31 October 2014

Cades Cove Loop Road may reopen with delayed opening on Sunday, Clingmans Dome Road likely to remain closed


Cades Cove Road will most likely reopen sometime tomorrow, Sunday, Nov. 2, according to a Twitter post from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, the expected opening will be a delayed one, so visitors should call first before making the trip. You can get updates on all of the road closings and weather conditions by calling the Park Service. Clingmans Dome Road will likely remain closed Sunday due to snow and ice.

For updated road and weather information please call (865) 436-1200. Once you hear a voice, dial extension 631 for road information or extension 630 for a weather forecast.

Walker Camp Prong at Alum Cave Trail
at 3:00 p.m. Saturday. (NPS)
The National Weather Service is discouraging travel in the mountains due to significant snowfall that has already occurred and is expected to occur this evening. According to the National Weather Service in Morristown, snow will continue to fall through this evening with significant snowfall expected above 2,500 feet. Brisk northwest winds will enhance snow accumulation this evening, but snow showers will eventually diminish throughout the evening. They predict a high near 46 in Gatlinburg on Sunday with mostly sunny skies, so conditions should improve throughout the day on Sunday.

Accumulated snow on foliage-laden branches is causing trees to fall throughout the park.

The crew at LeConte Lodge reported 22 inches of accumulation at 3:00 today. They're currently closed to new hikers and will reassess the situation on Sunday, according to their website. There were guests at the lodge when the snowstorm hit, but about half of them hiked out earlier today and the rest reportedly have made it out safe as well.

WBIR reported that Rangers rescued 51-year-old Roger Fender of Franklin, TN, who was hiking with friends in the Greenbrier area when a tree fell on him Saturday morning. Park dispatchers got the call around 11:30 a.m. Fender was hit by a tree limb about a foot wide that fell on him from about 60 feet. He suffered several broken bones. Friends lifted the limb up and helped pull him out while a litter team hiked to the site.

Rangers reached the scene around 1 p.m. and were able to carry him out in about an hour and a half to a waiting ambulance.

While the early winter weather is beautiful and we all want to see the snow, it's best to avoid the Smokies until conditions are safe, especially hiking in the backcountry if unprepared.


UPDATE: Most Park roads are closed due to snowfall, ice and downed trees. According to the National Park Service, Little River Road is closed from the Sugarlands Visitors Center to the Townsend Wye due to snow, ice and downed trees and there is no access to Elkmont.

Laurel Creek Road is closed at Tremont Road and there is no access to Cades Cove and the Gatlinburg Bypass is closed. US 441/Newfound Gap Road was closed yesterday due to the storm, as was Clingmans Dome Road. Foothills Parkway East and West, Balsam Mountain/Heintooga - Greenbrier, Cataloochee Entrance Road, Weir Cove Road ... all closed due to ice, snow or downed trees.

Mount LeConte has gotten 16" of snow so far.
Purchase Knob webcam 11:00 am Nov. 1, 2014. (NPS)
Any roads that aren't currently closed will probably be closing. Conditions are hazardous and the National Park Service is recommending that visitors heed warnings about the hazards that exist, such as fallen or falling trees, ice and snow.

GSMNationalParkInfo is reporting on its Twitter account that there are many downed trees and power lines, power is out at Elkmont and campers at Elkmont and LeConte Lodge are having to stay where they're at until it's safe to leave. Rangers are asking people not to enter the Park on foot due to unsafe and deteriorating conditions such as trees falling, ice and snow.


It's hard to believe it was 80 degrees on Monday and tonight snow is falling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our first big winter storm of the season could dump up to a foot of snow or more in higher elevations this weekend. It's supposed to get down to 33 degrees tonight and 27 degrees tomorrow night in Gatlinburg. The National Park Service has closed U.S. Highway 441/Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC due to ice and snow. Clingmans Dome Road closed at 11:00 today due to the impending storm.

If you're planning a trip to the Smokies or Cades Cove, I would strongly suggest checking road and weather conditions on the National Park Service Website or following them on Twitter. Or, you can call for road and weather updates.

For updated road and weather information please call (865) 436-1200. Once you hear a voice, dial extension 631 for road information or extension 630 for a weather forecast.


The National Weather has issued the following advisory:


According to the National Weather Service:

  • Cades Cove: There is a chance of about 1-3 inches of snow accumulation in Cades Cove tonight with another 1-2 inches of new snow forecasted for Saturday.
  • Newfound Gap/Clingmans Dome: The higher elevations might get around 3-7 inches tonight with another 3-7 inches on Saturday and another 2-4 inches Saturday night with new snow accumulation of less than a half inch predicted Sunday, when it's predicted that the snow will be turning to rain.
  • Cherokee, NC is forecasted to get 1-2 inches tonight, 1-3 inches Saturday, less than an inch Saturday night and less than a half inch on Sunday.
Hiking in the Smokies can be very dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions. Many hikers have been surprised and unprepared for the drastic temperature changes in the Smokies.

Rafting in the Smokies offers the following tips for winter weather hiking in the Smokies.

What to bring on your winter hike.
The Boy Scout’s Motto is always be prepared.  Rafting in the Smokies wants you to be prepared for your wintertime hikes in the park.  Here’s a few tips on what to bring.

A hiking map and compass are essential pieces of equipment to bring along.  They come in really handy for getting you back to the trail-head.  Know where your at on the trail, and stay on the marked trail at all times.

Although most of the park does not have cell phone coverage, you still want to take along your cell phone just in case. Carry your cell phone in an inside pocket where the batteries can stay warm.
Hiking in the winter causes your body to burn additional calories and requires more nourishment. Make sure to bring enough food and high-energy snacks.

Make sure to carry at least two quarts or more of drinking water.  The stream your standing beside may look clear and inviting, but there are bacteria present that will affect your health for months to come.  Only drink the water you brought with you or boil creek water before use.

Wear layers of clothes to help regulate your temperature and keep you warm and dry.  Layers should be matched to the weather, your activity level and personal preference.  Check out this great sports medicine link on how to properly layer your clothes.

Be prepared and stay safe on your next trip to the Smokies.

15 October 2014

Cades Cove, Clingman's Dome Rd open

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - Updated 8:45 a.m. 10/15/15 ... Cades Cove Loop Road is open this morning, according to officials on-site at Cades Cove Campground, but Sparks Lane is temporarily closed due to high water brought on by heavy rainfall yesterday.  Clingman's Dome Road, closed yesterday due to rainfall, is now open.

As of  8:38 a.m. Wednesday morning, Hwy. 441/Newfound Gap Road between Cherokee and Gatlinburg was open to all traffic. Parsons Branch Road, Rich Mountain Road and Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Ridge Road were closed due to downed trees and Sparks Lane was closed due to areas of high water. Construction delays can be expected on Hwy. 441/Newfound Gap Road from the Chimneys to Alum Cave.

Campers at Elkmont Campground were temporarily evacuated by Park Rangers yesterday evening due to rising water, but were allowed to return to the campground around 9:15 p.m. last night.

As a reminder, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will close for the season on the evening of October 31, 2014 and will remain closed until April 30, 2015 to replace eight bridges along the roadway. The road will be closed to all public use including hiking and biking.

14 October 2014

Campers Allowed to Return to Elkmont Campground

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - Updated 10:05 p.m. 10/14/14 ... Campers were temporarily evacuated from 149 sites at Elkmont Campground Tuesday evening due to rising waters brought on by heavy rainfall, according to National Park spokesperson Dana Soehn. WBIR reported that Elkmont reopened at 9:15 p.m. tonight and campers were allowed to return to their sites.

Heavy rains and wind that came through the area have downed trees and created a mess in the Smokies. Soehn said Clingman's Dome saw four inches of rain on Tuesday and winds reached 89 miles per hour at one point. According to GSMNP Info., Cades Cove Loop Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will open late tomorrow for storm cleanup.

As of  9:23 p.m. Tuesday evening, Hwy. 441/Newfound Gap Road between Cherokee and Gatlinburg was open to all traffic. Parsons Branch Road, Rich Mountain Road and Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Ridge Road were closed due to downed trees and Clingman's Dome Road and Sparks Lane were closed due to areas of high water. Construction delays can be expected on Hwy. 441/Newfound Gap Road from the Chimneys to Alum Cave.

Even with the rain and wind slowing down, Park visitors should be on the lookout for falling branches or trees throughout the night and exercise caution near streams and rivers.

01 October 2014

Higher Elevations Showing Colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Foliage

Hints of orange, red and yellow are starting to sneak into the foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and many are wondering when to expect big changes to occur from lower elevations to the highest elevations.

The folks at Visit My Smokies have a nice Fall Color Map that shows when these changes can be expected. Just click on this link:   Great Smoky Mountains Fall Color Map 2014

The National Park Service website posted this Fall Color Update on Oct. 10, 2014:


Fall Color Report - October 10

Fall color continues to progress in the high elevations of the park. The yellows of birch, and the reds of maple, sourwood, and witch hobble are dominant now. Last weekend's cold snap led to a good burst of color around Newfound Gap. However, high winds earlier this week caused leaves along the last three to four miles of Clingmans Dome Road to fall. There is still a significant amount of green at the higher elevations though, which means color will continue to develop over the next few days. Views along the first half of Clingmans Dome Road and in the higher reaches of Newfound Gap Road should be good though early next week.

Middle and low elevations are still predominantly green with a scattering of fall color here and there. But signs of change are becoming more noticeable. Some vibrant reds have developed on dogwoods, sourwoods, and a few maples. The vivid red leaves of Virginia creeper vine are very noticeable climbing tree trunks now. We're also starting to see a bit of yellow developing. Keep in mind though, that the main leaf season in the lower elevations is still two or three weeks away.

Fall Color Report - October 1, 2014
High elevations in the park are getting colorful with the yellows of birch and reds of sourwood and witch hobble. Although fall color in the high elevations is not usually as vibrant as the colors of the middle to lower elevations, the dark, evergreen needles of spruce trees are a nice backdrop for the yellows that predominate on the Smokies highest crests. Views along Clingmans Dome Road and in the higher reaches of Newfound Gap Road should be good though next week.
Middle and low elevations are still green, but some nice reds are developing on a few trees, especially dogwood, sourwood, and sumac. At middle elevations, look for the vivid red leaves of Virginia creeper vine climbing tree trunks. Overall however, there's not a lot of fall color in the lower elevations yet -- the season here is still a few weeks away.
Fall wildflower displays are especially colorful now. Flowers such as purple asters, white asters, black-eyed Susans, pale jewelweed, ironweed, great blue lobelia, closed gentian, and golden rod are blooming profusely along roadsides in the park. Look for the vibrant pink, purple, and red fruits of hearts-a-bustin' bushes and the brilliant reds of dogwood berries.

Fall Color Report - September 22, 2014
The main fall leaf season is still about a month away (mid to late October), but some early color is starting to develop on a few trees. Some dogwood trees have a reddish cast that will develop into more brilliant shades in a few weeks. Other species such as red maple, sourwood, witch hobble, and sumac are also beginning to sport a few red leaves, especially on trees at higher elevations. At mid and upper elevations, the vivid red leaves of Virgina creeper vine stand out against tree trunks. Overall however, there's not much fall color to see yet -- just scattered trees here and there, and their colors are still just a hint of what they'll become in a few more weeks.
Fall wildflower displays are especially colorful now. Flowers such as purple asters, white asters, black-eyed Susans, pale jewelweed, ironweed, great blue lobelia, closed gentian, and golden rod are blooming profusely along roadsides in the park. Look for the vibrant pink, purple, and red fruits of hearts-a-bustin' bushes along the edges of the forest.

For fall photos and updates from the park, visit our official facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/GreatSmokyMountainsNPS
You can also check out the park's webcams to see how fall colors are progressing:
Purchase Knob (high elevation)
Look Rock (middle elevation)

These colors are typical for early fall along Newfound Gap Road (NPS).
The park usually experiences an autumn leaf season of several weeks as fall colors travel down the mountain sides from high elevation to low. However, the timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables that the exact dates of "peak" season are impossible to predict in advance.

Elevation profoundly affects when fall colors change in the park. At higher elevations, where the climate is similar to New England's, color displays start as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry.
From early to mid-October, fall colors develop above 4,000 feet. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway.
The fall color display usually reaches peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is the park's most spectacular display as it includes such colorful trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and the hickories.


The Great Smoky Mountains Association posted this update on Sept. 26:

September 26 - Ploddingly, grudgingly, fall colors are starting to change in the Great Smoky Mountains. Though the pace of change has quickened, the advance of leaf colors is later than average. This means we likely have four to five more weeks to enjoy the transition before leaf colors peak and trees begin dropping leaves.
At the very highest elevations, leaves are progressing more rapidly after a light frost earlier this week. Still, only about 20%-30% of deciduous leaves have changed thus far.
Lower down, several species of trees have started to brighten. Sycamore, sassafras, witch hazel, walnut, tuliptree, black gum, sourwood, Virginia creeper, sumacs, and buckeye are all showing color. Migrating birds are flocking to the dogwoods’ red berries. Fall wildflowers are also conspicuous, including jewelweed, asters, goldenrod, and white snakeroot.
Good places for a drive include Clingmans Dome Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a great time to hike Mt. Le Conte! Upper Deep Creek Trail is also gorgeous this time of year.
The peak of fall colors at the higher elevations is likely a week or so away. At the lower and mid elevations, colors are trending toward a very late October or early November peak.


RomanticAsheville.com posted this update Sept. 30: Asheville NC Mountain Fall Leaf Color Forecast and Events 2014 - Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky reports.


The Friends of the Smokies' website features their Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains Event Calendar that highlights a few upcoming Fall Color Hikes you can sign up for.


From the National Park's website, here are some interesting tidbits about our amazing Smoky Mountains and the brilliant show of fall colors:

Fall Color Facts
Why are fall colors so remarkable in the Smokies? One reason is the park's amazing diversity of trees. Some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies and the vast majority of these are deciduous.

How do colors change? As summer ends, the green pigments in leaves deteriorate, giving other colors a chance to shine. Carotenoids, the pigment that makes carrots orange and leaves yellow, are exposed as the green fades. Reds and purples come from anthocyanins, a pigment that is formed when sugars in leaves break down in bright autumn sunlight.


And finally, here is a link to Autumn Drives and Hikes in the Great Smokies from the Park's website.

Fall Color season doesn't last long, so don't wait too long to get out and explore the Smokies.

24 September 2014

How Does Smokies World Heritage Site Designation and Biosphere Reserve Affect Smokies Tourism Management?

An interesting question was lodged on a Facebook group I follow that piqued my curiosity. How does the designation as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve affect tourism management in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)? So, I went to the GSMNP Public Affairs Office and they were quick to respond to help me understand more about the designation and what it means in the greater scheme of things.

According to Brent Everitt, Executive Assistant/Public Affairs Officer for the GSMNP, the Smokies were originally selected in 1976 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the first International Biosphere Reserves. Then in December 1983, the 21-nation World Heritage Committee unanimously selected the GSMNP as a World Heritage Site.

UNESCO was created in the '40s as a nationwide networking organization dedicated to, among other things, protecting sites of "outstanding universal value" like the Great Smokies. In 1971, UNESCO began a worldwide program designed to help land managers share scientific knowledge and practical experiences.

NPS. Endangered fish lay their eggs
(shown here in a net) under rocks
in Smoky Mountain streams. 
The Southern Appalachians Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB) reaches far beyond the boundaries of the park stretching from southwestern Virginia to northern Georgia, and from east Tennessee through North Carolina to northwestern South Carolina. The biosphere, Everitt said, provides for coordination between agencies and non-government organizations to conserve cultural and natural resources. International Biospheres in the United States are coordinated by the U.S. MAB within the State Department.

The United States proposed the World Heritage Convention to the international community and was the first nation to ratify it, Everitt explains. The World Heritage Convention, the most widely accepted international conservation treaty in human history, is the American national park idea being carried out worldwide. The inscription of 21 American properties as World Heritage Sites formally recognizes the respect they hold in the world community. Beyond recognition, Everitt said, inscription as a World Heritage Site has no impact on the park or its management.

Although these designations do not impact the way the National Park is managed, many (particularly international) tourists are interested in coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because it has been recognized as a special place of protection, according to Dana Soehn, GSMNP Management Assistant/Public Affairs. She added that the GSMNP's management practices are well aligned with biosphere reserve protections, but they are not subject to management directives from UNESCO. They are managed independently as directed by their management policies and orders from the Director of the NPS.

NPS. Management practices regarding tourists are not affected by
the World Heritage Site or Biosphere Reserve designations.
Tourists in Cades Cove are pictured here
photographing a black bear.
So, while there is no real impact on tourists as a result of these designations, it is certainly a special designation that impacts tourism as a whole and has far-reaching economic and cultural impact as a result of global awareness.

Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains (elev. 5,946 feet), is another local International Biosphere Reserve designee. In 1992, Grandfather Mountain was accepted into the international network of biosphere reserves. As of May 2009, there were 553 biosphere reserves in 107 countries. Criteria for selection as a Biosphere Reserve are that the property must be:
  • a sample of a unique ecological community
  • permanently protected from uncontrolled development
  • with a history of scientific research and monitoring
  • that provides for training of resource management professionals
  • and is dedicated to consciousness-raising with respect to current ecological issues.
The Nature Conservancy also considers Grandfather Mountain an ecological site of global significance, as it provides habitat for more globally rare species than any mountain east of the Rockies. Grandfather’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy began in 1990 when Grandfather Mountain, Inc. began donating or selling a series of conservation easements that forever protect the Grandfather Mountain backcountry from development.

To sum it up, the designations really have nothing to do with tourism management in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but have more to do with a global sharing of knowledge, experience and ideas of worldwide environmental protection.

Now I'm fully aware that there are different trains of thought on whether these designations are good or bad for the protected areas and for the United States in general.

The George Wright Society states the following on its website: "The fundamental point is that UNESCO, the MAB Council, the MAB National Committees, or any other part of the United Nations have no power to force changes in land/resource management or ownership upon governments, public agencies, or private parties in the United States (or any other country, for that matter). Through the MAB Council, UNESCO does set standards for biosphere reserves, and through periodic reviews it assesses whether the standards are being promoted. If they aren't, the Council encourages the reserve manager to make the changes necessary to do so, but cannot force any changes. The United States' participation in the biosphere reserve program is entirely voluntary, and land within U.S. biosphere reserves remains under the control of its owners."

Stacy Kowtko, in America's Natural Places: South and Southeast, says the designation "encourages developing ways for local communities to enjoy economic prosperity without destroying valuable environmental resources. A biosphere reserve is not, however, land controlled by the United Nations. The designation simply functions as a method of value recognition and an environmental system that focuses on finding the balance between development and conservations activities."

Many nay-sayers, it seems, have ulterior motives such as development in buffer zones established around national parks and other protected areas. John Peine of the SAMAB Foundation, in Ecosystem Management for Sustainability: Principles and Practices, says, "Because SAMAB membership consists of regional land managers and decision makers, along with scientists and other concerned parties, SAMAB provides a unique mechanism to implement an integrated approach to ecosystem management in a region of significant ecological resources. A central value of SAMAB is that it serves as an active forum to debate land use ethics in the region."

It seems that the designation as a biosphere reserve makes it easier to have a coordinated international effort to conduct scientific research. In 2010 there were fifteen scientific studies being performing at Grandfather Mountain. Projects ranged from census studies of crayfish and snails to collecting red spruce seeds for storage in international seed banks.

By Hugh Morton. Crossing Grandfather’s ridges on the Grandfather Trail
is a rigorous challenge that takes hikers in and out of wind-dwarfed spruce and fir,
across or around rock walls and pinnacles and into open spaces
with views of mountains unfurling in every direction.
Again, from the Grandfather Mountain website: "The purpose of the Man and Biosphere program is to foster harmonious relationships between human beings and their environment. The mission of the Man and Biosphere program is to identify and share information on ways that man can enjoy economic prosperity without destroying the environment. A Biosphere Reserve is not land controlled by the United Nations. Grandfather Mountain Inc. makes its own decisions regarding the operation of its business and management of its resources without any input from the United Nations."

The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest in the world, probably formed between 200 and 300 million years ago and are rife with biological diversity. According to the Park website, over 17,000 species have been documented in the park: Scientists believe an additional 30,000-80,000 species may live there. Why such a wondrous diversity? Mountains, glaciers, and weather are the big reasons, the website states. The park is the largest federally protected upland landmass east of the Mississippi River. The Smokies have been relatively undisturbed by glaciers or ocean inundation for over a million years, allowing species eons to diversify.

It seems to me that the designation as World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve help foster understanding, increase opportunities for scientific research, bring notoriety to protected areas and thus bring an appreciation of the varied resources we are privileged to enjoy in our back yard.

06 September 2014

Ginseng Poachers Sentenced to Jail Time for Illegally Harvesting in the Smokies

It's been an Appalachian tradition as far back as Daniel Boone and has been used by American Indian tribes for even longer. Harvesting wild American ginseng has been commonplace in the mountains and the root has been used by medicine men and mountain folk to cure a host of ills, from colic and depression to indigestion and anxiety.

Ginseng roots are thought to look like the human form.
Billy Joe Hurley of Bryson City, NC and his brother Jeff are no strangers to the ginseng trade. Problem is, they're getting it from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and that's illegal.

The brothers have both served time for illegally poaching wild ginseng from the Smokies. Billy Joe has been sentenced at least four times in the last 10 years. And Jeff Hurley testified in court in 2013 that his family has a long history of digging ginseng from the mountains.

In April 2011, Billy Joe was caught with 554 roots and sentenced to 75 days in jail and had to pay over $5,000 in restitution. Brother Jeff got 14 days and had to pay about $2,500 in restitution. Then, just months later in October 2011, Billy Joe was caught poaching another 183 roots from the Great Smokies and sentenced to another 120 days in jail.

Authorities described Hurley in 2013 as down-on-his-luck and the money as just too tempting to stop the illegal behavior.

Billy Joe Hurley's most recent arrest, however, has netted him five and a half months in jail from U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell, according to an announcement by Anne Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Hurley admitted in June this year to digging up 83 American ginseng roots from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although Park staff have replanted any viable roots, probably half of them won't survive. Years of poaching have depleted the plant and poachers are taking younger and younger plants as a result.

Ginseng is thought to be an "adaptogen"
that relieves stress, fatigue and thirst.
Ginseng poaching is partially fueled by an insatiable demand for American ginseng in Asia and the price can reach as much as $900 a pound or more. Asians treasure American ginseng for its medicinal properties. They have overharvested their own Asian ginseng and have driven up demand for the American variety.

American ginseng is native to the Smokies, where the wild roots have been put on North Carolina's Watch Category 5B, which includes species that are in high commercial demand and often collected and sold in high volume. Ginseng harvesting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has always been illegal, but that hasn't stopped people from illegally poaching from 500 to 1,000 illegal roots every year.

"Illegally harvesting American ginseng from federally protected land areas poses a serious danger to a plant that is part of our national heritage. It is also a crime, and my office will continue to work closely with National Park Service Rangers to prosecute poachers who profit from the illegal harvesting and sale of this endangered national resource," Tompkins said.

Acting Chief Ranger Steve Kloster said, "Our rangers remain committed to protecting ginseng which is now locally threatened by poaching ..." He said they hope Hurley's conviction and sentencing Aug. 28 will act as a deterrent to others considering illegally poaching ginseng.

Rangers are marking ginseng plants with dye and implanting microchips so that the illegal plants can be easily identified in an effort to curtail poaching.

Another man, Christopher Ian Jacobson of Cosby, TN, was sentenced on Aug. 6, 2014 to 80 days in prison for possessing 298 roots of ginseng. He was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the National Park Service reminded the public in their press release that gathering ginseng on federal lands, such as the Great Smokies, is a federal crime. The Smokies are the largest fully protected reserve known for wild ginseng. This plant was formerly abundant throughout the eastern mountains, but due to overharvesting, populations have been significantly reduced to isolated patches. The roots poached in this park are usually young, between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and have not yet reached their full reproductive capacity. In time, the park's populations might recover if poaching ceased.

While the Smokies' ginseng is off-limits, there are ways to legally gather it. It is legal to harvest ginseng outside the park on private lands or with a permit in certain Forest Service areas during the harvesting season. Park scientists have realized these slow-growing native plants could disappear because harvesting means taking the entire ginseng root. Over the years, park biologists have marked and replanted over 15,000 roots seized by law enforcement. Monitoring indicates that many of these roots have survived and are again thriving in these mountains.

To report illegal harvesting, call the Law Enforcement Desk of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 865-436-1230.

23 August 2014

Share Your National Park Adventures for a Chance to Win a Yosemite Vacation

The National Park Foundation is having a Summer Scrapbook contest through Sept. 5, 2014. They are looking for photos of your National Park adventures, special moments and memories, to help them showcase what there is to do at our 400+ National Parks.

There are all kinds of categories in which you can submit your scrapbook: Fun with Family and Friends, Action and Adventure, Hidden Gems and Surprises and several more.

You can read all about it here: http://www.nationalparks.org/summer-scrapbook/

My kids hiking at Cades Cove several years ago.
The National Park Foundation preserves our over 400 national parks, so that they can be experienced today and for generations to come. They need our support and participation so they can continue to protect these treasured places, connect with new park enthusiasts, and inspire the next generation of park-goers!

And, the grand prize winner gets a trip to Yosemite National Park and category winners get a Park Prize Pack The category finalists will need your votes to be the ultimate winner. And, if you vote, you're automatically entered for a chance to win an adventure trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton!

This is a great way to share your Summer Scrapbook of adventures in our National Parks and help spread the word about the National Park Foundation.

12 August 2014

Are Concealed Weapons OK in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cades Cove?

Since the Guns in Parks law came to be in 2010, many people still have some confusion about what the law really means. Can you carry a concealed weapon in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? What is the difference between being on the North Carolina side and the Tennessee side of the Smokies? Can you carry in Cades Cove? What if you're camping or picnicking or hiking?

According to Dana Soehn with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Public Affairs Department, the law generally means that if you can legally possess a gun under all applicable laws, then it's OK to possess a firearm throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- unless it's a building where federal employees are regularly present. These facilities are well posted and include the visitor centers and park administrative buildings, where you absolutely can not possess a firearm. However, possessing a firearm in historic buildings like those dotted throughout the Cades Cove Loop Road, Soehn said, is OK since there are no employees regularly stationed in them.

These Red Rock Rover shoulder sling bags make
carrying a concealed weapon easy while hiking.
So, if you are legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon, then it's OK to have that weapon on trails, in campgrounds and picnic areas throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the visitor's responsibility, Soehn explained, to understand and comply with all applicable state, local and federal laws. In both Tennessee and North Carolina, the permit holder must have their permit in their possession at all times when carrying a handgun and must show the permit at the request of a law enforcement officer.

Both Tennessee and North Carolina now recognize a valid handgun permit, firearms permit, weapons permit or a license issued by another state according to its terms, and will, therefore, authorize the holder of the out-of-state permit or license to carry a handgun. That means both states will recognize any state's valid permit or license, even if they don't have a written reciprocity agreement with the other state, and even if that state does not recognize a Tennessee or North Carolina permit.

In North Carolina, if you are approached by a law enforcement officer, you must disclose the fact that you have a valid handgun permit and inform the officer that you are in possession of a concealed gun. You must present valid ID and the permit to the officer.

According to the North Carolina Department of Justice Website, North Carolina began automatically recognizing concealed carry permits issued in any other state effective Dec. 1, 2011. Out-of-state permit holders should familiarize themselves with the state laws pertaining to concealed carry.

For instance, in North Carolina, like in Tennessee, you can't carry a concealed handgun in any space occupied by state or federal employees. They also don't allow handguns in any business that has a sign posted banning concealed weapons, by anyone consuming alcohol or in areas of assemblies, parades, funerals or demonstrations. However, effective Oct. 1, 2013, unless posted as being prohibited, a concealed handgun is permitted while at a parade or funeral by North Carolina authorities.

So, the laws do tend to change from year to year and it truly is the individual's responsibility to find out what the law says about your right to carry, no matter where you are at the time.

Soehn provided this link to read the Park's regulations: National Park Service Gun Laws

The carrying of rifles or shotguns is also per applicable state and local laws. Tennessee's law, for instance, says you can have a loaded rifle or shotgun in a privately owned vehicle if you have a handgun carry permit. It also says, however, that ammo can't be chambered except in the case that you feel physically threatened.

Do you need to carry a gun in a National Park? You can't kill a bear with it, because that's obviously breaking a totally different law. You can't target practice or hunt with it since hunting and shooting aren't allowed in the National Park. It would be strictly for protection. As anyone with a concealed carry permit knows, the only time you would theoretically use your weapon is in a life or death scenario, unless of course you are target practicing somewhere besides the National Park.

But I'll save that debate for another blog post down the road.

10 August 2014

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to Close Oct. 31 for Bridge Repairs

If you have any plans to take a road trip on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail out of Gatlinburg, now's the time to do it. Roaring Fork will close for the season on the evening of Oct. 31, 2014 and will remain closed until April 30, 2015 to replace eight bridges along the roadway. The road will be closed to all public use, including hiking and biking.

The Roaring Fork area is a favorite side trip for many people who frequently visit the Smokies. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg, TN., at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park.

The Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail provides a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest. Highlights include a streamside tubmill and the Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system.

Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead you have the option of taking the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This narrow, but paved, road twists and turns for six miles beside rich forests, waterfalls, and mountain streams. Buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the motor nature trail. An inexpensive booklet available at the beginning of the motor nature trail details landmarks along the route.

“Roaring Fork” is the name of the stream which the road roughly parallels. It is one of the larger and faster flowing mountain streams in the park. Drive this road after a hard rain and the inspiration behind the name will be apparent.

Several homes and other buildings have been preserved in this area. And a “wet weather” waterfall called Place of a Thousand Drips provides a splendid finale to your journey.
According to smokiesadventure.com, the Place of a Thousand Drips is something you won't want to miss. Their website says it's a low-flow waterfall that can be seen from your vehicle.

It is located just before the one-way road comes out to Gatlinburg. The waterfall comes out of high rocks and a small cave and cascades down 20-30 feet.  Due to the small amount of water that flows over the falls the name "Place of a Thousand Drips" seems to be fitting. Since it is best viewed during rainy season, now should be a good time for a visit. The Place of a Thousand Drips is a must-see, however, because of the intricate pathways and carvings the water has created over time.


31 July 2014

Gunter Fork Trail Reopened

The 4.1 mile Gunter Fork Trail has reopened following a landslide in May that closed the trail for repairs. Great Smoky Mountains National Park crews completed repairs that re-established the trail through the slide area. It passes through steep, rocky terrain, which complicated repairs. It was also closed in 2011 due to a slide in the same area. The Gunter Fork Trail takes hikers from the Walnut Bottoms area up to Balsam Mountain and Mount Sterling. It's on the east end of the park connecting Camel Gap and Balsam Mountain Trails.

For more information on closures, visit the Park's website at www.nps.gov/grsm or call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.

25 July 2014

Is Your Dog Welcomed on your Next National Park Adventure?

Taking a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains is a fun, family friendly activity enjoyed by over 9 million visitors each year. Camping, hiking, fishing, waterfalls, wildlife viewing and much more ... but are these activities really OK for the "whole" family? What about the family dog?

Photo by Candace West.
According to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are really very few places your dogs are welcomed or allowed if you plan on hiking on one of their 150 official trails. There are actually only two short walking trails where they are allowed: the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.

Dogs are not allowed on any other trails in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including backcountry trails, and haven't been since the park was established in the 1930s.

Dogs are, however, allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas and along roads if they are on a leash no longer than 6 feet, and of course they can't be left unattended in vehicles or RVs and you must scoop the poop.

According to the Park Service, there are several good reasons your dog is not welcomed in the National Park:

• Dogs can carry disease into the park's wildlife populations.
• Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring 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, disrupting or altering 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 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 or bark excessively.
• Pets may become prey for larger predators such as coyotes and bears. In addition, if your dog disturbs and enrages a bear, it may lead the angry bear directly to you. Dogs can also encounter insects that bite and transmit disease and plants that are poisonous or full of painful thorns and burrs.
• Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.

If including your dog on your next hiking adventure is important to you and the rest of the family, here is a list of nearby dog-friendly alternatives from the National Park website:

23 July 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter Available

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park quarter is the first of 2014 and the 21st overall in the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program. This national park features wondrous biodiversity, with ridge upon ridge of forest straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is world renowned for its diverse plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of southern Appalachian mountain culture. It is America's most-visited national park. It was first established as a national site on May 22, 1926 (44 Stat. 616).
The reverse design depicts a historic log cabin found within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It features a segment of the lush green forest and hawk circling above. Inscriptions are GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, TENNESSEE, 2014 and E PLURIBUS UNUM. Design candidates were developed in consultation with representatives of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

2014 Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter reverse

Here's the link to order yours:

Keep Cool on Your Next Warm-Weather Hike

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir

Temperatures are heating up on the trails this summer and many hikers are asking themselves what to wear for maximum protection and comfort. I did a little research to see what really works best and what's most affordable, especially for infrequent hikers and bargain shoppers like me.

Footwear: Whether you're going on a short hike or a long trek, boots are hands-down the recommended footwear. They give better ankle support for varying or rugged terrain and protect you from ground-level threats like thorns or snake bites. If you're going to be doing any rock climbing, you might consider hiking shoes for improved flexibility and grip. You can find hiking sneakers or boots at Walmart from around $30 and places like Bass Pro for $30 to $100+.

Since larger snakes can realistically bite through most hiking boots and shoes, you may want additional protection from snake bites. You can buy Whitewater snake proof gaiters from places like cabelas.com for around $50 that fit over your boots to provide maximum bite protection or $48 from forestry-suppliers.com for Rattlers snake gaiters.

Pants: Recommendations vary, but most seem to prefer lightweight pants or shorts for summertime hiking. If you're worried about insect protection, you can get Mossy Oak Rynoskin for under $20 at Walmart. They come in pants, gloves, shirts, etc. As for pants, Bass Pro has some Ascend Timberline 90% nylon/10% spandex pants for $36.75 and Walmart has polyester waterproof pants for around $37.00. These are men's pants but they have similar products for women and children, too.

The overwhelming majority of hikers say not to wear jeans or anything cotton since cotton soaks up sweat, doesn't dry out quickly and keeps you wet. This can cause hypothermia since temperatures can drop significantly at night, not to mention it's uncomfortable to wear a wet shirt or pants all day.

Shirts: Believe it or not, many hikers prefer lightweight merino wool shirts for hiking. They're expensive but they provide sun protection and make a great base layer underneath a lightweight shirt or can be worn by themselves. They're breathable, lightweight and odor-resistant. It's renewable, biodegradable and keeps you cool in the heat and warm in cool temps. So, if you don't mind dropping about $80 bucks on a shirt, that's probably your best bet. You can find an affordable merino wool/polyester blend short-sleeved shirt on Amazon.com for under $35 from Outdoor Research. The Icebreaker brand is also popular but a little more expensive.

As for the question of long-sleeved or short, most seem to prefer short sleeves to let your skin breath and prevent overheating, but many do opt for long sleeves for insect and sun protection.

Socks: Again, merino wool seems to be the preferred sock. Many hikers will pair wool socks with silk or thin polyester liners, even in summertime. One of the biggest pros for wool socks is blister prevention, which I'm all for, along with moisture prevention, breathability and odor prevention. You can get merino wool socks on Amazon.com from $8 and up or a Rocky wool-blend sock at Walmart for around $10.

Headgear: A light cap or hat will shield your face and neck from the sun. Boonie hats, nylon sun caps or lightweight bill flap hats range from $20 and up on Amazon.com or from $10 on tacticalgear.com and from $10 at Bass Pro Shops.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at our doorstep and offers an abundance of hiking trails in every level from easy to difficult, short to long. Check out their website to get inspired, pick a trail, get geared up and get hiking.

"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter." - John Muir's letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir (1924).