocky Fork’s many resources provide a range of unique recreational opportunities – hiking the popular Appalachian Trail; camping in a secluded mountain area; fishing the more than 16 miles of pristine blue-ribbon trout streams; and hunting game animals such as turkey, deer and grouse. These recreational activities have been attracting visitors from across the country for generations, bringing revenue to the local economy.

Unaka District Ranger, Terry Bowerman said, “This final Forest Service acquisition is huge, not only in the number of acres, but in potential economic impacts. It will also help conserve and protect many outstanding natural and scenic resources. This is truly a dream come true for many people. Thanks to the foresight and support of a host of public - private partners and local, state and federal elected officials, such as Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Bob Corker, and U.S. Representative Phil Roe, public ownership of Rocky Fork is a reality.”

“Tennesseans are enthusiastic protectors of the great outdoors, and I am pleased that the efforts at Rocky Fork will preserve this remarkable place for future generations,” said Senator Lamar Alexander.

“You can tell that Rocky Fork is a special place because of the unwavering dedication and determination of so many individuals and groups to preserve its natural heritage,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee state representative for The Conservation Fund. “We are especially grateful for the support of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, who have been instrumental throughout this landscape-scale conservation effort.”

Rocky Fork is home to an array of rare wildlife such as the peregrine falcon, eastern hellbender and the Yonahlossee salamander. At least 10 species of greatest conservation need have been recorded on the property. Rocky Fork is part of the Unicoi Bear Reserve and contains prime bear breeding habitat. “Conserving Rocky Fork also protects the water quality in neighboring communities,” said Ranger Bowerman. “We will continue to manage this area in an appropriate manner to maintain its natural character.”

Economic development is important to counties containing National Forest System land. Ranger Bowerman explained that, “We recognize the importance of providing economic opportunities to the counties. In Unicoi County alone the Forest Service has recently done a number of things to help, including: Reconstructed, for adaptive use, the Pinnacle Fire Tower as a public observation site; Constructed a trail from Unicoi County property, near I-26, to the Pinnacle tower; Rehabilitated the Buffalo Mountain ATV Trail; Improved the parking area at Limestone Cove; Converted the trail at Limestone Cove from hiking only to hiking and horseback riding; Made improvements at Limestone Cove day use area; Rehabilitated part of the Unaka Mountain Overlook. All of these improvements, especially the Pinnacle Lookout Tower and trail have been well received and are enhancing local economies.”

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A Smoky Mountain Minute: Fall's Arrival

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September is a unique month in the park that starts with the last days of summer and ends with the first signs of fall. The month of September is a good time to view summer wildflowers, brook trout spawning, and the first signs of fall color in the higher elevations.

Here is the latest video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

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A Walk Down Park Avenue

Thursday, September 27, 2012

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Earlier in the week I mentioned that I had just returned from a three-week tour of the southwest. After spending more than a week in Rocky Mountain National Park, Kathy and I paid a visit to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. It was Kathy’s first venture into this park, and my second.

One of the first stops along the main road in the park is the Park Avenue Trail. Although the overlook at this stop may appear to be a little touristy, you really shouldn’t pass this hike up, even if you’re only spending a couple of hours in the park. The trail travels one mile through an incredibly beautiful red rock canyon, and can be done as a one-way hike if you have another car parked at the Courthouse Towers parking area.

From the Park Avenue overlook the trail drops roughly 320 feet onto the canyon floor, and continues down a dry wash bed towards the Courthouse Towers. Along the way you’ll have commanding views of massive fins (vertical slabs of rock), balanced rocks and lofty monoliths, including the Three Gossips, The Tower of Babel, and the Courthouse Towers.

As you might expect, the inspiration for the trail’s name comes from the towering spires, which to early visitors reminded them of Manhattan's famous skyscrapers:

If you wish to go home with some great photos the park recommends hiking this trail in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Trail: Park Avenue
Roundtrip Distance: 2 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 320 feet
Max Elevation: 5000 Feet

Best Easy Day Hikes Canyonlands and Arches National Parks: this fully updated and revised edition includes trail descriptions and maps of the best short hikes that venture into some of the most scenic sections of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

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GSMA Hike of the Month to Rhododendron Creek

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Join the Great Smoky Mountain Association and Park Ranger Carey Jones for a hike to Rhododendron Creek on October 27th.

There are multiple waterfalls on this walk, so be prepared to do at least one serious creek crossing, depending on recent rainfall. A hiking stick will be an asset on this one.

Carey considers this a "Naturalist Ramble" and will address the flora, fauna, and natural history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the way.

If interested, meet at the Greenbrier Ranger Station no later than 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 27, and carpool to this increasingly popular hike. Bring a lunch (snacks), water, rain gear, sturdy hiking boots, and a camera. Return time will be approximately 1 p.m.

Don't wait for a reminder e-mail, as the limit is 25 participants. The fee is $5 for GSMA Members in good standing, and $10 for non-members. Children 10 and under are free. Call 865-436-7318, Ext. 222 or 254 to register.

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Rocky Top Trail Crew is in Search of Volunteer Trail Maintainers in Smokies

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) Rocky Top Trail Crew is looking for volunteers to help reconstruct a remote section of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park from September 30th to October 7th. The ATC will cover all work related expenses such as food, gear, and safety equipment.

The crew will spend 8 days living in the backcountry building steps, turnpike and trail structures to protect and harden the A.T. The work is of vital importance to protect one of the most damaged sections of the Trail. Paid crew leaders will work alongside volunteers and teach them the latest techniques in trail construction.

Partners from the Backcountry Horsemen of America will also provide assistance to the crew by packing up food and tools for a week of hard work.

The Rocky Top Crew is supported by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, the National Park Service, the ATC, Mountain Khakis and the North Carolina Recreation Trails Program grant. The 70 miles of the A.T. through Great Smoky Mountains National Park crosses the Trail's highest point and traverses the most diverse ecosystem and the largest roadless area along the Trail. Half of the A.T. in the Park is open to horse use, and the crew's current work involves reconstructing those sections where horses and hikers share the Trail.

For more information or to register, contact Andrew Downs at 828.254.3708 or click here.

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Parkway Slope Stabilization Project Implements Road Closures at Mile Post 358

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Virtual Blue Ridge is reporting that the Blue Ridge Parkway plans to install a traffic light to direct one-way traffic at mile marker 358 between Craggy Gardens and Mt. Mitchell State Park. The traffic light will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from September 24 until November 1, 2012.

After November 1st, 6.5 miles of the Parkway will be closed to traffic. The resulting detour will direct traffic from Asheville along U.S. Route 40 to U.S. Route 221 and State Route 226. Buses and recreational vehicles will be encouraged to travel on U.S. Route 221 to the Parkway.

This section of Parkway will be closed to all visitors until April 2013 to ensure public safety. Closure gates will be installed at mile marker 355.3, just south of N.C. Route 128 to Mt. Mitchell State Park, and at mile marker 359.8, just north of the Balsam Gap Parking Area. Mt. Mitchell State Park will remain open and accessible from the northern approach along the Blue Ridge Parkway via State Route 80.

Parkway management apologizes for any inconvenience to our visitors and cautions the public to be aware of the installation of traffic lights and closure gates as the project proceeds to completion of this very important public safety project.

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Back From Grand Tour of the Southwest

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

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I’m back! I just returned from a three week tour of the southwest. Along the way Kathy and I visited 5 national parks, 3 national monuments, climbed 2 peaks above 12,600 feet, summited another state high point, all while knocking out a couple of bucket list items. We were able to achieve all of our objectives, with the exception of climbing Mt. Bierstadt in Colorado. This was the second time our attempt on this mountain was thwarted before taking even one step on the trail. In 2009 we had to cancel this portion of the trip because the Colorado DOT closed Gaunella Pass for road reconstruction. This year, rain put the kabbash on our plans.

I know this may be complete heresy, but I thought Zion National Park was far more scenic than the Grand Canyon. Some of you may even want to burn me at the stake when I say that the Grand Canyon would barely make my list of top 10 national parks, even though it’s the 2nd most visited park in the system.

On a positive note, I have to give a shout out to the state of Arizona. The people in the “Grand Canyon State” were extremely friendly, especially in Flagstaff. From cheerful, helpful attitudes, to providing samples of local flavors, Arizona truly gave us the red carpet treatment. In Sedona the bartender at the Oak Creek Brewing Company gave us samples, without asking, of some very exotic beers, such as a banana and clove beer, a Belgian Abby Ale/Oktoberfest, and a dessert beer made with vanilla and mandarin orange – one of the smoothest tasting beers I’ve ever had.

In Flagstaff, the 1899 Bar and Grill allowed us to taste a locally made pumpkin spiced porter, as well as a local vodka made with green chiles. While visiting the Flagstaff Farmers Market I inquired about fresh roasted Hatch (New Mexico) chiles. Although he couldn’t sell me a small batch, the owner simply gave me two homemade canned jars of roasted green chiles, a product they just began selling this year.

Anyway, we did a heck of a lot of hiking throughout Colorado, Utah and Arizona during the trip. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting hike reports and photos from all of our adventures.

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Southern Forest Watch to sue Smokies over new backcountry camping fee

Monday, September 24, 2012

A group called the Southern Forest Watch has recently sent a letter notifying officials at the National Park Service that it intends to file a lawsuit challenging the $4 per-person, per-night, backcountry camping fee approved last March. The letter, sent by Knoxville attorney J. Myers Morton, was mailed to Dale Ditmanson, Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent; Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service; as well as Congressional Representatives and Senators from Tennessee and North Carolina.

A proposal for a new backcountry fee system was announced in July of 2011, and immediately created a firestorm of controversy and debate within the backpacking community.

The Southern Forest Watch group argues that the backcountry camping fee is illegal under several federal statutes, including the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and the Administrative Procedures Act, and intends to file the lawsuit after the fee goes into effect in early 2013.

You can read the full document by clicking here.

What are your thoughts? Is this a relevant lawsuit, or a waste of taxpayer dollars?

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Big South Fork Celebrates National Public Lands Day on Saturday September 29

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Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be celebrating National Public Lands Day on Saturday, September 29th by authorizing one night of free camping at Alum Ford Campground and free backcountry camping permits.

National Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event in which eight federal agencies as well as other groups partner together to maintain and protect the environment. The Big South Fork will be organizing a number of volunteer trail improvement projects on September 29. If you would like to participate, call Wallace Linder at (423) 569-9778 or find more information at

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Classic Hikes of North America

Sunday, September 23, 2012

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Classic Hikes of North America, the latest release from Peter Potterfield, offers hikers of all abilities details on "25 Breathtaking Treks in the United States and Canada".

Illustrated with more than 150 color photographs, Classic Hikes of North America covers a diverse range of hikes: from routes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the Grand Canyon; from the Sierra Mountains to the Black Hills, as well as Big Bend, North Cascades National Park, the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina, the Slate Range in the Canadian Rockies, the Long Range Traverse of Newfoundland, and more than a dozen other classics.

Peter Potterfield, an experienced hiker and photographer, has hiked more than 10,000 miles on six continents, including the trek to Mount Everest, a retrace of Ernest Schackleton's route in Antarctica, the wilds of Arctic Sweden and the rugged coasts of Tasmania. Potterfield now brings his expert advice back home in Classic Hikes of North America, a beautifully photographed and eminently practical guide of the best backcountry treks in the United States and Canada. The author has photographed, analyzed, and graded these spectacular wilderness experiences with both beginners and avid hikers in mind, and puts them within reach for any aspiring hiker.

Each chapter includes:

* Level of difficulty, both in physical effort and psychological challenge
* Details on trail conditions and recommended seasons
* Notes of potential hazards or difficulties
* Detailed route descriptions
* Detailed maps for every route
* Resources for information, staging, accommodations, and transportation

For more information on this wonderful book, please click here.

Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Truck Crash Results in Major Paint Spill in Bandelier

Saturday, September 22, 2012

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NPS Digest is reporting that on the morning of Tuesday, September 18th, a tractor-trailer rig traveling eastbound on New Mexico State Highway 4 in Bandelier National Monument missed a sharp curve, went off the road, and plunged roughly 200 feet down a steep slope into the park. The truck was carrying about 2200 gallons of highway striping paint that spilled and spread over nearly an acre of park land. The truck’s gas tank also leaked diesel fuel as well. The driver survived the accident.

Park staff are working to determine the toxicity of the paint and assessing its impacts to the environment. The paint spill is visible from roads and hiking trails in and around the monument. By the day following the accident, the paint had congealed, allowing workers to remove the clumps by hand and revealing minimal subsurface damage.

The Los Alamos Laboratory hazardous materials team minimized the spread of the diesel fuel. Bandelier is working with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the New Mexico State Police, the Los Alamos Police Department, Los Alamos Fire Department, and New Mexico Department of Transportation to investigate safety issues and threats to vulnerable resources in the affected area.

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Outdoor Survival - Clothing

Friday, September 21, 2012

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In this episode of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife outdoor survival video series, outdoor expert Peter Kummerfeldt discusses clothing (your only dependable shelter) and layering:

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Alternative Hiking Destinations

Thursday, September 20, 2012

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Last week I posted a blog about hiking to the summit of Mt. Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. Today I wanted to highlight three other areas that you may or may not be aware of, all of which are outstanding hiking destinations:

The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area:

Linville Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of the East, is one of the wildest, most rugged gorges in the eastern United States. It's also an outdoor paradise for hikers and backpackers. The entire area lies within the Pisgah National Forest, located roughly 60 miles northeast of Asheville and can be accessed via the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 314. The Gorge encompasses more than 12,000 acres around the Linville River, making it the third largest wilderness area in North Carolina, and one of only two wilderness gorges in the southern United States.

There are 39 miles of trails that weave in and out of Linville Gorge. Most trails start along either of the two gravel forest service roads that traverse the east and west rims, and lead down towards the river. At the bottom of the gorge is the longest trail, the 11.5-mile Linville Gorge Trail, which runs along the west side of the river, and allows backpackers to create several overnight loop hikes.

Roan Mountain:

A fairly popular destination 2 hours northeast of Knoxville is Roan Mountain. From Carvers Gap, located on State Route TN-143 and NC-261, many hikers will make the trek out to Grassy Ridge Bald, one of the highest grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains.

As you proceed north along the Appalachian Trail, hikers will pass over Round Bald and Jane Bald before reaching the summit of 6189-foot Grassy Ridge Bald. The panoramic views from the summit area are absolutely stunning. On a clear day you can see Grandfather, Beech and Sugar Mountains towards the east, and Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains towards the south.

Spanning roughly 7 miles, and covering an area roughly 1000 acres in size, Grassy Ridge is also the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains.

If visiting Roan Mountain in early June, be sure to make the drive up to the Rhododendron Gardens to see the largest natural rhododendron garden in the world.

Red River Gorge:

Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky is where my love affair with hiking began (many years ago!). The “Red” is a unique and scenic natural area in the Daniel Boone National Forest known for its abundance of natural stone arches, unusual rock formations, and spectacular sandstone cliffs. With over 100 natural arches within its boundaries, Red River Gorge has the greatest concentration of arches east of the Rocky Mountains. And, as a result of its abundance of cliffs, rock climbers from all over the world have discovered first class climbing in the Gorge as well.

Red River Gorge was designated as a Geological Area by the Forest Service in 1974. With passage of the Kentucky Wilderness Act of 1985, the U.S. Congress designated roughly half of the 26,000-acre Gorge area as the Clifty Wilderness Area.

Many trails traverse in and around the natural rock formations, including an 11-mile section of the Sheltowee Trace, a 282-mile multi-use, National Recreation Trail that traverses the length of the Daniel Boone National Forest that passes through Cave Run Lake, Natural Bridge State Park, Laurel River Lake, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Free Entrance to all National Parks on September 29th

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

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All 397 national parks will offer free entrance on Saturday, September 29 for National Public Lands Day. The 19th annual event encourages everyone to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Visit for a list of parks and information to help plan your park adventure.

“National Public Lands Day reminds all of us of the vast and diverse nature of America’s open spaces, from small neighborhood parks to large national parks, and the importance of each one,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We are fortunate that more than 600 million acres of public land, including national parks, provide all of us with cherished places where we can go to unwind, recreate, or learn.”

Many people will lend a hand to help the land and spend part of National Public Lands Day volunteering on work projects. More than 170,000 people are expected to plant trees, clean watersheds, remove invasive plants, replace signs, and otherwise beautify 2,000 public sites throughout the country. Visit for more information.

Other Federal agencies offering free admittance on September 29 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service.

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Classic Hikes of the Smokies: October

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes of the Smokies series continues next month with a hike along the Caldwell Fork in Cataloochee.

Thursday, Oct 18: Caldwell Fork
9.4 miles, 1,650 ft ascent

Elk pens, homesites, graves and the Steve Woody House. The quintessential Cataloochee hike.

To register call Holly at (828) 452-0720.

A donation of $35 to go to the Friends’ Smokies Trails Forever program is requested, and includes a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. A donation of $10 is requested from current Friends of the Smokies members. Members who bring a friend hike for free.

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The Top 10 Longest Trails in the Southeast

Sunday, September 16, 2012

There are some that would argue that the Appalachian Trail is getting a little too crowded. So if you’re in that camp, and maybe looking for a little more solitude, or possibly just some new places to explore, I thought I would present long distance hikers with some other choices in the southeast - some you may not be aware of. The following represents the top 10 longest trails in the southeast:

The Florida Trail: At 1562 miles in length, the Florida Trail is the southeast’s longest trail. As one of only eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States, the Florida Trail traverses through a diverse landscape as it extends from Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida's panhandle to Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. Along the way it passes through some of the state's most picturesque areas including the Apalachicola, Ocala, and Osceola National Forests, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and several state parks. In addition to the poisonous snakes, panthers and bears, keep a look out for alligators!

Appalachian Trail: Although the A.T. runs for a total of 2179 miles from Georgia to Maine, only a thousand of those miles actually pass through the Southern Appalachians (the section south of Harpers Ferry), thus making it the second longest trail in the southeast. The A.T. arguably offers some of the best hiking in the southeast, passing through places like the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks, Big Bald, Roan Mountain and Mt. Rogers. As a result of its popularity, some of these sections attract a lot of hikers.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail: The Mountains-to-Sea Trail stretches roughly 1,000 miles from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks. Although only 500 miles of footpath are built right now, people can still hike across the state using temporary connectors on back roads and state bike routes. The trail is a showcase for North Carolina’s diverse landscape. Thru-hikers will experience mountains, rugged gorges, small Piedmont farms, coastal swamps, colonial towns, and barrier islands. It climbs both the tallest mountain peak and the highest sand dune in the Eastern United States, passes through three national parks, two national wildlife refuges, three national forests, seven state parks and three lighthouses, including the nations tallest.

Pinhoti National Recreation Trail: The Pinhoti National Recreation Trail is a combination of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail and the Georgia Pinhoti Trail. Its southern terminus is on Flagg Mountain just outside Weogufka, Alabama, and stretches 335 miles to its northern terminus at the intersection with the Benton MacKaye Trail near Ellijay, Georgia. From here hikers have the opportunity of extending their hike all the way to Maine by heading southeast on the Benton MacKaye Trail for roughly 70 miles to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Completed in early 2008, the Pinhoti Trail is characterized by heavily wooded forests, far reaching ridgelines, countless creek crossings and spectacular views. Part of the trail includes dirt and paved roads, but otherwise provides ample solitude.

Benton MacKaye Trail: Nearly 300 miles in length, the Benton MacKaye Trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Davenport Gap on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail passes through some of the most remote backcountry in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, including eight federally designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. For those looking for a large loop hike, you can combine the Benton MacKaye with the Appalachian Trail. From Springer Mountain, the Benton MacKaye heads off in a westerly direction, while the A.T. traverses eastward. The two cross each other again near the Shuckstack Fire Tower in the southern Smokies.

Palmetto Trail: The Palmetto Trail is South Carolina’s mountain-to-sea trail. When completed, the cross-state, multi-use trail will take hikers from Oconee State Park in the western mountains, to its eastern terminus at the intra-coastal waterway at Awendaw Creek. With nearly 290 miles of trail open to the public, roughly two-thirds of the eventual 425-mile Palmetto Trail is now complete. The Palmetto Trail features maritime, sandhill, and piedmont forests, knife-edged mountaintops, and two Revolutionary War battlefields. Some sections of the trail are urban bikeways, greenways and rail-to-trail conversions.

Sheltowee Trace: The Sheltowee Trace is a 269-mile multi-use trail that traverses the length of the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky. The trail is named in honor of Daniel Boone. Sheltowee, meaning Big Turtle, was the name given to Boone when he was adopted into the Shawnee Indian tribe as the son of the great war chief, Blackfish. Designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1979, the Trace passes through Cave Run Lake, Red River Gorge, Natural Bridge State Park, Laurel River Lake, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and the Big South Fork National Recreation Area. Along its course hikers will see waterfalls, arches, panoramic ridge-top views and massive sand­stone cliffs.

Cumberland Trail: The Cumberland Trail in east Tennessee follows a line of ridges and gorges along the eastern escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau. When completed, the trail will stretch more than 300 miles from the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park on the Tennessee-Virginia-Kentucky border, to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area just outside Chattanooga. In between it will pass through four Tennessee Wildlife Management Areas, a National Park Wild and Scenic Area, two State Parks, and two protected State Natural Areas. Designated as a Tennessee State Scenic Hiking Trail, hikers have access to numerous waterfalls, scenic overlooks and deep gorges. Right now there are roughly 175 miles of hikeable trails, and it’s estimated that it will take another 8 to 10 years before the entire trail is completed.

Bartram Trail: The Bartram Trail follows the approximate route of naturalist William Bartram who traveled throughout the southeast from 1773 to 1777. During his travels Bartram wrote vivid descriptions of the plants and animals he saw, as well as the Native Americans he encountered. Designated as a National Recreation Trail, the 115-mile Bartram Trail crosses over some of the most scenic mountains in North Carolina and Georgia. Starting from Cheoah Bald in the Nantahala National Forest, hikers will cross over Wayah Bald and Rabun Bald before reaching the southern terminus of the trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest near the Georgia-South Carolina state line. One of the more interesting aspects of the trail is that hikers have the option of canoeing a nine-mile section of the Little Tennessee River, near Franklin, in lieu of walking the nearby roadway here.

Foothills Trail: The Foothills Trail offers an extraordinary opportunity to explore the Appalachian foothills along the GA, NC, and SC border area. The 77-mile trail stretches from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park. Along the way hikers will visit Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina’s highest peak, the Cantrell home site, the massive granitic dome at Table Rock, and the cliffs and ledges atop Pinnacle Mountain that contain petroglyphs believed to have been made by ancient Native Americans.

Pine Mountain Trail: Although the Pine Mountain Trail currently ranks as only the 11th longest trail in the southeast right now, I included it here because it will move up to number 10 once the trail is finished. Once completed, the long distance trail designed for backpacking and hiking will span approximately 120 miles from Breaks Inter­state Park, to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, and will pass through several natural areas such as Bad Branch State Nature Preserve, Kingdom Come State Park and Blanton Forest along the Pine Mountain range in eastern Kentucky. Currently, 44 miles of hiking trails are open.

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Another Insane Hiking Video

Saturday, September 15, 2012

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Check out this video of this hiker - actually, he should be called a daredevil - as he walks along the Mt. Huashan Cliffside Path in China - without a harness! Would you do this...even with a harness?

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Outdoor Survival - Shelter

Friday, September 14, 2012

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In this episode of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife outdoor survival video series, outdoor expert Peter Kummerfeldt discusses the use of shelters in a survival situation. He has some fairly surprising recommendations on what you should bring into the wilderness:

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Update: Plates for the Parkway

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

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A couple of weeks ago I posted some information on the upcoming Plates for the Parkway event, sponsored by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and benefitting the Blue Ridge Parkway. Christy Bell, Development Director for the Foundation, recently emailed me to let me know that the entire list of participating restaurants are now listed on their website.

In case you missed the original post, here's some additional information on the event:

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is pleased to announce the first annual Plates for the Parkway event benefitting the Blue Ridge Parkway. Set in Asheville, NC, Blowing Rock, Waynesboro, Roanoke and other communities along the Parkway, Plates for the Parkway links dozens of unique restaurants in one event to benefit the Parkway.

Set for September 18th, participating restaurants agree to donate a minimum of 10% of a meal or the day’s sales to benefit the Foundation’s efforts to protect the Parkway. Restaurants from communities along the 469 miles of the Parkway are invited to participate, and current participants stretch from the top of the Parkway in Waynesboro, VA to Asheville, NC, NC.

According to Christy Bell, Development Director for the Foundation, “There are so many wonderful restaurants in the communities along the Parkway. For visitors, this event highlights some of these unique places and gives them the opportunity to benefit what brings many of them here in the first place: the Parkway. For those of us lucky enough to live near the Parkway, it’s a fun way to support this amazing place while dining out at a favorite restaurant.”

For a complete list of participating restaurants, visit

Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Top Unique Reasons for Hiking in the Southern Appalachians

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What makes hiking in the Southern Appalachian Mountains so special? Or, put another way, what are the things that make hiking in the Southern Appalachians unique?

I’ve been giving these questions some thought for sometime now, and have come up with a list of eight reasons that set the Southern Appalachians apart from the rest of the country. I must admit that some of these are not totally unique, but nonetheless are fairly rare, thus making them distinctive in terms of a hiking feature.

Here’s my list, in descending order:

8) Roan Mountain Goats: Grassy balds in the Great Smoky Mountains, such as Gregory and Andrews, require occasional mowing in order to prevent trees from reclaiming them. On Roan Mountain, however, they use goats!

For the last three years scientists have been testing the use of goats as a measure for keeping the more than 1000 acres of grassy balds in tact. The use of goats may help Roan Mountain in two ways: they appear to be far more economical than mowing, and there’s speculation that goats will actually help promote the germination of the rare Gray's Lily wildflower.

Known as the “Baa-tany Goat Project,” the goats are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence from July thru September. The enclosure covers a one-half to one acre plot, and is moved every week or two as the goats deplete the vegetation growth.

For the past couple of years the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has been leading guided Goat Hikes on Roan Mountain, thus offering the public an excellent opportunity to see the goats in action and learn about their role in preserving the grassy balds.

7) Fire Lookout Towers: The Southern Appalachians are littered with old fire towers, remnants of a bygone era when rangers climbed their perches to look for wildfires in their respective patrol areas. Most of the towers were abandoned in the 1960s when it was decided that planes could monitor the mountains more economically.

Today, fire lookout towers have become popular hiking destinations, thanks in part to Peter Barr, author of Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers, and the Carolina Mountain Club’s official hiking challenge of reaching 24 lookout towers in Western North Carolina. Many of the towers are still accessible, allowing hikers to soak in the 360-degree views from their prominent vantage points.

Some of the more notable fire towers in the Southeast in terms of architecture include Duckett Top Lookout Tower on Rich Knob in the Pisgah National Forest, Wayah Bald in the Nantahala National Forest, and of course the Mt. Cammerer fire tower in the Smokies.

6) Trail Days in Damascus: Trail Days is the annual Woodstock for hikers. It’s the mother of all hiking gatherings. It’s a celebration of all things Appalachian Trail. And it all happens in tiny Damascus, Virginia, also known as Trail Town, USA where the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper and the Iron Mountain Trail slice through the middle of town. Each year Damascus becomes the destination point for thousands of thru-hikers, veteran hikers and those who just love hiking and the Appalachian Trail. Trail Days is recognized as the largest trail event in the world, and many A.T. thru-hikers will time their hike in order to be in town in mid-May for the annual three day festival.

5) The LeConte Lodge: Although there are a handful of other national parks that offer hike-in lodging, one of the great traditions in the Great Smoky Mountains is overnighting in the lodge sitting near the top of 6,593-foot Mount LeConte. For those that don’t like backpacking, the lodge offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy a backcountry experience in relative luxury (compared to roughing it!). The LeConte Lodge also has a sister lodge at Big South Fork (Charit Creek) where the only access is hiking in as well. One other backcountry lodge in the southeast worth mentioning is the Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.

4) Azaleas, Mountain Laurel & Rhododendron: One of the great annual events in the Southern Appalachians is the spectacular Azalea, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron blooms of late spring. For some of the best examples of these beautiful displays of Mother Nature, hike up to Gregory Bald in mid-to-late June to check out the world famous Azaleas that grow atop the 10-acre bald. Spence Field near Rocky Top has the finest display of Mountain Laurel that I’ve ever seen. Early-to-mid June is the best time to visit when they’re usually reaching peak bloom. For Rhododendron, your best bet is Roan Mountain which has the largest natural rhododendron garden in the world. Count on peak blooms arriving around mid-to-late June.

3) Natural Bridges & Sandstone Arches: With places like Arches and Canyonlands National Park, it’s likely that Utah is more synonymous with natural bridges in the minds of most people. However, hikers shouldn’t forget the abundance of natural bridges and sandstone arches that permeate the Southern Appalachians. The Red River Gorge Geological Area in the Daniel Boone National Forest has over 100 natural arches, making it the greatest concentration of arches east of the Rocky Mountains. The Big South Fork region also contains one of the highest concentrations of natural bridges in the eastern U.S., including the largest sandstone arches in the east. Other notable arches include Natural Bridge in Virginia - a National Historical Landmark, and Sewanee Natural Bridge in Tennessee.

2) The Appalachian Trail: It may not be the longest anymore, nor the most scenic, but it will always be the most iconic trail in the world. The Appalachian Trail, America's first National Scenic Trail, is one the most popular trails for day-hikers and thru-hikers alike. An estimated 4 million people hike at least part of it each year. My guess is that most of them know it’s one of the best ways to see and explore the scenic wonders of the Appalachian Mountains.

1) Grassy Balds: One of the great mysteries of the Southern Appalachians is whether or not the treeless mountain tops and ridges, known as “balds,” are natural or if they were manmade. For hikers, does it really matter? Balds provide outstanding vantage points for sweeping panoramic vistas of the Appalachian Mountains. Some of the balds with the best views in the Smokies include Gregory, Andrews, Spence Field and Rocky Top. Outside of the Smokies, hikers should check out Roan Mountain, Max Patch, Mt. Rogers, Shining Rock, Cheoah Bald, Big Bald or Black Balsam.

So, Southern Appalachians hikers, are there any others that need to be added to this list?

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Traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains in 1933

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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So what was it like to travel to the budding Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1933? Thanks to the National Park Service for publishing hundreds of historical park brochures on their website, we can now look at the very first park brochure ever published for the Smokies, and get an idea of what the park was like in 1933.

The brochure includes photographs by George Masa and Jim Thompson, quotes from Horace Kephart, as well as information regarding the Qualla (Cherokee) Indian Reservation, fishing, hiking, wild animals, etc.

In 1933 there were only 297,000 acres under the administration and protection of the National Park Service. For prospective visitors, the brochure warns that:

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

With regards to the neighboring Cherokees, the brochure points out:

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

Listed at that time as having an elevation of only 5860 feet, Andrews Bald has grown another 60 feet somewhere along the way! Though I should point out that they were real close to the correct elevation for Clingsman Dome, listing it as 6642 feet, rather than the 6643 feet that it's measured at today.

Interstingly, a that time; “Deer are practically exterminated.” Wow, how times have changed!

Apparently there were lodges located in Cades Cove in the early 1930s. Both John Oliver's Lodge and the Ekaneetlee Lodge offered overnight accommodations for just $2.00 a night. A room at the Wonderland Club Hotel in Elkmont could be reserved for $3.50 — $4.00. And the going rates for the Mountain View Hotel in Gatlinburg were $3.50 — $6.00. Only two other hotels were listed for Gatlinburg at that time: the Riverside Hotel and the Indian Gap Hotel. My guess is that visitors didn't have to fight traffic all day long to get through town back then.

What if you wished to camp in the park? Well, here were the guidelines you had to abide by:

"When the development of the park is undertaken by the National Park Service, adequate camping places with pure water and other necessities will be provided. Until such time no camping over night or fires of any sort will be permitted except by special permit of the superintendent or his authorized representatives. In such instances the following rules must be carefully observed: Wood for fuel only can be taken from dead or fallen trees. Combustible rubbish shall be burned on camp fires, and all other garbage and refuse of all kinds shall be buried."

Oh, and don't expect to gamble, or bring dynamite into the park!

This is really an interesting read, especially if you enjoy the history of the park. You can read the entire brochure by clicking here.

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Man Reports Being Shot While Hiking Off Trail in Smokies

Monday, September 10, 2012

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Update from NPS Digest this morning:

Sanford Lethco, 29, of Sevier County, who reported that he’d been shot while hiking in the park on September 7th, has confessed to park investigators that the gunshot wounds he suffered were sustained in an incident occurring outside of park boundaries in Sevier County. The county has accordingly taken the lead in the investigation. Lethco sustained and was treated for two gunshot wounds to the lower leg which he originally claimed to have received while hiking in the park, off trail, in the Cosby area. He was flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he was treated and later released.


NPS Digest is reporting that on last Friday afternoon, Cocke County dispatch received a call from a man who said he’d sustained gunshot wounds while hiking deep within the park in the Laurel Springs Road area near Cosby. Emergency medical services arrived on scene to find that the man had two gunshot wounds in his lower leg. He was flown to University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment and later released.

The man claimed to have not seen his assailant, but did hear two gunshots just before he realized he had been struck. Rangers worked with the Cocke County Sherriff’s Office to secure the area along Laurel Springs Road, the closest road to where the shooting incident reportedly occurred. NPS rangers and special agents are investigating the shooting.

Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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National Public Lands Day Service Project in the Smokies

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Saturday, September 29th, is National Public Lands Day and your chance to give back to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Trail maintainence volunteers will have an opportunity to work on a popular and well-used trail near the Park Headquarters just outside of Gatlinburg.

The work day will involve gravel, bridge and drainage feature construction, as well as standard trail maintenance. Please be comfortable hiking at least 2 miles throughout the day. All volunteers will receive an REI "Get Dirty" volunteer shirt as well as the chance to win gear! Please wear close-toed shoes and long pants. Bring a day pack with water, food, rain gear, appropriate layers and anything you need for a day in the woods. All safety gear (gloves, eye and ear protection), tools and equipment will be provided. Volunteers must be 18 years or older. Registration is required. Please contact Christine Hoyer at 828-497-1949 or to RSVP or for details.

Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Mt. Rogers: The Highest Point in Virginia

Sunday, September 9, 2012

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As many of you are already aware, I absolutely love hiking the balds in the Southern Appalachians. Gregory, Andrews and Rocky Top are some of my favorite destinations in the Smokies. Roan Mountain, Max Patch and the Art Loeb Trail are also notable destinations. However, my absolute favorite hike in the Southern Appalachians is along the Appalachian Trail to the summit of Mt. Rogers in southwestern Virginia.

Nearly the entire length of the four-mile (one-way) hike passes through open country, offering sweeping views of the surrounding wilderness as far as the eye can see. With many rocky outcroppings and sweeping panoramic views, at times it feels more like hiking out west rather than the Appalachian Mountains.

The summit of Mount Rogers also happens to be the highest point in Virginia. While a handful of peaks in the Appalachians are higher, Mount Rogers lays claim to being the highest state highpoint, east of South Dakota, that doesn’t have a road to its summit.

My wife and I had the pleasure of hiking to Mt. Rogers on two recent occasions. Both times we started our hike from Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, which borders the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Jefferson National Forest.

To reach the summit from Massie Gap (elevation 4650 feet) we took the Rhododendron Trail. At first the trail leads across a field and then follows an old wagon road over a hillside. On both of our hikes it was in this area that we first began to see some of the wild ponies for which this area is famous for. In addition to mechanical clearing with chainsaws, grazing cattle, and use of carefully controlled fires, the US Forest Service uses the ponies to help keep the popular balds open.

After about a half-mile we turned onto the Appalachian Trail, which led us up the rugged, rocky outcrops of Wilburn Ridge before passing through Rhododendron Gap. From Rhododendron Gap, it's an easy 1.5-mile hike to the short spur trail to the summit, located just past the Thomas Knob Shelter. This section of trail is just spectacular. The best views and the most beautiful scenery are located along this section of the hike.

Upon turning onto the half-mile spur trail that leads to the summit, we finally reached the tree-line. Unlike most mountains, the forest in this area of the highlands still claims the highest elevations. The 5729-foot summit of Mount Rogers is covered by a thick spruce-fir forest, which means that you won’t have any views at the summit, and is the only place on the entire route where you'll walk amongst trees.

The first time we visited the Mount Rogers area we stayed in Abingdon, about 32 miles west of the park. For anyone who likes history, this is great place to spend a day or two. I also highly recommend having dinner at The Tavern. Built in 1779, it’s the oldest building in town and has played host to notable guests such as Andrew Jackson and King Louis-Phillipe of France.

The following year we stayed in Damascus, which is a little closer to the park. Traversed by the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, and others, Damascus is known appropriately as Trail Town, USA. Additionally, the town holds a big festival each May, known as Trail Days. It attracts over 15,000 people - mostly hikers - in just one weekend. That number is quite remarkable when you consider that there are only about 1000 people that actually live in the town.

Mt. Rogers
(via Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands SP)
RT Hike: 8 Miles
Elev Gain: 1079 Feet
Highest Point: 5729 feet


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Final Rock Castle Gorge Hike

Saturday, September 8, 2012

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September 22nd is the final guided hike through Rock Castle Gorge. This will be your final opportunity to join a ranger from the Blue Ridge Parkway as they lead a guided five-mile hike through Rock Castle Gorge and highlight the history of the Rock Castle community that existed in this area from the late 1700s through the 1930s.

Participants will meet at the Rocky Knob Cabins off of Woodberry Road (near Milepost 174). Hikers are asked to wear good hiking boots, be prepared for stream crossings, and bring water and lunch. The hike will end at the lower end of Rock Castle Gorge Trail at the CCC Camp Road off of VA Route 8. Shuttle back to cars will be available for drivers, or you may set up your own shuttle ahead of time.

Times: 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM

Call ahead at 540-745-9662 for more information.

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Outdoor Survival - Fire

Friday, September 7, 2012

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In this episode of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife outdoor survival video series, outdoor expert Peter Kummerfeldt discusses techniques for starting fires in a survival situation:

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Get on the Trail with Friends & Missy

Thursday, September 6, 2012

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Join Friends of the Smokies and fitness expert Missy Kane for another series of hikes next month. Each Wednesday throughout the month of October, Missy and Friends will be hiking a different trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.

"Get on the Trail" is a great opportunity for people who are new to the area, new to hiking, or for those who just want to know more about the Park.

The dates for the hikes this fall are as follow:

October 3: Laurel Falls

October 10: Mingus Mill Trail

October 17: Max Patch

October 24: Charlies Bunion

October 31: Spence Field

Cost for each hike is $20, with proceeds going to the Friends of the Smokies.

Since the series started, Get on the Trail with Friends, and Missy Kane, an Olympic runner and a Pan American Games medalist, has raised more than $110,000 for the preservation and protection of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Please click here or send an e-mail to Friends of the Smokies to receive more information about the upcoming series, and to register. You can also call the Covenant Health Call Center at 865-541-4500 to register. Over the years these hikes have grown in popularity, so early registration is advised.

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What are the Best Fall Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

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Fall hiking season is rapidly approaching, and soon leaf peepers will be out in full force in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The beauty of the Smokies is always spectacular, but never more so than during the autumn when the mountains are ablaze with the colors of fall.

The timing of the fall color season depends upon many variables, making it virtually impossible to predict the exact date of "peak" colors in advance.

One of the most important variables is elevation. At the higher elevations in the Smokies, fall color displays begin as early as mid-September when yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry begin to show their autumn colors. If you’re looking for good fall foliage hikes during this time period, you’ll want to be at the highest elevations in the park; however, you’ll also want to avoid hiking in areas that are predominantly spruce-fir forests.

Suggested mid-late September hikes: Andrews Bald, Mt. LeConte, the Jump-off or Rocky Top.

From early to mid-October, during most years, fall colors begin to reach their peak above elevations of 4,500 feet. Trees such as the American beech and yellow birch begin to turn bright yellow, while mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple show-off brilliant shades of red.

In the lower elevations you may notice a few dogwoods and maples that are just beginning to turn. You may also see a few scattered sourwood and sumac turning to bright reds as well.

Suggested early-mid October hikes: You’ll still want to hike in the higher elevations. In addition to the suggestions above, check out Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Spence Field, Albright Grove or the Sugerland Mountain Trail starting from Clingmans Dome Road.

Autumn colors usually reach their peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is usually the best time to be in the park as you'll see the spectacular displays of color from sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories. Your hiking choices will have greatly expanded during this time period as well. You can continue to hike at elevation to take in the fall colors from above, or you can walk among the autumn colored trees.

Suggested mid-late October hikes: If you wish to hike at elevation for spectacular fall views try exploring the Rich Mountain Loop, Alum Cave, Hemphill Bald, Shuckstack, Bullhead, Charlies Bunion or Mt. Sterling trails. If you wish to hike among the trees, check out Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers or the Porters Creek Trail.

As the fall color season begins to wind down in early November, you’ll want to hike at the lowest elevations in the park. Check out the Meigs Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap, Abrams Falls, Oconaluftee River Trail, Indian Falls, or the Deep Creek Loop.

Monitoring Fall Color Progress:

* To get a general idea of when leaves are approaching peak colors you can follow the fall foliage map on the Weather Channel site.

* To get a birds-eye view on changes in fall colors, you can periodically check out the four Smoky Mountain web cams.

* To get periodic on-the-ground reports, visit the Fall Leaf Color page on the GSMA website.

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The Mountain Life Festival at Oconaluftee

Monday, September 3, 2012

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Join park staff and volunteers as they celebrate the fall harvest. The Mountain Farm Museum will be alive with history as demonstrators provide visitors with a glimpse into the past as they make soap, apple cider, sorghum molasses, hominy, music and more.

This year's Mountain Life Festival will be held on September 15th at the Mountain Farm Museum next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC from 10 am - 4 pm.

The centerpiece of the event is the sorghum syrup demonstration, which the national park has provided each fall for nearly 40 years. The syrup is made much the same way it was produced a hundred or more years ago using a horse-powered cane mill and wood-fired cooker. The syrup making demonstration is provided by students, staff, and volunteers from Swain County High School through a cooperative agreement with Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Tools, farm implements, and historic photographs from the national park's archives and artifact collection will also be on display.

The purpose of the Mountain Life Festival is to share with park visitors some of the traditional fall activities that were an important part of rural life in the southern mountains. The spirit of cooperation that existed among families and neighbors is reflected in this event.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians Receive Grant for Hall Mountain tract

Sunday, September 2, 2012

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The U.S. Forest Service announced earlier this week $3.5 million in grants as part of a new program to support jobs and healthy forests in communities across the U.S.

The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program provides financial assistance grants to local governments, tribes and qualified nonprofit organizations working to establish community forests with a focus on economic and environmental benefits, education, forest stewardship and recreation opportunities.

The federal grants will be matched with an additional $8.5 million in funding from other partners on the projects, and represent a strategic investment in local communities, a key component of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

All projects must ensure public access to the protected lands, and the communities must be involved in the process of developing a forest plan and determining long-term goals for the forests.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians will be receiving $302,300 for projects on Hall Mountain in N.C. Here's what the press release had to say:

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians will conserve this highly significant 108-acre Hall Mountain tract, approximately six miles north of Franklin, N.C. The tribe plans to incorporate a scenic hiking trail system that will exhibit uses of natural resources traditionally used by the Cherokee. These exhibits will serve as educational learning centers for regional public schools and organizations like Boy and Girl Scouts.

To see the rest of the grants announced from around the country, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Visitor Use Surveys at Big South Fork

Saturday, September 1, 2012

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The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Obed Wild and Scenic River have arranged for a visitor use survey to be done in each park during September. The surveys will provide information that will help determine where park visitors are coming from, what people like to do when they come to a park, what are visitors' opinions about park facilities and interpretive programs, and what park features and qualities are most important to visitors.

The surveys are entirely voluntary and anonymous and will be distributed to a random sample of visitors during a seven day period. The questionnaires are already stamped and addressed, and visitors can fill out the questionnaires at their leisure and mail them to the University of Idaho for processing. A report of the findings will be compiled and made available on the parks' webpages ( and

The visitor use survey at Big South Fork will be conducted September 4 through September 10, and the survey at the Obed will be conducted from September 11 through September 17.

Please call either the Big South Fork at (423) 569-9778 or the Obed at (423) 346-6294 if you have any questions.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Volunteer Opportunity: Adopt a Trail For Families Trail Workday

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As part of the Adopt a Trail program, a couple of family-oriented work days have been offered this summer, and help to make improvements to the nature trails in the Smokies. The workdays were designed with kids in mind. The definition of family is broad - it could be a parent with children, two or more siblings, or any other combination of people who are members of a "family".

The final workday will be held on Saturday, September 8th on the Pine Oak Nature Trail, on the Tennessee side of the park. This workday is being supported through a National Park Foundation grant and will include free t-shirts and water bottles for all those who participate!!

The event lasts from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. To RSVP to participate or for specific details, contact Christine Hoyer at 828-497-1949.

Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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