Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Higher Prices and Limited Access Coming to a Park Near You

Perhaps the title to this blog might be construed as being highly provocative, but reality tells me that many of the trends I'm seeing are already pointing in these directions. Please note that I'm in no way advocating for either of these as possible solutions to perceived problems, but rather simply pointing out where I believe our national parks are headed.

The perceived problem among many within and outside of our national park system is that our parks and recreational areas have become overcrowded. One only has to look at the almost constant gridlock in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains, or the over-crowded parking at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain, or the congestion on Yellowstone's roads throughout the summer, to see that the pundits and park managers may have a point. As further evidence, you may also recall that our national parks saw record breaking crowds in 2014.

As a result of many factors, including increased visitation, almost every major national park has raised entrance fees over the last several months. Other parks and national forest lands, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, have instituted, or have increased backcountry camping fees.

This past May Glacier National Park announced a public comment period for a series of alternatives they're proposing to manage the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor. Included among those proposals to manage congestion on the road are to "utilize a timed entry system or reservation system during peak season" and "require day hike permits on some trails during peak season".

It's pretty clear to me that the wheels are already in motion for raising fees and limiting access to high traffic areas.

What prompted this blog posting was an interview I heard the other night on the nationally syndicated John Batchelor Show. The host interviewed Terry Anderson from the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, who has put forth several possible solutions to overcrowding in our parks and recreational areas. The 10 minute segment starts at roughly the 19:25 mark in this podcast if you wish to listen to the interview. You can also read the original article, which sparked the interview, as published in the Montana Standard.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cosby Area Temporarily Closed Due to Storm Damage

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the temporary closure of the Cosby entrance road due to flood damage. On June 22 at approximately 4:00 p.m., flash flooding along Rock Creek spilled over the banks damaging road shoulders along 1,500 linear feet of the Cosby entrance road. Underground electric and phone lines were exposed along most of the road where the shoulder area was washed out up to 6 feet deep. All electric power and water service to the campground and picnic area has been shut off.

Park maintenance crews cleared rocks and debris from the roadway and coned off washed-out road areas to allow one-lane traffic to escort campers from the campground this morning. The campground, picnic area, and all roadways will remain closed until power and water services can be restored and the repairs are complete. Park crews are further assessing the condition of the road today and will begin making repairs immediately.

Trails remain open at this time, but there is no trailhead access, which includes the Gabes Mountain Trail and the Low Gap Trail. Hikers are advised to use caution throughout the area. Crews are currently assessing the area for any damage to trails and footlogs. Roads are closed to all pedestrian traffic in the area throughout the closure.

For more information on road and trail closures, please visit the park website.


5 Tips on Solo Hiking

Have you ever considered solo hiking? If so, you may want to consider these five tips from Backpacker Magazine before hitting the trail:


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Smokies Receives Donation For Search and Rescue Program

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers were presented with 15 high-performance search and rescue jackets by donors to support field rangers in inclement weather. Rangers respond to approximately 100 search and rescue incidents annually, many of which occur during hazardous weather conditions in the backcountry.

Local community members in Sevier County led efforts to raise funds for the park’s search and rescue operations through a cross fit competition event, Mountainfit Throwdown, held at Outdoors in the Smokies in March. In addition, recently rescued Eric Keller and his wife Diane Petrilla made a donation in gratitude of the care Keller received through his 36-hour rescue from Mt. LeConte in April.

“After going through Eric’s frightening medical situation at the top of Mt. LeConte, we were overwhelmed with appreciation for the professionalism and warmth provided by the National Park Service rangers and the Gatlinburg medic,” said Petrilla. “We are honored to give a donation in expression of our gratitude to help these very special rangers continue to do their jobs in challenging conditions.”

Through this generous donation, the park was able to secure 15 jackets specifically designed for extreme conditions including prolonged rains and extremely cold temperatures. The reflective, yellow jackets also provide high visibility to aid in air-rescue operations. The jackets are rainproof, windproof, and durable for backcountry conditions.

“Our rangers respond to assist people in need across the park in a variety of hazardous weather conditions,” said Acting Chief Ranger Steve Kloster. “We do our best to ensure our rangers have what they need to accomplish their duties safely and this gift better enables our staff to protect themselves in extreme conditions.”

The park has approximately 40 park rangers with a primary duty to aid in search and rescue operations. Many of these rangers receive additional, specialized training for technical rescues, water rescues, and air operations. These jackets are being distributed to rangers who most frequently respond to rescues during hazardous conditions throughout the year.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How To Use Bear Spray

While hiking in a wilderness area that has bears, your best line of defense in the unlikely event of an attack is bear spray. Perhaps counter-intuitively, bear spray is actually more effective than a gun. According to one study, bear spray is 95% effective in stopping a bear attack, while firearms are only 55% effective. Bear spray is also effective against black bears, and is something you may want to consider while hiking in black bear country.

The key to defending yourself against a charge is deploying the bear spray correctly. Below is a demonstration by Backpacker Magazine on how to properly use bear spray:

In a January 2012 Backpacker Magazine article, Dave Parker, a certified bear spray safety trainer, is quoted as saying that:
"If an animal comes within 50 feet, use your spray. If the bear isn’t running, point the nozzle about 30 feet away, and fire a series of one-to-two-second bursts. If it’s charging, point the spray at the bear’s chest and hold the trigger until the can is fully discharged. Out of spray and the grizzly is still charging? Don’t run, lay on your stomach, cover your head, and play dead."
Jamie Jonkel, a bear management specialist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, offers some additional advice:
"If a bear charges from a distance, spray a two to three second burst in the direction of the bear. Experts recommend bear spray with a minimum spray distance of 25 feet.

Point the canister slightly down and spray with a slight side-to-side motion. This distributes an expanding cloud of spray that the bear must pass through before it gets close to you. Spray additional bursts if the bear continues toward you.

Sometimes just the noise of the spray and the appearance of the spray cloud is enough to deter a bear from continuing its charge. Spray additional bursts if the bear makes additional charges.

If you have a sudden close encounter with a bear, spray at the front of the bear. Continue spraying until the bear either breaks off its charge or is going to make contact."
For more information on hiking in bear country, including how to avoid a surprise encounter, please click here.

If you need to purchase bear spray for an upcoming hiking trip, please click here.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Black Bear Attacks Camper in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed several trails and backcountry campsites in the Hazel Creek section of the park due to a bear incident occurring at approximately 10:30 p.m. on June 6th. A 16-year old male from Ohio was pulled from his hammock by a bear and injured at backcountry campsite 84 which is 4.5 miles from the Fontana Lake shoreline near Hazel Creek in NC. The father was able to drive the bear off from the area.

Immediately following the incident, the young man and his father hiked to the lakeshore where they were transported across the lake to Cable Cove boat dock by campers at backcountry campsite 86 who had a boat. Graham County Rescue EMS transported them to a landing zone where the injured party was flown by Mountain Area Medical Airlift (MAMA) to Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC at approximately 3:00 a.m. this morning.

The young man received multiple injuries including lacerations to the head. He remained conscious throughout the incident and is in stable condition at this time.

Park rangers and wildlife biologists are responding to the backcountry campsite area to investigate the scene and to clear the area of other campers. Hazel Creek Trail, Jenkins Ridge Trail, Bone Valley Trail, Cold Spring Gap Trail and backcountry campsites 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, and 88 are closed until further notice. Derrick Knob shelter along the Appalachian Trail has also been closed to camping until officials can determine whether recent bear activity at the shelter may also be related to the same bear.

"While incidents with bears are rare, we ask park visitors to take necessary precautions while hiking in bear country and comply with all backcountry closures," said Superintendent Cassius Cash. "The safety of our visitors is our number one priority."

The father and son were on a multi-day backpacking trip in the Smokies. Both campers were sleeping in hammocks approximately 10 feet apart and had all equipment, food, and packs properly stored on aerial food storage cables.

For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website. To report a bear incident, please call 865-436-1230.

Hikers should also note that the Laurel Falls Trail and the Mount LeConte Lodge area are posted for aggressive bear activity, while the Mount LeConte Shelter remains closed at this time.

Grand Teton Hikes

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Eight Reasons to Start Your Hike in the Early Morning

Like many people, I really hate getting up early in the morning. As a teenager it wasn’t uncommon for me to sleep-in until 10, 11 or even high noon on some weekends. However, over the years, as I’ve become a more active participant in hiking, I’ve come to realize that it’s best to begin your hike as early in the morning as possible. Depending on the length of the hike, we usually try to get to the trailhead within an hour of sunrise. There are several great reasons for this, including the following:

1) Starting early in the morning allows you plenty of time to beat road traffic, and find a parking spot at the trailhead. Many of the parking areas in our most popular national parks (and elsewhere) are small and fill-up fairly early during the peak tourist season.

2) Starting early also allows you to beat the crowds along the trail and at your destination. There’s nothing worse than hiking five miles to a beautiful overlook or meadow, and running into a bunch of loud and obnoxious people spoiling the peace and quiet.

3) One of the best times to see wildlife is during the early morning hours. Moreover, when there are people around, it’s more likely that wildlife will be scared away from the trail.

4) The dawn hours provide some of the best light for photography.

5) The morning usually allows you to beat the heat, especially if there’s any climbing involved to reach your destination.

6) Starting early allows more time to return to the trailhead in the event of an emergency. If you’re five miles from the trailhead and you sprain an ankle, or worse, and there’s only an hour or two of day light left, you may be limping back to the trailhead in the dark, or you may even have to bivouac on the side of the trail.

7) In many parts of the country, especially in the Rocky Mountains, thunderstorms tend to roll into the mountains during the early or mid-afternoons. Starting early allows plenty of time to reach your destination and return without getting soaked. More importantly, if you’re walking over open terrain, you’ll reduce your chances of being exposed to lightning.

8) Finally, if you’re on vacation, starting early allows you plenty of time to return back to your hotel or cabin, get cleaned up, and go to your favorite restaurant before the crowds arrive.

Grand Teton Hikes

Monday, June 1, 2015

Volunteers Needed for Appalachian Trail Crew in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) seeks volunteers, 18 and over, to help maintain the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as part of the Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail (S.W.E.A.T) Crew for the 2015 season. A position on the S.W.E.A.T. Crew is physically demanding and is designed for experienced hikers who love to work hard, live in the backcountry, and create lasting friendships.

S.W.E.A.T. Crew is a mobile group that focuses on trail maintenance in the heart of the Smokies on sections more than five miles from the nearest road. Crew members carry tools, water, food, and camping supplies to support their work. Each session lasts six days in the field where the crew focuses on clearing the A.T. and repairing it with materials they find. Food, lodging, training, equipment and transportation to and from the work site is provided.

"The Appalachian Trail Conservancy encourages all hikers and Appalachian Trail supporters to get involved with a Trail Crew," said Chris Binder, the ATC's trail specialist. "These all-volunteer crews are instrumental in completing large-scale projects along the Trail."

Members of the S.W.E.A.T. Crew arrive at the ATC’s base camp the day before their crew session begins to meet the professional crew leaders, prepare for the work trip and check out any gear they need. The next day the crew enjoys a family-style breakfast and loads up in an ATC vehicle and drives to a nearby trailhead in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After a challenging hike in, often up to 10 miles long while carrying a 50- to 60-pound backpack, the crew establishes the campsite they will work out of for the next five days. The crew repairs, reconstructs, and maintains some of the most isolated and stunning sections of the A.T., often working at elevations of more than 6,000 feet for the entire work week.

2015 S.W.E.A.T. Crew Calendar:

Session 1 - June 8 to 13, 2015
Session 2 - June 18 to 23, 2015
Session 3 - June 28 to July 3, 2015
Session 4 - July 8 to 13, 2015
Session 5 - July 18 to 23, 2015
Session 6 - July 28 to August 2, 2015
Session 7 - August 7 to 12, 2015
Session 8 - August 18 to 22, 2015

For more information about the ATC’s S.W.E.A.T Crew program, or to volunteer, please visit: