Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Park Reopens Trails Damaged in 2011 Tornado

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced today the reopening of two trails that have been closed since 2011 after receiving extensive damage from a F4 Tornado in the western end of the Park.

The Park's Trail Crew recently completed rehabilitation work on Beard Cane and Hatcher Mountain Trails. These trails have been closed since April 2011 due to damaging tornado winds and rain that left the trails blocked by thousands of downed trees. In addition, Park crews had to rebuild the trail tread surface and construct multiple retaining walls where the trail had been completely destroyed after uprooted trees fell downslope with sections of the trail attached.

After the 2011 tornado, 50 miles of trails were initially closed including Ace Gap Trail, Beard Cane Trail, Hatcher Mountain Trail, Little Bottoms Trail, Rabbit Creek Trail, Hannah Mountain Trail, Cooper Road Trail, Cane Creek Trail, Gold Mine Trail, and Abrams Falls Trail. Twenty-four trail crew employees from across the Park responded to the incident in addition to trail crews from Canyonlands National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park. Due to the scope of the workload, coupled with the responsibility to maintain the other 800 miles of trails in the Park, Smokies Trail Crew Supervisor, Tobias Miller, reached out to fellow NPS trail crews from across the country to aid in tree clearing efforts and trail reconstruction.

“This was some of the most challenging work I have ever faced. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such hardworking professionals and the best trail crew in the NPS,” said Smokies Trail Crew Supervisor Tobias Miller. “It was clear from the first day, after I crawled through only three of the damaged trails, that we were in for some serious challenges to reopen these trails.”

All trails as a result of the tornado are now reopened for public use along with Backcountry Campsite 3. However, Backcountry Campsite 11 will remain closed. The damage to this site was so great from the storm that this location is no longer suitable as a campsite.

For more information about trail conditions, please visit the Park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm or call our Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.

You may want to note the following backcountry areas that are currently closed:

 • Chimney Tops Trail is closed due to a washed out bridge. The bridge is scheduled to be repaired by June 30. At that time, the park's Trails Forever Crew will begin Phase 2 of the ongoing trail rehabilitation project which will necessitate closing the trail each Monday through Thursday from July 1-October 17. The trail will be open weekly on Friday-Sunday during the rehabilitation project.

• Scott Mountain Trail from campsite #6 to Schoolhouse Gap. Campsite #6 is open.

• Backcountry Campsites 11, 54, 65

 • Noland Creek Trail will be closed from the trailhead to campsite #64 from April 22-May 2 for landslide repair. Campsite #64 will remain open.

• The bridge at the southernmost end of the Smokemont Loop Trail is closed due to construction in the area.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, April 29, 2013

White-nose Syndrome Decimates North Carolina’s Bats

Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have determined that white-nose syndrome (WNS) continues to decimate bat populations in western North Carolina, with some infected locations showing up to a 95 percent decline in hibernating bats over the past one to two years. The disease, which has been confirmed in seven counties in western North Carolina, does not affect people.

Wildlife Commission biologists surveying bat populations have documented declining bat populations by site. The number of bats hibernating in a retired mine in Avery County has plummeted from more than 1,000 bats prior to WNS to around 65 bats in just two years since the disease was discovered. At a mine in Haywood County, the number of bats hibernating dropped from nearly 4,000 bats to about 250 bats in only one year. And at a cave in McDowell County, numbers dropped from almost 300 to only a few bats remaining this winter.

White-nose syndrome continues to spread, affecting bats throughout the mountains. Bats in two additional counties – Rutherford and Buncombe – are now confirmed to have the disease and the disease is suspected in Swain County. First detected in North Carolina in 2011, WNS was confirmed in an abandoned mine in Avery County, a cave at Grandfather Mountain State Park in Avery County, an abandoned mine in Yancey County, Linville Caverns in McDowell County, and from a dead bat found in Transylvania County. In 2012, hibernating bats in Haywood County were confirmed positive for WNS.

In Buncombe County, a dead bat found on the deck of a house was confirmed positive for the disease, while a Rutherford County dead bat in a cave on The Nature Conservancy’s Bat Cave Preserve property also tested positive. In Swain County, two hibernation sites surveyed this year had bats with visible signs of WNS. Laboratory tests later confirmed the presence of the fungus. The fungus can be present on a bat, making that bat “suspect” for WNS, but the bat is not considered to have the disease unless invasion of the skin tissue by the fungus is observed with a microscope.

Across the continent, nine bat species in North America are known to be affected by white-nose syndrome. North Carolina is home to 17 species of bats. While eight of those species have been discovered with the fungus elsewhere, the disease or the fungal spores have been documented on only four species in North Carolina. Those species are the tri-colored, Northern long-eared, big brown, and little brown bats.

Neither the fungus nor the disease has been detected in any of the so-called tree roosting bats, which typically roost individually in or on trees in the warmer months and either migrate south for the winter, or remain in the area, hibernating individually outside of caves. The disease has not been detected on the two species of big-eared bats that occur in North Carolina, including the federally endangered Virginia big-eared bat.

In March 2010, the Wildlife Commission took necessary steps to get ahead of the disease by adopting the “White-nose Syndrome Surveillance and Response Plan for North Carolina” in concert with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and many other partners.The plan outlines a number of steps to protect bats while allowing biologists to pinpoint and investigate a possible outbreak as quickly as possible. There is evidence that people may inadvertently spread the disease-causing fungus from cave to cave. Therefore, the most important precaution people can take to help bats is staying out of caves and mines.

The fungus grows on bats in caves during torpor, the hibernation-like state bats enter during winter. Infected bats may spread the fungal spores to other bats and roosts during the warmer summer months. However, the fungus only grows in a narrow range of temperatures(41 to 56 degrees) in high humidity conditions. Although these conditions are prevalent in hibernation caves, bat houses are used during the summer months and have no more potential to spread fungal spores than do natural roosts, such as hollow trees.

Bats are important to ecosystems worldwide, including in North Carolina. They have an enormous impact on controlling insect populations. A nursing female bat may consume almost her entire body weight in insects in one night, including insects that harm crops and forests. The U.S. Geological Service estimates that loss of bats in North America could lead to agricultural losses exceeding $3.7 billion annually.

Funding for the Commission’s bat and white-nose syndrome research and management comes from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grants and the Non-game and Endangered Wildlife Fund, which supports wildlife research, conservation and management for animals that are not hunted and fished.

North Carolinians can support this effort as well as other non-game wildlife monitoring, research and management projects in North Carolina by:

• Donating through the Tax Check-off for Nongame and Endangered Wildlife on line 30 of their N.C. state income tax form;

• Registering a vehicle or trailer with a N.C. Wildlife Conservation license plate; and,

• Donating online at www.ncwildlife.org/give.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hiking the Beautiful USA

Quick: What's the longest National Scenic Trail in America? If you answered the Continental Divide Trail you would be wrong. In fact, the CDT isn't even close to being the longest. At 4600 miles, the North Country National Scenic Trail is by far the longest trail in America.

Recently, REI published an infographic that provides a bird's-eye view of the 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States, which measure more than 18,753 miles when combined. Looking over the map, if we only had a trail that spanned the southern tier of our country, thru-hikers would be able to perpetually hike around the country:

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, April 26, 2013

Smokies Offers Mountains-to-Sea Trail Hike and Presentation

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is offering an opportunity for visitors to learn about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) on Saturday, May 4th. Danny Bernstein, Great Smoky Mountains Association Board Member and author, will lead a 2-hour hike on a section of the MST and later give a talk about her adventures hiking the entire length of the MST from Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks.

The guided 2-hour hike along Mingus Creek Trail begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 4th at the Mingus Mill parking area which is located on US 441 (Newfound Gap Road) about 2 miles north of Cherokee, NC and 0.5 miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The 4.4 mile round-trip hike is rated easy to moderate but does have some steep uphill sections and an elevation gain of 800 feet. The trail follows the route of an old wagon road and passes through areas that were farmed in the days before the creation of the park. The hike also includes a visit to the Mingus Creek Cemetery.

At 1 p.m. Bernstein will give a talk on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center sharing her adventures hiking the entire 1,000 miles along the MST. She will discuss the highlights and challenges of hiking the MST as well as share pictures, maps, and stories that will captivate the audience including the unexpected and unusual sights she encountered along the journey.

Hiking participants should wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and bring drinking water. Because weather in the Smoky Mountains can be unpredictable a rain jacket is also recommended.

For more information, call the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at (828) 497-1904.

For more information on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Firefly Viewing Schedule - Passes Required Now

Park officials have announced the Elkmont Firefly Viewing event in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will take place from Thursday, June 6 through Thursday, June 13. For this year's viewing event, the on-line ticketing system, operated through Recreation.gov, will again provide visitors with parking passes to guarantee they will be able to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center without the inconvenience of having to arrive hours in advance.

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus; a firefly species that flashes synchronously. In 2005 the Park began closing the Elkmont entrance road each evening and operating a mandatory shuttle bus system to and from the viewing area to provide for visitor safety, resource protection, and to enhance the experience for both viewers and campers at Elkmont.

In 2012, the Park instituted the reservation requirement for the first time. This was in response to the increasing popularity of the event which caused management issues in the parking area and congestion for visitors accessing the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The new system improved the visitor experience by allowing reservation holders to arrive later in the day and guaranteed access to the event.

For this year's event a parking pass will be required for all vehicles. The pass will cover a maximum of 6 persons in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length). Four passes for oversize vehicles, like a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 persons), will also be available. Each reservation will cost $1.50. Parking passes will be non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. Each reservation through Recreation.gov will receive an e-mailed confirmation and specific information about the event.

The number of passes issued for each day will be based on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity. Passes will be issued with staggered arrival times in order to relieve congestion in the parking lot and for boarding the shuttles.

The shuttle buses, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle.

The shuttle service will be the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

The parking passes for this year's event will be on sale on-line beginning after 10:00 a.m. April 29. The Park will hold back 90 passes for each day to accommodate individuals who did not learn of the need to pre-purchase tickets. Those last 90 passes will go on sale on-line at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved.

Passes can be purchased at www.Recreation.gov. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but Park officials strongly encourage the use of the on-line process, because it provides far more information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive at the Park. The $1.50 reservation fee covers the cost of processing the requests for the passes. The Park will not receive any revenue either from the reservations or the shuttle tickets.

Hiking in the Smokies

Smokies Recruiting Volunteers for Elk Bugle Corp in Cataloochee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is seeking volunteers to assist rangers with managing traffic and providing visitor information on responsible elk viewing practices in Cataloochee, NC.

Cataloochee is a remote mountain valley on the eastern edge of the Park where remnants of early settlements are preserved. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the isolated valley is a popular, year-round destination. Elk were reintroduced in Cataloochee in 2001 as part of an experimental release to determine if an elk herd could sustain itself in the Park after a 200-year absence. Approximately 140 elk now live in the self-sustaining herd.

Each volunteer is asked to work at least two scheduled, four-hour shifts per month starting the second week in May and continuing through November. This target period is during high visitor use from late spring during the elk calving season through the end of the fall color and elk mating season.

Volunteers will spend time roving the valley in a zero-emission electric vehicle or by bike. Volunteers who prefer to rove by bike are required to bring their own bicycle and protective riding gear. Bike patrol volunteers will rove along the road through the valley which is mostly flat with very little change in elevation.

If you're interested in volunteering or would like more information about the program, please contact Park Ranger Pete Walker at (828) 506-1739.

Hiking in the Smokies

May Classic Hikes of the Smokies: Big Creek Scenic Hike

On the third Tuesday of each month this year, Friends of the Smokies will be offering guided hikes as part of their Classic Hikes of the Smokies series. To celebrate the Friends’ 20th anniversary this year, each hike will honor an achievement or cause that the Friends organization has supported in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since its establishment in 1993.

The hike for next month will honor bear management:

May 21: Big Creek Scenic Hike
Distance: 10.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1000 feet
Trails – Big Creek

To help support the Smokies Trails Forever program, a donation of $10 for members and $35 for non-members is requested. Non-members receive a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. Members who bring a friend hike for free. You can pre-register for this through Friends of the Smokies at outreach.nc@friendsofthesmokies.org or 828-452-0720.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Updates on Flood Damaged Trails in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park crews are making needed repairs on both Chimney Tops Trail and Noland Creek Trail which received significant flood damage this winter.

In Tennessee, the popular Chimney Tops Trail has been closed since January when high waters destroyed the pedestrian bridge across Walker Camp Prong at the beginning of the trail. Crews are working to replace the 70-foot long bridge to allow trail access and estimate reopening the trail by June 30th, 2013. At that time, the Park's Trails Forever Crew will begin Phase 2 of the ongoing full trail rehabilitation which will necessitate closing the trail each Monday through Thursday from Monday, July 1 through Thursday, October 17, while the trail continues to undergo a major facelift.

In North Carolina, Park crews will repair a slide area along Noland Creek Trail. In order to make the needed repairs, the trail will be closed to all hiker and horse use from April 22 - May 2, 2013 from the trailhead to Backcountry Campsite 64. Note that Campsite 64 will remain open, but Backcountry Campsite 65 will be closed during the project.

During the January 30th storm, the Great Smoky Mountains received more than 4 inches of rain in 24 hours, resulting in flooding of streams throughout the park which were already swollen from higher than normal precipitation throughout the month. Average rainfall during January across the Smokies usually averages 5-7 inches of rain, but the park received 14-17 inches of rain during the month.

Other backcountry closures you should be aware of include:

• Beard Cane Trail and campsites #3 and #11
• Hatcher Mountain Trail
• Scott Mountain Trail from campsite #6 to Schoolhouse Gap (campsite #6 is open)
• Backcountry Campsites 3, 11, 40, 54

For more information about trail closures, please call our Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.

Hiking in the Smokies

National Junior Ranger Day on April 27

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will celebrate the seventh annual National Junior Ranger Day on Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with special activities at all three of the Park's visitor centers.

Children and their families can join in a variety of free, hands-on activities at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, TN; Cades Cove Visitor Center near Townsend, TN; and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC A few of the natural and cultural opportunities that will be available include Ranger guided walks, historic toy making, opportunity to talk to a real wildland firefighter, the making of dinner bells at a blacksmith shop, and visiting touch tables with animal skins, skulls and scat. Information about specific programs is available at each of the visitor centers.

Children can earn a Junior Ranger patch, for free, by completing three of the specially planned activities. A Junior Ranger booklet is also available, for those who would like to explore the Park in more depth. The Junior Ranger booklets, produced in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, can be purchased for $2.50 each at Park visitor centers. The booklets are designed to serve a variety of age groups targeted at 5 to 6, 7 to 8, 9 to 10 and 11 to 12.

Middle and High School students have a special opportunity at Sugarlands Visitor Center to participate in a National Park Career Day. Students will get a "behind the scenes" look into the careers of the National Park Service. Employees will be demonstrating their jobs with hands-on activities while providing insight for those interested in these types of future careers. By including this Career Day for older children during the National Junior Ranger Day event, the park hopes to provide opportunities for all ages to experience the national park.

For information and questions about High School Career Day, please contact Emily Guss at 865-736-1713.

National Junior Ranger Day is a special event held during National Park Week, celebrated this year between April 20 and 28. National Park Week is an annual presidentially proclaimed week for celebrating and recognizing national parks. This year's theme is "Did You Know…" Most parks throughout the country will host ceremonies, interactive games, and special events designed to connect children with the resources found in national parks.

For information and questions about Junior Ranger Day, please contact Lloyd Luketin at 865-436-1292.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chattanooga To Be Named First Official Trail Town Of The Great Eastern Trail

Chattanooga will be named as the first official trail town of the Great Eastern Trail at a ceremony to be held at the Tennessee Riverpark’s Amnicola Marsh pavilion on Sunday, April 28, 2013, at 12:00 noon EDT. Representatives of the City of Chattanooga, including then Mayor Andy Berke, Hamilton County, and the Great Eastern Trail Association will participate. The public is also invited to attend.

The Great Eastern Trail (GET) is a new long-distance hiking trail comparable in many ways to the Appalachian Trail (AT). Its “trail town” designation is essentially the same as the AT’s “trail community” and can be expected to provide similar economic benefits. The GET has been created by linking together regional trail systems. It extends nearly 1,800 miles between Alabama’s Flagg Mountain and the North Country National Scenic Trail just south of New York’s Finger Lakes. About 72% of the GET is open to hiking. More information about the GET and the Great Eastern Trail Association is available at www.greateasterntrail.net.

Tom Johnson, president of the Great Eastern Trail Association, states. “The Great Eastern Trail passing directly through Chattanooga makes Chattanooga the largest city in the country by far to host a major long-distance trail.”

Until recently, the Chattanooga area was one of the few remaining major gaps existing between the regional trail systems that are components of the GET. That gap has now been closed through the efforts of a joint Great Eastern Trail Association (GETA) / Cumberland Trail Conference (CTC) committee chaired initially by Jim Schroeder of Murfreesboro, TN, and currently by Warren Devine of Oak Ridge, TN. Over the last couple of years, the GETA/CTC Chattanooga Committee has worked diligently in partnership with local, state and federal partners and interested citizens to identify and establish a trail connection between the Georgia Pinhoti Trail at the Tennessee-Georgia state line and the Cumberland Trail on Walden’s Ridge. The Cumberland Trail will serve as the GET’s path northward to the Tennessee-Kentucky line.

Joanna Swanson and Bart Houck whose trail names are “Someday” and “Hillbilly Bart,” are currently engaged in an effort to become the first persons to thru-hike the GET. Their hike through the Chattanooga area took place in early February 2013. They will interrupt their thru-hike to return to Chattanooga for this event and will present a program on thru-hiking the GET at Outdoor Chattanooga, 200 River Street, at 4:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 28, 2013. The public is invited to attend. Their progress on their thru-hike can be followed on the website www.gethiking.net.

On Sunday, April 28, 2013, in addition to the “Trail Town” ceremony and the “Thru-Hike” program, there will be two guided walks along the Riverwalk. The walks will depart from the Tennessee Riverpark’s Amnicola Marsh pavilion at 1:00 p.m. immediately following the “Trail Town” ceremony and the public is invited to participate.

Also, on Saturday, April 27, 2013, there will be three opportunities for the public to participate that morning in guided hikes and walks along existing and planned segments of the GET’s route.

A complete schedule of the public activities, including the hikes, “Trail Town” ceremony and “Thru-Hike” program, that are part of the “Great Eastern Trail – Chattanooga Weekend” event can be viewed online at the Outdoor Chattanooga website: www.outdoorchattanooga.com. For questions about the schedule, the public may call the Outdoor Chattanooga office at 423-643-6888.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Noland Creek Trail to be closed for 2 weeks

The Noland Creek Trail will be closed from the trailhead to campsite #64 for approximately two weeks. Beginning on April 22nd, the trail, located on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, off Lakeside Drive, will be closed for landslide repair as a result of heavy rains this past winter.

During the January 30th storm, the Great Smoky Mountains received more than 4 inches of rain in 24 hours, resulting in flooding of streams throughout the park which were already swollen from higher than normal precipitation throughout the month. Average rainfall during January across the Smokies usually averages 5-7 inches of rain, but the park received 14-17 inches of rain during the month.

Backpackers should note that campsite #64 will remain open during the trail closure.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, April 19, 2013

The National Park Week Getaway Giveaway

The National Park Foundation has partnered with Globus to launch the National Park Week Getaway Giveaway! The lucky winner of this sweepstakes will receive airfare, hotel stays, transportation, and VIP access to some of the most spectacular national parks including Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and Grand Teton National Park. The total value of the Grand Prize is approximately $4800!

The National Park Week Getaway Giveaway winner and a guest will experience the breathtaking landscapes, wildlife, and history of the West. This trip features an 11-day guided tour from Denver to Salt Lake City with stops at national parks, museums, and historic sites. Expert Globus tour guides will present fascinating information and stories about each of the destinations and offer a unique level of access to park attractions. Globus has developed a full itinerary, including lodging and transportation, for a completely hassle-free touring experience.

The sweepstakes closes on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 11:59 PM EST.

For more information, and to enter, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Appalachian Trail Enthusiasts to Meet at Western Carolina University for 39th Biennial Conference

Registration is now open for the 2013 Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Biennial conference, scheduled for July 19-26, at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. The event is hosted by the five southern Appalachian Trail (A.T.) maintaining clubs and convenes Trail managers, hikers, and fans to celebrate and conserve the iconic National Scenic Trail.

The program includes 137 organized hikes, 70 workshops, live music, dancing, and trips to some of the region’s best activities.

Hikes are planned on the A.T. and other regional trails. Workshop topics cover hiking, trail maintenance, natural wonders, cultural history, and volunteer leadership development. Activities include rafting, zip-lining, touring Asheville’s booming art scene, and visiting the Carl Sandburg Home and the Biltmore Estate.

“This event is only held in the southeast once every eight years, so the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited to bring this informative and entertaining event to North Carolina to showcase the Appalachian Trail and the surrounding beauty,” Morgan Sommerville, regional director of the ATC.

Organizers expect 1,000 participants of all ages for the celebration of the A.T. The Biennial also serves as the general business meeting of the ATC’s membership; this meeting will take place on Saturday evening, July 20th.

Contra dancing, music from Southern Exposure and Buncombe Turnpike, presentations about hiking long trails, and a Cherokee storyteller make up the rest of the evening entertainment scheduled Sunday through Thursday. Evening activities are open to the public with a $7 nightly ticket.

The ATC was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. The A.T. is a unit of the National Park System, stretching from Georgia to Maine, at approximately 2,180 miles in length. It is the longest hiking-only footpath 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.

For more information about the Biennial Conference or to register, visit appalachiantrail.org/2013biennial

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Shenandoah National Park Hosts Wildflower Weekend

Conservation of native flowers and plants will be the focus of Shenandoah National Park's 27th annual Wildflower Weekend. This year event takes place on the weekend of May 4-5. Visitors may see woodland beauties such as trillium, wild geranium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and a variety of others on naturalist-led hikes.

Trails included this year are Millers Head, Mill Prong, Appalachian, Stony Man, Franklin Cliffs, and Little Stony Man Cliffs. There will also be a bird walk and a "Wildflower Identification for Beginners" walk.

Special illustrated programs will be offered at Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 on Skyline Drive). "Rare Plants of Shenandoah National Park" and "The New Flora of Virginia: What's in it for You?" will be presented by Chris Ludwig, chief biologist for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's Division of Natural Heritage. Naturalists and professional photographers Ann and Rob Simpson will present "Wild About Shenandoah: From Wildflowers to Wildlife." They will also lead a hike on the Limberlost Trail, searching for flowers and offering photography tips.

New this year is an opportunity to actively help manage an exotic species by becoming a "Garlic Mustard Buster" on Saturday, May 4. Participants may sign up at the trailhead to accompany the park's volunteer coordinator on a morning or afternoon hike to help control this invasive plant. Gloves and plastic bags will be provided.

For program times and locations, see the complete Wildflower Weekend schedule on the park's website; pick up a schedule at park entrances the weekend of the event; or call the park at 540-999-3500, ext. 3283.

Programs are free, everyone is welcome, and no registration is required. There is a $15-per-vehicle entrance fee to the park, good for seven days.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Recipients Announced for 2013 North Carolina Appalachian Trail License Plate Grants

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) have announced this year’s recipients of North Carolina Appalachian Trail (A.T.) License Plate grants for projects which enhance the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in North Carolina. $35,000 was granted this spring to eleven individuals and partner organizations including Trail clubs, schools, botanists and ecologists, and environmental & conservation groups. Overall, A.T. specialty license plate sales in North Carolina bring the ATC about $120,000 each year.

This year’s recipients include the Carolina Mountain Club, East Tennessee State University, Friends of the Smokies, Nantahala Hiking Club, North Carolina State University, Regulus Designs, Southern Appalachian Cooperative Weed Management Partnership, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, Summit Charter School, Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club, and The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards.

Some of the projects that this grant will help support include monitoring & and disease analysis of Gray’s Lily along the A.T. corridor in the Roans Mountains, repair food storage cables at Mollies and Cosby Shelters in the Great Smokies Mountains National Park, help support invasive plant workshops & other related activities along the A.T., complete a 5-year bird monitoring project in the A.T. bald habitats, and continue support of Summit Charter School’s 8th grade A.T. water monitoring trip.

This grant program is funded by drivers who purchase and renew their North Carolina A.T. specialty license plates. Twenty dollars from each license plate is given to the ATC to support its work in the state. This money is used to fund the grant program, for A.T. greenway acquisition, and to help support the work of the Southern Regional Office of the ATC in Asheville, North Carolina.

Specialty license plates for the A.T. are a way to support the ATC in its work to sustain the Trail into the future. A.T. specialty license plates are currently offered in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.

For more information about the ATC license tag program visit www.appalachiantrail.org/plates.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, April 15, 2013

Newfound Gap Road Reopens to Thru Traffic

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the completion of road repairs to Newfound Gap Road (Hwy 441) this morning. The road has been closed since the January 16th landslide that washed away approximately 200 feet of the road. At 10:00 am on April 15th, the Park officially opened the road to all thru traffic between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN.

Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, NC Congressman Mark Meadows, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Michell Hicks, and Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) Construction Operations Engineer Emmett Melton jointly announced the opening of the road this morning 30 days ahead of the scheduled completion date of May 15, 2013. The National Park Service, FHWA, Phillips & Jordan, Inc. (P&J), APAC Harrison Division, and all subcontractors worked cooperatively in the most efficient and expeditious manner possible to restore Hwy 441 to a safe byway for the traveling public, the gateway communities, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The primary repair contract was awarded to P&J for the submitted bid of $3,989,890.00 with the completion date set at May 15, 2013. The contract included a monetary incentive of $ 18,000 per day to the each day of completion prior to May 15, 2013, up to a maximum of $504,000 offered jointly by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian (EBCI) and the National Park Service.

"We recognize the economic importance of the road to our neighboring communities and are grateful that our partners at Federal Highways Administration and were able to respond efficiently to our need and work with the contractors to make the necessary repairs in less than 90 days," said Superintendent Ditmanson.

APAC Harrison Division completed Phase 1 of the reconstruction project on February 21, 2013 by developing the access road to the slide area, removing of debris, and stabilizing the slope above the work area. P&J mobilized equipment on February 22, 2013 to begin Phase 2 of the reconstruction project which included rebuilding the roadway and filling the area washed away during the landslide with crushed stone.

The final design includes over 200 feet of pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with 150 feet of side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope. This drainage system and previous crushed stone material will further protect the road and park resources from future damage due to both overflow and subsurface water flow. The fill area was naturally sloped and planted with seed. In addition, erosion measures were put into place along the 900 foot debris field below the landslide which was also seeded.

Hiking in the Smokies

Trail Crew Provides Opportunities to Volunteer on the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is currently seeking volunteers, 18 and over, to help maintain the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail Crew (S.W.E.A.T.) this season. These positions are designed for experienced hikers who have a desire to work hard, live in the backcountry and have a great time with new friends.

The ATC’s S.W.E.A.T. Crew is a mobile crew, carrying all food, tools and camping gear into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The crew focuses on the difficult Trail problems that occur in the backcountry with the tools they carry in and the materials that they find. Each crew works six days in the field repairing the Trail, building steps, and clearing the A.T. All food, lodging, equipment and transportation to and from the work site is provided.

“Joining the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s SWEAT crew is a great opportunity to give back to the Appalachian Trail, make new friends, and create memories that will last a lifetime,” said Andrew Downs, regional director of the ATC.

Members of the S.W.E.A.T. crew arrive at ATC base camp the day before their crew session begins to meet the professional Crew Leaders, prepare for the work trip and check out any gear they need. The next day the crew enjoys a family-style breakfast and loads up in an ATC vehicle and drives to a nearby trail-head in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After a challenging hike in, often up to 10 miles long and over 2,500 feet in elevation gain, the crew establishes the campsite they will work out of for the next five days. The crew repairs, reconstructs and maintains some of the most remote and beautiful sections of the A.T. often working at elevations of over 6,000 feet for the entire work week.

2013 S.W.E.A.T. Crew Calendar:

Session 1:  6/8 - 6/13/2013
Session 2:  6/17 - 6/22/2013
Session 3:  6/26 - 7/1/2013
Session 4:  7/8 - 7/13/2013
Session 5:  7/17-7/22/2013
Session 6:  7/26 - 7/31/2013
Session 7:  8/4 - 8/9/2013
Session 8:  8/13 - 8/18/2013

For more information about ATC’s S.W.E.A.T Crew program or to volunteer, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/crews.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Annual “Music of the Mountains” Scheduled

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will hold its 9th annual "Music of the Mountains" celebration Friday, April 19 through Sunday, April 21. Over the years, this event has grown to span an entire weekend, with performances of traditional music in neighboring communities, including an entire day of free music at the Sugarlands Visitor Center on April 20th.

The three-day event begins with a concert of Celtic music by Four Leaf Peat on Friday at 7:00 p.m. at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend, Tenn. General admission is $5.

"Music of the Mountains" continues on Saturday with a series of free performances of old-time mountain music during the day at the park's Sugarlands Visitor Center. Six programs are planned from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (see schedule below). This year the park will welcome back Knoxville musician Matt Morelock to the stage with his friend, fiddler Ferd Moyse of the Hackensaw Boys. The duo will play two sets at 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Back again for the first time in several years will be a free performance on Saturday night in the city of Gatlinburg. Steve Brown and Hurricane Ridge will play their blend of old-time and modern bluegrass on the plaza outside of the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies on Saturday evening from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.

The Sunday afternoon program at the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Cosby, Tenn, will feature traditional Appalachian religious music with an old fashioned community sing along from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. General admission is $4.

"We've been offering Music of the Mountains since 2005 to celebrate old time music and to educate our visitors about the instruments, playing styles, and history behind the tunes," Supervisory Park Ranger, Kent Cave said. "The partnerships with our neighbors in Cosby, Gatlinburg and Townsend allow us to paint a more complete picture of the various types of music played here in the southern mountains."

The schedule of events:

April 19th - Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, Townsend 
Admission: $ 5
7 pm - Celtic Music by "Four Leaf Peat"

April 20th - Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Admission is free
10 am- Lost Mill String Band
11 am - Boogertown Gap Band
12 pm - Brien Fain
1 pm - Tony Thomas
 2 pm - Matt Morelock and Ferd Moyse
3 pm - Matt Morelock and Ferd Moyse
4 pm - Mountain Strings

April 20th- Plaza at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg 
Admission is Free
7- 8:30pm - Steve Brown and Hurricane Ridge

April 21st - Smoky Mountain Visitor Center, Cosby
Admission: $4
2pm-4pm - "Heritage, Harps and Hymns" - traditional offerings from Cocke County

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, April 12, 2013

Black bear cub killed during prescribed fire in Shenandoah National Park

The 500-acre Jarman Gap prescribed burn in Shenandoah National Park was successfully completed on Wednesday and Thursday, April 10-11. Assistant Fire Management Officer John Fry reported that "prescribed fire objectives were achieved." Fry added that local residents and visitors will continue to see smoke from within the burn area over the next several days.

Firefighters successfully contained three spot fires that occurred outside of the planned burn area, but within the park's boundary. They were assisted by water drops from a helicopter staged at Shenandoah Valley Airport by the National Park Service and other agencies during peak fire season. Crews will work today to clear a small portion of the A.T. and Turk Branch Trail, both temporarily closed due to the spot fires.

During the burn, firefighters discovered two black bear cubs who had been injured in the fire. Both were treated by staff at the Wildlife Center of Virginia (WCV), but one succumbed to injuries. The second cub remains in their care and is expected to survive. Once released from the WCV, park staff will work with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to place the cub with a wild nursing female bear. Park Superintendent Jim Northup said, "We deeply regret the injuries to these two bears, but overall we are very pleased with the outcome of this burn."

The Jarman Gap prescribed burn goals were to reduce hazardous fuels and the threat of a major wildfire. The fire will also help to promote oak and pine regeneration, additional animal food sources, and increased plant diversity. The forest of chestnut oak and three types of pine - Virginia, pitch, and table mountain - provides valuable habitat for a variety of wildlife.

The prescribed burn was a multi-agency effort with firefighters and other resources from across the region. Local support came from Dooms and Wilson Fire Departments.

Hiking in the Smokies

National Park System Advisory Board Report Offers Strategies to Strengthen 21st-century National Park Service

Strategies to strengthen the work of the National Park Service as it prepares for its centennial in 2016 are included in a report released today by the National Park System Advisory Board (NPSAB). The report, Engaging Independent Perspectives for a 21st-Century National Park System, summarizes the board’s recommendations to National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis for the future in four areas: stewardship, education, relevancy and the National Park Service workforce.

The NPSAB consulted with National Park Service employees and more than 100 outside subject matter experts, including scholarly and professional organizations, and private sector representatives. Their report focuses on 10 separate tasks designed to:

■ Plan for a future National Park System.

■ Recommend national historic landmarks that represent a broader, richer representation of America’s story.

■ Propose national natural landmarks that increase awareness of America’s diverse natural history and explore new opportunities for public and private support.

■ Support the economic valuation of National Park Service parks and programs, including cooperative programs outside the National Park System.

■ Revisit the “Leopold Report,” a 1963 report that influenced the philosophy, policies and people of the National Park Service, and prepare a contemporary version to help the National Park Service confront modern challenges in resource management.

■ Expand collaboration in education to broaden contacts with educational institutions and incorporate National Park Service parks and programs into educational media.

■ Explore American Latino Heritage by developing a theme study to identify American Latino related places for inclusion in new national historic landmarks and national parks, as well as existing National Park Service sites.

■ Support the National Park Service centennial by providing advice for a centennial public awareness initiative.

■ Build community relationships to explore new approaches for broader relevancy and public engagement.

■ Support leadership development by providing advice on National Park Service leadership, workforce, organizational development, and more effectively advancing innovation.

Established under the Historic Sites Act of 1935, the NPSAB is a congressionally chartered body of 12 private citizens appointed by the Secretary of the Interior that provides advice to the Secretary of the Interior and to the Director of the National Park Service on matters relating to operation of the parks and management of the NPS. A primary purpose of the NPSAB is to provide independent perspectives on current issues and to identify long-range opportunities and possible solutions to Systemwide challenges. Its 2001 report, Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century, recommended a 25-year vision for the NPS; today’s report builds on that work.

The report is available online at www.nps.gov/resources/advisoryboardreport.htm.

Hiking in the Smokies

N.C. Forest Officials Issue Alert about Flash Flood Danger

National forest officials have issued a flash flood bulletin for nearby communities and people who camp outdoors. A flash flood is a serious weather event for forest visitors because rising flood water is extremely dangerous—a sudden surge can claim victims in less than one minute.

Any intense, heavy rain that falls in a short amount of time can create flash flood conditions in a low-lying area, according to the National Weather Service, and it can happen at a moment’s notice any time of the year.

During a flash flood, rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more. The velocity of a flood surge can easily roll boulders and vehicles, tear out trees, destroy bridges and undermine roads. A low-lying area can become a death trap in a matter of minutes.

Statistics show that most flash floods in the U.S. occur after dark, when campers are asleep. Camping is one of the most popular activities in the National Forests in North Carolina, which consist of the Nantahala, Pisgah, Uwharrie and Croatan national forests.

“Many of our neighbors like to camp overnight in the forest,” explained Kristin Bail, forest supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina. “Sometimes visitors camp in low-lying areas because they spent the day along the river. But a sudden rush of water toward their camp site would put them in immediate danger.”

Forest officials are asking neighbors to check the National Weather Service forecast before they leave home, and to be alert for changing weather conditions while visiting the forest. Devices like a weather radio, a terrestrial radio, a smart-phone app or a cell phone mobile alert can help visitors stay tuned-in before and during their outdoor activities.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Obama's Budget Proposal Slashes National Parks Budget by 13%

The National Park Service announced today that the "President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget requests $2.6 billion to support the critical conservation, preservation, and recreation mission of the National Park Service."

This request represents a 13% reduction in the amount from the original 2013 NPS budget, which gave total budget authority to the NPS in the amount of $2.99 billion. That figure was recently reduced by 5% as a result of sequestration, which brought the NPS budget down to roughly $2.84 billion for fiscal year 2013. When compared to the revised sequestration budget, the President’s budget is still 8.5% below 2013 levels.

More importantly, the President’s 2014 budget request takes National Park funding back to 2004 levels, when the NPS had $2.56 billion in total budget authority. Indeed, each year since 2010, when total NPS budget authority reached $3.16 billion, the budget for National Parks has decreased.

According to the National Parks Traveler, the President's 2014 budget:
"calls for a reduction of more than 100 full-time employees to an agency that currently has 900 full-time vacancies"

"The budget also calls for a reduction of 92 employees under park operations, and 30 from the construction programs."

"According to a synopsis of the budget provided by the department, the proposal calls for more than $600 million in programmatic reductions to offset spending. It also would sustain current administrative cost reductions in travel, contract services, and supplies and equipment that would save $217 million."
Given that Obama's overall Federal spending remains relatively flat in 2014, versus 2013, the decision to reduce the National Parks budget in the amount he's requesting is extremely disappointing. Are National Parks a lower priority when compared to other government agencies?

For more details on what's in the NPS budget, you can click here to read the NPS press release.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friends of the Smokies Announces Details on "Fontana Lake Experience"

This year is the 20th Anniversary of the Friends of the Smokies, an organization that assists the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness, and providing volunteers for needed projects.

To help celebrate this milestone, Friends of the Smokies will be offering guided hikes each month as part of their Classic Hikes of the Smokies series. Each hike will honor an achievement or cause that the Friends organization has supported in the park since its establishment in 1993.

This June the Friends group is offering a special overnight experience, which will honor support for the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Program. The "Fontana Lake Experience" will be held on June 18th and 19th.

Here's the itinerary for the two-day event:

- 11:00 a.m. Meet at Fontana Marina
- Boat ride to Hazel Creek with History Walk lead by local historian Lance Holland (author of Fontana: A Pocket History of Appalachia)
- Reception with Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson at Fontana Village
- Gather for dinner
- Overnight accommodations at Fontana Village

Wednesday - Guided Hikes:
- Option 1: Shuckstack Firetower with Danny Bernstein, celebrated outdoor author, blogger, and hiking expert (Honoring support for the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Program)

 - Option 2: Lakeshore Trail with Keith Hoffman, AmeriCorps Outreach Associate, M.S. Biology (Celebrating pollination in the Park for National Pollinator Week)

* The Friends’ early rate: $130 for current members $165 for non-members / After May 15: $160/$195
* Double occupancy rates: $160/$195 / After May 15: $195/$230. Rooms with 2 queen beds at The Lodge in Fontana Village. Price includes room, round-trip boat shuttle to Hazel Creek, guided excursions, and reception. Meals are not included.
* Non-members also receive a complimentary one-year Friends membership.

Space is limited!

You can pre-register for this event through Friends of the Smokies at 1-828-452-0720 or outreach.nc@friendsofthesmokies.org.

Hiking in the Smokies

Park Volunteers Needed for Roving Oconaluftee Area

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is recruiting volunteers to assist park visitors by roving the Oconaluftee River Trail, Mountain Farm Museum and fields along Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road). The volunteer positions will be available from now through November 9, 2013.

These volunteers will provide information regarding various park regulations including littering, disturbing wildlife, approaching wildlife, historical information, wildflowers and recommend the best areas for viewing fall leaf colors in the Park. In the presence of elk in the fields along Newfound Gap Road, volunteers assist Rangers and other park staff in traffic management, and provide visitors with information on viewing the elk and their role in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Interested persons are required to attend one orientation and training session which will be given on Friday, April 26 from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm at the Oconaluftee Multi-purpose Room in the old park visitor center near Cherokee, NC. To register for the training, or for more information, contact the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 828/497-1904.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shenandoah Plans Prescribed Burn for Today

Shenandoah National Park Fire Managers plan to burn 500 acres in the park's south district on April 10, 2013. The ignition of the fire is dependent on weather conditions. The burn area is located west of Jarman Gap and northeast of Waynesboro, Virginia.

Prescribed fires are ignited by fire managers under a pre-determined set of conditions, including weather, fuel moisture and resource availability, in order to accomplish specific resource management objectives. All prescribed burns will be conducted as interagency projects, with local support, under the guidance and direction of trained and experienced National Park Service personnel. To learn more about prescribed fire in Shenandoah National Park, please click here.

The Jarman Gap Prescribed Burn aims to reduce hazardous fuels and the threat of a major wildfire. Additionally, the fire will help to promote oak and pine regeneration, additional animal food sources, and increased plant diversity. The forest of chestnut oak and three types of pine - Virginia, pitch, and table mountain - provides valuable habitat for a variety of wildlife.

The plan is for the fire to mimic natural processes as much as possible. It will be lit in such a way that the fire will move fairly slowly down the ridges with low flames. Smoke from the burn will be visible from both inside and outside the park. Some individual trees will burn, but the fire should travel mostly across the forest floor.

During the burn, the Gasline Road Trail will be closed to the public.

Hiking in the Smokies

The Many Views of Mt. LeConte

Although it's not the highest mountain, Mt. LeConte is arguably the most prominent peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

At 6593 feet, Mt. LeConte ranks as the third highest peak in the Smokies. However, measured from its immediate base near Gatlinburg, to its summit at High Point, Mt. LeConte can be considered the tallest mountain in the Eastern United States - rising a total of 5301 feet.

Although you can get a decent view of Myrtle Point along the eastern flank of the mountain from the Alum Cave Trail....

...you can find much better views of the mountain from many other locations around the park, including the Curry Mountain Trail:

Or on the lower portions of the Sugarland Mountain Trail:

Near the summit of Brushy Mountain:

Along the Appalachian Trail as you head towards Charlies Bunion:

Or even on the Cove Mountain Trail above Laurel Falls:

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stomach Virus Hits Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, N.C.

Pisgah National Forest officials are advising hikers that they may want to avoid sections of the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, N.C., especially the stretch running north to the Tennessee border. A number of hikers have been sickened by a severe, 24-hour stomach virus that is being passed between hikers. Shelters to avoid include No Business Knob, Big Bald and Hogback Ridge.

A section of the Appalachian Trail runs through the Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, to the north and south of Hot Springs.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, April 7, 2013

New Mobile App Now Available for Tennessee State Parks

The Department of Environment and Conservation has partnered with the Parks by Nature Network to launch Tennessee State Parks Pocket Ranger®, a free iPhone and Android application for park visitors on the move.

“With more than 31 million visits annually, Tennessee’s 54 state parks serve as popular destinations year round,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “This new mobile app will give those ‘on-the-go’ park goers and nature enthusiasts the ability to access valuable park information quickly and efficiently, while providing an additional level of outstanding customer service.”

In addition to Tennessee’s state parks, the free mobile app includes interactive information on Tennessee’s historic sites, state park golf courses and campgrounds. The Pocket Ranger app is designed to provide everything a visitor would need to become familiar with a property, including contacts, directions, available amenities, maps, events and links to important numbers and services. Information is updated regularly and users can search by GPS location or a desired activity to find nearby locations for hiking, camping, boating, birding, golfing and more. GPS maps can be cached in advance to ensure that navigation remains possible in the event of lost mobile reception or limited access.

Once a visitor arrives at a chosen destination, advanced GPS and GIS mapping technology allows them to track and record all trails, mark waypoints, locate friends inside the park, and even play games using the app’s GeoChallenge. Other features that will maximize your Tennessee State Parks adventure include a built-in compass, interpretative educational information, calendar of events, news and advisories and weather alerts. The app’s social media function and photo sharing allows users to post photos and share experiences with friends and family via Facebook and Twitter, inspiring others to get outdoors.

The free mobile app can be found by visiting www.tnstateparks.com or www.pocketranger.com. The app also is available through iTunes and Android Market. A tutorial on how to navigate the new app’s features can be found on the Pocket Ranger website. Plans are already under way to format the new app as a mobile website for Blackberry and feature phone users.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Forest Service proposes fee increase for Koomer Ridge Campground

U.S. Forest Service recreation managers are proposing a fee increase at the Koomer Ridge Campground in the Red River Gorge. The current camping fee was implemented in year 2000.

The winter camping fee would increase from $7 to $10 in November 2013. The fee would increase to $14 in November 2015.

The fee increase is proposed to help fund campground maintenance and improvements. Some recent improvements at Koomer Ridge include a year-round water system, new signage, amphitheater restoration and campsite renovations.

The fee change proposal will be presented to a citizen advisory committee for review. The committee members represent various recreational interests. Their primary functions are to ensure reasonable fee changes and address public concerns.

Anyone can attend and comment at the committee meetings. The next meeting time and location will be announced soon.

In 2004, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which allows the Forest Service to keep 95 percent of recreation fees collected and use these funds to operate, maintain and improve the sites.

For more information, or to provide comments, contact Recreation Manager Lee Breth with the Cumberland Ranger District at 606-784-6428.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Smokies Announces Completion of Sugarlands Visitor Center Renovations

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are pleased to invite the public to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Sugarlands Visitor Center to view the recent renovations to the main lobby and visitor contact area of the 50-year-old facility on Friday, April 12th at 10:00 am.

This project was made possible with funding provided by Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies. The renovated visitor contact area creates a sense of arrival and serves to enhance visitor orientation as visitors are provided park information and directed to interactive exhibits which introduce them to natural resource challenges like air quality and forest health. Along with lighting system improvements, the new visitor information desk and exhibits are laid out in a more open space allowing for better circulation and overall accessibility.

"We are excited to invite our neighbors in the community to see the improvements on April 12th," said Smokies Chief of Resource Education, Elizabeth Dupree. "The renovated space allows us to better serve the 850,000 visitors which come through the visitor center annually as well as our local community who has long enjoyed the natural history museum."

The majority of the renovations were performed by existing park crews who worked during the evening hours from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm to install new flooring, paint, lighting, and develop a new entrance into the natural history museum. Highly skilled laborers created a masonry wall that mirrors the original architecture of the building inviting park visitors into the newly redesigned visitor contact area. The visitor center remained open throughout the construction period with visitor center staff and volunteers serving visitors, at times, in limited space surrounded by ongoing construction.

Hiking in the Smokies

Arial video from the Smokies: Which trail does this track?

A couple days ago the Great Smoky Mountain Association published this aerial footage over "the entire stretch of one of the most beautiful trails in the Smokies". They've asked as to whether you can guess which trail treks along this ridge? See if you can figure it out:

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, April 1, 2013

Investigation Underway Into Violent Assault on Bicyclist on the Natchez Trace

This morning's NPS Digest is reporting that on March 17th, a bicyclist riding on the Natchez Trace Parkway near Friendship Hill Road, north of Tupelo, was physically assaulted by an unidentified person, leading to his hospitalization with severe injuries. The man’s bicycle was also damaged.

Rangers are currently conducting an investigation and are seeking the community’s assistance in identifying the assailant. He’s been identified as a white man in his 40s or 50s with short gray hair and a stocky build. He was driving a late model white crew cab pickup, possibly a Dodge, and would have been traveling south on the parkway late that afternoon. A reward of $500 is being offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about him should call the park at 662-680-4002. Rangers are also hoping to identify and talk with a witness who was at the scene and is thought to have been driving a dark colored four door sedan.

Hiking in the Smokies