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).