Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Smokies Hosts Public Meetings to Provide Updates on Roadwork Projects

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials invite the public to a meeting for a project update on current and future roadwork plans for Newfound Gap Road and the Gatlinburg Bypass. The discussion will include details related to roadway resurfacing, drainage system improvements, stone-wall masonry rehabilitation, and slope stabilization in efforts to make these well-traveled roadways sustainable for continued vehicular travel by our 9 million visitors each year.

Meetings will be held on Monday, August 5th from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Training Room, near Gatlinburg, TN and on Tuesday, August 6th from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Oconaluftee Administrative Building near Cherokee, NC.

“We recognize that park roads such as Newfound Gap are critical arteries for traffic flow to and from our local communities,” said Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “While the completion of these road projects will improve the park road conditions, we understand the project work creates a potential impact to our local communities. We look forward to sharing our design and project management details regarding how we will minimize these impacts to our visitors and park neighbors.”

During the meetings Park staff will provide information regarding four rehabilitation projects taking place in 2013 through 2016 including current work along 6.1 miles of Newfound Gap Road near Chimney’s Picnic Area south towards Newfound Gap and future projects including resurfacing of the Gatlinburg Bypass, slope stabilization along Newfound Gap Road near the Deep Creek trailhead, and roadway rehabilitation along Newfound Gap Road from Chimney’s Picnic Area north to Gatlinburg, TN.

For more information regarding the public meetings, contact the Public Affairs office at 865-436-1207 or 865-436-1203.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NPS Denies Madison County Request to Establish New Park Entrance for Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park Superintendent Jim Northup announced yesterday that he has denied Madison County's request to establish a new entrance for motor vehicles into the national park on Rapidan Road in Madison County.

In a six-page letter sent to County Administrator Mr. Ernie Hoch and the members of the Madison County Board of Supervisors, Northup said that he respected and appreciated Madison County's special relationship with former President Hoover and their pride in that history. However, Northup further advised the County that after careful consideration, he could not support the County's proposal to upgrade the lower section of the Rapidan Road nor open the upper section to public motor use for private cars and commercial van tours as called for in the County's May 6, 2013, proposal to the park.

In making his announcement Northup said, "I truly appreciate Madison County's interest in taking advantage of their proximity to Shenandoah National Park and looking for ways to better serve the visitors to our beautiful area. However, after careful review of the County's proposal and the laws, policies, and planning documents that guide my decisions as the park superintendent, I cannot support this particular proposal."

The County's proposal to the National Park Service contained three major components:

·a call to upgrade the lower section of the Rapidan Road, which is already open to public motor vehicle traffic and provides access to a portion of the park, the Rapidan State Wildlife Management Area, Rapidan Camps, Inc. (a private camp along the road), and the existing hiker and equestrian trailhead below the former Presidential Retreat, known as Camp Hoover or Rapidan Camp;

·a proposal to establish a new entrance for motor vehicles by opening the upper portion of the Rapidan Road (above the park gate);

·and a request to allow limited commercial vehicle access for guided van tours.

The County's proposal called for allowing nearly 30,000 vehicles per season to access the park from this new entrance. Similar proposals, advanced in 1939, 1947, and 1985 have also been denied by Presidential veto, the Secretary of the Interior, and a National Park Service Regional Director, respectively.

In responding to the County, Northup acknowledged that certain portions of the lower Rapidan Road are currently in rough condition, and indicated that the National Park Service would be willing to participate in further discussions with the County and other key stakeholders about modest improvements in the maintenance of the road, but could not support any significant change in the fundamental character or use of the road.In his letter, Northup pointed out that the "Lower" Rapidan Road is the only administrative road in all of Shenandoah National Park currently open to public motor vehicle use, and that in his opinion, the road is already fulfilling its essential, appropriate purpose of providing a rugged and backcountry experience to anglers and hunters within the State Wildlife Management Area, as well as, access for hikers and equestrians at the existing trailhead. Northup further advised the County that the park would be willing to discuss the possibility of a reputable tour company offering a walking tour to Rapidan Camp from the existing trailhead, but could not support opening the upper road to private motor vehicle use or commercial tours.In his letter, Northup also suggested other potential areas of collaboration between the County and the park, including exploring how the park can be helpful in reinvigorating "Hoover Days" – the annual celebration of the County's special relationship with President Hoover, which has waned in recent years.

In making his announcement, Northup said, "I look forward to working with all of our surrounding counties on appropriate projects to further develop the nature based and heritage education tourist economy in our area. But, Congress and the courts have repeatedly made it clear that my primary responsibility is to protect the natural and cultural resources of the park. After careful consideration of Madison County's proposal, it is my judgment that upgrading the lower section of the road, establishing a new entrance, and opening the upper Rapidan Road to motor vehicle use is not appropriate, nor consistent with the significance and purpose of this park."

Due to the high level of public interest in the proposal, the park's full response to Madison County is available for reading by clicking here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, July 29, 2013

Heart Attack Victim Saved in Shenandoah

NPS Digest is reporting this morning that on July 10th, Shenandoah National Park employees responded to a report of a 71-year-old man experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain on Dark Hollow Falls Trail, one of the most popular and steepest trails in the park.

A ranger/medic provided patient care until a litter team arrived and transported the man by wheeled litter to the park’s ambulance. An air evacuation was delayed by weather, but a ground ambulance with a cardiac monitor responded from Rockingham County Fire and Rescue.

The man went into cardiac arrest in the park ambulance while en route to the rendezvous with the county ambulance. The ranger/medic and another park employee began CPR and shocked the patient twice with an AED. Rockingham County Fire and Rescue took over patient care upon their arrival.

Due to a break in the weather, the helicopter was soon able to land. The team was able to reestablish a pulse and the man was conscious when he was flown to a cardiac cath lab. Later that day, the park received a report that he was sitting up and talking.

The responding flight nurse congratulated park staff for doing a “fabulous job” in keeping the man going until the helicopter could arrive. The early intervention provided by Shenandoah staff indisputably saved the man’s life.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rangers In Swiftwater Rescue Course Rescue Several Boaters

While participating in a 40-hour swiftwater rescue technician certification training course on the Chattahoochee River on Friday, July 12th, rangers Jay Kolodzinski and James Psillis, supervisory ranger Sean Perchalski, and members of two local fire departments performed four rescues involving seven visitors.

Due to heavy rains over the last several weeks, the training was conducted in extreme conditions with water flow rates of up to 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on a river where normal flow rates hover around 1,200 cfs. Water temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit also made hypothermia a risk.

On Friday, the fifth and final day of the training, course participants were scheduled to perform a search and rescue exercise. As the exercise got underway, they encountered several visitors whose canoes and kayaks had overturned and been swept away in the current. In cooperation with their classmates, the three Chattahoochee River NRA rangers rescued all seven visitors before regrouping to successfully complete a staged night exercise utilizing the incident command system and operational leadership.

A total of sixteen participants completed the swiftwater rescue training course, practicing rescue techniques and tactics on both the Chattahoochee River and the Amicalola River in north Georgia.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, July 26, 2013

Special Evening Hike to Showcase Hidden Stories of Cumberland Gap

The staff at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park eagerly heralds the third annual “Within the Shadows of Cumberland Gap Heritage Walk” being held next Saturday, August 3rd, 2013. Each year, some of the lesser-known people in the Gap’s history - from geologists to politicians, from scalp buyers to ancestors of presidents - are showcased. This year, visitors will encounter seven short plays along the Wilderness Road that may surprise even those who think they know all about the Cumberland Gap!

“We tend to think of people such as Daniel Boone and Civil War generals at the Cumberland Gap, but there were thousands of other people who traveled through this historic passageway” explained park historian Martha Wiley. “This is our chance to share with park visitors and neighbors some of these ‘hidden history’ stories. It’s a lot of fun for park staff and volunteers to be able to portray some of these riveting characters from our past!”

Rangers will be leading three hikes along the Wilderness Road with the first one beginning at 6:00 p.m., the next at 6:30, and the final at 7:00 p.m. Each hike will take approximately 90 minutes traversing 1.5 miles on a dirt trail with hilly sections; good walking shoes are required. This popular event is free, but each tour is limited to 30 people, so reservations are recommended by calling the park visitor center at (606) 246-1075.

Visitors should be at the Daniel Boone Visitor Information Center above the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, 30 minutes prior to the scheduled tour time, as shuttles will take visitors to the starting point at the Thomas Walker parking area. In case of heavy rain the event will be cancelled.

This program is being co-hosted by the Friends of Cumberland Gap and park partner Eastern National. For more information about Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, please call (606) 248-2817 or visit For more information on the Friends of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and how to become involved, please visit Learn how Eastern National supports the interpretive and educational mission of the National Park Service by visiting

Hiking in the Smokies

2013 Trails Forever Volunteer Workday Schedule

The Trails Forever crew is looking for a few volunteers to help with trail maintenance in the Smokies over the next several weeks.

The volunteer workdays for these projects will begin Wednesday, July 31st, and occur every Wednesday for the remainder of the season. Volunteers will work to complete a variety of trail rehabilitation tasks - volunteers need to be physically able to hike to the work site and perform manual labor for a 10 hour day. There is a limit of 4 volunteers for each of the workdays. You must sign up in advance and complete paperwork prior to arriving to volunteer with the crew. Once you sign up and secure a spot for one of the workdays, you will receive more details.

2013 Volunteer Workdays:

July 31st
August 7th
August 14th
August 21st
August 28th
September 4th
September 11th
September 18th
September 25th
October 2nd
October 9th
October 16th

For more information or to sign up for one of the workdays, please call 865-436-1265 or email

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Twelve Injured By Lightning In Two Separate Incidents on Blue Ridge Parkway

NPS Digest is reporting this morning that twelve Blue Ridge Parkway visitors were injured - two of them were hospitalized - after being struck indirectly by lightning in two separate incidents - one week apart.

On July 10th, a lightning strike at the Linville Falls Campground affected 10 people who were camping adjacent to each other – a family group of eight and two other separate campers. All self-reported to the hospital and were treated and released, except for one 37-year-old woman who was kept overnight for evaluation due to cardiac issues. She was released the following morning.

On July 17th, a husband and wife from Conover, North Carolina, were traveling the parkway and stopped at Grandfather Mountain Overlook to don rain gear when it began to rain. While at the overlook, lightning struck a nearby hemlock tree, knocking the couple off their feet. The wife began experiencing cardiac issues and eventually went into cardiac arrest. Her husband began CPR and revived her. Both were initially transported to Cannon Hospital in Linville Falls, where the husband was treated and released. The wife was transported to Charlotte, North Carolina, for further treatment and evaluation.

At least 17 people were struck by lightning during this same time frame: 4 in the Grand Canyon, 3 in Glacier National Park, 9 on a farm in Colorado, and 1 in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hikers and outdoor recreationalists should know what to do in case you're ever caught in the backcountry during a thunderstorm.

Hiking in the Smokies

Summer Ranger Programs in Shenandoah National Park

With a little over a month left before Ranger Programs shift to their fall schedule, the time is now to plan to get out and see Shenandoah National Park in the company of the professionals who know it best. This summer’s Ranger Programs calendar features a total of 23 regularly scheduled hikes, talks, and programs spread between each of the Park’s three districts. Here’s a sampling of what’s offered:

North District:

Terrace Talk: An informal ranger talk on various subjects. 20-30 minutes. Daily at 10:30 am at DickeyRidgeVisitorCenter (mile 4.6).

Wild About Bears: Learn about Shenandoah’s largest animal. 20-30 minutes. Daily at 2:00 pm at Elkwallow Wayside (mile 24.1).

Snead Farm Stroll: Leisurely hike to a former apple orchard and family farm and cemetery. 2 hours, 1.5 miles. Mon-Wed-Fri at 3:00 at the south end of Dickey Ridge Picnic Grounds (mile 4.6).

Mount Marshall Hike: Hike part of the Appalachian Trail to a spectacular view of Shenandoah Valley. 2 hours, 1.5 miles. Sun-Tues-Thurs-Sat at 3:00 at the MountMarshall parking lot (mile 15.9).

Central District:

Stony Man Hike: This moderately challenging hike takes you to an historic copper mine and to the home for some rare animals and plants. 2 hours, 2 miles. Daily at 10:00 am at the Stony Man Trailhead (mile 41.7).

Massanutten Lodge Open House: Explore a restored bungalow from the early days of Skyland resort. Open daily between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 on the lower road at Skyland Conference Hall (mile 41.7)

Meadow Walk: An easy, guided stroll exploring the wonders of this rare high-elevation wetland. 1.5 hours, 1 mile. Daily at 11:00 am at ByrdVisitorCenter (mile 51). Evening walks Mon and Wed at 7:30.

Birds of Prey: Meet a live raptor and learn how protected lands like Shenandoah aid its survival. 30 minutes. Sun-Tues-Wed-Thurs-Sat at 10:00 am at Big Meadows Amphitheater (mile 51).

South District:

Blackrock Summit Hike: A moderately challenging short loop to a popular summit with great views of Shenandoah Valley. 1.5 hours, 1 mile. Daily at 10:00 am at the Blackrock Summit Parking Area (mile 84.8).

Bears, Bats, Bobcats, and More: A ranger talk on the wild creatures of Shenandoah. 20-30 minutes. Daily at 1:30 pm at Loft Mountain Wayside (mile 79.5).

For a complete listing, and more details about each offering, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

August Classic Hikes of the Smokies: Mt. Sterling Vistas

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 air quality:

August 20: Mt. Sterling Vistas
Distance: 5.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
Trails – Mt Sterling Trail

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 or 828-452-0720.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Local Teachers and Students Become Park Rangers

Great Smoky Mountains Park officials announced the completion of two unique summer programs engaging selected high school students and teachers as park rangers. The Teacher-Ranger-Teacher and the High School Student Intern programs are six-week paid work experiences where participants learn a great deal about the park through on-site training exercises that enable them to perform ranger duties. Participants will complete the programs just in time for the new school year allowing them to return to the classroom with a wealth of knowledge and experience gained from a summer working with rangers in the park.

“These programs are mutually beneficial,” said the park’s Education Specialist Karen Ballentine. “The students and teachers get an in-depth study of resource education techniques, scientific methods, and field research to enhance their skills and talents, and, in turn, the park creates advocates through better understanding of and appreciation for the Smokies. Teachers will bring the knowledge into their classrooms and the interns will share their education and experience with the local community through their friends and family.”

During their time in the park, teachers work alongside park rangers in the field assisting with resource management activities and education programs. When not in the field, teachers are working with Resource Educators to develop elementary, middle, and high school curriculum for the popular Parks as Classrooms program.

Student interns, from different local high schools within the surrounding counties and communities, assist scientists and park staff with field research and education programs while exploring possible career opportunities. They get exposed to and gain knowledge about a variety of areas while working in the park, including wildlife biology, fisheries science, botany, forest and stream ecology, geology, Cherokee history and culture, Appalachian history, and park management.

The two successful programs were expanded this summer, thanks to a variety of public and private funding sources. Grants were received from the Verizon Foundation, the National Park Foundation’s Park Stewards program, and GlaxoSmithKline Foundation’s Ribbon of Hope fund through Friends of the Smokies and the federally-funded Youth Partnership Program (YPP) These funds supported six teachers and 23 high school students from Tennessee and North Carolina school systems. Additionally, the YPP grant supported four intern positions based out of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont who assisted with summer camp and research projects.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, July 22, 2013

GAO Report Identifies Maintenance Gaps on National Forest Trails

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was recently asked by members of Congress to review the U.S. Forest Service's trail maintenance activities. The study, published in late June, concluded that while the Forest Service does a good job overall of offering trail-users recreational opportunities and maintaining the most popular trails, there remains a significant maintenance backlog, the result of a growing gap between trail maintenance needs and available resources.

The study points out that the Forest Service has more miles of trail than it has been able to maintain, resulting in a persistent maintenance backlog with a range of negative effects. In fiscal year 2012, the agency reported that it accomplished at least some maintenance on about 37% of its 158,000 trail miles, and that about one-quarter of its trail miles met the agency's standards. The Forest Service estimated the value of its trail maintenance backlog to be $314 million in fiscal year 2012, with an additional $210 million for annual maintenance, capital improvement, and operations. Trails not maintained to quality standards have a range of negative effects, such as inhibiting trail use and harming natural resources, and deferring maintenance can add to maintenance costs.

The Forest Service relies on a combination of internal and external resources to help maintain its trail system. Internal resources include about $80 million allocated annually for trail maintenance activities, plus funding for other agency programs that involve trails. External resources include volunteer labor, which the Forest Service valued at $26 million in fiscal year 2012, and funding from federal programs, states, and other sources.

Collectively, agency officials and stakeholders GAO spoke with identified a number of factors complicating the Forest Service's trail maintenance efforts, including:

1) Factors associated with the origin and location of trails

2) Some agency policies and procedures

3) Factors associated with the management of volunteers and other external resources

For example, many trails were created for purposes other than recreation, such as access for timber harvesting or firefighting, and some were built on steep slopes, leaving unsustainable, erosion-prone trails that require continual maintenance. In addition, certain agency policies and procedures complicate trail maintenance efforts, such as the agency's lack of standardized training in trails field skills, which limits agency expertise. Further, while volunteers are important to the agency's trail maintenance efforts, managing volunteers can decrease the time officials can spend performing on-the-ground maintenance.

Agency officials and stakeholders GAO interviewed collectively identified numerous options to improve Forest Service trail maintenance, including:

1) Assessing the sustainability of the trail system

2) Improving agency policies and procedures

3) Improving management of volunteers and other external resources.

In a 2010 document titled A Framework for Sustainable Recreation, the Forest Service noted the importance of analyzing recreation program needs and available resources and assessing potential ways to narrow the gap between them, which the agency has not yet done for its trails. Many officials and stakeholders suggested that the agency systematically assess its trail system to identify ways to reduce the gap and improve trail system sustainability. They also identified other options for improving management of volunteers. For example, while the agency's goal in the Forest Service Manual is to use volunteers, the agency has not established collaboration with and management of volunteers who help maintain trails as clear expectations for trails staff responsible for working with volunteers, and training in this area is limited. Some agency officials and stakeholders stated that training on how to collaborate with and manage volunteers would enhance the agency's ability to capitalize on this resource.

In commenting on a draft of the report, the U.S. Forest Service generally agreed with GAO's findings and recommendations. You can read the full report by clicking here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Smokies To Host Storyteller Doug Elliott

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials invite the public to attend a special program titled Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World presented by well-known naturalist storyteller Doug Elliott. The hour-long program will be held on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Friday, July 26 at 1 pm.

Elliott is a naturalist, herbalist, storyteller, basket maker, philosopher, and harmonica player. He has performed at festivals, museums and schools from Canada to the Caribbean, and has been a featured storyteller at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. He has conducted workshops and programs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian Institution. He has trained rangers for the National Park Service and guided people on wilderness experiences from Maine to the Florida Everglades. He was named harmonica champion at Fiddler's Grove Festival in Union Grove, N.C.

“We are delighted to offer this opportunity to the public free of charge,” said Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger. “This is a chance for families to enjoy an hour of fun and learning as Doug weaves stories of natural history in the Great Smoky Mountains.”

Elliott regularly writes articles for regional and national magazines, and has authored five books, produced a number of award winning recordings of stories and songs, and is occasionally seen on PBS-TV and the History Channel.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on U.S. Highway 441, 2 miles north of Cherokee, NC. For more information call the park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center at (828) 497-1904.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Section of Blue Ridge Parkway Closed Due to Cracks in the Pavement

A 21-mile section of the historic 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is closed from Milepost 376 at Ox Creek Road, to Milepost 355 at Mt. Mitchell State Park. A detour route is available that directs traffic from Asheville, NC, along Interstate 40 to U.S. Route 221, back to the Parkway at Spruce Pine, NC, and alternately from Spruce Pine south to Asheville via U.S. Route 221 and Interstate 40.

The closure is the result of significant structural damage to a section of the motor road and related shoulder areas at Milepost 374.5 caused by recent, prolonged heavy rains. Federal Highway Administration engineers have been called in to assist park managers in determining the extent of the damage and will make recommendations for necessary repairs. The Parkway will release additional information once a construction and repair schedule is established. The public is encouraged to use the park's website to access road information to plan their visit.

To ensure public safety, the affected area of Parkway is closed to all motorized traffic until further notice. Currently pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed use of the closed area; however, once construction begins, or if conditions change, the area will be closed to all visitor access. Mt. Mitchell State Park will remain open, which is accessible from the northern approach along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 330, at Spruce Pine, NC, or from state Route 80. The Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and Picnic Area, at Milepost 364, will remain closed for the duration of the repair project.

Parkway management has apologized for any inconvenience to visitors and local communities impacted by the closure.

Hiking in the Smokies

Civil War Music with Sparky and Rhonda Rucker at Sugarlands Visitor Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has announced a free special music program featuring old-time musicians Sparky and Rhonda Rucker. The event will take place at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 20th in the park Sugarlands Visitor Center theater.

The program will focus on the Civil War and its impacts on the Southern Appalachian Region, and will include stories, period music, and personal reflections on the war and its effects on the mountain people.

Sparky and Rhonda have performed throughout the United States, singing songs and telling stories. Sparky Rucker has been performing over 40 years and is internationally recognized as a leading folklorist, musician, historian, storyteller, and author. Rhonda Rucker is an accomplished harmonica and piano player, and also adds vocal harmonies to their songs.

“We’re excited to have Sparky and Rhonda return to Sugarlands this summer,” said supervisory ranger Kent Cave. “As we continue to commemorate the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, this performance will be an entertaining and interesting way to learn more about the unique history of the war in these mountains.”

Sugarlands Visitor Center is located on U.S. Highway 441, two miles south of Gatlinburg, TN. For more information call the visitor center at (865) 436-1291.

Hiking in the Smokies

Guided Hike to a Big South Fork Rock Shelter this Sunday

A ranger guided hike to a rock shelter along the Oscar Blevins Trail will take place on Sunday, July 21st, near the Bandy Creek Visitor Center in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. On this moderate two mile hike, visitors will learn about plants and animals in the park, hear about park history, and will be able to view rock shelters along the trail.

The hike will begin at 10:00 a.m. (EDT) on the front porch of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. In case of inclement weather, a talk will be held in the Interpretation and Education Building located beside the Visitor Center.

Everyone is welcome. For more information, contact the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mammoth Cave National Park – what does it mean to you?

Mammoth Cave National Park – what does it mean to you? That's what Superintendent Sarah Craighead is asking as Mammoth Cave National Park prepares a foundation document for its future planning and management. Public comment is welcome and needed. The public comment period is open July 15-29, 2013.

"A foundation document involves revisiting a park's core mission and significance, what is important about the Park," said Craighead. "It answers the question – 'why do we care about this place?' It is a good starting point, and Director Jarvis has called upon every National Park Service area to complete a foundation document by 2016, the 100-year anniversary of the agency."

Although Mammoth Cave's foundation document will not be a decision-making document and will not include actions or management strategies, it will describe a shared understanding of what is most important about the Park, its resources and values, and interpretive themes that tell the story of Mammoth Cave, above and below ground. The Park's 1983 General Management Plan needs updating, and the foundation document is the first step.

The public is invited to play a role in charting the Park's future by sharing their thoughts on what is most significant about Mammoth Cave and to help identify its most pressing threats and opportunities.

Written comments may be submitted July 15-29, 2013, through the NPS planning website. Visitors to the website will be able to submit responses to questions about the Park's significance, threats, and opportunities.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, July 15, 2013

Friends of the Smokies and Appalachian Trail Conservancy Help to Protect Backpackers and Bears

This summer while enjoying a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, backpackers can continue to keep their food and packs out of reach of bears, protecting both themselves and the bears. For a third year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has made backpacker safety and wildlife health a priority, providing $1,110 from its specialty license plate funds to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail.

“Both groups share an interest in safe backcountry experiences, keeping wildlife wild, and working with partners,” said Stephen Woody, treasurer for the Friends of the Smokies Board of Directors. “Plus, with a backpacker on the A.T. plate and a black bear on the Smokies plate, it’s hard to think of a better project for us to work together on.”

Using the grant funds from the ATC, GSMNP staff and wildlife interns have repaired cables at the Mollies Ridge shelter and Cosby Knob shelter, which had become damaged by the elements and use over time. With proper and vigilant use by backpackers, the repaired storage system will continue to increase both visitor and bear safety by helping reduce the number of bears raiding shelter areas in the park. According to Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist with GSMNP, “as backpackers continue to hang their food, the cables protect hikers and campers,” Stiver continued, “Not to mention keeping the bears from learning to depend on human food.”

Friends of the Smokies and the ATC have also partnered to renovate many of the backcountry shelters along the A.T. in the Smokies and to support several other efforts to address trail maintenance and hiker safety.

Friends would like to thank both ATC and Friends’ license plate owners whose ownership helps support projects like these in GSMNP. “It’s all about preserving and protecting two great national park units, visitor experience and their natural resources,” said Holly Demuth, North Carolina director of Friends of the Smokies. “We do best when we work together.”

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Body of Missing Man in Shenandoah National Park Found

The body of Tyler Keefer was located yesterday in the Dickey Ridge area of Shenandoah National Park, marking the end of a multi-day search. The cause of death is under investigation.

Keefer, 21, had been missing since Saturday, July 6th. His family reported him missing to the Front Royal Police Department and park officials were notified Monday that his bicycle had been located near the Dickey Ridge Trailhead.

Shenandoah National Park employees and trained volunteers, including dog teams, ground searchers, and support personnel were involved in the search. National Park Service personnel were assisted by Front Royal Police Department, Virginia Search and Rescue Dogs Association (VSRDA), Dogs East Search and Rescue, Blue and Gray Search and Rescue Dogs, and canine team dispatcher, Melissa Taylor.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, July 12, 2013

Big South Fork Visitor Use Survey Report Now Available

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has just released a visitor use study that examines characteristics, trip preferences, and expenditures of visitors of the park. The park partnered with the University of Idaho to conduct a systematic random sample of visitor groups at 11 locations (Alum Ford, Bear Creek, Blue Heron, Burnt Mill Bridge, Divide Road, Leatherwood East and West Entrances, Rugby, Station Camp, Stearns Train Depot, and Yahoo Falls) in the park during the month of September 2012. The study included a brief on-site interview and a 16 page take-home questionnaire.

The 90 page document examines a wide range of visitor traits and details. Key findings include:

• Visitors were from 21 states with 57% from Tennessee. Forty-four percent of visitor groups were residents of the area (within 50 miles of the park).

• Forty-four percent had visited the Big South Fork five or more times in their lifetime, and for 36%, this was their first visit.

• Thirty-seven percent of visitors were ages 46-60 years, 17% were 31-45 years old, 13% were 66 years or older, and 12% were ages 15 years or younger. Fifty-four percent of visitors were female. One percent were Hispanic or Latino.Ninety-six percent of visitors were self-identified as White.

• During the on-site interview, 75% of visitor groups said the park was their primary destination, and 13% said the park was one of several destinations.

• The most common primary reasons for visiting Big South Fork NRRA area among non-resident visitor groups were to visit the park (55%) and visit friends/relatives in the area (9%).

• Sixty-two percent of visitor groups chose to visit the park because of the scenery, and 37% visited because the park was the area that was closest to home.

• Forty-seven percent of visitor groups stayed overnight inside Big South Fork NRRA or within 50 miles of the park.

• The average length of stay in the park was 30.1 hours, or 1.3 days.

• Forty-five percent of visitor groups visited other local attractions on their visit. Of those visitor groups that visited other local attractions, 45% visited Historic Stearns, KY, 34% visited Pickett State Rustic Park and Forest, and 32% visited Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.

• The most common places visited in the park were Bandy Creek area (51%), Leatherwood Ford (32%), and East Rim Overlook (28%). The most common activities in the park were hiking/walking (54%), stopping at scenic overlooks (50%), horseback riding/wagon riding (25%), and picnicking (25%).

• The average visitor group expenditure (inside and outside the park within 50 miles of the park) was $204. The average total expenditure per person (per capita) was $88.

The entire survey results are available on-line.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Man Sentenced For Vandalism at Max Patch

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, today announced that Tyler Pace was sentenced to 90 days incarceration by United States Magistrate Judge Dennis Lee Howell for vandalizing parts of Max Patch, a scenic area in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

"This sentence sends a message to vandals that damaging our public lands will not be tolerated," said United States Attorney Anne Tompkins.

Pace received the sentence during an appearance in U.S. District Court in Asheville on July 9, 2013. Prior to his sentencing hearing, Pace paid restitution for his share of the damage to Max Patch.

Pace was with a group of men who illegally drove vehicles in the Max Patch area in January 2013, causing more than $5,000 of damage to that scenic area. Pace facilitated that damage by tearing down the entrance gate and fence, thereby enabling the other persons to drive their vehicles into the protected area where vehicles are prohibited. Pace is 24 years old and a resident of Canton, North Carolina.

Max Patch sits next to the Tennessee state line in the Harmon Den area and is intersected by the Appalachian Trail. At 4,629 feet this bald offers 360-degree vistas of Mount Mitchell to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. An abundance of ferns and grasses blanket the area making it perfect for picnics.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Richard Edwards.

Hiking in the Smokies

Search Underway for Missing Man in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park Rangers are searching for Tyler Keefer, a 21 year-old Front Royal, VA area man.

Keefer was reported missing to Park Rangers on Monday, July 9, 2013, around 12:00 p.m. The last known location point for Keefer is believed to be the Dickey Ridge Trailhead on July, 6, 2013. Keefer's bicycle was found at the trailhead, and he may have been hiking in the area that afternoon.

Tyler Keefer is described as a male with brown hair, a mustache and beard and brown eyes, 6'1" tall who weighs approximately 175 pounds. He may be wearing plain shorts, a T-shirt, and hiking boots and may be carrying a small black backpack.

The search is a joint operation between Shenandoah National Park and the Front Royal Police Department.

Anyone with any information about Tyler Keefer is asked to call 1-800-732-0911.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guided Photography Hike at Bandy Creek in Big South Fork

A guided photography hike will take place at 10:00 a.m. (EST) on Saturday, July 13th, along the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop in the Bandy Creek area at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Visitors will learn quick and easy tips for all photography levels while out enjoying the Big South Fork.

The Oscar Blevins Farm Loop can be found at the Bandy Creek Trailhead. Follow the Bandy Creek Road past the Visitor Center and the campground then follow the sign that says "Trailhead" and points to the left and pull into the trailhead parking lot. The hike will begin at the trailhead sign. In case of inclement weather, the program will be held in the Interpretation and Education Building located beside the Bandy Creek Visitor Center.

Please call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275 for further information.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mark your calendars for The Shenandoah Scramble

Mark your calendars and usher in the first day of autumn with the Shenandoah National Park Trust during The Shenandoah Scramble on Sunday, September 22nd.

Hikers of all ability levels are invited to choose one of six guided hikes of varying length and difficulty in Shenandoah National Park. Participants will gather for a light breakfast and then head out to hike with their group and hike leader (each hike can accommodate up to 20 hikers). SNPT leaders are CPR/First Aid or Wilderness Safety certified. They know and love Shenandoah National Park and will provide a wonderful experience. Participants will reconvene for refreshments after their hikes.

Registration is $10 and hikers will agree to raise a minimum of $100, which will support projects and programs in Shenandoah National Park. Registration includes the group breakfast, post-hike refreshments and a Shenandoah Scramble t-shirt. To inspire participants, Shenandoah National Park Trust will be awarding some great outdoor gear, based on the amount of money raised.

Spend a great day in the park and help support the Trust! For more information and to register, visit the Shenandoah Scramble website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Top 8 of the Best iPhone Apps to Access on Your Nature Walk

The following is a guest blog by Debbie Denard:

Who says technology and nature can’t go hand in hand? Next time you’re out walking in nature, enhance your experience with a few of these nifty iPhone apps. There are apps available to help you find nature, navigate through it and learn more about it during your excursions. These apps may make the trek more appealing for young hikers as well!

My Nature Animal Tracks – Ever run across mysterious tracks on your nature adventures? Discover which animal left them by using this informative application. Not only will My Nature Animal Tracks help you identify the animal, there are all sorts of other cool features as well, such as showing you where the animal can be found in North America, sound files of each creature’s vocalizations, a nature journal and more.

SkyView Free - Take along SkyView on your next evening stroll. Use your iPhone to take a photo of the sky, then tap on it to find out more about what you are looking at. This takes the guess work out of stargazing, so you will never again find yourself wondering if that group of stars is the Big Dipper or if that bright spot is Venus. Change the date to see what the sky looked like long ago, or what it will look like in the future. Share your celestial pictures with friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Rockhound - Let Rockhound know where you are, and it will tell you what rocks, gems, and minerals you may discover there. There are pictures of each rock to help you identify what you find. You can also track which stones are found at each site by posting pictures and making notes.

iBird - A must have for any avid bird watcher, iBird allows you to have more time to observe the birds because it eliminates the need to thumb through various books to identify them. This app has over 900 species in its ever-growing database, easy to use search features and five hours of audio songs and calls, plus you can store your bird photos and share them via social networks. This app also has maps, information on habitats and behaviors and much more.

NatureFind - If you want to get out in nature but you don’t know where to go, NatureFind is the perfect solution. This app will help you find nature centers, gardens, zoos, museums and so much more. It also keeps you informed on upcoming events at these venues.

Arbor Day Tree Identification Guide: What Tree is That?- This is a mobile version of the Arbor Day Foundation’s award winning field guide. Identify trees easily, learn about them and keep track of the ones you have identified on interactive maps. Share your findings on Twitter!

Audubon Insects and Spiders: A Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders - This app received the Parent Tested Parent Approved Award in 2010. The field guide contains over 500 in depth-descriptions and photos of insects and spiders. There is a journal section to make notes and track your findings that you can share with friends. It also has a reference section that can give you tips on finding insects, show you diagrams of their bodies and explain how to start your own collection.

Leafsnap - Leafsnap is a field guide that uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from photos of their leaves. This app contains some very beautiful high resolution photos of trees, flowers, leaves and berries. After you snap a leaf photo, the information about where this tree is located is sent to Leaf Snap’s database so that scientists can track how the numbers and ranges of trees are changing over time. So, using this app allows the average citizen to further science.

Author Bio: Debbie Denard, content manager for You can check her most recent articles here. Get in touch with Debbie at “debbiedenard(AT)gmail(DOT)com”

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, July 5, 2013

Injured Hiker Rescued From Old Rag Mountain

NPS Digest is reporting this morning that Shenandoah National Park rangers responded to a report on June 3rd that a man had fallen on Old Rag Mountain in the park’s Central District. Initial reports were that he’d broken a leg and was unable to move.

Ascending Old Rag Mountain requires a three-and-a-half mile hike up Ridge Trail, followed by a mile-long rock scramble to the summit. The rock scramble contains numerous technical areas that create a more challenging experience for hikers. Once at the summit, visitors are back on a trail which leads to a fire road back to the park’s boundary.

Shortly after the report came in, a Shenandoah trail crew arrived on scene and confirmed the initial report of the man’s condition. Rangers determined he had a broken tibia-fibula and prepared him for a litter carryout. He was extricated via litter through the remainder of the rock scramble to the Ridge Trail, where he was put on a wheeled litter and transported to the trailhead. He refused further care and was taken to a hospital by someone in his party.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chimney Tops Trail Bridge Repair Complete

Great Smoky Mountains National Park crews completed bridge repairs on the Chimney Tops Trail. The popular trail is now open to the public through the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The trail has been closed since late January when high flood waters destroyed the pedestrian bridge. On January 30th, the park received more than 4 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. The 70-foot long pedestrian bridge, which spans the Walker Camp Prong at the beginning of the trail, was originally built in the late 1950s:

Crews have worked efficiently over the last several weeks to replace the 70-foot long bridge and allow safe access to the trail. Skilled crew members replaced the specially ordered 70-foot bridge beams, repaired the stone pylon structures in the river, and completed the wood deck using primarily hand-operated equipment and pulleys to construct the bridge in an environmentally sensitive area.

Here's what the new bridge looks like now, as completed:

Beginning Monday, July 8th, the Park’s Trails Forever Crew will begin Phase 2 of the ongoing full trail rehabilitation on Chimney Tops Trail which necessitates closing the trail each Monday at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday at 5:30 p.m., through October 17th, while the trail continues to undergo a major facelift. The trail will be open weekly from Friday through Sunday during the rehabilitation project.

For more information about trail closures, please visit the Park’s website or call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.

For more information on hiking the Chimney Tops Trail, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Appalachian Trail Inspired Art Exhibit on Display in Asheville

Blue Spiral 1 Gallery is featuring an exhibit inspired by the Appalachian Trail until July 23, 2013 at the Blue Spiral 1, located at 38 Biltmore Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina. Named Along the Trail, ten percent of all proceeds from sales of the works associated with the exhibit will be donated to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and its local Trail maintaining clubs.

The exhibit features eight regional artists who work in a variety of mediums including photography, painting, pastels, and mixed media. Artists include Tim Barnwell (photography), John L. Cleaveland Jr. (painting), Vicki Grant (mixed media), William Jameson (painting), Robert Johnson (painting), Peggy McBride (mixed media), Deborah Squier (pastel), and Suzanne Stryk (painting).

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is proud to team up with the Blue Spiral 1 Gallery,” said Lenny Bernstein, board member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “This exhibit has been a wonderful way to showcase the love of the Appalachian Trail that these artists share with hikers and naturalists.”

The Blue Spiral 1 Gallery is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 10am-6pm and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm. The gallery maintains an extensive exhibition schedule, presenting over 15 shows annually — often featuring 4-5 simultaneously within various venues inside the gallery. Thematic group exhibitions and individual artist showcases rotate on the lower two levels five times a year, while Blue Spiral 1's upper level features a wide array of works by nearly 100 regularly represented artists.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Smokies Visitors Urged to Exercise Caution Near Rivers - Cite Multiple Recent Incidents

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are reminding visitors that water recreation is not recommended in the park due to numerous hazards and dangers. Weather forecasts for the Fourth of July holiday week include heavy rain and thunderstorms which can cause river levels to rise rapidly.

Serious water-related injuries, including fatalities, occur each year in the park. Over the last several weeks, Smokies park rangers have participated in multiple river rescues with local swift water rescue squads primarily involving visitors floating on inner tubes. In March, the park suffered a water-related fatality when a visitor from Ontario was swept downstream after his kayak capsized in Little River near the Sinks.

“With the forecast of rain throughout the week, I encourage all visitors to be extremely cautious around rivers as conditions can change unpredictably. We want all our visitors to have a memorable experience in the park that is both enjoyable and safe,” said Acting Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.

In June, rangers responded to several tubing accidents at Deep Creek in NC, Little River near the Townsend Wye, and Elkmont in TN. On Friday, June 29, a group of six tubers including four adults, a six-year old child, and a two-year old child were rescued after they were stranded on the opposite side of the river. The Townsend Volunteer Fire Department’s swift water rescue team led rescue efforts with park rangers to safely bring the group across the river which was a foot above normal due to heavy rains.

In addition, rangers have also responded to several incidents where visitors attempted to cross swollen rivers and became stranded on boulders in the river channel or on the opposite bank. Visitors are cautioned that river levels can rise rapidly when thunderstorms strike the Smokies. Visitors should alter their routes to avoid crossing any rising river by waiting until the river has receded or returning by another route.

For more information about water safety, including a short video, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

NC State Parks free mobile app upgraded for 2013 visitor season

With summer visitation in full swing, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation and ParksbyNature Network LLC have jointly announced significant improvements to the free mobile app designed for North Carolina’s state parks and state recreation areas.

North Carolina’s Pocket Ranger mobile app, released in 2011 for iPhone and Android, was the first full featured one of its type in the nation and a prototype for the one now favored by most state parks systems. The app offers all information from the state parks system Website as well as campground maps, event schedules and GPS-based park maps that can be downloaded and carried into the field. An “alert” feature provides emergency notices, and visitor groups can share locations through the app while exploring state parks.

Newly introduced features include:

- A GeoChallenges aspect allowing visitors to earn points and prizes by exploring natural sites listed in the challenge (currently 13 sites in North Carolina);

- GPS map viewing in both portrait and landscape modes and an accuracy and distance indicator to further aid navigation;

- New ways to interact with other users of the app and with Pocket Ranger’s Website by submitting photographs, video and adventure notes;

- Optimization for the iPhone 5 screen;

- Improved loading time for the Places Near Me feature.

“The state parks system has accepted the challenge of using technology wherever possible to enhance the visitor experience, and the free mobile app is one of the most popular results of that effort,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. “And, since the nonprofit Friends of State Parks shares in advertising proceeds from the app, the state parks community and our education efforts benefit.

The free Pocket Ranger mobile app can be downloaded from

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, July 1, 2013

Appalachian Trail Biennial to Feature Music, Culture, and Trails at WCU

The 2013 Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Biennial Conference organizers invite the public to attend live music, dancing, presentations about hiking trails, and a Cherokee storyteller from Sunday, July 21 to Thursday, July 25 at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Events each evening begin at 8 p.m. Nightly tickets are $7, and children under 12 are admitted free.

Sunday, July 21, Called Again author, Jennifer Pharr Davis, who holds the record for speed hiking the estimated 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail will talk about her experiences during the 46 day journey, marked by teamwork, positive attitude, and endurance. A contra dance is scheduled concurrently in the Reid Gym. Delia Clark of Vermont is calling the dance with music performed by Asheville-based band Appalachian Storm.

On Monday, July 22, author Danny Bernstein will present a slide show of her 1,000-mile hike of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Her presentation features the beauty, vibrancy, and history of this end-to-end route, captured in her book, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina. Also on Monday, string band Southern Exposure will play Appalachian mountain music, influenced by Celtic, Caribbean, and American cultures.

Buncombe Turnpike will play traditional and contemporary bluegrass on Tuesday, July 23. Jim Kern, Sr., founder of the Florida Trail, the Florida Trail Association, the American Hiking Society, and Big City Mountaineers is also scheduled to talk about essential elements for founding a successful outdoor non-profit.

Wednesday, July 24, Pleasure Chest, named for a 1950s era cooler, will play high energy rock ‘n roll blues with some honky-tonk soul, and Darcy Douglas will present a slideshow about the 288-mile Benton MacKaye Trail that runs from north Georgia to Davenport Gap at the north side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Eddie Swimmer, an accomplished Cherokee dancer, storyteller, and public speaker will present an evening of entertainment on Thursday, July 25.

Unless otherwise noted, all presentations will be held in the Forsyth Auditorium and musical performances will be held in the Grand Room of Hinds University Center.

The full schedule of the 2013 A.T. Biennial Conference, July 19-26, includes 137 organized hikes, 70 workshops, and excursions to some of the region’s best activities. Registration is open for one-day, weekend, or week-long admittance. Admission to the entire week’s evening events is $15 with conference registration.

For more information on the Biennial Conference or to register, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies