Wednesday, December 26, 2018

U.S. Forest Service reflects on past year’s progress

In the past fiscal year, the USDA Forest Service responded to natural disasters and battled through one of the most destructive fire seasons on record. Throughout these challenges, the Forest Service also actively treated forests to improve conditions, increase timber production, and enhance rural prosperity—all while putting customer service first.

“With the commitment and strength of our employees and partners the Forest Service continued to improve conditions across the forested landscapes this last year,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This included active management, and increasing services and production to create jobs and support economies for rural America. We also focused on being good neighbors in communities and states, and consistently offering exceptional service and experiences for all uses of public lands. At the same time, we moved forward in in our commitment to transforming the culture to create a workplace that helps all employees do their part to deliver our mission to the American people.”

Improving Forests

In the past year, the Forest Service treated more than 3.5 million acres reducing hazardous fuels and improving forest health through prescribed fire and timber sales; the latter totaling 3.2 billion board feet. The Forest Service treated an additional 2.5 million acres improving watershed conditions, ecosystems, and infrastructure, as well as providing clean water for millions of Americans.

The agency increased use of 2014 Farm Bill authorities, including 166 Good Neighbor agreements and stewardship contracts. Together, these efforts strengthened collaborative work with states and partners, improved forest conditions, protected communities, and supported as many as 370,000 jobs.

Shared Stewardship

The Forest Service prioritized working with customers, partners, and communities to achieve shared goals. In August, Secretary Perdue publicly unveiled the USDA Forest Service report on Shared Stewardship—a new approach to active forest management. This approach will help reshape the agency’s work as good neighbors and will build stronger relationships with states, partners, tribes, and communities to improve forest conditions. The Western Governors Association embraced USDA’s commitment and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Secretary Perdue. The MOU commits the USFS and WGA to a more integrated approach to prioritizing investments where they will have the greatest impact and will work together to set priorities that address risk across broad landscapes.

Another component of shared stewardship is developing the next generation of land stewards to manage and protect national forests. Over the past several years, the Forest Service worked on outreach and education for young people through programs such as Every Kid in a Park. This program leveraged nearly $7 million in private and nonprofit contributions to get fourth-graders into the great outdoors this year.

Fire Funding Fix

Last March, Congress passed historic legislation that significantly reduces the need to transfer funds from much needed management work to pay for firefighting costs, which exceeded $2 billion this year. This new law expanded authorities that the Forest Service can use to improve forest conditions and reduce wildfire risk. When the new funding fix takes effect in Fiscal Year 2020, the Forest Service budget will become more stable, freeing up funds to help accomplish critical on-the-ground work to increase forest health and resilience, as well as protect lives, communities and resources.

Improving Customer Service

The Forest Service took definitive steps to improve customer experience by modernizing our systems and employing new technology. The special use permit process was expedited, reducing the permit backlog by half. The Forest Service removed unnecessary barriers to minerals development and energy production, helping to promote energy independence, create jobs, and support rural economies. Access was also expanded through investments in infrastructure, facilities, and rural broadband.

As well, the agency made improvements to recreation opportunities, including protecting and improving access for hunting, fishing, hiking, motorized recreation, and more. The Forest Service developed fee offset projects to promote campground concessionaire facility improvements and worked with six other agencies to develop a one-stop reservation and trip-planning website to be launched in 2019.

Transforming the Culture

The Forest Service moved to permanently transform its work environment to ensure everyone is respected and included by implementing a new Code of Conduct that includes zero-tolerance for harassment, retaliation, and misconduct. Agency leadership also created a new performance requirement on work environment that has raised accountability for all supervisors, and established a new anti-harassment call center.

“We started by implementing a 30-day “Standing Up for Each Other” action strategy that requires every employee to be held accountable to the new code of conduct,” said Christiansen. “We are changing policies to further prevent harassment and retaliation, and we’re building skills within the workforce so employees prevent, recognize and intervene in inappropriate conduct and retaliation.”

Regulatory Reform

The Forest Service revised policies and streamlined processes to create efficiencies in environmental analysis, forest products delivery, energy development, and wildland fire management. Improvements in environmental analysis and decision making cut costs by $30 million, and reduced analysis time by 10 percent. The Forest Service worked with sister agencies to update policies and processes for more efficient application and implementation of mineral extraction and energy production projects. The agency also reformed wildland fire systems to better allocate resources based on risk and lower costs while continuing to protect lives, property, and resources

For more information about the U.S. Forest Service visit

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Update: Smokes Remains Accessible During Partial Government Shutdown

During the partial shutdown of the federal government due to the lapse of appropriations, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Roads and trails that are seasonally open will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services will be limited. The park will not be operating campgrounds, picnic areas, restrooms, or providing trash collection services.

Great Smoky Mountains Association has entered into an agreement with the National Park Service to fund Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove visitor center operations and associated restroom facilities from Saturday, December 22 through Tuesday, January 1. In addition, the concessionaire for the Cades Cove Campground Store, Tsiyahi, LLC, has entered into an agreement with the National Park Service to fund store operations and associated restroom facilities on December 22-23 and December 26-30. This holiday period is traditionally one of the busiest weeks in the park.

“We appreciate the ongoing support offered by those that visit, love, and care for Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “During this time period when there are no visitor services, it is imperative that people practice Leave No Trace principals to help us protect park resources over the duration of the shutdown.”

The park will only be conducting snow and ice removal on three park roadways that are considered thoroughfares to local communities: Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC; the Spur between Gatlinburg, TN and Pigeon Forge, TN; and the Foothills Parkway West between Walland, TN and Look Rock for the Top of the World community. Currently, there are several secondary roads closed due to snow and ice. When road conditions improve, these roadways will reopen, but crews will not be plowing them during the shutdown period. Additionally, these roads may close throughout the shutdown period, as needed, for visitor safety due to inclement weather including snow, ice, flooding, downed trees, or rock slides.

The park website will remain accessible, but it will not be updated with any current information. Park social media accounts will be suspended during the shutdown period. Information and images from webcams, including the Newfound Gap webcam, will remain accessible at The webcams may become non-functional during the shutdown if the equipment requires maintenance.

During the winter, the park normally operates campgrounds at Cades Cove and Smokemont. During the partial government shutdown, park staff will not provide maintenance, restrooms, check-in/check-out, or reservation services at these areas. Visitors to these campgrounds will not be asked to leave unless safety concerns or apparent resource damage require such action. Visitors holding campground reservations should be aware that there is no guarantee their reserved campsite will be ready and available should they arrive during the government shutdown. In addition, the park cannot issue any new permits for backcountry camping.

For updates on the shutdown, please visit

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, December 21, 2018

NC State Parks to Ring in New Year with First Day Hikes

North Carolina’s New Year tradition of family adventure, exercise and reconnection with nature continues in 2019 with First Day Hikes throughout the state parks system on Jan. 1. More than 40 guided hikes are scheduled for New Year’s Day, ranging from short “leg-stretchers” to multi-mile rambles, most featuring educational programs led by rangers along the way. All state parks will be open on the holiday. In North Carolina, this popular tradition began at Eno River State Park more than 40 years ago. Eno River’s first day hike alone draws more than 800 visitors.

“First Day Hikes are a time for the whole family or a group of friends to enjoy our state’s outstanding natural resources together,” said Dwayne Patterson, state parks director. “This is a great opportunity to introduce your children or a friend to hiking and start your year off right with fresh air and exercise.”

Each state park and state recreation area puts its own stamp on First Day Hikes. Follow up a hike at Dismal Swamp State Park with hot chocolate and cookies or brave the ice and snow for a hike at Elk Knob for spectacular views. Learn about some of our Piedmont’s flora and fauna at Haw River or discover the fire-dependent ecology of longleaf pine forests at Carvers Creek. Explore Goose Creek’s Spanish moss-draped live oaks or explore Medoc Mountain in the heart of the state.

As an added bonus, visitors involved with the North Carolina State Parks 100-Mile Challenge – to walk, hike, paddle, cycle or otherwise explore 100 miles in the state parks – can add First Day Hikes mileage to their totals. First Day Hikes are also a great time to get started on your own New Year’s resolutions with the 100-mile challenge. Details about the 100-Mile Challenge can be found at

Nationally, First Day Hikes is promoted by America’s State Parks and the National Association of State Park Directors, with more than 400 hikes scheduled in state parks across the country. A complete list of First Day Hikes in North Carolina can be found at

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, December 17, 2018

Who Conceived The Concept of "National Parks"?

Though it's a well-known fact that Yellowstone was set aside as the world's first national park in 1872, who conceived the idea that tracts of land should be set aside for the general public? Yellowstone's establishment as a national park can be traced back to President Abraham Lincoln when he signed a bill granting the Yosemite Valley and the “Mariposa Big Tree Grove” to the state of California, “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation” in perpetuity. Although this legislation was a precursor to the concept of national parks, the Yosemite Grant Act of 1864 wasn't a new idea. Henry David Thoreau made calls for the preservation of wilderness at least a decade earlier. In his essay, Walking, he made a plea for preserving the West before it would inevitably be exploited and despoiled by human migration, asserting that “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” In The Maine Woods he called for the establishment of national preserves, asking, “Why should not we…..have our national preserves…..not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true re-creation?"

However, even Thoreau's call for a national preserve wasn't an original idea. The joint publication of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798 is widely recognized as the birth of Romanticism in English literature. In addition to being close friends, both poets held nature in high regard, and both enjoyed exploring the Lake District, a mountainous region in northwestern England. During his early adult years Wordsworth in particular spent many of his holiday vacations on walking tours, several of which included extended tours of the Lake District. In 1810 he published A Guide through the District of the Lakes, which likely contains the world’s first written call for a national park. In the conclusion of the book Wordsworth argued that the Lake District should be considered “a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.”

If you would like to learn more about how preservationists impacted the sport of hiking, my new book explains the crucial roles played by Wordsworth, Thoreau, Muir, Roosevelt and others. Ramble On: A History of Hiking is now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, December 14, 2018

Appalachian Mountain Club Reviews "Ramble On: A History of Hiking"

Earlier this week the Appalachian Mountain Club published a review of my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking. I want to sincerely thank Priscilla Estes for publishing a glowing and gracious review of the book in the latest edition of Appalachian Footnotes, the quarterly magazine of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Ms. Estes concluded her fairly extensive review by stating: "Doran’s book is a treasure: a well-written, entertaining, knowledgeable, and exactingly researched book on the roots of hiking and hiking clubs, the history of trail-making, the evolution of hiking gear and clothing, and the future of hiking on overcrowded trails. Doran weaves the social, cultural, industrial, and political milieu into this fascinating history. Amusing, astonishing, and sometimes alarming anecdotes, along with photos, footnotes, and an extensive bibliography, make this a fascinating and significant account of the history of hiking."

To read the entire review (on page 6), please click here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Who Established The World's First Hiking Club?

Most writers and historians have credited the Alpine Club of London as being the first mountaineering or “walking club” in the world, and the Alpine Club of Williamstown as being the first hiking club in America. The Alpine Club of London was formed in 1857, during the "Golden Age of Alpinism", for accomplished mountaineers who had successfully climbed a mountain higher than 13,000 feet. Six years later the Alpine Club of Williamstown was founded by Professor Albert Hopkins of Williams College in Massachusetts. Although not widely known, or even properly recognized, the Exploring Circle preceded both of those clubs by several years. The Exploring Circle was founded by Cyrus M. Tracey and three other men from Lynn, Massachusetts in 1850 in order to advance their knowledge of the natural sciences. Although it continued as a very small club, it remained active for more than 30 years. If you would like to learn more about the formation and the significant contributions of these clubs, and many other hiking clubs that formed between the Civil War and World War I, you can read about them in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tennessee State Parks Kick off New Year with First Day Hikes

Tennessee State Parks will once again sponsor free, guided hikes to kick-off the New Year. Each state park will host its own special hike during the first few days of the New Year.

The First Hikes begin on December 31st, New Year's Eve, at Harrison Bay, Pickett State Park and Paris Landing State Park, which will host midnight hikes. The First Hikes will continue throughout New Year’s Day with morning, afternoon and evening hikes.

“Our First Hikes have been very popular and we are excited to continue this series in the New Year,” TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said. “The First Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family.”

From Reelfoot to Henry Horton to Roan Mountain and every state park in between, the 2019 First 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 First Hikes in your area, please click here.

The Tennessee State Parks’ First Hikes of 2019 are part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Update: Man charged with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Sexual Abuse within Blue Ridge Parkway

A federal grand jury has issued a superseding indictment charging Derek Shawn Pendergraft, age 21, with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Sexual Abuse resulting in the death of a coworker within Blue Ridge Parkway. Pendergraft was previously charged with Second Degree Murder after an incident this past summer.

According to allegations contained in the superseding indictment and other court documents, on the evening of July 24, 2018, Pendergraft, who worked at the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway, reported that his co-worker, Sara Ellis, was missing. Court documents allege that when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft stated that he and Ellis got off work shortly after 4:00 pm, and decided to go for a hike on an unnamed trail near the employee housing area of the Pisgah Inn. Pendergraft stated that shortly after starting their hike it began to rain, and the victim decided to return to the housing area while Pendergraft continued to hike. Court documents allege that Pendergraft stated that on his way back, upon reaching the point where he last saw the victim, Pendergraft saw the victim’s umbrella and hat lying on the ground. Pendergraft informed the management staff at the Pisgah Inn that the victim was missing. Rangers and first responders searched the area and located the victim’s body lying off an embankment, near a trail, within Blue Ridge Parkway boundaries.

Court documents state that on the evening of July 25, 2018, the manager of the Pisgah Inn contacted law enforcement and advised that Pendergraft was in her office and had made statements regarding the death of Sara Ellis. Law enforcement arrived at the Pisgah Inn, interviewed Pendergraft, and arrested him shortly thereafter in connection with the victim's murder.

Pendergraft is currently in federal custody. His court hearing on the new charges is set for Friday, December 7, 2018. An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case is being prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina. In making today’s announcement, the US Attorney thanked the National Park Service, the FBI, the SBI, the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office, the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, and the Cruso Fire Department for their respective work and assistance in this case.

Previous case update: August 10, 2018

A federal grand jury has indicted Derek Shawn Pendergraft, age 20, with second degree murder. Special Agents with the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Charlotte Division, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, and US Park Rangers of Blue Ridge Parkway on the investigation.

According to allegations contained in the indictment and criminal complaint filed in federal court, on the evening of July 24, 2018, Pendergraft reported that a co-worker was missing. Both Pendergraft and the person he reported missing were employees of the Pisgah Inn, a concessionaire within the park. The complaint alleges that, when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft stated that he and the other employee both got off work shortly after 4:00 pm and decided to go for a hike on an unnamed trail near the employee housing area of the Pisgah Inn. Shortly after starting their hike it began to rain and the other employee decided to return to the housing area while Pendergraft hiked on. On his way back, upon reaching the point where the two separated, Pendergraft saw the other employee’s umbrella and hat lying on the ground. Pendergraft told investigators that he immediately began to search for the other employee and informed the management staff at the Pisgah Inn that she was missing. US Park Rangers and first responders searched the area and located the missing employee’s body lying off an embankment near a park trail.

Investigators interviewed Pendergraft and took him into custody in connection with the murder. The criminal bill of indictment was returned on August 9 by a federal grand jury sitting in Asheville, NC. The charge of second degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. An indictment is an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The case is being prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Who Made The First Hike in Recorded History?

Undoubtedly there are scores of unknown people throughout the ages that have walked for pleasure or sport. Although the record is sparse, there are a few examples of individuals who took to the woods and mountains prior to the modern era. In all likelihood, the oldest recorded hike for pleasure was taken during the second century when the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, ascended Mount Etna on the island of Sicily for the simple pleasure of seeing the sunrise from its summit. Hadrian ruled the Roman Empire from 117 to 138 CE, and was considered to be one of the “Five Good Emperors.” During his reign Hadrian travelled to nearly every corner of his sprawling empire. During a return trip from Greece in 125 Hadrian made an apparent impromptu detour to Sicily to make his ascent of the 10,922-foot mountain, which is still among the most active volcanoes in the world.

It would be several centuries before another hike for pleasure was recorded in the annals of history. One reason for this extended gap is that people simply didn't have a need to record their simple acts of walking. More importantly, however, mountains were seen as dangerous and mysterious by most Western cultures prior to the fifteenth-century. People from the Middle Ages widely regarded mountains with fear, awe and disgust. Some men even swore affidavits before magistrates that they saw dragons in the mountains. It wasn't until the Renaissance era that fear of mountains began to slowly subside, and men began venturing into the highlands. If you would like to learn more about the early years of hiking, as well as many other stories associated with the history of hiking as it progressed to become one of the world's most popular activities, you can read them in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, December 10, 2018

Something To Remember: N.E.A.R

You've probably heard dozens of times the old adage that you should remain in place if you were ever to become lost or injured in the wilderness. But does this advice makes sense in every situation? Last week I was watching SOS: How to Survive on the Weather Channel. The host, Creek Stewart, introduced a "test" to determine whether you should remain in place, or take steps to self-evacuate. The "test" asks three simple questions. The answer to these questions could save your life one day:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Saturday, December 8, 2018

What Was The Firefall Tradition in Yosemite?

In 1871 James McCauley began construction on the Four Mile Trail, a precipitous footpath that still carries hikers from the Yosemite Valley floor to Glacier Point, while gaining more than 3200 feet along the way. McCauley, who was closely associated with the Mountain House, a hotel built atop Glacier Point in 1873, is most famous for initiating the “firefall” tradition, which lasted almost one hundred years. Although there’s some dispute as to why, when and who originated the firefall, McCauley is generally recognized as being the first person to shove fire over the cliff at Glacier Point, likely in 1871 or 1872. During the first several decades the ritual was conducted on an irregular basis, but by the 1920s it had become a nightly feature during the summer months. According to the June 1934 edition of Yosemite Nature Notes, workers gathered red fir bark from fallen trees during the day, sometimes accumulating as much as a quarter of a cord of wood. Around 7:00 p.m. a bonfire was lit, and then at roughly 9:00 p.m., after the pile had been reduced to a mound of red hot coals, the fire tender would slowly shove the glowing embers over the side of the cliff, thus giving the appearance to everyone in the valley below that a solid stream of fire was falling from the precipice. My new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, chronicles some of the other pyro rituals surrounding the "firefall" tradition, as well as the ironic fate of the Mountain House. And yes, the 1970s soft-rock band is named after the ritual. Ramble On is now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, December 7, 2018


The Great Smoky Mountains just announced that US Hwy 441/Newfound Gap Road from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC will close tonight at 10 pm due to forecast ice and snow. The Blue Ridge Parkway posted this tweet: In preparation of Winter Storm Diego, Parkway Officials anticipate road and facility closures to begin Saturday afternoon. To check the current road status access the real-time road map.

Here's the updated weather forecast for the Smoky Mountains region as of late Friday afternoon - The following is from the National Weather Service:
Cold high pressure along the East Coast will interact with a moist low pressure system moving out of the Gulf of Mexico Saturday night into Sunday. Moderate to heavy precipitation will fall as a mixture of snow, sleet, and freezing rain across the region. Accumulations are expected to be greatest in western North Carolina. Temperatures will be cold enough across northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia for precipitation to begin as a mixture of rain, snow, and sleet in lower elevations, with mainly snow in the mountains. The best lift and moisture will arrive on Saturday night and continue through Sunday, with significant snow accumulations possible.


* WHERE...The mountains and foothills of western North Carolina, along and west of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. The highest snow and sleet accumulations are expected to be at high elevations along the Escarpment. The mountains of far northwest South Carolina, and far northeast Georgia.

* WHAT...Heavy mixed precipitation expected. Most of the precipitation will be snow. Total snow accumulations of 2 to 17 inches are expected, with accumulations increasing from south to north and as elevation increases. Ice accumulations of around a tenth of an inch are also expected.


* WHERE...Southwest Virginia and the mountains of East Tennessee and southwest North Carolina.

* WHAT...Heavy mixed precipitation expected. Total snow accumulations of up to 14 inches and ice accumulations of around one quarter of an inch expected.


* WHEN...From noon Saturday to noon EST Monday.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS...Travel could become very difficult or even impossible. Road conditions could deteriorate as early as Saturday evening, with highway travel continuing to be impacted through early next week. Widespread, prolonged power outages are possible. Tree damage is likely due to the ice. Travel could be nearly impossible. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning commute.

For the latest updates and forecasts, please click here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Tree Removal Work on Spur and Newfound Gap Road

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced temporary, single-lane closures along the Spur and a four-mile section of Newfound Gap Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the Chimney Tops Trailhead beginning Monday, December 11 through Friday, March 15 for tree removal work through the fire-affected areas.

The roadways will remain open, but motorists should expect single-lane closures during daylight hours from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. No work will be allowed on weekends from 12:00 noon on Fridays through Sunday evenings, federal holidays, or between December 21, 2018 and January 6, 2019.

For more information about temporary road closures on all park roads, please visit the park website at For information about temporary road closures on main park roads, follow SmokiesRoadsNPS on twitter or receive text messages directly by texting ‘FollowSmokiesRoadsNPS’ to 40404.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Smokies Hosts Annual Holiday Homecoming at Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host a Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Saturday, December 15, 2018. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on traditional crafts and activities from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Children and adults will have the opportunity to learn about and experience some of the traditions surrounding an Appalachian Christmas.

The visitor center will be decorated for the holiday season including an exhibit on Christmas in the mountains. Hot apple cider and cookies will be served on the porch with a fire in the fireplace. In addition, the park will host the monthly acoustic old-time jam session from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

“Musical expression was and still is often a part of daily life in the southern mountains, and mountain music is strongly tied to the Smokies history and culture,” said Supervisory Ranger Lynda Doucette. “We would like to invite musicians to play and our visitors to join us in singing traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs as was done in old days.”

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road, two miles north of Cherokee, NC. For more information call the visitor center at 828-497-1904. All activities are free and open to the public. Generous support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Smokies To Host Annual Festival of Christmas Past Program

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host the annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration on Saturday, December 8, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Sugarlands Visitor Center. The event, sponsored in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, is free to the public.

The festival will include mountain music, traditional shape note singing, mountain craft demonstrations, and a living history walk. Visitors can experience these traditions through hands-on activities including make-and-take craft stations. Hot apple cider will also be served throughout the day.

“Around Christmas time, people gathered in churches, homes, and schools where they celebrated the holiday through music, storytelling, and crafts,” said North District Resource Education Supervisor Stephanie Sutton. “The Festival of Christmas Past allows us to pause and remember some of these traditions.”

The popular Christmas Memories Walk will be held at 11:30 a.m. Costumed interpreters will lead a short walk from the visitor center and talk about life in the mountains during the holidays. Through this living history program, visitors will experience the spirit of the season in the mountains during the early days.

The full schedule of events at Sugarlands Visitor Center includes:

9:30 a.m. Traditional Shape Note Singing
11:15 a.m. Winter in the Natural World Program
12:00 noon Music by the Lost Mill String Band
12:45 p.m. “The Night before Christmas” Reading
1:00 p.m. Cherokee Storytelling with Kathi Littlejohn
2:00 p.m. Music by Boogertown Gap
2:45 p.m. Traditional Reading of the Christmas Story
3:00 p.m. Caroling/Sing Along

10:00-1:00 Wreath-making
10:00-2:00 Craft and Trade Demonstrations
11:30 a.m. Christmas Memories Walk
12:00-2:00 Children’s Crafts

Sugarlands Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road, two miles south of Gatlinburg, TN. For more information, call the visitor center at 865-436-1291.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Why Were Locomotive Bells Placed Atop Mountain Passes in Glacier National Park?

Did you know that locomotive bells were once placed atop four mountain passes in Glacier National Park? Why were they placed there, who pushed the idea, and what became of them? If you would like to learn more about this fascinating time period during the early years of Glacier National Park, as well as many other stories associated with the history of hiking, you can find them in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Kyndley Cooler Backpack

The following is a guest blog from Kyndley Backpacks:

With more than 800 miles of maintained trails, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a Hiker’s Utopia. There are trails for every level of skill, from an afternoon walk to a serious camping experience in the backcountry. Hikers with different skills and abilities will easily find an ideal route to explore. Hiking is certainly not the only activity you can take part in, as the park also offers camping, cycling, fishing and horseback riding as well. And if you don't feel like hiking to the ridge of a mountain or trying to catch a big one, you can simply sit down and take-in the beautiful mountain sunsets that the park has to offer.

Some of the most popular hiking destinations in the Smokies are the beautiful waterfalls, which can be found along many streams and rivers, with a refreshing cool breeze and rewarding photo opportunities. More than 2,000 miles of streams meander throughout the Smoky Mountains, and the waterfalls they adorn range from small sparkling falls to large roaring waterfalls. One of the most photogenic is Abrams Falls. Although it's only 20 meters high, the beauty of the large volume of water and the depth of the pool compensate for its low height. Another waterfall that hikers don't want to miss is Mingo Falls. Mingo Falls is actually just outside the park, in the Cherokee Indian Reservation. At 120 feet, it's one of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in the Southern Appalachians.

The endless panoramic views are another attraction for adventurous hikers. From the rocky cliffs overlooking valleys of colorful flowers, natural arches, century-old trees and views of the seemingly endless mountains, there are so many things to explore and enjoy when travelling in the Great Smoky Mountains.

After a hectic and active week, I was looking for an environment where I could find some peace and quiet, and since I'm not only a nature lover but also love hiking, no other place came in mind but the incredible experience I had in the Smokies the first time I visited. With its numerous outdoor activities, like biking, camping, wildlife watching, tubing and white water rafting, and most especially its majestic mountains for hiking, I couldn’t resist the temptation of another mind blowing experience. And not only were these factors the main driving force behind my reason for choosing the Great Smoky Mountains over others, but I was also impatient to use my newly purchased cooler backpack. This cooler backpack has a variety of features which makes it the ideal bag for hiking or any outdoor activities.

The Kyndley cooler backpack is designed for hiking and other outdoor activities and has 2 compartments. This allowed me to carry all I needed for my 2 days of hiking. With its 2 compartments, and it's ample space, I conveniently placed my laptop and camera at ease inside the cooler backpack. Keeping in mind I was going for 2 days, I was looking for a bag with enough space so that I could put everything I needed for my hike. With the cooler backpack, 2 compartments, and its numerous durable side pockets, I took along with me enough food and energy drink, a flashlight, and all of my personal needs to last me even longer. The interior of the backpack is covered with high density insulation material. It surprised me that even after about 16 hours the energy drinks that I had put in the cooler backpack were still very fresh. This went a long way in helping me during my two days in the Smoky Mountains; as such I had no worries for fresh drinks and warm food even for a plus day. The lightweight cooler backpack is built with a highly-resistant material, and is well-designed to facilitate hiking and make it more enjoyable. Despite all that I had stuffed in my cooler backpack, I was able to carry it throughout my trip, feeling less tired with the load well balanced. The waist and chest straps allowed me to easily adjust the pack to fit properly.

The cooler backpack is built with a polyester material which can withstand severe weather conditions when you're out in the wilderness. Its thick layer of insulated cotton helped to prevent leakage from my snacks once they started defrosting. The cooler backpack went a long way in helping me to achieve my objectives during my trip. With the load well-balanced, it felt lighter carrying it around. For more information on these amazing cooler backpacks, please visit:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Friends of the Smokies: DOUBLE your dollars on #GivingTuesday

Friends of the Smokies announced this morning that you can DOUBLE YOUR DOLLARS TODAY! When you donate through Facebook on #GivingTuesday, your gift is automatically matched!

How does it work? Facebook and PayPal have teamed up this #GivingTuesday to match up to $7 million in donations to charities through Facebook starting at 8am today. You don't have to do any extra steps, just donate on our Facebook page today, Tuesday, November 27th. But act fast! That $7 million will be snatched up quickly! Start your own fundraiser!

You can start your own #GivingTuesday fundraiser for Friends of the Smokies on Facebook right now -- it's easy! Click Here to Get Started. Share why you love the Smokies, set a goal, and invite your friends! Whatever you raise today is MATCHED automatically! Just click the big DONATE button at the top of our Facebook page! Help us spread the word! Forward this email to your friends or post on social media saying why you support the Smokies! ‌

Even if you can't donate, your friends and family won't want to miss the opportunity! #GivingTuesday No Facebook? No Problem! Click here to donate online through our secure website. You can also give them a call at 800-845-5665, or mail a check to

Friends of the Smokies
PO Box 1660
Kodak, TN 37764

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Profound Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Hiking

Arguably the single most important event to spur the development of hiking and walking for pleasure was the Industrial Revolution. The social changes brought about by industrial development were profound: from the rise of great cities that quickly became islands of filth, dirty air and overcrowding; to the creation of the factory system that resulted in long hours at monotonous jobs in harsh working conditions. From the factory system the labor movement would evolve, which eventually led to higher incomes, shorter work weeks and the introduction of vacation time. Around this same timeframe industrial societies saw significant improvements in transportation, which gave people much greater freedom of movement. The rise of great cities also spurred demand for more wood products, which resulted in large swathes of forests being cut to fulfill those demands. The Industrial Revolution also gave rise to Romanticism and Transcendentalism, as well as club culture. My new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, explains how all of these trends helped to shape the sport of hiking from the late 1700s through the World War II era. The book is now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Saturday, November 24, 2018

John Muir Wasn't Much of a Camper

John Muir wasn't much of a camper. This may come as a surprise to many outdoor enthusiasts. Muir is obviously well-known as a naturalist, preservationist, and as an activist. He's also widely known for his extended hiking adventures and climbing exploits in the California Sierras, and in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Despite the countless hours he spent wandering in the backcountry, Muir apparently spent very little time trying to hone his camping skills. After his death in 1914, C. Hart Merriam published a memorial to his longtime friend in the January 1917 edition of the Sierra Club Bulletin. In the article the renowned ornithologist recalled some of the adventures he had shared with Muir over the years. Though fully acknowledging the wealth of information Muir had collected on the natural world, Merriam thought very little of his camping skills, stating that “in spite of having spent a large part of his life in the wilderness, he knew less about camping than almost any man I have ever camped with.” In fact, Muir’s habit of not packing the proper gear almost cost him his life on several occasions. You can read about one such incident on Mount Shasta, as well as Muir's important contributions to hiking in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, November 23, 2018

Who Was The First Leader in Outdoor Gear and Apparel?

Long before they used scantily-clad teen models in controversial advertising campaigns, Abercrombie and Fitch was the preeminent outdoor goods retailer in America. Founded in 1892 in New York City, the merchant retailer began selling high-end outdoor gear and apparel through expansive catalogs in 1903. During the early twentieth century the retailer outfitted several famous explorers and adventurers, including Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Peary, Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Richard Byrd, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

By 1917 the growing retailer moved into a 12-story building in Midtown Manhattan. Atop the building was a luxurious log cabin which served as a townhouse for Ezra Fitch. This lofty cabin would play an important role in the history of hiking in the Northeast. If you would like to learn more about the gear and apparel Abercrombie and Fitch sold through their first catalogs, as well as the crucial role the log cabin played in the development of the newly proposed Appalachian Trail, check out my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap Will Remain Open This Winter

The Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will remain open this winter with loops A and B available for camping. Loop A does not have electricity while Loop B provides 20, 30 and 50 amp hook-ups. Water is centrally located at the dumping station near the campground entrance station.

“Enhancing recreational opportunities for park visitors is a priority and creating the opportunity to enjoy Cumberland Gap National Historical Park through all of its seasons can be a unique and exciting way to explore the park” shares Acting Superintendent Mark Dowdle. “Our management of the campground this winter will employ an ‘adaptive management’ strategy meaning that the campground may close for a short period of time during severe inclement or very cold weather” Dowdle further explains. Should the campground be closed due to severe weather, updates will be posted to the park's website and facebook page.

The campground is located on Hwy 58 in Virginia two miles east of the Hwy 25E and 58 intersection. The camping fee for sites without electricity is $14.00 per night. Sites with electricity are $20.00 per night. For additional information, please call the park visitor center at 606-246-1075.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Becoming a Mazama Wasn't Easy

One of the first hiking clubs in the Pacific Northwest held their inaugural meeting in one of the most extreme locations imaginable. On June 12, 1894 organizers for the newly proposed Mazamas club published an advertisement in the classifieds of the Morning Oregonian announcing that a meeting would take place during the following month atop Mt. Hood - the highest peak in Oregon. The ad proclaimed that the meeting would include a “typical mountain banquet.” It was also made clear that any prospective hiker who wished to become a charter member of this new group was required to attend this organizing meeting. On July 17th more than 300 people responded to the advertisement by arriving at one of two designated spots along the flanks of the 11,249-foot mountain. Two days later a total of 193 climbers reached the summit, of which 105 would become charter members. Before descending from the peak the new organization released three homing pigeons that announced to friends in Portland that the club had been successfully established. The Mazamas, like many of the first hiking clubs, had some bizarre and highly stringent criteria for joining. Many of those same clubs also had some very quirky traditions, many of which are detailed in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, November 19, 2018

National Park Service Announces Entrance Fee-Free Days for 2019

The National Park Service will waive all entrance fees on five days in 2019. The five entrance fee-free days for 2019 will be:

• Monday, January 21 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
• Saturday, April 20 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
• Sunday, August 25 – National Park Service Anniversary
• Saturday, September 28 – National Public Lands Day
• Monday, November 11 – Veterans Day

“The entrance fee-free days hosted by the National Park Service are special opportunities to invite visitors, volunteers and veterans to celebrate some important moments for our parks and opportunities for service in those parks,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith.

The National Park System includes more than 85 million acres and includes national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national seashores. There is at least one national park site in every U.S. state.

Last year, 331 million people visited national parks spending $18.2 billion, which supported 306,000 jobs across the country and had a $35.8 billion impact on the U.S. economy.

Only 115 of the 418 parks managed by the National Park Service charge entrance fees regularly, with fees ranging from $5 to $35. The other 303 national parks do not have entrance fees. The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

The annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. There are also free or discounted passes available for senior citizens, current members of the U.S. military, families of fourth grade students, and disabled citizens.

Other federal land management agencies offering their own fee-free days in 2019 include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Invention of Carrarmato: Almost All Hikers Still Wear Them

A deadly climbing accident in 1935 led to the invention of one of the most important pieces of hiking gear - one that nearly every hiker benefits from to this day. While descending a mountain in the Italian Alps an experienced climbing team was caught in a severe snowstorm. Unable to descend along the icy rock walls, six of the climbers died from exhaustion, exposure and frostbite. Distraught over the loss of his friends, the guide attempted to solve the problem the climbers encountered during that expedition with the invention of "Carrarmato", an Italian word that means “tank tread". The name of the guide and inventor, Vitale Bramani, offers a clue as to the name of the company and the more common name for the product that most hikers wear today. If you would like to learn more about this story, and many others associated with the history of hiking, you can read them in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, November 16, 2018

Study: It's not trails that disturb forest birds, but the people on them

A new study has recently been published in Frontiers, an "Open Science platform", that you may also find interesting:

The first study to disentangle the effect of forest trails from the presence of humans shows the number of birds, as well as bird species, is lower when trails are used on a more regular basis. This is also the case when trails have been used for many years, suggesting that forest birds do not get used to this recreational activity. Published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the finding suggests the physical presence of trails has less of an impact on forest birds than how frequently these recreational paths are used by people. To minimize the impact on these forest creatures, people should avoid roaming from designated pathways.

"We show that forest birds are quite distinctly affected by people and that this avoidance behavior did not disappear even after years of use by humans. This suggests not all birds habituate to humans and that a long-lasting effect remains," says Dr Yves Bötsch, lead author of this study, based at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Sempach, Switzerland and affiliated with Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University Zurich, Switzerland. "This is important to show because pressure on natural habitats and nature protection areas is getting stronger and access bans are often ignored."

Many outdoor activities rely on infrastructure, with roads and trails being most common. Previous research has shown that trails cause habitat loss and fragmentation, where larger areas of habitat are dissected into smaller pieces thereby separating wildlife populations. However it has been difficult to say for certain whether it is the presence of trails or humans that have the most impact on forest birds.

Bötsch explains, "Previous studies provide conflicting results about the effects of trails on birds, with some studies showing negative effects while others do not. We thought differences in the intensity of human use may cause this discrepancy, which motivated us to disentangle the effect of trails from the presence of humans."

The researchers visited four forests with a similar habitat, such as the types of trees, but which differed in the levels of recreation. They recorded all birds heard and seen at points near to the trails, as well as within the forest itself, and found that a lower number of birds were recorded in the forests used more frequently by humans. In addition, they noticed certain species were more affected than others.

"Species with a high sensitivity, measured by flight initiation distance (the distance at which a bird exposed to an approaching human flies away), showed stronger trail avoidance, even in rarely frequented forests. These sensitive species were raptors, such as the common buzzard and Eurasian sparrowhawk, as well as pigeons and woodpeckers," says Bötsch.

He continues, "Generally it is assumed that hiking in nature does not harm wildlife. But our study shows even in forests that have been used recreationally for decades, birds have not habituated to people enough to outweigh the negative impact of human disturbance."

Bötsch concludes with some advice, which may help to minimize the adverse effects on forest birds by people who use forests recreationally.

"We believe protected areas with forbidden access are necessary and important, and that new trails into remote forest areas should not be promoted. Visitors to existing forest trails should be encouraged to adhere to a "stay on trail" rule and refrain from roaming from designated pathways."

Te original research article can be found here:

The corresponding author, Dr. Yves Bötsch from the Swiss Ornithological Institute, can be contacted here:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Smokies Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mountain Astronomical Society, will offer a stargazing program in Cades Cove on Saturday, November 17, 2018 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Experienced astronomers and numerous telescopes will be on hand to provide a discovery of the fall sky’s position of stars, galaxies, and constellations, including the Milky Way. In case of rain or cloud cover where night skies are not visible, the program will be cancelled.

“National Park areas often offer a wonderful opportunity to stargaze,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Parks across the country monitor and manage for natural night sky conditions in much the same way as we do to protect our air and water. Visitors are often amazed at the number of stars that can be seen simply by entering into the natural darkness of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

All participants should park at the orientation shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road. A park ranger will walk with the group one-third of a mile to a nearby field to the viewing location. As the Cades Cove Loop Road is closed at sunset to motor vehicles, participants are not allowed to drive to the viewing site or to park within the Loop Road.

Those planning to attend should wear comfortable walking shoes, dress warmly, and bring a flashlight. Participants are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket for sitting, along with binoculars which can be used for stargazing. To preserve the integrity of the telescope lenses, smoking is not allowed near them. Carpooling is strongly encouraged as parking is limited.

The program is subject to postponement due to rain or cloud cover. If the weather is questionable, call the day of the event to confirm that the program will take place at 865-448-4104 or follow the park’s Facebook page at

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Rainbow Falls Trail Reopens Today

After being partially closed over the last two years, the Rainbow Falls Trail will officially reopen today. A reopening ceremony will take place today at 10:00 am. Afterwards, the trail will be open to the public. Hikers will be able to take the trail to Rainbow Falls, or all the way up to the summit of Mt. LeConte.

The park trail crew rehabilitated targeted segments along the trail to improve visitor safety, stabilize eroding trail sections, and repair trail tread damaged by high winds and fire during the November 2016 wildfires. The crew installed over 350 steps through steep, narrow corridors, created nearly 600 feet of elevated trail surfaces, installed nearly 400 drainage elements, and placed over 1,000 native stones along the trail to create a durable, sustainable trail corridor. The much-needed rehabilitation also eliminated numerous, visitor-created side trails totaling over one mile in length that had resulted in eroded, off-trail paths creating confusion for hikers.

“The craftsmanship exhibited by the park trail crew is extraordinary,” said Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan. “They create durable, functional trail corridors that support the high-volume hiker use of the Smokies in a manner that also reflects and protects the natural landscape.”

Numerous individuals partnered with the park trail crew to aid in rehabilitation efforts. Over the course of the two-year project, 44 American Conservation Experience youth interns contributed over 41,360 hours of service and 162 Volunteers contributed 1,576 hours of service.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends have donated over $1,500,000 to support the program, in part through the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park including the recently restored Rainbow Falls Trail, Alum Cave Trail, Chimney Tops Trail, and Forney Ridge Trail. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations.

In 2019, the Trail Forever crew will begin a 2-year rehabilitation project on the popular Trillium Gap Trail among other critical trail work across the park on trails such as the Deep Creek Trail, Rough Fork Trail, Smokemont Trail, and Noah Bud Ogle Trail. Due to the rehabilitation process on Trillium Gap Trail, a full closure will be necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The Trillium Gap Trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 6, 2019 through November 14, 2019, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly. The trail will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

For more information about the Trails Forever program, please visit

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Tanbark Tunnel Closure

In the midst of multiple weather related closures at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, National Park Service officials announce that Tanbark Tunnel at Milepost 374.4 is closed to all uses until further notice due to a piece of the tunnel’s natural rock ceiling coming loose.

The National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration are in the process of assessing the issue and will determine what repairs are needed. To effectively route Parkway visitors away from the tunnel, the closure will extend from Milepost 355.3 at N.C. Route 128 to Milepost 375.6 at Ox Creek Road.

The detached rock fragment, discovered during this weekend’s weather related closure, is approximately four feet by three feet and up to 12 inches thick. The rock has not fallen to the road and is currently being held by a steel netting and rock bolt safety system installed on the tunnel ceiling for this very reason, to catch any falling rock. However, due to the significant weight of the rock, and the stress it is currently putting on the safety system, repairs must be made prior to re-opening to visitors.

Weather permitting, Mt. Mitchell State Park will remain open and accessible while tunnel repairs are underway. Specific information regarding daily closures, related to Tanbark Tunnel, weather, or for any other reason, is available on the Parkway’s Real Time Road Map, found at .

Ramble On: A History of Hiking