Smokies Seeks Volunteers For Trail Work

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

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Interested in volunteer opportunities in the park? The Great Smoky Mountains is hosting several volunteer workdays in April to get some of our most popular trails ready for the busy summer season!

Volunteers will help clear debris from the trail and work to repair eroded trail sections. Workdays will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in North Carolina on Saturday, April 6, Saturday, April 20, and Earth Day, Monday, April 22, and in Tennessee on Friday, April 5 and April 19. Prior registration is required.

Please contact Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or for workday details and to register. Interested volunteers can also contact Monroe to learn about additional volunteer opportunities throughout the year, including the ‘Adopt-a-Trail’ program and the Trails Forever ‘Working Wednesdays’ opportunities on Trillium Gap Trail beginning May 1 through August 29. These opportunities are perfect for those with busy schedules who would like to volunteer once a month.

For the April trail workdays, volunteers must be able to safely hike while carrying tools up to 4 miles per day and be prepared to perform strenuous manual labor. After receiving proper training, participants will be expected to safely use hand tools such as shovels, rakes, loppers, and hand picks. Minimum age of participants is 16. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a responsible parent or guardian.

Volunteers will need to wear boots or sturdy closed-toed shoes, long pants, and appropriate layers for cold and inclement weather. Volunteers should bring a day pack with food, water, rain gear, and any other personal gear for the day. The park will provide instruction, necessary safety gear, and tools for the day.

For more information about the volunteering in the park, please visit the park website at

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“Iron Will” Hike at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park - Park Volunteer David Earle to Lead the Way!

Monday, March 18, 2019

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Bring your iron will and join Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Volunteer David Earle on March 23rd for a strenuous winding eight-mile hike into the forest world of the Cumberland Mountain. Long ago, life in the mountains meant you walked in and with the mountains and understood their moods and seasons. During this hike, David will share stories of long gone people who came to the rough Appalachian backcountry with the iron will required to survive here. David will also parade the little known story of Camp Harvard, a summer school for geology held in 1875 and 1876 and located at the present Fort McCook parking area. “Geology is a passion of mine and this hike is perfect for grandstanding the area’s unique and abundant resources,” says an enthusiastic Earle.

The 10:00 am hike will begin at the park’s Sugar Run picnic area accessed via County Road 988. From there, hikers will travel the Sugar Run Trail to the Ridge Trail where they will turn west towards the Pinnacle Overlook. After “summiting” at the Pinnacle, the group will descend to Fort McCook and take the Harlan Road Trail back down the mountain to return to the Sugar Run picnic area.

Hikers should bring lunch and plenty of water. Hikers can plan on returning to their vehicles by 3 p.m.

For additional information on this year’s program or a program schedule, visitors can call 606-246-1075.

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Public invited to 2019 Blue Ridge Parkway Season Preview Events

Sunday, March 17, 2019

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The National Park Service invites the public to attend its upcoming Blue Ridge Parkway Season Preview, an open house style event highlighting Parkway activities and upcoming projects. The Parkway is hosting two Season Preview events this year. The first Season Preview will be held at the American Legion building in Blowing Rock, North Carolina on April 3, 2019. The second event will be held on April 4, 2019 at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia.. The goal of these events is to promote awareness and understanding among Parkway communities, neighbors and visitors of the National Park Service’s stewardship mission.

National Park Service staff will be on hand at each event to provide a “behind the scenes” look into the Parkway. The events will highlight over 20 information stations with park staff and partners at each station to answer questions and discuss upcoming projects.

“We’re excited to host the 2019 Season Preview events, and look forward to meeting many Parkway neighbors and friends,” said J.D. Lee, Parkway Superintendent. “These events take the Parkway into local communities and create opportunities to celebrate the important relationship between the Parkway and the Blue Ridge region.”

Representatives from Parkway partner groups including the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Eastern National and other non-profits who support the Parkway will also be on hand to discuss the roles each group plays and how to get involved in this work.

NORTH CAROLINA 2019 Blue Ridge Parkway Season Preview Event

What: Public is invited to meet National Park Service staff and learn more about the Blue Ridge Parkway.
When: 4:00 – 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Where: American Legion Building – 333 Wallingford Road, Blowing Rock, NC
Who: Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee along with other representatives of the Parkway’s management team, staff and partners

VIRGINIA 2019 Blue Ridge Parkway Season Preview Event

What: Public is invited to meet National Park Service staff and learn more about the Blue Ridge Parkway.
When: 4:00 – 6:00 p.m., Thursday, April 4, 2019
Where: Virginia Horse Center Mezzanine – 487 Maury River Road, Lexington, VA
Who: Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee along with other representatives of the Parkway’s management team, staff and partners

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Olympian-Guided Hiking Series Kicks off 21st Year with Friends of the Smokies

Friday, March 15, 2019

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“Get on the Trail with Friends and Missy” is kicking off its 21st year as a guided hiking series to raise funds to support Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The series features day hikes in the Smokies led by U.S. Olympian and personal fitness guru, Missy Kane, each Wednesday in April.

April 3 – West Prong to Campsite 18 (5 miles round trip, easy difficulty)

April 10 – Huskey Gap to Fighting Creek Gap (5 miles round trip, moderate difficulty)

April 17 – Rainbow Falls (5 miles round trip, strenuous difficulty)

April 24 – Big Creek to Campsite 17 (11 miles round trip, difficult due to distance)

Since 1998, Missy Kane has helped hikers of all ages explore the park, learn more about exercise and physical fitness, and experience the history, wildlife, and natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. To date, these hikes have raised more than $200,000 through the generous support of participants and sponsors to help fund critical park projects including wildlife conservation efforts and trail maintenance.

“It’s hard to believe we are starting our 21st year of Get on the Trail with Friends & Missy,” said Missy Kane. “I especially love the spring series as the Smokies should be putting on a great wildflower show.”

To register for any of the upcoming guided hikes, hikers must pre-register by calling the Covenant Health Call Center at 865-541-4500. Space is limited and the hikes will sell out. The cost for each hike is $20 per person with proceeds supporting Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A complimentary Friends of the Smokies membership is provided with registration of the entire series.

Get on the Trail with Friends and Missy is presented by Humana and Knoxville News Sentinel, and sponsored by Home Federal Bank, Cabins of the Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee PBS, Farm Bureau Insurance, and LeConte Medical Center, with special thanks to Rocky Top Tours for logistical support.

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Weather Impacts Cherokee National Forest Roads in Some Areas

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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USDA Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest say that many National Forest System Roads (NFSR) were heavily impacted by record breaking rainfall received this winter. National forest visitors should be prepared for poor driving conditions on some NFSR’s and use caution while using these roads due to changing road conditions because of weather.

Caution should be used when traveling backcountry roads. There are many roads throughout the 656,000 acre Cherokee National Forest that are rutted and rough and have been narrowed due to slides and slough offs. Many of these areas have been marked to help users locate hazards. There have also been a number of trees across roads throughout the area. National Forest visitors should always be aware of the risk of flash flooding in low laying areas. The following National Forest System Roads (NFSR) are closed due to hazardous conditions:

* NFSR #54 (Paint Mountain Road) in Greene County is closed from Lone Pine Gap to the Paint Creek Corridor NFSR #41.

* NRSF # 207 (Halls Top Road) in Cocke County is closed from the intersection of NRSF #207 (Halls Top Road) and NFSR #109 (Hog Back Road) and at the intersection of NRSF# 207 (Halls Top Road) and NRSF#207A (Bell Hill Road.) Halls Top Fire Tower can be accessed through Hartford, TN.

* NFSR #209 (Brush Creek Road) in Cocke County is closed from Allen Branch Pond to the intersection of NFSR #209 (Brush Creek Road) and NFSR #209C (Weavers Bend Road.)

For additional road information please contact: Watagua Ranger District at 423-735-1500, Unaka Ranger District at 423-638-4109, Tellico Ranger District at 423-253-8400, Ocoee Ranger District at 423-338-3300.

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Why are dogs allowed on trails in national forests, but not in national parks?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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Why are dogs allowed on hiking trails in national forests, but not in national parks? To state it more bluntly, why are the two federal government agencies at odds with each other? Either way, it’s a question that deserves an answer. The case for not allowing dogs on most backcountry trails in most national parks seems compelling, at least on the surface. Most parks publish their policies regarding pets on backcountry trails on their websites. Before digging deeper into this subject I assumed that these policies were developed by wildlife biologists, and were therefore backed by at least some science. But are these truly valid reasons? This blog post will attempt to answer that question.

Overall, the justifications for banning dogs on backcountry trails by the various national parks are fairly similar. Immediately below is a composite listing of these reasons from a sampling of park websites. The second section of this post cites data and research that support many of the claims by the National Park Service:

• Dogs may become prey for larger predators such as bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, bobcats and even great horned owls. Moreover, if your dog disturbs and angers a bear or a moose, it may lead the angry bear or moose directly back to you. Wild canines are also highly territorial, especially during the summer denning season, and will kill loose dogs they encounter in their territory.

• Dogs can carry diseases into the park's wildlife populations. Conversely, they can also contract diseases from wildlife.

• Dogs are predators that can threaten, chase and even kill wildlife. They can also scare birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding and resting sites.

• The scent left behind by a dog can signal the presence of a predator, which disrupts or alters the behavior of park wildlife. Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a dog, and may not venture out to feed.

• Dogs can encounter insects that bite and transmit disease, or plants that are poisonous or full of painful thorns and burrs.

• Pets may dig or trample fragile vegetation, and pollute water sources.

• Dogs bark and disturb the quiet of the wilderness. Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best-trained dog, causing them to behave unpredictably, bark excessively or even bite someone. Park visitors should be able to enjoy native wildlife in their natural environment without disruption from other visitors’ pets.

• Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.

As already mentioned, there are several published studies that support many of these assertions. The following are a few examples:

In 2008 the National Park Service published the results of a field research study, titled, “The Effects of Dogs on Wildlife Communities”, which discusses many of the points mentioned above in much more detail; in particular, how dogs impact wildlife. Conducted near Boulder, Colorado, the study found that the “presence of dogs correlated with altered patterns of habitat utilization for mule deer, small mammals, prairie dogs, and bobcats”. The assertion here is that dogs force animals to move away from trails, or force them to hide for extended periods of time. The paper also asserted that “Recreational trails with abundant dog scent could appear to carnivores to be linear dog territories, necessitating increased vigilance and activity”, meaning that the presence of dogs on trails is associated with increased activity of carnivores (bears, wolves, coyotes and mountain lions) in areas that are frequented by hikers.

A comparable study, conducted by Peter B. Banks and Jessica V. Bryant from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia found that “dog walking in woodlands leads to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and 41% reduction in abundance, both in areas where dog walking is common and where dogs are prohibited.” This was also reported in Science News.

Even more troubling, an article published in The Conversation (and Newsweek) by Dr. Al Glen from Landcare Research, New Zealand and Dr. Abi Vanak from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India, claims that “dogs are implicated in the extinction of at least 11 species”… and are “also a known or potential threat to 188 threatened species worldwide: 96 mammal, 78 bird, 22 reptile and three amphibian species. This includes 30 critically endangered species”, many as a result of predation, but also through disturbance and disease transmission.

A recent BBC article also asserts that dogs threaten almost 200 species worldwide (the article also includes a video of dogs harassing two bull elk).

The very first point in the list above states that dogs can become prey for predators such as bears, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes. Problems also arise for pet owners when a dog disturbs or angers a bear or a moose. These issues are also specifically addressed by scientific research. According to a study conducted by Stephen Herrero and Hank Hristienko, both leading authorities on bear behavior, dogs were involved in more than half of all black bear attacks on humans between 2010 and 2013. “The study found that in most of those cases, the dogs were running off leash and drew the bears to their owners.”

In October of 2018, Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued a press release warning Coloradoans about the increase in moose encounters throughout the state. The release quoted District Wildlife Manager Elissa Slezak of Summit County, who stated that “moose react to dogs as they would to wolves - one of their primary predators. Moose will often attack even the most gentle dog as if it were a wolf, especially if the dog barks at or chases the moose. Unfortunately, the dog typically runs back to its owner bringing an angry, 1,000-pound moose back with it. The dog often gets away but the owner cannot escape and ends up injured instead. We've seen several instances where that exact scenario played out and the dog owner was seriously hurt."

In order to formulate the policies of the 17,000 acres of parks and natural areas managed by the City of Portland, Oregon, the Metro Government compiled and examined “54 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and several research reports relating to the impacts of dogs in natural areas, including numerous literature reviews on the impacts of various types of recreation on wildlife and habitat”, which ultimately led to the banning of dogs on most trails within those spaces. What they found was categorized under four broad categories:

Physical and temporal displacement: “Displacement may be the most significant impact due to the amount of habitat affected. The presence of dogs causes wildlife to move away, temporarily or permanently reducing the amount of available habitat in which to feed, breed and rest. Animals become less active during the day to avoid dog interactions. Furthermore, the scent of dogs repels wildlife and the effects remain after the dogs are gone. The research is clear that people with dogs disturb wildlife more than humans alone. These effects reduce a natural area’s carrying capacity for wildlife, and also reduces wildlife viewing experiences for visitors.”

Disturbance and stress response: “Dogs cause wildlife to be more alert, which reduces feeding, sleeping, grooming and breeding activities, and wastes vital energy stores that may mean life or death when resources are low, such as during winter or reproduction. Animals release stress hormones and their heart rates elevate in response. When stress becomes too high, animals may flush, freeze, or hide. Repeated stress causes long-term impacts on wildlife including reduced reproduction and growth, suppressed immune system and increased vulnerability to disease and parasites.”

Indirect and direct mortality: “Dogs chase and kill many wildlife species including reptiles, small mammals, deer and foxes. A Canadian study found that domestic dogs were one of the top three predators that killed white-tailed deer fawns. In northern Idaho winter deer grounds, an Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer witnessed or received reports of 39 incidents of dogs chasing deer, directly resulting in the deaths of at least 12 animals (several other examples of wildlife deaths due to dogs are cited here). Dogs transmit diseases to wildlife and vice versa, including rabies, Giardia, distemper and parvovirus. Large carnivores such as cougars are especially vulnerable to domestic dog diseases including canine distemper.”

Human disease and water quality impacts: “Dog waste pollutes water and transmits harmful parasites and diseases to people. A Clean Water Services DNA study found that dog waste alone accounts for an average of 13% of fecal bacteria in stream study sites in the Tualatin River Basin. The City of Gresham found extremely high levels of E. coli bacteria in water quality samples of a very specific stretch of a stream, where dog feces were found along stream banks behind several yards with dogs.” In 1991 dog waste was labeled as a non-point source pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to it being the host to an array of diseases, as well as fecal coliform bacteria.

The Portland, Oregon Metro Government document cites many other statistics from an array of studies that supported their decision making.

So, if most, if not all of the reasons cited by the National Park Service are valid, many of which are backed by science, why does the U.S. Forest Service continue to allow dogs on backcountry trails, especially in designated Wilderness Areas where the land is supposed to remain in a natural state in perpetuity, and where impacts from human activities are supposed to be minimal? Seeing wildlife in their natural environment is one of the highlights of venturing into the woods and mountains for many hikers. This privilege should be vigorously protected. By no means am I advocating for the complete banning of all dogs on all national forest lands. However, I do believe we need more balance; more consideration for wildlife, and more protection of sensitive water sources. Doesn’t the U.S. Forest Service have a fundamental responsibility to protect the habitat and the long-term sustainability of wildlife? I believe the U.S. Forest Service and wildlife biologists should conduct studies to determine where dogs are appropriate and inappropriate on trails in our national forests and other wilderness areas. I also believe that stricter enforcement is needed for those who blatantly break existing rules, or any new rules. Certainly the fines that could be collected would pay for the increase in backcountry rangers who could be used to patrol sensitive areas.

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Budget Prioritizes Improvements to Critical Park Infrastructure while Saving Tax Dollars

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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President Donald J. Trump has proposed a $2.7 billion budget for the National Park Service (NPS) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, which includes funding that would help address the $11.9 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System.

"This budget reflects President Trump’s commitment to protecting and rebuilding our national parks and public lands to ensure they may be enjoyed by future generations of Americans,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “The President's request provides funding that will allow the National Park Service to repair an aging infrastructure, protect America’s scenic wonders and iconic historic sites, and provide rangers to greet the more than 300 million visitors who visit each year.”

Infrastructure – The NPS estimates that in FY 2018 there was more than $11.9 billion in backlogged maintenance and repair needs for the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that service national park visitors. In 2018, more than 318 million people visited the 418 national parks across the country. The NPS retired more than $600 million in maintenance and repair work in FY 2018, but aging facilities, high visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 and $12 billion since 2010.

The President’s budget provides $246.3 million to fund construction projects, equipment replacement, project planning and management, and special projects. This includes $152.7 million for specific line-item construction projects like rehabilitating the Eagle Lake Carriage road at Acadia National Park in Maine, and rehabilitating the Kennecott Leach Plant foundation at Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. It also includes $4.0 million for demolition and disposal of obsolete facilities, and another $4.0 million to implement safety and environmental mitigation or remediation of abandoned mines.

For other facility maintenance and improvement needs, the budget proposes $134.1 million for cyclic maintenance projects to ensure maintenance is done in a timely manner and does not become “deferred”. To address other facility needs such as deferred maintenance and code compliance, the budget proposes an additional $132.0 million for repair and rehabilitation projects.

These discretionary fund sources are critical to help address the deferred maintenance backlog in the NPS. Additionally, the recreation fee program allows the NPS to collect recreation fees at selected parks to improve visitor services and enhance the visitor experience. In 2018, NPS leveraged $148.7 million in recreation fees to address priority maintenance projects to improve the visitor experience. The NPS estimates that in both FY 2019 and FY 2020, $165.8 million in fee revenues will be available for similar deferred maintenance projects.

Park Operations – The FY 2020 NPS budget requests $2.4 billion for park operations, which includes $5.7 million for NPS’s role in the Department of the Interior’s reorganization to help implement unified regions to improve service and efficiency. The budget proposes $10.0 million to support and enhance recreational access opportunities, including building accessible hunting blinds and fishing piers, and establishing a traditional trades apprenticeship program for veterans. The proposed budget also includes $4.0 million for Active Forest Management efforts to mitigate the fire risk to the public and NPS infrastructure assets.

State Assistance – The budget proposes a continued shift to use of the mandatory funding from oil and gas leases for state conservation grants. These grants provide funding to states to acquire open spaces and natural areas for outdoor recreation and access purposes, and develop outdoor recreation facilities. Permanent funding for these grants in FY 2020 is estimated to be $113 million.

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Shenandoah National Park Launches Official App

Monday, March 11, 2019

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Shenandoah National Park Superintendent Jennifer Flynn has announced the launch of the park’s official app, NPS Shenandoah. The free app, available in both Apple’s iOS and Android platforms is designed to give visitors a digital tool for exploring Shenandoah.

Users can choose to explore the park using the built-in map which allows them to see what services and opportunities are nearby, or by topic. Features include hiking, services, exploring Skyline Drive, and interpretive tours of Rapidan Camp, a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, and Fox Hollow Trail. Superintendent Flynn said, “We are excited to give visitors an additional tool for enhancing their Shenandoah experience.”

The app is a GPS-based program that allows visitors to access its features even when they have no cell service as is often the case in Shenandoah’s remoter areas. Visitors should look for Shenandoah’s official app in their App Store as NPS Shenandoah and download prior to visiting the park. Once downloaded, select “Settings” and “Download Offline Content” to allow access to its features when there is no cell service.

Both versions of the app are free and may be downloaded from the official app stores:

Google Play/Android Store:
Apple iOS App Store:

The creation of the NPS Shenandoah app was funded, in part, by your entrance fee dollars.

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$671 million of backlogged maintenance projects completed in national parks during FY18

Saturday, March 9, 2019

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The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that during Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, over $671 million in needed repair work was completed at national parks across the country, one of the the largest amounts of deferred maintenance needs retired in a single year. This leaves, at the end of FY18, more than $11.9 billion in backlogged maintenance and repair needs for the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that service visitors to America’s 418 national parks.

“Improvements to visitor facilities, campgrounds, trails, and backbone infrastructure are essential to providing a world-class experience to our more than 300 million annual visitors and a safe work environment for our employees, volunteers, and partners,” National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith said. “Addressing the deferred maintenance in our national parks is critical to our core mission and remains a top priority.”

The NPS saw 318.2 million recreation visits in 2018, the third highest total since record keeping began in 1904. The deferred maintenance figure increased by $313 million (2.7 percent) over FY 2017. Aging facilities, increased visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

Among the $671 million of backlogged maintenance projects the NPS successfully completed last year were a new roof over the visitor center at Gateway Arch National Park, a 26-mile pavement preservation project in Yosemite National Park, the restoration of native grasses at Nez Perce National Historical Park, and new paved trail surfaces at Independence National Historical Park.

Fiscal Year 2018 Deferred Maintenance Achievements:

$213 million in transportation DM was retired on over 1,000 transportation assets such as paved and unpaved roads, parking areas, bridges, and tunnels.

$201 million in buildings deferred maintenance (DM) was retired across 272 park units.

$92 million in utility systems, dams, constructed waterways, marinas, aviation systems, railroads, ships, monuments, fortifications, towers, and interpretive media and amphitheaters DM was retired across 169 park units.

$56 million in water and wastewater systems DM was retired across 108 park units.

$52 million in trails DM was retired across 146 park units.

$28 million in maintained landscapes DM was retired across 176 park units.

$18 million in housing DM was retired across 136 park units.

$11 million in campgrounds DM was retired across 57 park units.

Fiscal Year 2018 Reports:

Deferred maintenance and asset inventory reports are available online.

Additional information about NPS deferred maintenance is on

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Smokies Launches ‘SmokyMtnU’

Thursday, March 7, 2019

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff recently launched a pilot education program, ‘SmokyMtnU,’ through a partnership with Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). As a part of a four-credit biology course, students are spending their spring break learning about the diversity of park resources from Monday, March 4 through Thursday, March 7.

Park staff collaborated with MTSU staff to create the new, hands-on, educational opportunity for undergraduate students to experience the park while earning college credit. Students meet weekly to dive into park-related content developed by MTSU Biology Professor, Dr. Ashley Morris, and Park Resource Education Supervisor, Stephanie Sutton. Students research and discuss topics ranging from politics behind the development of the park to managing forest health to exploring ongoing research in the park.

“The Smokies has long been a place of learning and discovery for students and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to formalize the experience as a credited college course,” said Park Ranger Stephanie Sutton.

As a part of the course, students will spend two weeks in the Smokies over the spring break and finals week periods. During the spring break trip, students will accompany park staff in the field to learn about managing wildlife, inventorying aquatic communities, protecting resources through law enforcement, and caring for natural history collections. During the finals week trip, students will participate on a multi-day, backpacking experience where they will learn about resource and visitor use management in the backcountry. Through this partnership, students will gain insight into a variety of career paths in a National Park setting.

Park staff will be hosting an informational session this spring with interested faculty from additional universities to broaden the program in 2020. Funding for the ‘SmokyMtnU’ program is provided by Friends of the Smokies, the park’s philanthropic partner.

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National Park Service visitation tops 318 million in 2018

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

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Visitation to America’s national parks in 2018 exceeded 300 million recreation visits for the fourth consecutive year. The 318.2 million recreation visits total is the third highest since record keeping began in 1904.

“America’s national parks are national treasures that tell the story of our nation and celebrate its beauty, history and culture,” said Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “I am pleased that so many Americans and visitors from around the world continue to take advantage of the affordable and accessible recreational opportunities provided by these sites.”

“The visitation to our national parks continues to affirm that Americans are in love with their public lands and hold dear the stories of our nation embodied in the natural, cultural and historic landscapes we protect in the National Park System,” National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith said.

The 418 national parks throughout the country provide a vast array of opportunities for recreation and inspiration for visitors of all ages. With at least one located in every state, national parks are easily accessible and affordable destinations. In the past five years there have been about 1.6 billion recreational visits to national parks.

In 2018, Golden Gate National Recreation Area reclaimed the top spot for highest visitation in the National Park System from the Blue Ridge Parkway. These two parks have been trading places at one and two since 1979. In the national parks category, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (11.4 million) and Grand Canyon National Park (6.4 million) continue to hold the top two spots, as they have since 1990.

Here's a look at the numbers:

By The Numbers around the National Park System

• 318,211,833 recreation visits (385 of 418 parks report visitation figures)

• 1,401,420,191 recreation visitor hours

• 13,950,759 overnight stays

• 28 parks set a new record for visitation (about 7% of reporting parks), including Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains and Rocky Mountain National Park

• 17 parks broke a record they set in 2017

• 3 parks had over 10 million recreation visits – Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

• 9 parks had over 5 million recreation visits

• 77 parks had over 1 million recreation visits (about 20% of reporting parks)

Top 10 - National Parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 11,421,200
Grand Canyon National Park - 6,380,495
Rocky Mountain National Park - 4,590,493
Zion National Park - 4,320,033
Yellowstone National Park - 4,115,000
Yosemite National Park - 4,009,436
Acadia National Park - 3,537,575
Grand Teton National Park - 3,491,151
Olympic National Park - 3,104,455
Glacier National Park - 2,965,309

Top 10 - All Parks in the National Park System

Golden Gate National Recreation Area – 15,223,697 
Blue Ridge Parkway – 14,690,418
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 11,421,200
Gateway National Recreation Area – 9,243,305
Lincoln Memorial – 7,804,683
Lake Mead National Recreation Area – 7,578,958
George Washington Memorial Parkway – 7,288,623
Grand Canyon National Park – 6,380,495
Natchez Trace Parkway – 6,362,439
Vietnam Veterans Memorial – 4,719,148

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Smokies Recruits ‘Adopt-a-Plot’ Volunteers

Saturday, March 2, 2019

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are recruiting volunteers to adopt a monitoring plot in areas throughout the park. In an effort to track nature’s calendar, or phenology, volunteers will collect information as part of an important research project tracking seasonal biological data such as plant flowering dates and the presence of migratory birds.

Previous experience is not necessary but an interest in science and love for nature are characteristics of a successful volunteer. A 3-hour training workshop is provided and will include topics like tree identification techniques, stages of tree change throughout the year, fruit and flower identification, and phenology data collection protocols. Volunteers must attend one of these training opportunities which will be held at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, TN on Saturday, March 9 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC on Saturday, March 30 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Plots are available for adoption near parking areas at several locations in the park. Volunteers will monitor their adopted plot at least two times per month from the first leaf bud in spring to the final leaf drop in fall. The Adopt-a-Plot project helps us better understand how changing weather patterns affect our diverse ecosystem and the seasonal timing of wildflower blooms and fall color.

If you are interested in this exciting volunteer opportunity, please contact Paul Super at or 828-497-1945 to register for the training. For more information about phenology research efforts across the country visit the National Phenology Network at

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