Appalachian Trail Conservancy Response to the Fatality at Ashby Gap, VA

Sunday, August 26, 2018

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The following is a statement from Laura Belleville, Vice President of Conservation and Trail Programs for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy:
“On August 21st, a 71-year old man hiking the Appalachian Trail, one mile north of Ashby Gap, Virginia, was fatally struck by a falling six-inch tree limb. Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and family.

While falling limbs and trees can potentially present a safety hazard to hikers walking on the Trail, the chances of getting struck are extremely low. For backpackers, it is worth noting that care should be exercised when selecting a campsite.

Hikers should inspect their surroundings by 100 feet and look up for disease and damaged trees or limbs. Trees and limbs are also more susceptible to falling during a windy day, during a flood, heavy snow, or other unusual conditions.

We appreciate the prompt response of the rescuers from Clarke County, and we hope that incidents like this never occur again.”

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Telethon Raises $210,000 Towards New Radio System in Smokies

Thursday, August 23, 2018

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Friends of the Smokies collected $210,525 in donations Wednesday during its 24th annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon from hundreds of callers, online donations, and support from sponsors Dollywood, Mast General Store, Pilot Flying J, and SmartBank.

Since 1995, Friends of the Smokies’ telethons have raised more than $3.9 million in support of America’s most-visited national park. The telethon was broadcast live Wednesday night on WBIR in Knoxville, TN, WLOS in Asheville, NC, and on Facebook.

“This community has always come together to meet the needs of the national park in their own backyard and this night was no exception,” said Cassius Cash, Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), whose wife and daughter volunteered during the broadcast. “Our friends and neighbors on both sides of the mountains pledged their support – even my daughter’s high school teacher called in to make a donation. We are so thankful to have Friends of the Smokies in our corner.”

Donations made Wednesday night will support the organization’s 25th Anniversary Signature Project to upgrade the park’s emergency radio systems. The $2.5 million effort will leverage $1.25 million in federal funds and grants to match every donation made to Friends of the Smokies. The state-of-the-art radio upgrades will allow rangers to respond more quickly and effectively to emergency situations in the park, keep more than 11 million annual visitors safe, and communicate with emergency services in surrounding communities. In addition to this capital campaign project, Friends of the Smokies will provide more than $1.2 million in annual support to the national park.

During Wednesday’s program, SmartBank presented a check for $15,000 and Sugarland Cellars presented a $16,000 check to support the fundraising efforts. Justice Gary Wade, Friends of the Smokies’ founding board chair and dean of Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law, pledged $5,000 on behalf of the school during the broadcast.

Friends of the Smokies’ president Jim Hart thanked the generous donors who called and donated online, “To have a record-breaking fundraiser during our 25th anniversary is truly a testament to the generosity of this community. We are so grateful for the tremendous support as we close in on our $2.5 million goal.”

Matching telethon donations can still be made online at or by calling the TN office of Friends of the Smokies at 800-845-5665 or the NC office at 828-452- 0720.

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USDA Forest Service Announces New Strategy for Improving Forest Conditions

Monday, August 20, 2018

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (USFS) recently announced a new strategy for managing catastrophic wildfires and the impacts of invasive species, drought, and insect and disease epidemics.

Specifically, a new report titled Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-based investment Strategy outlines the USFS’s plans to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities for targeted treatments in areas with the highest payoffs.

“On my trip to California this week, I saw the devastation that these unprecedented wildfires are having on our neighbors, friends and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires. We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands. This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfire from reaching this level.”

Both federal and private managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them catastrophic wildfires, invasive species, degraded watersheds, and epidemics of forest insects and disease. The conditions fueling these circumstances are not improving. Of particular concern are longer fire seasons, the rising size and severity of wildfires, and the expanding risk to communities, natural resources, and firefighters.

“The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks. We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire in the right place at the right time, to mitigate them.”

A key component of the new strategy is to prioritize investment decisions on forest treatments in direct coordination with states using the most advanced science tools. This allows the USFS to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that protect communities and create resilient forests.

The USFS will also build upon the authorities created by the 2018 Omnibus Bill, including new categorical exclusions for land treatments to improve forest conditions, new road maintenance authorities, and longer stewardship contracting in strategic areas. The agency will continue streamlining its internal processes to make environmental analysis more efficient and timber sale contracts more flexible.

The Omnibus Bill also includes a long-term “fire funding fix,” starting in FY 2020, that will stop the rise of the 10-year average cost of fighting wildland fire and reduce the likelihood of the disruptive practice of transferring funds from Forest Service non-fire programs to cover firefighting costs. The product of more than a decade of hard work, this bipartisan solution will ultimately stabilize the agency’s operating environment.

Finally, because rising rates of firefighter fatalities in recent decades have shifted the USFS’s approach to fire response, the report emphasizes the agency’s commitment to a risk-based response to wildfire.

The complete strategy is available at Photographs of the event are available at:

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Service reopens comment period on new management rule for red wolves in North Carolina

Thursday, August 16, 2018

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period on a proposed rule to replace the existing regulations governing the nonessential experimental population of the red wolf under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On June 28, 2018, the Service published in the Federal Register a proposed rule that would remove management efforts from existing private lands and instead focus continuing efforts on certain public lands in Hyde and Dare counties, North Carolina. The new proposal is based on a comprehensive four-year evaluation of the northeast North Carolina non-essential experimental population (NC NEP) of red wolves designated under section 10(j) of the ESA. On July 10, 2018, a public meeting was held in Manteo, North Carolina, that drew about 70 people, who shared comments and perspective about the proposal. A 30-day comment period on the proposal closed on July 30, 2018.

The Service is reopening the comment period to allow the public more time to review and comment on the proposed rule. Comments already submitted need not be resubmitted, as they will be fully considered in preparation of the final rule. The Service seeks a variety of information in a number of areas including, but not limited to: the NC NEP’s contribution to red wolf recovery; ideas and strategies for promoting tolerance of red wolves on private property outside the NC NEP management area; and ecological, agricultural and socioeconomic effects of the proposed 10(j) rule. A complete list of information the Service is seeking can be found in the proposed rule.

For more information, including a copy of the proposed rule, visit the red wolf species profile.

The public comment period for the proposed new rule will be reopened for an additional 15 days beginning August 13, 2018 and will close on August 28, 2018. The Service will accept comments received or postmarked on or before August 28, 2018.

You may submit written comments on this proposed rule by one of the following methods:

1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal. In the Search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the Proposed Rules box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Electronic comments should be submitted by 11:59 p.m. EST on August 28, 2018.

2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

All comments are posted on, including any personal information you provide. To increase efficiency in downloading comments, groups providing comments from large numbers of people should submit their comments in an excel file.

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NC National Forests Propose Required Bear Canisters for Overnight Campers on Appalachian Trail and in Panthertown

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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Visitors to the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests have experienced an increasing number of encounters with black bears exhibiting bold behavior over food in the past few years.

Most encounters are at places where the public repeatedly camps in the general forest rather than at campgrounds that are equipped with bear-proof trash cans. Incidents include bears taking food and backpacks, damaging tents, and staying near inhabited campsites for hours.

“Bears are very reluctant to give up an easy food source and they have not been discouraged by humans banging pots, blowing air horns, and yelling,” said Nantahala District Wildlife Biologist Johnny Wills. “Using bear-resistant food containers is the surest way to deny bears access to human food.”

The Forest Service has increased public awareness efforts by posting material at trail heads, on websites, and on social media in an effort to educate visitors on the importance of eliminating human behaviors that lead bears to see people as a source of food. However, potentially serious encounters by bears have continued to increase. Close interactions with bears must be reduced for the sake of the bears and for the safety of visitors.

The US Forest Service is seeking input on a proposal to require bear resistant food containers for all overnight campers on the Appalachian Trail located on the National Forests in North Carolina and in Panthertown on the Nantahala Ranger District. The Appalachian Trail passes through the Appalachian, Nantahala, Cheoah, and Tusquitee Ranger Districts.

Written comments should be submitted by September 19, 2018. Comments can be emailed to or mailed to Johnny Wills, Nantahala RD Wildlife Biologist, Nantahala Ranger District, 90 Sloan Road, Franklin, NC 28734.

The Forest Service also asks that you be mindful of your sanitation and hygiene in the back country. Bears locate food sources by smell as well as sight. You can protect yourself and protect bears by storing trash and food in safe locations during your visit. Keep scented items in bear-proof canisters, inside trailers, and in the trunk of a vehicle. Do not leave food or coolers unattended. Never store scented items in your tent, including toothpaste, deodorant, beverages, or snacks. Pick up all garbage around your site, including inside fire rings, grills, and tables and properly store with your food or dispose in a bear-proof trash receptacle.

If a bear is observed nearby, pack up food and trash immediately and vacate the area. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts or making noise. If a bear approaches, do not run, but move away slowly and get into a vehicle or building. In the event of a bear attack, do not play dead. Try to fight back and act aggressively. Carrying EPA registered bear spray is another way to combat bear attacks.

Report bear encounters to your local ranger district office. For more information, see our website at

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Man formally indicted with Second Degree Murder on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Monday, August 13, 2018

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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.

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Smokies' Natural Resource Condition Assessment has been Published

Friday, August 10, 2018

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The following was posted on the park Facebook page earlier today:
This park is chock full of natural resources. But how can you find quick information about them? Well, Resource Management staff along with partners from Western Carolina University have collaborated to write the park’s Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA). It documents current conditions and trends of the park’s natural resources, lists information gaps and identifies factors that are influencing the condition of our natural resources. The report assesses 52 natural resources using the most recent data and best available science.

You can access the report here:

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Chimney Rock Park Closed For At least 10 days For Road Repairs

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

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The Chimney Rock section of Chimney Rock State Park closed to the public yesterday, August 6, when the N.C. Department of Transportation began work to restore a one-lane washout on the main entrance road in the park.

The park was closed in late May when heavy rains from subtropical storm Alberto caused a portion of the road leading into the park and a retaining wall on the upper parking lot to collapse. The park was closed for nearly two weeks at that time while state park rangers, Chimney Rock Management associates and contractors worked to clean up fallen trees, power lines and mudslides along the road and trails. The park reopened to guests Saturday, June 9. Since that time, staff have had to direct visitors through the one-lane area where the road collapsed.

N.C. Department of Transportation maintenance crews from Rutherford County will perform an emergency slide repair in the state park. Officials expect crews will need at least 10 days beginning Monday to rebuild the road. This project will restore both lanes of Chimney Rock Park Road when completed.

“This project is typical of repair work that we perform regularly,” Rutherford County Maintenance Engineer Matt Taylor said. “We’re essentially rebuilding a portion of the roadway slope that failed during recent storms.”

Work to fix the retaining wall on the upper parking lot is still in the planning phase. No timeline for this project has been announced. For the latest updates and news about the park reopening, visit or call 828-625-9611.

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Everything you need to know about online visa services

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The following is a guest blog from

You probably must have heard that more and more countries around the world adopt the electronic visa system. What does that mean? It means that instead of going to an embassy to apply for a visa, you can get one online. Generally, the process is entirely online, and it can save you a lot of time and effort. However, many of you have no idea where to get started. Do you do a simple Google search to find the best service? Or do you do some research on the matter and find the best online visa service? The choice is yours, but the best course of action is to always do your homework.

One of the best things about online visa services is that the requirements are easy to meet. You do not need a lot of documents. Most countries require only a valid passport. Of course, visa policies differ from state to state, but any online visa service will let you know precisely what you need. Even so, an embassy will always ask more, which is why most people who travel choose to apply for an electronic visa as opposed to going to an embassy. It is pretty clear why.

Another reason why people choose an online visa service is the lack of effort it implies. Getting a visa is effortless. Once you see that all the requirements are met, you can just fill in an application form online and be done with it. Usually, such an application form can take up to 20 minutes to complete, but that is only if the form is accompanied by a personal questionnaire. If not, you can break that time in half. Plus, the application is unambiguous, there is minimal information necessary, and in case you need assistance, most online visa services provide 24/7 support.

What about the processing time and cost?
Everything that happens online is fast. That is the basic rule of the thumb. It is the whole beauty of the internet. Electronic visas are no different. There are services out there that give you multiple choices when it comes to waiting time, and sometimes, your visa can be available in less than 24 hours, which is something unheard of if you apply through an embassy. Of course, it depends on the country issuing the visa, but even so, getting a visa in only a few days is something to be desired, don’t you think.

As for the cost, you would expect electronic visas to be expensive. After all, you basically hire someone else to apply for a visa in your stead. You just provide the necessary information and documents, and a third party submits your application to the issuing authority. As you can imagine, the cost is higher when you apply online than when you go to an embassy, but not by much. Plus, some people need to weigh in their time and effort in the equation. If you do that as well, you will see that you actually lose less and win more. After all, how much money you lose if you need to go to a consulate on a work day and need to take a trip there? Surely you can see the point. As for a precise cost, that depends on the country you request the visa for. Not all services come with the same fee.

You would think that there is much more to tell about electronic visas, right? But there is not. That is pretty much it. It is a growing system with more and more countries joining every year. We would like to believe that in a few years all states will include the e-visa in their visa policy. That way embassies will become obsolete as far as visas are concerned. Wouldn’t that be a treat?

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Inaugural Smokies Stomp Raises Over $60,000 to Support National Park

Monday, August 6, 2018

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Community members from across Western North Carolina gathered for the inaugural Smokies Stomp Barn Party in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) on Saturday, July 21st. The event raised more than $60,000 to fund park projects and featured a ‘fund-a-cause’ for Parks As Classrooms, which provides hands-on curriculum-based environmental education programming for thousands of WNC schoolchildren.

“At Friends of the Smokies, we want every child to have the opportunity to experience the wonder and joy found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said board director Laura Webb. “The Smokies Stomp was an astounding testament to our community’s commitment to that goal and we are grateful for the generosity of all who attended.”

Representative John Ager (NC-115) and his wife Annie, owners of Hickory Nut Gap Farm, called the square dance with live music provided by both NewTown and the Bonafide Band during the evening. GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash, Representative Chuck McGrady (NC-117) and former Congressman and Friends of the Smokies board director Heath Shuler also attended the event.

The Smokies Stomp Barn Party is held in Fairview, NC at Hickory Nut Gap Farm and is presented by Wandering Rose Travels and Webb Investment Services with support from Blue Ghost Brewing, Merrill Lynch, Beverly-Hanks, Biltmore Wines, Blue Ridge Printing, Wilcox Travel and Tours, Insurance Service of Asheville, Navitat Canopy Adventures, Roberts and Stevens Attorneys at Law, White Labs, Wildland Trekking, Dan and Deener Matthews, Chase and Clary Pickering, Rob and Meridith Powell, and Jim and Jan Hart.

Photos from the event and more information can be found at

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Explore the Stars at Shenandoah National Park’s Annual Night Sky Festival

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

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Shenandoah National Park will celebrate our connection to the universe during the third annual Night Sky Festival August 10-12, 2018. Park rangers, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Solar System Ambassadors, amateur astronomers and a veteran NASA astronaut will be on hand to encourage visitors to value dark skies through a variety of special programs and activities. Programs will take place at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 42.5 on Skyline Drive), Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51), Skyland Amphitheater (mile 42.5), Big Meadows Amphitheater (mile 51) and Loft Mountain Amphitheater (mile 79.5).

Ranger-led programs will focus on night-active animals, recent discoveries in space, and constellations. There will be opportunities for stargazing, constellation tours, safe solar viewing through a telescope, a planet walk, Junior Ranger activities, and more.

Delaware North, the park concessioner, will sponsor presentations by two guest speakers on Saturday, August 11, in Byrd Visitor Center auditorium. Veteran astronaut and space scientist Tom Jones will present “Beyond Earth: Humanity’s Future in Space” at 4:30 p.m. and ”Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Journey” at 7:00 p.m. NASA Solar System Ambassador Greg Redfern will present a program, “Shenandoah Skies and the Perseids” at 8:00 p.m. and again at 9:00 p.m., before heading out into the Big Meadow to view the night skies and watch for meteors (weather permitting).

NASA Solar System Ambassador and Park Ranger Kristin Hendershot will present “How’s the Weather in Space?” at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, August 11, at Byrd Visitor Center, and also “Meteor Showers: Hot and Cold” at Big Meadows Amphitheater at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, August 12.

Amateur astronomers invite visitors to view the heavens through their telescopes at the “Night Skies” program starting at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 10 in the Big Meadow (mile 51). Visitors may join them again starting at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday to stargaze and view the Perseid Meteor Shower. Outdoor night sky viewing events depend on clear skies.

The complete schedule for the Night Sky Festival can be found on the park’s website at:

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