Friday, October 31, 2014

New Strategic Plan To Ensure Bright Future for the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has announced a five-year Strategic Plan that will advance the health and long-term management of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The plan, which was the culmination of a two-year collaborative process between the ATC and the ATC’s board of directors, is a vision and strategy that will build on the organization’s stewardship of the Trail while also aligning with the priorities of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

The new Strategic Plan, which is the first to be created and put into action since the Appalachian Trail Conference became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2005, identifies the following key goals: Proactive Protection, Engaged Partners, Effective Stewardship, Broader Relevancy, and Strengthened Capacity and Operational Excellence. Together, these goals not only reinforce the idea that the Trail can be enjoyed by a variety of users in multiple ways, but also that the A.T. should be readily accessible to all who wish to be a part of the experience.

In order to accomplish the goals set forth in the new Strategic Plan, the ATC will continue to be the leading voice with its partners in managing the A.T. The organization plans to address trail deficiencies, address potentially hazardous road and water crossings, minimize visitor impacts, and meet land management standards set by the Land Trust Alliance. As threats to the A.T. emerge, the ATC will proactively protect the natural and cultural resources within the Trail corridor and its adjacent landscapes.

The organization will also engage and sustain a network of partners that reinforces its goals for the Trail. The Conservancy will continue to collaborate with the National Park Service and all primary federal, state, municipal and private partners in the protection of the A.T. It will also support the 31 Trail maintaining clubs and communities surrounding the Trail, so that future programs and initiatives are supported.

“The Appalachian Trail, stretching from Maine to Georgia, puts a phenomenal National Park in the backyard of millions of Americans,” said Ron Tipton, executive director/CEO of the ATC. “We must be a part of preserving this wonderful hiking experience for future generations.”

Reaching younger and more diverse populations has been identified as a high priority for the Conservancy. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that within the next 50 years white Americans will comprise just 43 percent of the U.S. population, while Asian, Hispanic and African American populations will grow substantially, making up 45 percent of the 2060 population.

“This new diverse majority will be responsible for ensuring the continued protection and sustainability of our environment and the national treasure of our parks, forests and waterways, including the Appalachian Trail,” said Sandra Marra, chair of the ATC. “Therefore, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy believes it is critical to increase the long-term involvement of diverse youth in the work of our organization.”

The ATC will also develop strategies to build a financially strong foundation and organizational capacity to ensure long-term success. The goal is to raise annual operating revenue from $6.6 million to $8 million by 2019 and to increase the endowment from $3.6 million to $8.3 million. This will be accomplished by increasing funding from major donors, foundations and other private sources, as well as growing the membership base.

For more information about the ATC’s strategic plan, visit


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Full Road Closure at Milepost 242 for Final Phase of Ice Rock Reconstruction

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announce the final phase of roadwork in a one-mile section of Parkway, commonly known as Ice Rock near Alligator Back Parking Area. Both lanes of the motor road will be closed to all visitors from Milepost 241 to Milepost 243.5 beginning November 3, 2014 through mid-April 2015.

The final phase of the Historic Stone Guardwall Reconstruction Project began this spring utilizing a one-lane closure through the area. Prior to the full traffic closure, 24 hour, single-lane traffic closure through the project work zone will continue. The project goal is the restoration of the structural integrity and historic appearance of this important cultural resource.

With the exception of foot traffic on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the motor road will be closed to all visitors.Detour traffic signage will direct Parkway visitors around the closure area via US Highways 18 and 21. Access to Doughton Park following the regular seasonal operating schedule will remain open from the North via the Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized internationally as an example of landscape design achievement. It was designed and built to provide a leisurely, recreational driving experience and to showcase the scenic resources of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. The affected section of Parkway during this project is a showcase for the historic rock guard walls that line the motor road. Constructed during the period of the late 1930s, these rock walls are now an important historic Parkway resource. They were built in the rustic style used throughout other American national parks. These walls have become one of the significant features that define the visual and historic character of the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Getting Around in the Smokys

The following is by a guest author:

When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the first things to hit you, apart from the incredible beauty, is how immense it is. Over 800 square miles, it’s home to over 17,000 species of flora and fauna. So what are the best ways to experience what the park has to offer?


With over 800 miles of trails, hiking is an excellent way to enjoy the forest and its wildlife. Deciding which trail is dependent on what you’d like to see: waterfalls, open views, deserted homes, ancient forest, etc. For those who wish to start gently, the Laurel Falls trail should only take about an hour, although it can get busy on the weekends. Apart from the falls, there are nice views of the hills and rock formations. If you’d like a more substantial hike, the Sugarland Mountain Trail will take a full day but the vast array of wildlife (including black bears) makes it a worthwhile trek. You may wish to check out these hiking safety tips.


While cycling does restrict where you can go in the park, the permitted paved routes offer an excellent way to experience the views and wildlife. The Cades Coop Loop Road is a relatively easy ride, and is closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from May to September. The eleven mile, one-way lane skirts the bottoms of the forested mountains and is great for viewing wildlife and 19th century homesteads. If you’re training for the Tour de France, however, you may prefer to tackle the Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap route, which has an average grade of 5.2% over the thirteen miles. There are tunnels on this road, so make sure you’ve got a flashing strobe fitted to alert motorists of your presence. Helmets are an absolute must.

Horseback Riding

Unlike cycling, about 550 miles of the park’s hiking trails allow horses. The park has four concession riding stables, which offer guided rides (walking pace) varying in length from 45 minutes to several hours. You can climb mountain trails, cross rivers and view waterfalls, while enjoying the tranquillity of your surroundings and hopefully catching a glimpse of wildlife such as wild turkey, woodchucks, white-tailed deer and if you’re lucky, a bear or two. You may also ride your own horse in the park and camp at designated sites.

The Great Smoky Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world and are home to an incredible array of plants and animals, set in a backdrop of outstanding natural beauty. However you traverse the park, you will be utterly captivated.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Full Road Closure at Milepost 422 for Tunnel Rehabilitation

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announce the closure of a small section of motor road between existing gates at Milepost 420.3 near US Forest Service Road 816 (Black Balsam Road) and Milepost 423.3 at NC Highway 215. Both lanes of the motor road in that section will be closed to all visitors beginning November 3, 2014 through May 2015.

During this closure, Devil's Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4 will be accessible from the south by foot, bicycle or skis at NC Highway 215. The Art Loeb Trail crossing at Milepost 421.2 will be accessible from the north at Black Balsam Road. Visitors inside the closure are encouraged to use extreme caution and watch for construction related traffic also in the area.

Devil's Courthouse Tunnel was originally constructed in 1941. This project will make repairs to the aging drainage system and concrete lining inside the tunnel. The work requires that portions of the overhead concrete lining be removed, creating potentially hazardous conditions for visitors that require a full road closure. The tunnel will be sealed and inaccessible to any traffic during this project.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized internationally as an example of landscape design achievement and Parkway tunnels are a significant design feature along the historic route. Twenty-five of the twenty-six tunnels along the Parkway are in North Carolina, with all Parkway tunnels representing 36% of the entire National Park Service tunnel inventory. Tunnels along the Parkway were often constructed to reduce excessive scarring that open cuts would entail, enabling the Parkway to cross through ridges in the interest of maintaining the most desirable route location. The distinctive stone masonry portals on most Parkway tunnels were generally not part of the original construction, added later in the 1950s and 1960s.


Why Clean Fishing Gear Is Essential For River Health

The following is by a guest author:

If you’re a lazy angler, you may be the type of person who throws all their fishing gear into the garage or shed without cleaning it. Not only are you shortening the life of your equipment, you could be doing untold damage to river ecosystems, such as those in the Smokies.


A single-celled species of algae called Didymo (Didymosphenia geminate) is extremely invasive and is smothering riverbeds, killing native plants and fish through limiting sunlight. Previously this wool-like algae was happiest in cold waters, but it’s starting to adapt to warmer temperatures and is moving further south. Unfortunately, it’s been found in one stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, namely Tennessee, where fishing is banned. It’s of paramount importance that it isn’t accidentally spread to other streams, through dirty waders, boots, fishing line and even life jackets. The following guidelines will help stop cross contamination and should also extend the life of your equipment.


Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to wash your gear in water and a bit of biodegradable soap. You’ll need to disinfect everything first in a hot bleach solution for at least ten minutes, and then rinse and dry thoroughly for a minimum of 48 hours after they’re touch dry.


Wash & disinfect as above, then pack with newspaper and allow to dry. Once dry, they can be rolled them up (folding encourages cracking) and stored in a sealed black garbage bag. Do not store them before the extra 48 hours is up.


Arguably, reels can be the most valuable piece of equipment but often the most neglected. They’ll need bleaching as well and can be left on the reel once dry, but over winter you may wish to transfer monofilament and fluorocarbon line onto something with a larger diameter, so you don’t get too much curling.


Obviously the number one priority here is disinfecting your lures, spinners, flies, etc., but afterwards it’s important to keep them sealed in an airtight container, out of direct sunlight, as some of the rubber and plastic can perish.

Life Jacket

You’ll need to immerse the jacket in a large container of the bleach solution, then scrub any remaining dirt off and rinse thoroughly. It’s important to dry the jacket in a shady but well ventilated area, as heat and sunlight can warp the flotation material. If you pack it away before it’s bone dry inside and out, you’ll get mildew.

Spending a few minutes on proper gear maintenance should not only keep it in good condition, it will stop you infecting other waters with unwelcome organisms like Didymo.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Smokies Offers Reward for Information on Cataloochee Artifact Theft

Great Smoky Mountains NationalPark officials are offering a reward for information regarding the recent theft of artifacts from the Palmer House in Cataloochee, NC. The missing artifacts, including a trowel, mill pick, and a coffee mill, were taken from locked display cases in the Palmer House where historical information and exhibits are provided for park visitors.

"While these items have some market value as mere antiques, their associative value with individual families and with the community of Cataloochee is immeasurable," said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. "These values make them truly irreplaceable."

Park officials are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for the theft. The unique, wall mounted coffee mill was donated to the park in 1935 by a Cataloochee resident. The trowel and mill pick, which was used to cut and sharpen millstone grooves, were also part of the park's permanent archival collection.

It is unlawful to disturb or deface 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.


Vandalism Reported in 10 National Parks

The National Park Service is currently investigating reports of vandalism in at least 10 national parks in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Utah.

While the NPS can’t discuss details of a case under investigation, officials emphasize that they take the issue of vandalism seriously. National parks exist to preserve and protect our nation’s natural, cultural and historic heritage for both current and future generations. Vandalism is not only a violation of the law but it also damages and sometimes destroys often irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans.

The NPS also emphasizes that there are forums for artistic expression in national parks because national parks inspire artistic creativity. These images are outside that forum and outside the law.

Parks affected (awaiting confirmation) include: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; Yosemite National Park, California; Death Valley National Park, California; Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California; Joshua Tree National Park, California; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; Crater Lake National Park, Oregon; Bryce National Park, Utah; Zion National Park, Utah; and Canyonlands National Park, Utah.


'Kick Your Boots Off' with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy During Trail Celebration

Celebrate the iconic Appalachian Trail (A.T.) with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) on Thursday, Nov. 6 and show your support for the hikers and the thousands of volunteers that the organization serves regionally in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The fundraising event “Kick Your Boots Off,” hosted at the Isis Restaurant and Music Hall in Asheville, begins at 6 p.m., with music starting at 7 p.m.

“Kick Your Boots Off” will feature fun A.T.-themed activities, an adventure-based giveaway and live music from the bands Pleasure Chest as well as Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks. Attendees are encouraged to dress for comfort and style, as there will be prizes for the best dressed among the hiker chic.

“This fun event will offer a great chance for members of the outdoor community to connect with one another,” said Morgan Sommerville, the ATC’s regional director. “Come meet regional Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff and volunteers all while learning more about our efforts to protect the world’s most famous long-distance hiking trail!”

Event Overview:
“Kick Your Boots Off” fundraiser
Date: Thursday, Nov. 6
Time: Doors open at 6 p.m.; music begins at 7 p.m.
Location: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, Asheville, NC
Cost: $15 in advance

Tickets for the event are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and $65 for VIP admission, and can be purchased here.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shenandoah National Park to Implement Night Closures of Skyline Drive During Hunting Season

Park Superintendent Jim Northup announced today that portions of the Skyline Drive, the famed mountain road through Shenandoah National Park, will be closed at night during hunting season. He noted that this is the thirty-fourth year that this closure has been undertaken and stressed its importance in reducing illegal hunting activity within the park during the Commonwealth of Virginia hunting season outside the park.

Beginning Monday, November 10, 2014, and ending Sunday, January 4, 2015, the Skyline Drive between Front Royal (Mile 0 at U.S. Highway 340) and Thornton Gap (Mile 31 at U.S. Highway 211) and between Swift Run Gap (Mile 65 at U.S. Highway 33) and Rockfish Gap (Mile 105 at U.S. Highway 250) will be closed daily between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. The central portion of the Drive, between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap, will remain open for overnight access to the Skyland Resort until that facility closes on November 30. Beginning Monday, December 1, 2014, and ending Sunday, January 4, 2015, the entire length of the Skyline Drive will be closed daily from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m.

Superintendent Northup said, "Closing portions of the Skyline Drive enables rangers to concentrate patrols on problem areas and to increase contacts along the park boundary."

Superintendent Northup also reminded the public that the park has a reward program to assist in combating illegal hunting in the park." A reward will be paid to anyone who furnishes information which leads to the conviction of any person who hunts, transports, or attempts to transport illegally taken wildlife within the park," said Northup. Anyone with information about such activities should call the park (toll free 1-800-732-0911; or 540-999-2227). The identity of persons furnishing information will be kept strictly confidential, and a person does not have to reveal his or her name.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Announcing Launch of New Hiking Website

Today we’re proud to announce the official launch of our brand new hiking website for Grand Teton National Park. The new site provides details on more than 40 hikes in the Grand Tetons, and is organized similarly to our, and websites. The URL for our new site is:

In addition to being a great resource for trail information, we designed the site to be an excellent tool for vacation planning as well. We’ve included a lot of travel information that will be helpful while planning your vacation.

Even if you have no plans on traveling to the Grand Tetons, I hope that you might enjoy some of the photographs on the site. If you know of anyone planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park, or any hikers in general that may be interested, please feel free to forward the website onto them.

Thanks again for all of your support! We would also love to hear any feedback you might have.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Temporary Parkway Closure at Milepost 95-106

Over a two week period in November, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance personnel will be conducting large –scale trimming operations along the roadside from Milepost 95 to Milepost 106 (between Highways 43 at Bearwallow Gap and U.S. 460). During the periods of Wednesday to Friday, November 12-14, 2014, and Monday to Friday, November 17 - 21, 2014, both lanes of the Parkway in the work zone, during the work day, will be closed to all activity (cars, bicycles, and hikers) to ensure the safety of maintenance workers as well as Parkway visitors. No work will occur on weekends and the motor road will be open on Saturday and Sunday during this period.

Annually, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance and resource management staff conduct maintenance activities that help control invasive vegetation growth along the Parkway, as well as insuring safe sight distances and a clear right-of-way areas for motorists. This work requires using a large tractor with a cutting head on a long arm, or boom, which must remain in the travel lanes during operation to properly trim the banks and road shoulders. The boom axe also allows access to clear areas behind guardrails and other roadside features.

Affected sections will close at approximately 7:45 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily about 5:00 p.m. EST from Wednesday to Friday, November 12-14, 2014, and from Monday to Friday, November 17 - 21, 2014. Those who normally commute on the Parkway on Monday through Friday will need to find alternate routes.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Camper Attacked by Dogs Needs Help

Today I received an email from a reader asking for help with regards to her being attacked by a group of hunting dogs while camping in the Snowbird Wilderness area earlier this week. Her fear is that these dogs may still be loose in the area, and could pose a danger to families and pets who may be recreating in the greater Smoky Mountains area. Here's her story:
On Monday, October 13, 2014 Kadie Anderson was camping with her two dogs in the Snowbird Wilderness area in Graham County North Carolina. She was breaking her camp and preparing to head home when a group of six hunting hounds ran into the camp site and began to attack her and her two dogs. Kadie was taken by surprise and was unable to get to her pepper spray and instead was forced to fend the hounds off with sticks and a tent stake. She fought the dogs off for 45 minutes, sustaining multiple bite wounds to her hands and legs. One of Kadie’s dogs was nearly killed in the attack and the other remains in guarded condition as she recovers from a serious abdominal injury. When the hounds men arrived, they had difficulty calling off their dogs. Kadie finished packing up her camp with a great deal of difficulty (her hands were badly shredded) and requested that the hunters hold their hounds until she and her dogs were safely back in her car. They did not; the dogs were released again before Kadie was able to safely leave the site. Despite the seriousness of the injuries and the fact that Kadie was alone, none of the hounds men offered further assistance; not even to help her get back into town safely.

We are requesting anybody with any information about these men to contact the Graham County Sheriff’s Department before these dogs hurt somebody else.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, October 10, 2014

U.S. Forest Service releases 2015 dates for fee-free days at most of the agencies’ day-use recreation sites

The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites several times in 2015, beginning with Jan. 19, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“These fee-free days are our way of thanking our millions of visitors but also to encourage more people to visit these great public lands,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “These lands belong to all Americans, and we encourage everyone to open the door to the great outdoors.”

No fees are charged at any time on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands, and approximately two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free. Check with your local forest or grassland or on is external) to see if your destination charges a fee. Fees are used to help cover the cost of safe, clean facilities. Use the Forest Service map to find a national forest or grassland near you.

The 2015 scheduled fee-free days observed by the Forest Service are:

• Jan. 19: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors the legacy of the civil rights leader and encourages Americans to participate in the MLK Day of Service

• Feb. 16: Presidents Day, honoring our nation’s Presidents with particular attention towards commemorating President Washington and President Lincoln.

• June 13: National Get Outdoors Day, a day when federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and the recreation industry encourages healthy, outdoor activities.

• Sept. 26: National Public Lands Day, the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands

• Nov. 11: Veteran’s Day, commemorates the end of World War I and pays tribute to all military heroes past and present.

Agency units plan their own events. Contact your local forest or grassland for more information. The last fee-free period for 2014 is Nov. 8-11 in honor of Veteran’s Day.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Lick Creek Footbridge on the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail

A partnership of the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service recently resulted in the rebuilding of Lick Creek Bridge on the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail in McCreary County, Kentucky. The bridge spans Lick Creek in the Stearns District of the Daniel Boone National Forest near the boundary of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and the creek crossing forms the intersection of the Sheltowee Trace and Lick Creek Trail.

The new bridge is constructed of 16 foot long steel I-beams for the superstructure and pressure treated lumber for the decking and railing and was built by U.S. Forest Service Stearns District employees. The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area contributed building materials for the project. "The Lick Creek Bridge project provided a wonderful opportunity for the Forest Service to partner with the National Park Service to accomplish mutual objectives. It's a great example of different agencies working together to get a much needed project completed," said Tim Reed, Stearns District Ranger.

The new bridge provides for improved hiking conditions on the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. The Trace is currently 319 miles long with the northern terminus near Morehead, Kentucky, and runs through the Daniel Boone National Forest, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Pickett State Park, and into the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

For more information on recreation opportunities in the Stearns District of the Daniel Boone, call (606) 376-5323. For more information on recreation opportunities in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, call (423) 286-7275.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hiketoberfest: Celebrate the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail

Celebrate the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail on Sunday, Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Shackleford Ridge Park in Signal Mountain. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Friends of the Cumberland Trail, which supports the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail and Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.

The event will feature guided hikes, educational programming, heritage music and food. Attendees can learn about plateau wildlife, including birds of prey, mammals, snakes, native wildflowers, medicinal plants and cultural conservation.

Musicians of all skill levels are invited to bring instruments to the Cumberland Trail jam tent hosted by Randy Steele, Matt Evans and Bob Townsend. Fall Creek Falls State Park will be on hand to offer a ragdoll kids craft program. Tims Ford State Park will offer a Native American atlatl demonstration and presentation on pelts and skulls.

A $10 per person/$25 per family donation is suggested.

The Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail is a backcountry hiking trail. It will extend, when complete, from a northern terminus at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park through 11 Tennessee counties and over more than 300 miles of scenic and historic terrain along the Cumberland Plateau before reaching its southern terminus at Signal Point in Signal Mountain. The Cumberland Trail connects 330,000 acres of some of the most biologically-rich, bio diverse and spectacular lands under public stewardship, including five state natural areas. To learn more about the Cumberland Trail, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, October 6, 2014

National Park Service Announces Free Admission on Nine Days in 2015

There are nine more reasons to enjoy national parks next year! The National Park Service will be offering free admission to every visitor on nine days in 2015. The 2015 entrance fee-free days are:

* January 19: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
* February 14-16: Presidents Day weekend
* April 18 & 19: National Park Week’s opening weekend
* August 25: National Park Service’s 99th birthday
* September 26: National Public Lands Day
* November 11: Veterans Day

“Every day is a great day in a national park, and these entrance fee free days offer an extra incentive to visit one of these amazing places,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “As we prepare to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, we are inviting all Americans to discover the beauty and history that lives in our national parks.”

A national park may be closer to home than you think. National Park Service sites are located in every state and in many major cities, including New York City which is home to ten national parks. They are places of recreation and inspiration and they are also powerful economic engines for local communities. Throughout the country, visitors to national parks spent $26.5 billion and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013.

Generally, 133 of the 401 National Park Service have entrance fees that range from $3 to $25. While entrance fees will be waived for the fee free days, amenity and user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours will still be in effect.

Other Federal land management agencies that will offer their own fee-free days in 2015 are: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service. Please contact each for dates and details.

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass and Federal Recreational Lands Pass programs. These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands, and other federal lands. Four passes are available:

* free annual pass to current military members and their dependents
* free lifetime pass for U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities
* $10 lifetime senior pass for U.S. citizens aged 62 and over
* $80 annual pass for the general public.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Shenandoah National Park Completes Rock Outcrop Management Plan

After years of planning and public input, Shenandoah National Park staff recently concluded the Rock Outcrop Management Plan (ROMP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) planning process with the signing of the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The EA analyzed alternatives that will direct the future management of rock outcrop areas which helps direct recreational activity in the park. Shenandoah's rock outcrops are some of the largest in the region and contain a myriad of important vegetation communities, aas well as rare plant and animal populations. These rock outcrops are popular and draw visitors to the views, sweeping vistas and recreational activities they afford; however, intense use of rock outcrops for recreational activities has caused severe degradation of vegetation and soils at some rock outcrops, including impacts to globally rare species and communities.

The selected alternative "Balance Between Natural Resource Protection and Visitor Use", provides for visitor use and enjoyment of rock outcrop areas while protecting natural resources at the rock outcrops and minimizing impacts to natural resource conditions. Implementation of the ROMP will result in some minor restrictions to visitor uses in certain areas of the park. Camping will be prohibited in portions of certain high elevation areas, including Little Stony Man, Hawksbill, and North Marshall Mountains, as well as areas of Overall Run Falls North and Mary's Rock. Additionally, limited closures will be affected to protect high elevation resources in portions of Little Stony Man Mountain, Old Rag Mountain, and Hawksbill Mountain. Closures are effective immediately.

In announcing the signing of the FONSI, Superintendent Jim Northup said, "We have a legal obligation to protect these rare and sensitive plant communities and animal populations. As we begin formal implementation of the ROMP we will continue to work closely with park partners and stakeholders to provide public enjoyment, while meeting these legal obligations."

Under the plan, park staff will also monitor the status of rare natural resources and invasive plants, as well as visitor use and impacts on rock outcrops. Staff will also educate the public and cooperators on the importance of protecting rare resources at rock outcrops using signage, presentations and publications.

A copy of the FONSI can be found here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shenandoah National Park Prepares for Fall Travel Season

Shorter days and cooler nights signal the arrival of fall in Shenandoah National Park. Every autumn is different, and park staff is looking forward to a wonderful fall season. Some of the trees and other plants are already putting on their autumn colors.

Fall means it's also time for the weekly Fall Color Report which provides some observations from around the park. Visitors can now find these reports on the park's website or listen to them on the park's main phone line at 540-999-3500 option 6. The Fall Color Report is updated each Friday through the end of October. If you can't visit but want to see the fall color progression you can check-out the park's Mountain View webcam.

The mountains are a particularly good place to view fall colors because the steep slopes afford visitors an opportunity to view the kaleidoscope of color that moves down from the peaks to the Shenandoah Valley or Virginia Piedmont below. Superintendent Jim Northup said, "We look forward to the many visitors who come from around the world to experience the incredible fall color show while stopping at overlooks along Skyline Drive, hiking through the park's wilderness, or just relaxing with friends and family." October is the park's most heavily visited month of the year.

As night falls more quickly toward the end of October, park facilities will begin closing for the season. A complete list of seasonal closures can be found here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, October 3, 2014

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to Close for Bridge Replacement - Hikers Will Be Impacted During Closure

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will close for the season on the evening of October 31, 2014 and will remain closed until April 30, 2015 to replace eight bridges along the 5.5-mile, one-way roadway. The road will be closed to all public use including hiking and biking.

“Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers a unique experience for park visitors to explore historic cabins and enjoy the scenery along the road,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We realize this work will disappoint some and also inconvenience Trillium Gap Trail hikers. We have made every effort to minimize these impacts by doing most of the work during the winter months when the road is annually closed for the season.”

Bluegrass Contracting Corporation of Lexington, KY was awarded the contract to replace the eight bridges which were last rehabbed 35 years ago. Work includes replacement of the bridge decks and supporting beams, along with rehabilitation of historic stone masonry abutments as needed.

Due to the complete removal of the bridges and the use of large equipment to perform repair work, the road will be closed to all users. Hikers may not walk along the road to access trailheads, but may use connector trails to access the area. To access both Trillium Gap and Baskins Creek trails, hikers may begin their hike at the Rainbow Falls trailhead on Cherokee Orchard Road by following the connector trail for 0.6 miles to the Baskins Creek trailhead and 2.3 miles to the Trillium Gap trailhead. Baskins Creek Trail hikers may cross the road and walk to Baskins Creek Falls and continue east to the opposite end of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Hikers may not cross the road for thru-access to Grapeyard Ridge Trail due to bridge construction at this intersection. However, hikers can enjoy the Grapeyard Ridge Trail by accessing it from the Greenbrier area and hiking west towards Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail which allows access to backcountry campsite 32.

For more information about road closures, please visit the park’s website or call the park’s Road and Weather Information Line at 865-436-1200.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Mega Deals" at REI

With fall hiking season already in full gear, and winter just around the corner, you may be finding yourself in need of some new gear. If money's a little tight, you may want to check-out REI's current sale - which they're calling "Mega Deals at REI OUTLET".

Thru October 13th REI will be offering up to 70% off on a wide array of outdoor gear and apparel.

For more information simply click on the graphic Ad:

Hiking in the Smokies

Prescribed Burning Season to Begin in NC National Forests

The U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina announced plans to conduct prescribed burns in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests later this month, and into November if weather conditions are favorable.

The agency will conduct burns on approximately 4,000 acres in the two national forests.

Prescribed burns reduce woody debris and hazardous fuels that could contribute to high-severity fires. These burns also produce healthier, more diverse and more resilient forests. Please click here to learn more.

The safety of the public and of Forest Service personnel are top priority when prescribed burns are performed.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Astronomy Program at Bandy Creek This Saturday

Paul Lewis from the University of Tennessee will be at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area on Saturday, October 4, for one of the park's highly popular dark sky astronomy programs.

Starting at 9:00 p.m. (ET) on Saturday evening, Paul Lewis will describe which objects to look for in the night sky. The program will be held in the parking lot across from the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. Telescopes will be available for night sky observation when darkness descends upon the Cumberland Plateau. You may want to bring a blanket or chair for comfortable seating. There is no charge to attend these programs.

In the event of rain or inclement weather, the evening program will be moved indoors to the Interpretation and Education building next to the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. For directions or additional information, please call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275.

Hiking in the Smokies