Monday, September 30, 2019

New agreement between federal, state agencies highlights cooperative approach to land management

The United States Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment signed a Shared Stewardship agreement between USDA's Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the North Carolina Forest Service, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in a ceremony here yesterday.

USDA Under Secretary Jim Hubbard signed the agreement with Steve Troxler, Commissioner of NCDA&CS; Scott Bissette, Assistant Commissioner of NCFS; and Gordan Myers, Executive Director of NCWRC.

"Shared Stewardship offers a great opportunity to coordinate and prioritize land management activities in tandem," said Hubbard. "The USDA and its agencies have a long and strong history of collaboration with the State of North Carolina. This agreement will make that working relationship even stronger."

The Shared Stewardship Agreement establishes a framework for federal and state agencies to collaborate better, focus on accomplishing mutual goals, further common interests, and effectively respond to the increasing ecological challenges and natural resource concerns in North Carolina.

"Partnerships remain essential to everything we do as an agency and allows for greater success in reaching our conservation goals and in protecting our natural resources," Troxler said. "The Shared Stewardship agreement strengthens our commitment to partnership in these areas of mutual benefit."

In addition to providing a framework for how the federal and state agencies will work together, the Shared Stewardship agreement also outlines the importance of ensuring meaningful participation from state and local partners such as North Carolina's State Parks, Natural Heritage Program, Department of Transportation, Conservation Districts, and non-governmental conservation organizations.

"We are excited to continue our cooperative approach to management and access on national forests, including linear wildlife openings, food plots and road maintenance upgrades for North Carolina's hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts," said Myers.

The agreement can be found at

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, September 27, 2019

Smokies Restricts Campfires in the Backcountry

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced a temporary ban on backcountry campfires effective immediately. Due to abnormally dry weather conditions, the potential for wildfires to occur in the backcountry has dramatically increased. The fire restriction will be in effect until further notice.

“The park is experiencing abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions throughout the park,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “With little rain and hot, dry conditions predicted over the next week, it is imperative that we reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.”

The fire restriction only applies to campers utilizing the park’s 100 backcountry sites and shelters. It does not affect campers at the park’s 9 frontcountry (developed) campgrounds or picnickers using fire grills at picnic areas. Fires at developed areas must be confined to designated fire rings and grills. All visitors are asked to take precautions to help reduce the risk of wildfires by extinguishing frontcountry fires by mixing water with embers in fire rings and grills. Use of backpacking stoves that utilize pre-packaged compressed gas canisters is still permitted at backcountry campsites.

Backpackers should be aware that drought conditions also affect the availability of water at springs at backcountry campsites and shelters throughout the park. At some locations where there is a running spring, it can take more than five minutes to fill a quart-sized bottle. Many of the springs in the higher elevations are running significantly slower than normal at this time and the following backcountry campsites are currently known to be without water: 5, 16, 26, and Mollies Ridge Shelter. This list is expected to grow as the drought conditions continue. Backpackers are encouraged to carefully consider their itinerary and carry extra water for those sites that are not located along major water sources.

For more information about regional drought conditions, please visit For more information about backcountry trip planning, please visit the park website at or call the backcountry office at 865-436-1297.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Seeks Trail Work Volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is excited to announce a number of trail maintenance volunteer workdays in North Carolina and Tennessee that showcase a number of meaningful partnerships with organizations who actively support our mission. All necessary paperwork to register as a “Volunteer in Park" (VIP) can be done on site. Prior notice of attendance is necessary. Please email or call 828-497-1949 to sign up for a workday.

Opportunities include:

Saturday, September 28th – National Public Lands Day
Volunteers are invited to take part in a trail rehabilitation project on the Kanati Fork Trail from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm. The trail is located just off of Newfound Gap Road (441) in North Carolina. Volunteers will perform trail maintenance including installation of drainage features, rehabilitation of trail surfaces, and removal of brush. The workday will offer a great opportunity to learn about sustainable trail design and gain a behind the scenes look at what it takes to maintain the vast trail network of Great Smoky Mountains National park.

National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort to improve and enhance the public lands across America. This year’s celebration is expected to draw more than 200,000 volunteers at more than 2,600 sites. For more information about National Public Lands visit

Thursday, October 17 – Brushy Mountain Trail 
Join corps members from the Southeast Conservation Corps out of Chattanooga, TN and staff from REI Knoxville from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm to accomplish much needed trail maintenance along the Brushy Mountain Trail in the Greenbrier area of the park. In addition to completing self-sufficient projects in the backcountry, the corps members are encouraged to engage with the local volunteer community to extend their reach and production. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is pleased to host this hardworking crew for extended workweeks, made possible with funding from the National Park Foundation and REI.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fall 2019 Get On the Trail with Friends & Missy Hike Schedule Released

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

Oct. 2 – Oconaluftee River Trail (3.5 miles, easy-moderate)

Oct. 9 – Middle Prong to Indian Flats Falls (8 miles, moderate)

Oct. 16 – Gabes Mountain / Maddron Bald Intersection to Cosby Campground (8 miles, moderate)

Oct. 23 – Charlies Bunion on the Appalachian Trail (8 miles, difficult)

Oct. 30 – Purchase Knob to Hemphill Bald (6 miles, moderate)

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.

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.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Blue Ridge Parkway announces Finding of No Significant Impact for Planned Bridge Projects in Ashe and Alleghany Counties

The National Park Service has announced, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration and in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, that the signed Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared for two bridge improvement projects on the Blue Ridge Parkway is now available. The first project, known as Project 2A16, includes the rehabilitation of Big Pine Creek Bridge #3 and #6 and Brush Creek Bridge #1 in Ashe County, NC, with an emphasis on maintaining the historic character of the bridges to the maximum extent practicable. The second project, known as Project 2D17, involves the replacement of a larger historic bridge, Laurel Fork Bridge in Alleghany County, which would be designed with consideration given to the historic character of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the original bridge.

The FONSI was signed on August 12, 2019 and is available at this link:

The Parkway has over 180 bridges in its asset inventory. Planning for these projects began in 2016, and work is expected to begin in 2020. The bridges involved in these projects have been deemed structurally deficient with deteriorating decks and substandard height bridge rails. The proposed projects will address structural deficiencies and improve safety by meeting current roadway design standards, including installation of crashworthy railings.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, September 20, 2019

Overmountain Shelter on Pisgah National Forest closed until further notice due to structural damage

In order to protect public safety, the Appalachian Ranger District has closed the Overmountain Shelter which is located in Avery County near the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) and Overmountain Victory Trail. U.S. Forest Service engineers have determined that the building has become structurally unsound and cannot safely accommodate people. Further evaluations will occur to identify viable management options for the site.

"People from all over have loved camping inside this old barn," said District Ranger Richard Thornburgh, "but now there's a real risk of it collapsing. Unfortunately, the barn was not originally designed to accommodate human occupancy. Slope movement has caused a significant downhill lean in the structure and a support beam snapped under the large upper loft where people sleep. The wood posts are rotting away. Strong winds from storms and heavy snow loads in the winter place additional stress on the structure. The elements have just taken their toll to the extent that, despite efforts to maintain it, the Overmountain Shelter has reached the point where it's not safe to be inside the building."

The Overmountain Shelter was originally a barn on a private farm that was acquired by the Forest Service in 1979 and became part of the Pisgah National Forest. The Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club (TEHCC) converted the barn into use as a trail shelter for the Appalachian Trail and provided basic maintenance for the structure. "TEHCC supports the closure in the interest of public safety," said Vic Hassler, TEHCC A.T. Committee Chair.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) added its support for the A.T. trail shelter closure. "We want all AT hikers to have a safe, enjoyable experience," said Morgan Sommerville, ATC Southern Regional Director. "With the Stan Murray Shelter just two miles to the south, there is another good shelter option nearby."

The fields around the shelter are still open for tent camping and offer beautiful views of the Roaring Creek valley. "We're just telling hikers not to pitch their tent within 40 feet of the shelter in event that there is a structural failure," said Thornburgh.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, September 16, 2019

Lend a Hand on National Public Lands Day

September 28th is your chance to be a part of the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. Each year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers come together on the fourth Saturday in September to assist with various projects designed to restore and enhance public parks, forests, waterways and more. From trail maintenance to tree planting—volunteers of all ages and abilities roll up their sleeves and work side-by-side to care for public lands. The day also features a variety of hikes, bike rides, community festivals, paddling excursions, and other fun outdoor activities—all set on the backdrop of the country’s public lands and waterways.

America’s public lands aren’t the only ones that benefits from National Public Lands Day. Nature offers one of the most reliable boosts to mental and physical well-being. Spending time in the outdoors has been found to improve short-term memory, concentration and creativity—while reducing the effects of stress and anxiety. Volunteering on NPLD is a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the many benefits that come from connecting with nature.

In celebration of the annual National Public Lands Day celebration, September 28, 2019 has been designed as a Free Entrance Day for most National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas and other participating federal sites. If you volunteer on this day, you will receive a fee-free day coupon to be used on a future date.

Click here to check out the official National Public Lands Day event map, which makes it easy to find all of the events that will be available later this month.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Best Fall Hikes in the Smokies

Fall hiking season is rapidly approaching, and leaf peepers will soon be out in full force across the Great Smoky Mountains.

The beauty of the Smokies is always spectacular, but never more so than during the autumn when the mountains are ablaze with the colors of fall.

The timing of the fall color season depends upon many variables, making it virtually impossible to predict the exact date of "peak" colors in advance.

One of the most important variables is elevation. At the higher elevations in the Smokies, fall color displays begin as early as mid-September when yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry begin to show their autumn colors. If you’re looking for good fall foliage hikes during this time period, you’ll want to be at the highest elevations in the park; however, you’ll also want to avoid hiking in areas that are predominantly spruce-fir forests.

Suggested mid-late September hikes: Andrews Bald, Mt. LeConte, the Jump-off or Rocky Top.

From early to mid-October, during most years, fall colors begin to reach their peak above elevations of 4,500 feet. Trees such as the American beech and yellow birch begin to turn bright yellow, while mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple show-off brilliant shades of red.

In the lower elevations you may notice a few dogwoods and maples that are just beginning to turn. You may also see a few scattered sourwood and sumac turning to bright reds as well.

Suggested early-mid October hikes: You’ll still want to hike in the higher elevations. In addition to the suggestions above, check out Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Spence Field, Albright Grove or the Sugerland Mountain Trail starting from Clingmans Dome Road.

Autumn colors usually reach their peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is usually the best time to be in the park as you'll see the spectacular displays of color from sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories. Your hiking choices will have greatly expanded during this time period as well. You can continue to hike at elevation to take in the fall colors from above, or you can walk among the autumn colored trees.

Suggested mid-late October hikes: If you wish to hike at elevation for spectacular fall views try exploring the Rich Mountain Loop, Alum Cave, Hemphill Bald, Shuckstack, Bullhead, Charlies Bunion or Mt. Sterling trails. If you wish to hike among the trees, check out Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers or the Porters Creek Trail.

As the fall color season begins to wind down in early November, you’ll want to hike at the lowest elevations in the park. Check out the Meigs Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap, Abrams Falls, Oconaluftee River Trail, Indian Falls, or the Deep Creek Loop.

Monitoring Fall Color Progress:

* To get a general idea of when leaves are approaching peak colors you can follow the fall colors report on the GSMA website.

* To get a birds-eye view on changes in fall colors, you can periodically check out the four Smoky Mountain web cams.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, September 9, 2019

How to Climb (hike) a Mountain

Below is a short video that was featured on Outside Today a few years ago. Although the title of the video was "How to Climb a Mountain", the skills discussed in this video are actually basic mountain climbing skills that most hikers will benefit from, and should have an understanding for safer passage through the mountains. The video features Rainbow Weinstock from the Colorado Mountain School:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, September 6, 2019

Quick Tips for Viewing Elk Safely

Though they may look docile, elk are very large animals capable of covering large distances quickly. Armed with sturdy antlers and powerful hooves, these animals can be very aggressive and dangerous during the fall breeding season, known as the rut, which usually takes place during the months of September and October. Find out what simple precautions you should take while viewing elk in this short video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this fall please take a few moments to check out our Accomodations Listings for a wide variety of lodging options in Gatlinburg, Townsend, Pigeon Forge and the North Carolina side of the Smokies.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Bear injures a man after a surprise encounter in his kitchen

Crazy story out of Colorado last week:
A bear injured a 71-year-old man inside his Pine, Colorado home on Monday evening after entering through a screen door, and swiping the man multiple times with its claws when the two had a surprise encounter in his kitchen.

The man was downstairs watching TV with his wife when he heard noises coming from upstairs. After going up the stairs and turning a corner into his kitchen, he was face-to-face with a bear. The man and the sow then engaged in what was described as a boxing match, as the man tried to fend off this sow bear that attacked after the surprise run-in. The wife rushed upstairs and hit the bear multiple times with a baseball bat, causing the bear to run away outside of the home. A cub was inside the home with the sow, and ran away with its mother after the encounter.

The man received a number of lacerations to his face, chest and both arms. He was treated at the scene, but was not taken to a hospital.

The attacked occurred around 8:45 p.m.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers searched the area until approximately midnight. The search resumed at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday when a dog team from the USDA Wildlife Services arrived to aid in the effort to find the attacking bear. It was the same dog team that assisted last week with a mountain lion attack in Bailey, Colo.

By 5:50 a.m. Tuesday, the dog team had located a bear in the immediate area and over the course of the next hour, the dogs, CPW wildlife officers and the officials from the USDA Wildlife Services tracked that bear. The bear was euthanized shortly before 7 a.m., roughly 900 yards from the home where the attack occurred. The cub has not been located.

DNA samples will be sent to the University of Wyoming Forensics Lab for analysis to confirm if this is the bear from the attack. CPW policy states that when a bear attacks a human resulting in injury, that bear must be euthanized.

Wildlife officers continue to monitor the area.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking