The Allure of Mt. Le Conte: A “Past and Present” Perspective

Monday, March 31, 2014

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The following is a guest blog by Andy Drinnon from Twisted Ridge Photography. This is part one of a three-part series that will run on this blog through the end of this week. You can read an introduction on this series by clicking here.

Part One - Trailblazers

Mt. Le Conte in winter, as seen from Brushy Mountain. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

At an elevation of 6,593ft, Mt. Le Conte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Towering above Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the undulating ridgeline of Mt. Le Conte has had a magnetic effect on hikers and visitors to the Smokies for more than a century. As part one of a three-part series examining the allure of Mt. Le Conte, this post summarizes the trailblazing efforts of early-twentieth-century “Le Conte enthusiasts” whose profound love of the mountain fueled the movement to preserve its awe-inspiring beauty for future generations.

Today, hikers can access the summit of Mt. Le Conte via one of five distinct trails: Boulevard, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bull Head, and the most popular route, Alum Cave. However, during pre-Park years, access to the top of the mountain was limited. Two trails were commonly used by pioneering hikers to reach the summit. At Bear Pen Hollow, located close to the present loop along Newfound Gap Road, hikers trekked up what author and founding member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, Carlos C. Campbell, described as “barely a beaten path” that led to Le Conte’s West Point. This was a rather difficult route for even the most experienced hiker of the period. In his memoirs, Paul J. Adams explained that people would often climb tall trees next to the path in order to read the lay of the land and locate their next objective. After clambering through, and sometimes over, thick patches of tangled laurel and rhododendron, hikers would then follow the ridge from West Point to the summit. Because Newfound Gap Road had not yet been built, one’s journey to Le Conte from Bear Pen Hollow actually began in Gatlinburg. From there, hikers reached Bear Pen Hollow by walking (or riding horses) along the old Thomas Road, the first wagon road over the Smokies, which was located about a mile and a half to the west of the current highway.

Bear Pen Hollow and Mt. Le Conte’s West Point (upper left) as seen from Chimney Tops, ca. 1920-1940. ©Thompson Brothers Digital Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

The second, more accessible early hiking trail on Mt. Le Conte was located southeast of Gatlinburg at Cherokee Orchard. This route began near a barn at the rear of the orchard where a sign post once indicated a distance of four miles from Cherokee Orchard to Cliff Top. There, a rugged path known at the time as the “Mill Creek Trail” (later renamed Le Conte Creek), followed a boulder-strewn route to Rainbow Falls where hikers would often rest before continuing up the mountain.

The old Mill Creek Trail once used by Adams and other hikers has since fallen out of use, but Rainbow Falls remains a popular destination for Park visitors. Today, hikers can head to the top of Mt. Le Conte from Rainbow Falls by following the Rainbow Falls Trail for an additional 4.2 miles. The current trail, constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the early days of the Park, crosses a footbridge over Le Conte Creek and leads away from the 80ft high waterfall. A switchback brings you above the falls where you can continue the steady climb up the mountain. However, in the 1920s, hikers undertook a more adventurous route in order to regain the old Mill Creek Trail above Rainbow Falls.

On August 6, 1924, Adams and Wiley Oakley, the famed local mountain guide from Gatlinburg, led a group of twenty-five individuals, including two members of the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee, to the summit of Mt. Le Conte from Cherokee Orchard. It was the hope of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association who organized the hike, that the two committee members would be so impressed by the grandeur of the mountain that they would support the growing movement to create a national park in the Smokies. Prior to the hike, workers cleared large blow-downs and heavy underbrush along the route in an effort to improve trail conditions. While this may have simplified matters for the group on the day of the hike, Adams recorded the daunting scene that unfolded when the hikers reached Rainbow Falls.
Back then, one needed both strong legs and arms to gain the top of Rainbow Falls. The ‘trail’ went up a leaning [hemlock] tree near the bluff, about 100 feet west of the falls. Helpers at the base of the tree helped some of our less agile guests to reach the first tree branches. Others at the top helped them from the tree to solid ground. But everyone had to climb the middle distance under his own power.
One has to wonder what the Park Committee members from Washington, D.C. were thinking as they scrambled up the fallen tree to the top of Rainbow Falls. Fortunately for the GSMCA, no one was injured and the hiking party was able to reach a rough camp established near Cliff Top.

Cherokee Orchard as it looked in 1933 (Mt. Le Conte in the background). ©Albert "Dutch" Roth Digital Photograph Collection, University of Tennessee Library Digital Collections

Two weeks before the Park Committee hike, the influential leader of the Smoky Mountains national park movement, Col. David C. Chapman, along with Oakley and a dozen other men, blazed a trail on the south-face of Mt. Le Conte which served as the descent route for the group. According to Adams, the trailblazers spread out and began searching for a ridge that connected the crest of the mountain with Alum Cave Bluff. After locating the ridge about a half-mile below Cliff Top, the men began the tedious work of cutting a new path. This they linked with a pre-Civil War trail leading from the bluff to Grassy Patch, now the site of the parking area for the Alum Cave trailhead. The present Alum Cave Trail, graded and redirected by men of the CCC, crosses the old, disused path several times along its length.

Alum Cave Bluff presented members of the 1924 park commission hiking party with another tough challenge as they descended the newly blazed trail from the summit of Mt. Le Conte. On the previous day, the group had to scramble up a tree to reach the top of Rainbow Falls. The next afternoon, they had to negotiate the 80ft high, 500ft wide overhanging cliff before carrying on to Grassy Patch. Campbell explained that several members “climbed down a tree, the top of which reached just above the upper edge of the cliff.” Others, he noted, managed to slide down the “almost perpendicular slope” to the side of the rocky outcrop. As time went on, a cable was secured near the top of the bluff to assist hikers coming down the mountain. Today, however, Alum Cave Bluff makes for a pleasant, rather than intimidating rest stop for hikers heading to and from the summit area. The cable has long since been removed, and the current Alum Cave Trail bypasses any serious difficulties near the popular location.

A narrow section of the Alum Cave Trail leading to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

By the mid-1920s, Mt. Le Conte had become the focal point for influential Smokies enthusiasts who tirelessly promoted the idea of creating a national park in the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Combined with the assistance of experienced guides such as Paul Adams and Wiley Oakley, the trailblazing efforts conducted during this period by the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association and members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (organized in 1924) helped to make that idea a reality. On several occasions, potential park supporters, along with National Park Service commissioners, were led to the summit by means of the old Mill Creek Trail where the lush beauty of the virgin forest and the spectacle of Rainbow Falls “brought high praise” from participants of the hike. After visiting the summit, hiking parties often descended Mt. Le Conte via the newly cut trail on Alum Cave ridge which provided alternative access to Alum Cave Bluff and the viewpoint known as Inspiration Point.

Although they were rough and rugged, the earliest trails leading up Mt. Le Conte allowed an ever-increasing number of hikers to reach the top of the iconic peak. Part two of this series will examine the important activities undertaken by Paul Adams who, in 1925, established a camp for fellow Le Conte enthusiasts near the summit.

Andy Drinnon is an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer. You can visit his blog at, or check out the latest on his photography project titled, Scenes from the Smokies: “Past and Present”.

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The Allure of Mt. Le Conte: A “Past and Present” Perspective

Friday, March 28, 2014

The following is a guest blog by Andy Drinnon from Twisted Ridge Photography. This posting is the introduction to a three-part series that will run on this blog over the course of the next week. As a photographer and an historian, Andy will be providing a historical perspective on hiking to one of the most iconic spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mt. Le Conte. In addition to his own photography, Andy will also be including some rarely seen historical photographs.


Looking west from Cliff Top. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

Cliff Top, a rocky outcrop that offers some of the finest views in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is situated about a half-mile to the west of the summit of Mt. Le Conte. Paul J. Adams, who in 1925 established the first official camp for hikers on the mountain, appropriately described Cliff Top as the “gathering point of Le Conte enthusiasts in the late afternoon.” Within the pages of his Mt. Le Conte, published in 1966, Adams recalled that those who made the short walk from the camp to Cliff Top came “to watch the sun sink through clouds shot through with orange, purple and golden fire.” Nearly a century later, the allure of Mt. Le Conte continues to attract hikers of all ages who trek up the mountain and gaze upon spectacular sunsets from this popular vantage point.

Heavenly skies from Cliff Top, the sunset peak of Mt. Le Conte. ©Twisted Ridge Photography

When I began thinking about a possible topic for a series of guest blog posts on, I remembered Adams’ passion for Mt. Le Conte and the special relationship that he formed with the mountain during his lifetime. Adams believed that the high ridge and lower slopes of Mt. Le Conte comprised the most outstanding section of the Smokies. This sentiment is now shared by countless hikers and visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park who are drawn to the summit of Mt. Le Conte by its scenic vistas, its natural beauty, and its charm. Given the mountain’s iconic status among the many peaks of the Smokies, it is perhaps no surprise that the webpage dedicated to the Alum Cave Trail which leads to the top of Mt. Le Conte is one of the most frequently viewed trail pages on Of the five officially maintained National Park Service trails one can take to the summit, Alum Cave Trail is the shortest and possibly the most widely used. Drawn by the splendor of the mountain, every year thousands of hikers ascend this five-mile-long trail. Many return to their vehicles having completed a memorable hiking experience that they will cherish for years to come.

For me, the popularity of Alum Cave Trail begs the question: how many of those who hike to Mt. Le Conte each year are aware of the fact that they are following in the footsteps of pioneering outdoorsmen like Paul Adams whose lives were forever changed by their experiences on the mountain? To shed light on this historical significance, I opted to write a series of blog posts that compare the early days of hiking to Mt. Le Conte with the present. Over the course of the last century, the nature of hiking on this popular mountain has certainly changed. Yet, the captivating allure of Mt. Le Conte remains as strong today as it was for those who once labored up primitive paths to its the summit.

A group of hikers enjoy the views from Alum Cave Trail during the late-1930s. © Tennessee State Library and Archives, Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection

Three subsequent posts will follow this introduction. The first examines the trailblazing efforts of early-twentieth-century hikers who fervently supported the national park movement in the Smokies. The second takes a closer look at the role Paul Adams played in establishing a hiker’s camp near the summit. The camp formed the basis of the present-day LeConte Lodge - built by Jack Huff - which accommodates thousands of visitors each year. The final post explains how certain traditions begun by Adams and a host of pioneering Le Conte enthusiasts have survived the test of time.

A number of images captured during the 1920s and 1930s by notable figures of Smokies hiking lore such as Jim Thompson and Herbert Webster will be included in this series. These historic photos showcasing scenes from Mt. Le Conte have been made available to the public through the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project directed by Anne Bridges and Ken Wise at the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library. A special thanks goes to Anne and Ken for assisting me with my research and for taking an interest in my work.

Earlier this year, I started a photography project titled, Scenes from the Smokies: “Past and Present.” As part of this ongoing project, I will be utilizing my abilities as an avid hiker, a historian, and a photographer to recreate many of the nostalgic photos that I have located in the UT Library Digital Collections. A few of these recreations will appear in this series. For those interested, future comparisons of past and present images, along with relevant background material, will be featured on my blog at

Lastly, I would like to thank Jeff at for inviting me to write this series of guest blog posts for his very well-designed and resourceful website. Enjoy!

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Cades Cove

Thursday, March 27, 2014

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Over the years I've had several opportunities to feature videos by Matt Brass on this blog. In this short film, Matt highlights the sights and sounds of Cades Cove for HuffPost Travel. I think you'll enjoy this one:

Cades Cove: Great Smoky Mountain National Park from Matt Brass on Vimeo.

If planning to visit Cades Cove this summer, you may want to consider staying in Townsend. If you've never had the pleasure of staying in the Townsend area, also known as the “Quiet Side of the Smokies”, you may want to note that it's much easier getting in and out of the park, and is fairly close to Cades Cove. If you need a rental cabin during your visit, be sure to visit our Townsend Accommodations page.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Recipients Announced for 2014 North Carolina Appalachian Trail Specialty License Plate Grants

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announced yesterday this year’s recipients of Appalachian Trail (A.T.) Specialty License Plate grants for projects that enhance the Trail in North Carolina. This spring, $35,000 was granted to 11 partner organizations, including A.T. maintaining clubs, schools, botanists, ecologists and environmental and conservation groups. This year’s recipients include the Carolina Mountain Club, Friends of the Smokies, Nantahala Hiking Club, North Buncombe High School Adventure Club, Hot Springs Tourism Association, Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club and The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards.

The grant funds will also support additional ATC programs and projects in North Carolina, including a school-wide Trails To Every Classroom immersion program for Summit Charter School in Cashiers; Wilderness First Aid courses for A.T. club volunteers; the Roan Mountain Ridgerunner program; and a workshop to construct a pollinator garden and monitor Monarch butterflies at the Wesser Nantahala Outdoor Center.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited to grant these funds to our partner organizations to support a number of projects that preserve and protect the Appalachian Trail,” said Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director. “The projects represent a broad range of work that will enhance the Trail in North Carolina.”

The A.T. Specialty License Plate grant program is funded by drivers who purchase or renew their North Carolina A.T. license plates. Twenty dollars from each license plate purchase is given to the ATC to support its work in the state. In addition to funding the grant program, the money is used for A.T. greenway acquisition and to help support the work of the ATC’s Southern Regional Office in Asheville. Overall, A.T. specialty license plate sales in North Carolina bring the ATC about $120,000 each year.

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

For more information about the ATC license tag program, visit

Hiking in the Smokies
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Summiting Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Below is a pretty good video of what it's like to climb Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. The video takes viewers through the Boulder Field, the Keyhole, the Ledges, the Trough, the Narrows and the Homestretch. Although many hikers and backpackers reach the summit each year, this really isn't a hike:

As you can see, to reach the summit of Longs Peak is more than just a tough day hike. It's considered to be a Class 3 climb, and requires some basic mountaineering skills, especially if the weather goes south on you while on or near the summit. If you think this is something you would like to do someday, I highly recommend learning more about this climb on the website.

If you're like me and think that the summit is beyond your comfort level, you can still hike up to the Keyhole. Although it's an extremely tough hike, there's relatively little exposure to steep drop-offs. In fact, for experienced hikers, it's one of the most popular hikes in the park. The views along much of the hike, especially from the Keyhole itself are quite spectacular. For more information on this hike, please click here.

If you do plan to visit Rocky Mountain National Park this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings for both Estes Park and Grand Lake.

Hiking in the Smokies
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Combat Veterans to 'Walk Off The War' on the Appalachian Trail

Sunday, March 23, 2014

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has again partnered with Warrior Hike to provide a group of military veterans the opportunity to “Walk Off The War” along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). This year’s group of veterans began the six-month-long physical challenge on March 17th at Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Trail in Georgia.

The "Walk Off The War" Program provides participating combat veterans with equipment and supplies required to complete a thru-hike of one of America’s National Scenic Trails; coordinates trail town support in the forms of transportation, food and lodging; and assists veterans with future employment opportunities through partners and sponsors.

"Hiking over 2,000 miles during the course of six months gives a veteran an opportunity to decompress and come to terms with their wartime experiences," said Sean Gobin, Warrior Hike executive director. "The camaraderie that is shared between our combat veterans and the trail town communities helps facilitate their integration back into civilian life.”

Veterans hiking the A.T. this year include Scott Brooks-Miller, a Vietnam War veteran, and several returning service members from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

The ATC, A.T. maintaining clubs and veterans groups in trail towns will provide the veterans with support services, including lodging, transportation and meals.

“Similar to Earl Shaffer, the first Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, these veterans will have the opportunity to journey along the Appalachian Trail and reconnect with nature and with the American people,” said Ron Tipton, executive director and CEO of the ATC. “The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is proud to team up with Warrior Hike to offer this experience to our military veterans.”

This year, Warrior Hike has expanded to include end-to-end hikes on the Continental Divide and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails in addition to the A.T.

For more information, visit or

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Taking care of your hiking feet

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring has finally arrived, and with it comes hiking season. As we prepare for our first hikes of the year, now's a good time to take some proactive steps to help prevent unwanted blisters. The following are a few tips, suggestions and strategies for taking care of your feet before and during a hike to help ensure that it isn’t ruined as a result of blisters:

Toenails: Make sure you take the time to trim your toenails before a big hike, especially one that involves long descents. It’s best to clip your toenails as short as possible so that there’s no extra nail length. If need be, file the nails down until they’re flush with the skin. Sometimes I forget to do this and end up with a long nail digging into the flesh of a neighboring toe!

Socks: One way of preventing blisters is to wear proper socks. This means staying far away from 100% cotton socks which absorb sweat and can lead to blisters. It’s best to wear socks made from synthetics, or a blend of synthetics and cotton, which wicks moisture away and keeps your feet drier and cooler. Also, make sure you wear socks that fit properly. Socks that are too big can bunch together in boots and create friction areas that result in blisters.

Finally, I always keep an extra pair of socks in my backpack just in case the ones I’m wearing get wet.

Boots: Much has already been written on boots and walking shoes, including what type to wear, proper fit, etc. That discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re looking for an informative article on the subject I highly recommend this one. Also, my wife has had problems with blisters, and even lost a toenail while hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon several years ago. She’s since discovered that as a result of her narrow feet, she wasn't wearing boots that fit her properly. This article on Backpacker Mag offers solutions for people who have similar issues.

Boot laces: One way to help prevent blisters from forming on your heels, and toes from hitting the front of your boot, is to make sure your boots are properly laced, especially on descents.

When heading downhill it’s important to make sure that your heel doesn’t slip forward, thus causing friction which leads to blisters. The key is to keep your heel secure within the boot, while still allowing some room for natural swelling that occurs in the fore and mid areas of your foot.

Most good hiking boots have two types of eyelets: closed metal rings along the top of the foot, and quick-release types on the top of the boot above the ankle.

On the lower eyelets along the top of the foot, it’s best to lace your shoes with a little give. In other words, not snug, but not real loose either. This will give your foot room to expand as your foot swells during a hike.

Then, on that last lace before you start lacing through the quick release eyelets, do a single, very snug, overhand loop. Lace through the first pair of quick release eyelets and then do another snug overhand loop. Do the same all the way to the top of the eyelets (don’t strangle your ankle though!). This will anchor your heel area to the boot and keep it from sliding.

Another option for lacing boots, especially if you have narrow feet, is to use the technique outlined by the Hiking Lady in this video:

Gaiters: Most people would agree that wet socks suck. Wet socks are not only uncomfortable, but can also be dangerous if it’s cold out. Moreover, hiking for long periods in wet socks is a prescription for blisters.

One way to combat wet terrain, snow, and even sand and pebbles from jumping into your boots, is to wear gaiters. Basically there are two types: high and low. High gaiters are used for snowshoeing and mountaineering, extend to just below your knees, and are designed to keep your socks and pants dry. Short gaiters generally cover the lower part of your shin and are used in warmer weather to protect against wet terrain, sand and pebbles.

Blisters: The following are a few other suggestions for avoiding blisters:

* Train your feet. Don’t go out on a long hike without taking the time to toughen up your feet by doing walks or short hikes leading up to the big day.

* Don’t try to break in brand new boots on a long hike either. Wear a new pair around town, or on short hikes, before taking them long distance.

* Walking barefoot around the house, especially outside, will toughen the skin of your feet.

* Stop and remove dirt, sand, or any other debris that gets in your boots ASAP.

* Air your feet out during a break in order to cool and dry them off.

* For people with feet that sweat excessively, try using extra-strength antiperspirant creams, roll-ons, or powders to reduce sweating.

* If you have areas on your foot that have caused problems in the past, try putting moleskin or athletic tape on before blisters have a chance to form.

* If you do develop a hot spot, cover them immediately with moleskin, athletic tape, or even duct tape before they become blisters.

Treating Blisters: Well, if all of the above fails, and you still wind up with a blister, here are a few tips for treating them (and another good reason for keeping a small first aid kit in your pack).

* If the blister isn’t torn and is full of liquid, pierce it from the side with a sterile needle at its base and let all the fluid drain out. If the affected skin is still intact, don't remove it. Instead, cover the drained blister with moleskin.

* If the blister is already torn, carefully cut away the loose skin and clean the area with antiseptic. Allow it to dry and harden in the open air for as long possible. Before resuming your hike, put a band-aid or gauze over the torn blister and then put a layer of moleskin over the blister area. It’s best to cut a doughnut shaped piece of moleskin that fits around the blister rather than putting it directly on it.

* If you have a blister that's buried deep in the skin and doesn't hold a lot of liquid, it’s best not to puncture them. Instead, just cover them with a moleskin doughnut to relieve the friction.

If you have any other helpful tips, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

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Section of Trillium Gap Trail Closed

Monday, March 17, 2014

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The Great Smoky Mountains announced today that a 2.3 mile section of the Trillium Gap Trail, between the Rainbow Falls parking lot and the Grotto Falls parking lot, is closed due to hazardous tree removal.

The section of trail will be closed through Thursday. To get updated information on this and all temporary closures, please click here

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Photographs from the Great Smoky Mountains

Sunday, March 16, 2014

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The following short film is a compilation of some excellent photos that showcase the grand beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The photos were taken by M&D Hills Photography. For some reason the video defaults to the lowest quality, so you may want to change the setting to HD. Enjoy:


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Karl Meltzer Announces Appalachian Trail Speed Record Attempt

Saturday, March 15, 2014

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Ultrarunner Karl Meltzer announced on his website this week that he will be making another attempt at the Appalachian Trail speed record this season.

He made a very strong attempt at the record in 2008. Although he was hampered by injuries, he still completed the 2176 miles, and roughly 500,000 feet of vertical climbing, in just 54 days, 21 hours, and 12 minutes. That time now ranks as the fifth-fastest recorded time in history. Jennifer Pharr Davis currently holds the Appalachian Trail speed record after completing the trail in just 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes in 2011.

Here's the announcement Karl made on his website:
In other big news. I am now making a formal mention that I’ll be headed back to Mt. Kathadin in Maine for another run at the AT record. I”m sure I’ll get some negative response, but keep in mind…this is all about being on that amazing trail, moving quickly and efficiently, and giving it all the respect I can possibly give it. If I fail, or fall behind a potential record, I am jumping in our vehicle and coming home. I won’t complete it this time if the record can’t go down. There will be no blog, no circus, and no listening to people tell me that hikers are faster than runners. Or visa versa….there is no difference, one person just moves a bit quicker and takes more risks.

You can read more on his blog by clicking here.

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Appalachian Trail Conservancy Seeks Trail Crew Volunteers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is inviting volunteers, ages 18 and older, to join Trail Crews that will help repair and construct new sections of the famous Appalachian Trail. No previous experience is necessary – just a desire to work hard, live in the backcountry and have a great time among new friends.

The ATC’s all-volunteer Trail Crews are led by paid trail crew professionals who teach volunteers trail construction, stewardship and Leave No Trace skills during the multi-day adventure. The ATC provides food, tools and the equipment necessary to get the job completed. Multi-week volunteers are welcome to stay at our various base camps between sessions.

Trail Crews tackle projects such as relocation, reconstruction, and bridge and shelter construction along the A.T. The crews are active every year, from April through October, on projects located from Maine to Georgia. Trail Crew projects, which may last for a week or more, are planned and completed in cooperation with Trail-maintaining clubs and agency partners such as the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

Konnarock, the ATC’s flagship crew, tackles projects involving trail construction from the A.T.'s southern terminus in Springer Mountain, Georgia to Rockfish Gap in central Virginia. Volunteers work a five-day week in the field and return to base camp for a celebratory dinner the evening of the fifth day. This year, crew weeks begin May 7 and end August 13, with work sites varying from Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia to Little Rock Knob in Tennessee.

The Mid-Atlantic Crew is also searching for volunteers for its spring, summer and fall sessions. Based at an old farmstead in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Crew works on the A.T. from Rockfish Gap in Virginia to the New York-Connecticut state line. Sessions begin April 3 and end October 27.

For adventurous volunteers, the Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail Crew (S.W.E.A.T.) leads workers into the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to work at the highest elevations along the A.T. Six-day sessions begin June 7 and run through August 26. Those who wish to volunteer in the Smokies may also consider the Rocky Top Trail Crew, which works exclusively along 70 miles of the A.T. following the ridge crest from Davenport Gap to Fontana Dam, North Carolina. Rocky Top Crew sessions begin August 30 and end October 25.

Additional volunteer opportunities include the Vermont Long Trail Patrol (VLTP), which works on heavy construction projects on hiking trails in Vermont, including the co-aligned A.T. and Long Trail, and the Maine Trail Crew, which focuses on projects involving reconstruction and rockwork along 267 miles of the A.T. VLTP sessions begin July 4 and end August 12, and Maine Trail Crew sessions begin June 14 and end August 13.

To learn more about the ATC’s Trail Crews, visit

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Tent Rocks

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If you’re ever in the Santa Fe or Albuquerque area, be sure to take the one-hour drive to visit Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This is truly a remarkable place. The best way to see this unique landscape is to hike the Cave Loop / Slot Canyon Trail. This short video will give you an idea of what this magical place is all about. For more detailed information on the hike, please click here.

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North Carolina State Parks actively seeking volunteers for 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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North Carolina’s state parks are actively seeking volunteers to help protect the state’s rich natural resources and serve an expected 14 million visitors this year, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

At all 40 state parks and state recreation areas, volunteers serve in many capacities including campground hosts, visitor center aids, trail workers and special events coordinators, and they provide manpower for specials projects involving tree planting, habitat improvement, inventory of rare species and environmental education.

“Throughout our 98-year history, citizen volunteers have been critical partners of our state parks,” said Carol Tingley, acting state parks director. “Together, state parks and their volunteers demonstrate strong stewardship and build stronger communities with a conservation ethic.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact a nearby park through the division’s website or contact the division’s volunteer coordinator at 919-707-9346 or

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U.S. Mint to Launch Shenandoah National Park Quarter

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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Back in January the U.S. Mint launched a new quarter honoring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Next month will be Shenandoah National Park's turn to be honored by a quarter in a series known as the America the Beautiful Quarters™ Program.

The Shenandoah coin will be the second of five new United States Mint America the Beautiful Quarters for 2014. It will also be the twenty-second for the program that started in 2010, which will see a total of 56 new strikes during its eleven year run. Arches, Great Sand Dunes and Everglades national parks will be the other three parks honored throughout the rest of the year.

An issuing ceremony will be held at Skyline High School in Front Royal, VA on the morning of April 4th. The director of the U.S. Mint will be on hand, and people will be able to purchase uncirculated quarters at the public event.

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Smokies Announces Spring Opening Schedule

Friday, March 7, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the spring opening schedule for park facilities for the 2014 season. Campgrounds and secondary roads began opening yesterday.

You can find the full schedule by clicking here.

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Illegal Campfire is cause of Rocks Mountain Fire in Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park personnel have determined that the cause of the Rocks Mountain Fire was an illegal campfire. The fire, which was reported to the park at approximately 3:10 p.m. on Friday, February 28th, had burned approximately 450 acres inside Shenandoah National Park before a winter storm brought rain, sleet and snow to the area.

Fire managers visited the fire location just northeast of Crimora, Virginia yesterday and confirmed that a continuous layer of snow still covers much of the incident area. Once the snow melts, firefighters will patrol the area for hot spots.

The following trails in the park remain closed: Riprap, Wildcat Ridge, Rocks Mountain and Paine Run.

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Tennessee State Parks to Host Spring Hikes

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Tennessee State Parks announced yesterday that they will be offering free, guided hikes on March 22nd. The second in the quarterly hikes program, the Spring Hikes will be offered at each of the 54 state parks.

“We are excited to welcome the spring season with hikes at each of our great parks,” Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said. “These hikes are a great way to get outside, exercise and enjoy nature with friends and family.”

From Reelfoot Lake to Fall Creek Falls to Warriors’ Path and every state park in between, the 2014 Spring Hikes are designed for all ages and abilities. Some hikes will be approximately one mile in length and tailored for novice hikers, while others are lengthier and geared toward more experienced hikers. For a more in-depth look into planned hikes in your area, please click here.

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Ramsey Cascades Trail Closed Until Late April

Thursday, March 6, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced earlier today that the Ramsey Cascades Trail has been temporarily closed due to a damaged footbridge.

According to a park press release a 60-foot footbridge was damaged when high winds toppled a large hemlock tree, which destroyed the handrail. The trail is expected to reopen by late April.

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Smokies Offers Reward for Information on Historic Window Theft

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are offering a reward for information regarding the recent theft of an antique window from a historic cabin in the Elkmont Historic District. The window was discovered missing in late January resulting in a significant loss to the unique features that characterize the cabin.

“This is a very sad case of vandalism and theft,” said Chief Ranger Clay Jordan. “The people who did this have stolen a piece of our shared history that can never be replicated.” Park officials are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for the theft.

The missing window was from the former summer home of a Knoxville glass maker featuring an intricate and unusual design. The entire 3 feet x 12 feet glass window is missing from the frame which includes 34 individual glass panes, each measuring 4 inches x 4 inches. Two of the original 36 glass panes were missing prior to the theft of the entire window.

It is unlawful to disturb or deface natural and historic resources within the Park. Perpetrators may be sentenced up to 6 months in jail and or fined up to $5,000. Anyone with information as to the possible identity of the individuals responsible for the theft is encouraged to call the tip hotline at 865-436-1580.

The Elkmont Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Upon its registration as a Historic District, it was comprised of 74 cottages, outbuildings and the Wonderland Hotel with 49 of the structures noted as being of significance to the District.

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A Yosemite Classic: The Vernal Fall / Nevada Fall Loop

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The spectacular Mist Trail at the eastern end of the Yosemite Valley leads to some of the most popular destinations in Yosemite National Park. Although the mileage is relatively moderate, this is still a fairly tough hike. It’s all worth it though; you’ll visit star attractions such as Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and the Emerald Pool. For more information on this “bucket list” hike, please click here.

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Get on the Trail with Friends & Missy

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

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Join Friends of the Smokies and fitness expert Missy Kane once again for another series of hikes this upcoming spring. Each Wednesday throughout the month of April, Missy and Friends will hike a different trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Ms. Kane was an Olympic runner and a Pan American Games medalist.

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

The dates for this year's spring series are: April 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th:

Quiet Walkaway Adventure
Easy, 3-4 miles

Little River & Cucumber Gap
Easy to moderate, 5-7 miles

APRIL 16th
White Oak Sinks via Schoolhouse Gap
Moderate, 6 miles

APRIL 23rd
Ramsey Cascades
Difficult, 8 miles

APRIL 30th
Indian Creek Loop
Moderate to Difficult, 9 miles

The cost is $20.00 per hike, and maps/goodies will be provided by Friends & Missy. You must register by calling 865-541-4500 (Covenant Call Center) as space is limited.

Now celebrating it's 16th year, Get on the Trail with Friends and Missy has raised more than $140,000, with proceeds going towards the support for the preservation and protection of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For more information, contact Sarah Weeks at Friends of the Smokies, 1-865-932-4794 or

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Collections Preservation Center Construction Timeline Announced

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials were joined by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Senator Lamar Alexander on Monday, March 3, to celebrate the contributions that public-private partnerships have made to the national park to help honor and preserve America’s cultural heritage. Secretary Jewell announced a timeline for the construction of a 13,000 square-foot Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, TN with the solicitation process beginning immediately and construction expected to begin this summer. The new facility is expected to be completed in the fall 2015.

Through the completion of this new regional center, the National Park Service (NPS) will be able to properly care for over 144,000 artifacts, 220,000 archival records, and 275 linear feet of library materials documenting the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee including Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and Obed Wild and Scenic River. Consolidating the collections materials will both ensure the protection for the heirlooms entrusted to the National Park Service and also allow for a single Museum Curator to oversee all the collections.

“We are delighted to be a part of this incredible opportunity that now allows us to properly care and preserve these pieces of our past enabling us to continue to tell the stories of the Smokies,” said Acting Smokies Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “This opportunity would not have been possible without the generosity of our partners, Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies, and the individuals that offered their support.” Nearly half of the estimated $ 4.3 million cost of the facility has been provided by our park partners along with the donation of the 1.6 acre parcel of land provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

“The Friends of the Smokies is privileged to partner with the Great Smoky Mountain Association to assist the NPS in the creation of such a lasting and meaningful resource for our area,” said President Jim Hart.

The new facility centralizes irreplaceable materials in a conveniently located, secure, climate-controlled space in which they will be preserved, as well as office and lab space where they can be studied by NPS staff and visiting researchers. In addition to providing construction funds, our partner Great Smoky Mountains Association is also providing support for a librarian to help catalog and care for the items as well as assist park descendants, researchers, and visitors access materials for study.

“Great Smoky Mountains Association is honored to be a part of this landmark project that pays tribute to the people who gave up their homes and communities for the creation of this national park. Of all the park projects GSMA has supported over the last 61 years, this is one of the very most important,” said Executive Director Terry Maddox.

The historic artifacts include pre-historic projectile points, logging-era equipment, vintage weapons, clothing, farm implements, tools and other possessions that would have been found on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days such as everyday items including hair combs, butter churns, beds, looms, and spinning wheels, all handmade and all one-of-a-kind. The collection also includes documentary history through oral histories of Southern Appalachian speech, folklore, official documents, photographs and stories. Having these artifacts more accessible will also allow more opportunities for the NPS to share items with approved public museums for temporary display including the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

Park officials are honored by the dedication and perseverance of Senator Alexander and Department of Interior leaders who provided continued support leading to the construction of this facility which likewise honors the families whose legacy will be well preserved. As a part of the media event, leaders also had the unique opportunity to hear the stories of several descendants of families who gave their lands for the creation of the national park as we honor the contributions of their ancestors through this preservation effort.

Again, I'll ask, why won't these collections be open to the public in a museum of some type?  The citizens of this country, after all, own them.

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Smokies Tourism Creates $741 Million in Economic Benefit

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A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 9,685,829 visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 spent $741 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 10,959 jobs in the local area.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides for visitors. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”

National park tourism is a critical economic driver for gateway communities across the nation. Researchers estimate that for every $1 invested by American taxpayers, the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber along with Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.

According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and B&Bs (27 percent), and other amusement and recreation (20 percent).

To download the report, please click here. The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

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Tourism to the Blue Ridge Parkway creates $902 Million Dollars in Economic Benefit

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A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 15.2 million visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2012 spent $902 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 12,168 jobs in the local area.

"The Blue Ridge Parkway is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world," said superintendent Mark Woods. "We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides and to use the park as a way to introduce our visitors to this part of the country and all that it offers. National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy – returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service - and it's a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities."

"The Parkway will continue to rely on important relationships with our partners and neighboring communities as we prepare for the upcoming 2014 visitor season and beyond," Woods continues."The symbiotic nature of the Parkway and its gateway communities is clearly demonstrated by this report and reinforces one of the original vision statements of the Parkway as "a major contributor to regional economic vitality.""

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion. According to the report most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and B&Bs (27 percent), and other amusement and recreation (20 percent).

To download the report, please click here. The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

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Work on Chimney Tops Trail to Resume in May - Volunteers Needed

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails Forever program has announced on their website that trail rehabilitation work will once again resume on the Chimney Tops Trail this summer. The project will stabilize and improve conditions on the popular trail in order to protect resources and enhance the visitor's experience.

As a result, the Chimney Tops Trail will once again be closed on Mondays through Thursdays, from May 5th through October 16th, while this work is in progress. This will be the third season that crews have been trying to complete rehabilitation work on the trail. Last year work was delayed as a result of flooding rains in January, which washed-out the 70-foot footbridge that crosses Walker Camp Prong near the Chimney Tops Trailhead. The bridge and trail didn't reopen until July. The government shutdown in October also ended the work season a little shorter than expected.

The Trails Forever website also announced that volunteers will be needed to help with the five-month project.

Beginning on May 21st you can help by joining the work crew on Wednesdays throughout the season.

Volunteers will work to complete a variety of trail rehabilitation tasks. There will be a limit of the number of volunteers for each of the workdays and you must sign up in advance to volunteer. Once you sign up and secure a spot for one of the workdays you will receive more details. To sign up, please contact Christine Hoyer, the Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator, by emailing her at

For more information, please click here.

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Volunteers Needed to Staff Information Center at Clingmans Dome

Saturday, March 1, 2014

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Great Smoky Mountain National Park is recruiting volunteers to staff the Information Center at Clingmans Dome, from April 1 through November 30, 2014. The center sits at an elevation of 6,300 feet and is a source of information for the national park. Volunteers are needed to provide educational, recreational and trip planning information.

Until recent years, visitors to this popular destination did not have a chance to regularly obtain information about the park. With the help of volunteers staffing the center and walking along the Tower Trail, visitors can inquire and learn about the trails and interesting facets of the high elevation spruce-fir ecosystem.

Other helpful services provided include the ability to purchase guides, maps, outdoor apparel, and other products sold by the Great Smoky Mountain s Association (GSMA). GSMA is a primary park partner and is involved in a number of projects to improve the visitors’ experience.

Volunteers will be working alongside GSMA employees and each volunteer is asked to work at least one four-hour shift per week, either 9:30 am until 1:30 pm or 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm. Volunteers are needed to fill all days of the week, but especially Friday through Sunday. Interested persons will be provided orientation and training before their tour of duty.

Volunteers will be needed during peak season, from April 1 through November 30. Training will be held at the Oconaluftee Administration Building north of Cherokee, North Carolina on Thursday, March 13, 2014. To sign up for this volunteer program or for more information, please contact Florie Takaki at 828/497-1906 or by email Monday through Friday.

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