31 August 2015

Smokies hiker Jenny Bennett's cause of death announced; Memorial hike planned

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials received the final autopsy report from the
Sevier County Medical Examiner’s Office for Susan J. "Jenny" Bennett, of Sylva,
NC and have concluded that her cause of death was environmental hypothermia.

Bennett was reported missing and discovered off trail by rangers in the Greenbrier area
of the park above backcountry campsite 31 on June 8. The report concludes that Bennett
died of environmental hypothermia due to cold exposure from partial submersion in Porter’s
Jenny Bennett hiking in the Smokies.

However, she did have a toxic level of diphenhydramine concentration in her blood, which is considered a significant contributing factor in her death and points toward an intentional overdose, according to the Medical Examiner's Office. Diphenhydramine is used to treat common colds and allergies.

Bennett was found in a sitting position in the creek with her head resting on rocks. According to the final autopsy report, she had bruises on her right hip and elbow consistent with a fall. However, she did not have any internal or musculoskeletal trauma.

Bennett, age 62, was an avid hiker in the Smoky Mountains and maintained a blog about her trips. She had been a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and often liked to hike off trail in the park. She was also a published author and blogger. One of her older blog sites, jennybennett.net, chronicles her off-trail hiking adventures in the Smokies, and a more recent publication was her hiking blog Endless Streams and Forests. She published a murder mystery, Murder at the Jump Off, set in the Smokies, and a contemporary fiction novel, The Twelve Streams of Leconte.

Her brother Peter Bennett, of Bozeman, Montana, who originally reported his sister missing, had this to say about her death on her Endless Streams and Forests blog:

"Jenny was planning on moving to Vermont to be closer to her sister Betsy at the beginning of June. She had packed most of her belongings and must have decided to make one last hike to her favorite area of the Smokies. She went up Porter’s Creek (setting for her first novel, Murder at the Jumpoff) and never returned. It was about a week before her landlord went to the house she was renting and realized that she had never left. He called me (Peter) and we were both very concerned. A search was launched, her car was found at the Porter’s Creek trailhead, and her body was found the next morning."

He continued, "Details of what actually happened to Jenny are unclear. The Park Service launched an investigation after her body was found, but they still don’t know everything. It is likely that we will never really know what happened. We do know that Jenny died in her favorite place in the world, the beautiful Smoky Mountains."

Her obituary in the Knoxville News-Sentinel gave a moving glimpse into her life.

"Jenny has always had an adventurous spirit and hitchhiked across Europe when she was 18. She went to college at New College in Sarasota, Florida, where she received a Bachelors degree in philosophy. She was also very interested in writing and editing, and earned a Masters degree in creative writing a few years later. In 1980 Jenny married Chris Hebb. They moved to Knoxville, where Chris went to school at the University of Tennessee. While living in Knoxville, Jenny was employed as a writer for a journal about the coal market. It was during this period that she began hiking in the Smoky Mountains and joined the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. A few years later Jenny divorced Chris and she moved north to Gloucester Massachusetts."

"She spent many years exploring the White Mountains in New England with her dear friend, Bob Parlee. Her accomplishments included summiting all of the highest mountains of New England in summer and winter. Jenny traveled to many locations all around the world. She frequently summited the highest point wherever she traveled. In 2009, Jenny returned to the Smoky Mountains and lived in North Carolina. Her many off trail adventures in the Smokies are well known to her family, friends, and members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club."

Memorial Hike planned Sept. 13 by Smoky Mountains Hiking Club

The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club has announced a memorial hike for Jenny on Sept. 13, 2015, on the Porters Creek Trail, with a potluck lunch of fellowship and reflection at the Porters Creek Pavilion. Times and details to be announced as they are confirmed with information on their website, www.smhclub.org.

10 June 2015

Authorities positively identify hiker as Jenny Bennett, friends start memorial wall on GoSmokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have positively identified the body found in the Greenbrier area of the Great Smokies as that of 62-year-old Jenny Bennett of Sylva, NC. She was reported missing by her brother Peter Bennett of Bozeman, Montana when she wasn't at home on the day she was supposed to be moved to Vermont.
Jenny Bennett (from her blog)

He believed she had been on a final hike before leaving on May 30 or 31. Movers were supposed to show up on June 1 and her landlord called her brother on Saturday, June 6, when she was officially reported missing.

Bennett was an avid off-trail hiker in the Smokies and was also a published author and blogger. One of her older blog sites is jennybennett.net, where she chronicled her off-trail hiking adventures in the Smokies, and more recently she published the hiking blog Endless Streams and Forests. She published a murder mystery, Murder at the Jump Off, set in the Smokies, and a contemporary fiction novel, The Twelve Streams of Leconte.

GSMNP Spokesperson Dana Soehn reported that there is currently no suspicion of foul play and said there were no obvious signs of animal attack. Bennett's vehicle was found at the Porters Flats trailhead Sunday night and her body was found about 9:30 Monday morning about a half-mile above backcountry campsite 31 off-trail following an intensive search. Her cause of death has not yet been released.

Bennett was a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and also an avid contributor to the GoSmokies blog site, where shortly before she went missing her posts were deleted. Her hiking friends have started a memorial site there to honor their friend and fellow hiker, Remembering Jenny Bennett.

You can read earlier reports on her disappearance by scrolling down to previous blog posts as events unfolded.

08 June 2015

UPDATE: Mother and 16-year-old son missing in Clingmans Dome area of Smokies found at 2 p.m. today

UPDATE: Rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have found a missing woman and her son from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin who had been reported being lost in the park on Sunday, June 7.

Christy Barns, 40, and her son, Casey, 16, had sent a text message to family members on Sunday evening at 8:38 p.m. stating they were lost and needed help. Rangers were notified and were able to locate the individuals’ vehicle at Clingmans Dome. The ground search was initiated on Monday morning and the pair was soon found in good condition along the Forney Ridge trail a little before 2:00 p.m.

The park had mobilized an incident management team and deployed search teams to the trails surrounding Clingmans Dome. The search involved 30 National Park Services employees with 15 of those actively searching in the field. The initial search focused on trails which carried the highest probability of where the pair may have been located. 

We reported earlier:
A search is underway for a mother and her 16-year-old son from Wisconsin, who are missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the Clingmans Dome area. Dana Soehn, spokesperson for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said officials believe the pair was day hiking but that no other information is available.

They were reported missing Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. when they didn't return from their hike. The search for the missing hikers began Monday morning. More details will hopefully be known later today, Soehn said. These hikers are not to be confused with hikers lost Saturday in the Roaring Fork area who were reunited with their party.

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's highest point. It is the highest point in Tennessee and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. It's a popular Park destination and is located in both North Carolina and Tennessee. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144-mile journey.

Body believed to be that of missing hiker Jenny Bennett found in Greenbrier area of the Smokies

Investigators are being called in to positively identify a body that has been found in the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park believed to be that of missing hiker Jenny Bennett, 62, of Sylva, NC. Her brother, Peter Bennett of Bozeman, Montana, had reported her missing on Saturday, but she had actually been missing since sometime before June 1, the day she was supposed to meet movers at her home in Sylva for an impending move to Vermont.
Jenny Bennett (Photo from her blog)

Jenny Bennett (Photo by
Joe Guenther)
At 11:00 today, when Park officials were holding a media briefing at Greenbrier, Peter Bennett reported on his GoSmokies blog, "A body has been found that matches Jenny's description in the area that they were looking for her.  A team of investigators is being sent in to positively identify the body and determine what happened."

Search operations began early Monday morning. At 9:30 a.m. a body was found behind back-country campsite 31. Rangers said they strongly believe the body to be that of Bennettt, although a positive identification has not yet been made. Based on clothing and the location of the body, rangers felt it was indeed Bennett.

The Public Affairs Department of the GSMNP released the following at 11:44 a.m. Monday: "Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers believe to have discovered the body of reported missing hiker, Jenny Bennett, 62, of Sylva, NC in the Lester Prong area of Greenbrier above campsite 31 on Monday, June 8. It was reported to park officials on Sunday, June 7 that Bennett was missing and possibly in the park. Her vehicle was located at the Porters Flat Trailhead later that evening. An area wide search operation of trained man trackers was underway when she was found by rangers."

Bennett was an avid hiker in the Smoky Mountains and maintained a blog about her trips. She was a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and often liked to hike off trail in the park.

Her brother believed she went missing when she had taken one last hike prior to her move last weekend. Great Smoky Mountains National Park personnel found her red car at the Porters Creek Trailhead last night and have focused their search in that area, which is the in the Greenbrier area of the Park.

Bennett, an avid hiker, author and blogger, is well-known to the hiking community for her toughness, preparedness and her love of off-trail hiking in the Smokies. She chronicled many of her outings on her blog, Endless Streams and Forests. She had mentioned in her last blog entry on May 27 that she had been experiencing depression and a bum knee, causing alarm for her fellow hikers, family and friends.
Jenny Bennett (Photo by Dave Landreth)

Many of her hiking friends felt she might be attempting to pay tribute to her mentor, Charlie Klabunde, whose memorial is a short hike from the Lester Prong headwaters and accessed from the Porters Creek Trailhead. In her blog she mentioned that she had tried to make the trip before but her knee had given out and she had to turn back.

National Park Spokesperson Molly Schroer said earlier today that a search operation was indeed underway in the Greenbrier area and that further details would be available at the media briefing. More details will be reported as they emerge.

Peter Bennett reported in a blog post on GoSmokies.com on Saturday that Bennett's landlord called him Saturday regarding his sister's whereabouts. "I received a call from her landlord in Sylva yesterday (Saturday, June 6) morning. The Jackson County Sheriff was there starting to do his investigation. She was supposed to meet the movers at her house in Sylva on Monday morning (June 1) to start her move north, but when the movers arrived she was not there. My sister in Massachusetts was expecting to see her on Wednesday, but Jenny did not arrive."

Peter Bennett reported today on the Hike the Smokies Facebook group: "I would like to clarify how the situation with my sister Jenny unfolded. I knew that she was going to be moving from NC to Vermont starting June 1 and I was thinking about her in that regard last week. I did not hear anything from her last week, but that is not unusual because we normally only connect when something important has happened. I did not have an idea that she was missing until Saturday June 6 when I received a call from her landlord in Sylva. He told me that her belongings were still at the house in Sylva, some things had been packed up to move and other things were still unpacked. He told me that the movers had arrived on Monday June 1 and she was not there."

He continued, "I talked with the Jackson County Sheriff deputy who was there and he told me they were going to treat this as a missing person case and start searching for her car. I told him that she was a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and that she was probably up one of the trails in the area. I was told that the Sheriff's department was going to follow up and search the trail heads for her car. I gave the deputy my number and expected to hear back from them within a few hours. By the end of the day I still had not heard back from the Sheriffs department and I became more concerned. I contacted the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club through email and posted on the Go Smokies blog. It was only after I posted on the blog that people in NC and TN became involved and her car was eventually found at the Porter's Creek trail head."

More information will be reported as the investigation continues.

07 June 2015

Missing hiker Jenny Bennett's car reportedly found at Porters Creek Trailhead in Great Smokies

Porters Creek Trail. (Photo from Meetup.com
Asheville Hiking Group)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers have reportedly found the car of missing hiker Jenny Bennett of Sylva, NC, who was reported missing after she failed to meet movers at her house on June 1. Her brother, Peter Bennett of Bozeman, Montana, believed that his sister had gone hiking in the Smokies on May 30 or 31 when she went missing.

GoSmokies.com blogger and avid hiker Mike Maples reported on GoSmokies that her car, possibly a red Subaru Impreza, has been found at the Porters Creek Trailhead Sunday night.

Peter Bennett reported in a blog post on GoSmokies.com that Bennett's landlord called him yesterday regarding his sister's whereabouts. "I received a call from her landlord in Sylva yesterday (Saturday, June 6) morning. The Jackson County Sheriff was there starting to do his investigation. She was supposed to meet the movers at her house in Sylva on Monday morning (June 1) to start her move north, but when the movers arrived she was not there. My sister in Massachusetts was expecting to see her on Wednesday, but Jenny did not arrive."

Bennett said he has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Park Service so that he can get information and was "waiting to hear from the search party." 

Jenny Bennett is a freelance editor and avid off-trail hiker who writes the hiking blog Endless Streams and Forests

Here is a link to the earlier post on her brother's report of Bennett going missing. MISSING HIKER.

Porters Creeek Trail map.

Jenny Bennett, avid off-trail hiker, reported missing by brother after apparent hike over a week ago

Freelance editor and avid off-trail hiker Jenny Bennett of Sylva, NC, who writes the hiking blog Endless Streams and Forests, is missing following what relatives believe was a hike last weekend. According to a post on the Facebook group Hike the Smokies by her friend Eleanor Hail of Knoxville, Bennett has not been seen or heard from since going on the hike and no one knows what hike she took, so her whereabouts are unknown.

Jenny Bennett (Photo provided by
Joe Guenther on Hike the Smokies)
According to the post, Bennett was supposed to meet someone at her home last Monday but never showed up. Hail said authorities had been notified. Hail noted that Bennett had mentioned she would be off the internet for a while, although she posted in her blog on May 27 about being in the Balsam Mountain area hiking. She has also mentioned that she will be moving to Vermont soon.

Her hiking friends have mentioned that she is an avid off-trail hiker. Mike Maples, an avid hiker and GoSmokies blogger, wrote, "One thing for sure, she isn't lost. She is the author of "Murder at the Jump-Off." Been hiking these mountains doing the toughest of hikes. Up the Bunion, up the Jump Off, up some of the most remote sections of the Park. Hope to hear something soon."

Bennett's brother Peter Bennett of Bozeman, Montana posted the following on GoSmokies.com:
Jenny Bennett
|Photo provided
by Joe Guenther on
Hike the Smokies)

Jenny Bennett of Sylva NC is missing. Jenny is an avid off trail hiker in the Smoky Mountains. She probably went on a hike on Saturday May 30 or Sunday May 31. She was supposed to be met at her house on Monday June 1 and was not there. She has not been seen since. Because she is an off trail hiker, it is quite possible that she was somewhere in the Smokies and had an accident. If you know Jenny and have an idea where she might have gone or if you happen to see her car ( a red Subaru I think ) please contact the Jackson County NC Sheriff as soon as possible.

I am her brother Peter Bennett and I live in Bozeman Montana.

In her most recent blog post, Bennett wrote of some physical problems and depression. "In the past couple of weeks, as I have been preparing for my move to Northern Vermont, I have been fixated on getting in one last expedition—despite the bum knee, despite the fact that I’ve allowed myself to get somewhat out of shape. I hope this doesn’t sound too personal: I absolutely believe it is the right thing to do to move to New England, mainly because I can be of assistance to my sister. At the same time, I have struggled with my loss of the Smokies. I have been dealing with depression, and have not kept up my regular exercise routine as well as I could," Bennett wrote.

Jenny Bennett (Photo by Dave Landreth)

Her hiking friends are spreading the word far and wide in hopes of getting some word on their friend and have expressed their concern that she could be injured on or off a Smokies trail.

Photo of Jenny Bennett from her blog.

The car she would have been driving, according to friends, was a red Subaru Impreza four-door like this, although some have identified her car as a Toyota Echo.

Calls to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Jackson County NC Sheriff's Department have yielded no new information as to Bennett's whereabouts or any information about her status as a missing person. If you have any information about Jenny Bennett, you may call the Jackson County NC Sheriff's Department at 828-586-8901.

Bear drags 16-year-old sleeping backpacker out of hammock, Park closes trails and campsites

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed several trails and backcountry campsites in the Hazel Creek section of the park due to a bear incident occurring at approximately 10:30 p.m. on June 6. A 16-year old male from Ohio was pulled from his hammock by a bear and injured at backcountry campsite 84 which is 4.5 miles from the Fontana Lake shoreline near Hazel Creek in NC. The father was able to drive the bear off from the area.

Immediately following the incident, the young man and his father hiked to the lakeshore where they were transported across the lake to Cable Cove boat dock by campers at backcountry campsite 86 who had a boat. Graham County Rescue EMS transported them to a landing zone where the injured party was flown by Mountain Area Medical Airlift (MAMA) to Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC at approximately 3:00 a.m. this morning.

The young man received multiple injuries including lacerations to the head. He remained conscious throughout the incident and is in stable condition at this time.

Park rangers and wildlife biologists are responding to the backcountry campsite area to investigate the scene and to clear the area of other campers. Hazel Creek Trail, Jenkins Ridge Trail, Bone Valley Trail, Cold Spring Gap Trail and backcountry campsites 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, and 88 are closed until further notice. Derrick Knob shelter along the Appalachian Trail has also been closed to camping until officials can determine whether recent bear activity at the shelter may also be related to the same bear.

“While incidents with bears are rare, we ask park visitors to take necessary precautions while hiking in bear country and comply with all backcountry closures,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The safety of our visitors is our number one priority.”

The father and son were on a multi-day backpacking trip in the Smokies. Both campers were sleeping in hammocks approximately 10 feet apart and had all equipment, food, and packs properly stored on aerial food storage cables.

For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website athttp://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm. To report a bear incident, please call 865-436-1230.

13 May 2015

Pocket-sized water bottle could make plastic water bottles a thing of the past; perfect for backpacking

Every minute, U.S. consumers use and throw away 90,000 disposable water bottles. That’s 50 billion water bottles per year – or – 30 million TONS of plastic waste each year in the U.S. alone.

The Hydaway collapsible water bottle being developed by Niki Singlaub (and 4,602 backers) could make a big dent in those numbers ... it collapses to take up minimal space in your backpack, and is a handy alternative to disposable plastic water bottles - it folds down easily and can be carried in your pocket, hung from a carabiner or neatly tucked away in your gear pack.

Singlaub's Kickstarter fundraising efforts end Friday, May 15, and he has already well exceeded his $20,000 fundraising goal, currently at $207,572. If you want to get in on the ground level by pledging money, you'll get a piece of the action ... anything from one of the first Hydaway bottles produced to multiple bottles and travel cases depending on your pledge level. You can get on board by clicking his campaign link here.  The Hydaway is made from food-grade silicone and BPA-free caps.

Speaking of BPA, when I was reading about his handy invention, I was reminded of camping trips with my parents in the '60s and '70s and drinking out of those little collapsible camping cups made of metal. Remember those? They had neat camping scenes etched on the lids and made the water taste so cold. However, I believe it's been found that drinking from a metal cup isn't healthy and perhaps leaches toxic BPAs.

I've read that exposure to arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and tin has been shown to affect the blood system and that tin and certain other metals are toxic and cause infertility in males. Oh well, those little folding cups sure were fun when I was a kid. That was back in the day when you had no qualms about filling up in the fresh, clear mountain streams ... another practice some people frown on nowadays.

Prefer a hot, steaming cup of java to water? Another entrepreneurial venture ready to hit the market is the Smash Cup (soon to be renamed), a new collapsible coffee cup that gives coffee drinkers a way to grab their caffeine fix on the go and then store the empty mug in their pocket.

It's portable, reusable and eco-friendly and collapses when empty to fit in handbags, backpacks and even your pocket. Something to point out is the fact that the company has encountered a legal battle over their name because of alleged infringement, so they're seeking suggestions for a new name for the cup. You can read all about it on their Kickstarter page and offer your suggestion for a fitting name.

Very handy for taking up less space when packing the camper or on-the-run.

12 May 2015

This is what that extra shoelace hole is used for. I wish I knew this earlier!

Have you ever wondered why there is an extra shoelace hole at the top of your shoe?  Many running and hiking shoes have the extra hole and most people don’t ever use it.  Instead, they skip threading the lace through the last top hole and tie them as usual.  After watching THIS VIDEO you will now know why they are there and how to use them to your advantage.

The extra holes can be used to prevent blisters on your heels and stop your feet from cramming forward into the front of the shoe.  When you tie laces using the “heel lock” or “lace lock” technique it creates more friction between the laces at the top of the shoe which are closest to your ankle.  This serves to make and keep the heel/ankle area tight and snug in place without having to re-tighten your whole shoe.  Even if you do not have the extra shoelace hole you can still use the method on the top hole instead.

Here is how to tie the “lace lock.”  Begin by inserting the lace in backwards through the top hole so that you create a small loop on each side of the shoe.  Cross your laces and insert them each into the loop on the opposite side then cinch them down.  Be sure to go down and not up because cinching upwards will leave the loop hanging out and that is not good.  By pulling down towards the shoe you end up creating a nice tight lock that will keep your shoe in place and snug.  Finish by tying your shoe as you normally would and you’re good to go!

It's hard to visualize without watching the video, so be sure to click the link in the first paragraph to see how it's done.

20 April 2015

65th Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage starts Tuesday, April 21, in the Smokies

Tomorrow, April 21, kicks off the 65th Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, an annual five-day event in Great Smoky Mountains National Park consisting of a variety of wildflower, fauna, and natural history walks, motorcades, photographic tours, art classes, and indoor seminars. Most programs are outdoors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while indoor offerings are held in various venues throughout Gatlinburg, TN.

Morel Mushrooms by Christine Braaten.
Mark your calendar for the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smokies on April 21-25, 2015!

On-site registration will begin Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 5:00 PM in the Mills Conference Center, Gatlinburg TN. View the on-site registration schedule or register now online . To keep up with the latest updates from the 65th Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, like them on Facebook.

Here's a link to the Schedule.

Here's a link to the necessary Guide and Maps.

Here's a link to the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage Website.

03 April 2015

Make a difference in the National Park by volunteering to help maintain a trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is recruiting volunteers to participate in the Adopt-a-Trail (AAT) program, an effort that helps to maintain the park’s 800-mile trail system.  The Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program has integrated volunteerism into many of the park operations, including trail maintenance that covers everything from picking up litter to removing tree-falls and reporting trail problems to the park.  

Volunteers work on trail maintenance. (NPS photo)
AAT volunteers should be prepared to preform basic trail maintenance, and are to hike/patrol the trail(s) at least four times per program year-- March through October.  Specific trail duties include: Collect and remove litter; clean water bars and drainage systems; perform brushing and removal of small windfalls or branches (hand tools only); perform minor trail tread maintenance; remove illegal campsites and fire rings found along trail; inspect trail and trail signs; and promote Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.

Trainings will be held throughout the year.   Interested participants can register by contacting Alan Chapman, Trails Volunteer Coordinator by phone at (828) 497-1949 or by email at Alan_Chapman@nps.gov.  Part of the training is held outside and participants should wear appropriate clothing including sturdy footwear.  

Music of the Mountains showcases diverse history of Southern Appalachian music

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will hold its eleventh annual “Music of the Mountains” celebration Friday, April 17 through Sunday, April 19. The event tells the story of music in the Southern Appalachians through its diverse history by letting visitors experience a variety of music that was played in the region or represents Old-Time music’s roots. With performances held in surrounding communities and in the park, the event tells the story of how mountain music grew out of traditional Celtic and religious roots, to become something that would be played on front porches all over the Smokies.

The three-day event begins with a concert of Celtic music by Four Leaf Peat on Friday at 7:00 p.m. at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend, Tennessee.  General admission is $5.00.   “Music of the Mountains” continues on Saturday, kicking off National Park Week in style, with a series of free performances of old-time mountain music, dulcimer and early bluegrass during the day at the park’s Sugarlands Visitor Center. Music will be ongoing from 10:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. (see schedule below).

NPS photo
A variety of music will be featured at the
Music of the Mountains celebration April 17-19
in Townsend, Gatlinburg and Cosby. (NPS photo)
Two new acts will be part of the festival this year. Tim Simek is a two-time national champion on dulcimer winning the national championship for hammered dulcimer in 2011 and for mountain dulcimer in 1997. Out of North Carolina, The Freight Hoppers are a four-piece string band who has been playing Old Time music for 20 years that is high energy and fun to dance to.

Also new this year will be a Youth Picking Contest hosted by the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Youth ages 8 – 17 are invited to compete on either fiddle or guitar starting at 4:00 p.m. on the plaza outside of the Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies.  Registration for the contest begins at 2:30 p.m. at the same location and spots will be limited. Spectators are encouraged and the contest is free for the public to watch.

The Sunday program at the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center in Cosby, Tennessee, will feature traditional Appalachian religious music with an old fashioned community sing along from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. This event is free to the public . 

“The music in these mountains tells such a wonderful story,” said park ranger Caitlin Worth.  “This festival provides the opportunity to find the type of traditional music that you love and learn how the stories that the music tells connect it to this place and its people.”
The schedule of events:
April 17 - Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, Townsend  
Admission: $ 5.00
7:00 p.m. – Celtic Music by Four Leaf Peat

April 18 - Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Admission is Free
10:00 a.m. Boogertown Gap Band
11:00 a.m. Lost Mill String Band
12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. The Freight Hoppers
2:00 p.m.  Tim Simek on Dulcimer

April 18- Plaza at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg
Admission is Free
4:00 p.m. – Youth Pickin’ Contest for ages 8 - 17

April 27th - Smoky Mountain Visitor Center, Cosby   
Admission is Free
2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. –“Heritage, Harps and Hymns”– traditional offerings from Cocke County

21 March 2015

Appalachian Trail AT Founders Bridge Festival in Bryson City, NC April 3-4, 2015

Thru-hikers and casual adventurers will gather to celebrate the 2,181+ mile-long Appalachian Trail and support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy April 3-4, 2015 at Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City, NC.

(Photo courtesy NOC)
Plan to join them for hiker-themed games, movies, lectures and prizes. And for anyone having trouble with their gear, check out the free gear repair area.

The movie on Friday night, April 3, is The Long Start to the Journey. In February 2013, filmmaker Chris Gallaway embarked on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. With the traveling community of other AT nomads, he walked through a fierce winter blizzard, the epidemic Norovirus, monsoon summer rains and a resulting plague of mosquitoes. Gallaway presents his recently finished film, exploring the downsides as well as the rich rewards of walking for seven months on the Appalachian Trail ... and explains why anyone would want to do such a thing. Lots of fun activities planned. Check them out.  AT Founders Bridge Festival

16 March 2015

Spring Openings, Campground Schedule announced for Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announce the spring opening schedule for park facilities for the 2015 season. Campgrounds and secondary roads began opening Friday, March 13. The schedule follows:

Roads – Secondary Roads are scheduled to open as follows: Forge Creek Road opened on March 6; Clingmans Dome Road will open on April 1; Round Bottom/Straight Fork Road will open April 3; Parson Branch, Rich Mountain Road, and Little Greenbrier will open on April 10; Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain roads will open on May 22. Roaring Fork Nature Trail is scheduled to reopen May 1, pending completion of bridge replacement project. 

Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed for bicycle use only on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. from May 6 through September 23. 

Operating Hours for Visitor Centers – The three visitor centers are open daily and the operating hours through March are as follows:  Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, TN, 9:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m., and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC, hours will be 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Hours are extended for each location as the season progresses. Clingmans Dome Visitor Information Center will open April 1. 

Operating Hours for Backcountry Office – The Backcountry Office located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near Gatlinburg, TN, is open every day from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Backcountry reservations and permits can be obtained online at www.smokiespermits.nps.gov or by calling 865-436-1297. 

Recreation.gov provides visitors an opportunity to make reservations to many federally-managed recreation areas, including National Park Service areas, all across the U.S.  The park’s developed campgrounds of Cataloochee, Elkmont, Cades Cove, Smokemont, and some sites at Cosby are on the reservation system for at least a portion of their seasons. The system allows campers to reserve specific campsites and to make reservations 6 months in advance. Group campsites and picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 12 months in advance. Visitors can make reservations at the five campgrounds, all group campsites, horse camps, and picnic shelters  by booking sites online at www.Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. 

Cades Cove Campground (NPS)
Campgrounds will open on a staggered schedule starting March 13. See the following schedule for exact dates. Reservations are recommended at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont for the period from May 15-October 31 (for other dates, the three campgrounds are first come, first serve). Advance reservations are required at Cataloochee Campground throughout the entire season. Cosby Campground, which has mostly first-come, first-served campsites, has a limited number of reservable sites during its season.  Camping fees range from $14 to $23 per site per night.   

Campers have an opportunity to camp in generator-free campsites at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. The generator-free loop sections of these campgrounds are reservable through Recreation.gov.  

of Sites
2015 Open/Close
Maximum RV Length
Abrams Creek
5/22 - 10/13
Balsam Mountain
5/22 - 10/13
Big Creek
4/10- 10/31
No RVs
Cades CoveReserve Now

See maintenance work advisory below.
Year Round
One dump station open
Motor Homes-40"

Reservations REQUIRED
See entrance road advisory below.
4/3 - 10/31
Advance reservations required entire season.
CosbyReserve Now
4/10- 10/31
Deep Creek
4/10- 10/31
ElkmontReserve Now
3/13 - 11/28
Dump station at Sugarlands Visitor Center open 3/28 - 11/5

Motor Homes-35'
Look Rock
No size limit
SmokemontReserve Now
Year Round
Dump station open year-round

Motor Homes-40"

Cataloochee Entrance Road Advisory: The entrance road to Cataloochee Valley is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guard rails. Horse trailer traffic may be encountered on the road. Because the road is narrow, it may be necessary to stop or back up to allow other vehicles to pass.

Cades Cove Campground Maintenance Work Advisory: Several periods of work are scheduled in the campground this winter and spring that will involve construction noise and equipment. During the construction periods, campers are encouraged to consider camping at Smokemont Campground on the North Carolina side of the park or in campgrounds in surrounding communities. Campers should expect extensive noise from sunrise to sunset, from chainsaws, construction machinery, and falling trees. Some campsites will have to be closed for the safety of visitors. Campers should also expect delays and detours along the campground roads. Intermittent work may be scheduled January through April. Specific dates will be posted once they are scheduled.

Smokemont Campground Powerline Maintenance Advisory: Work is scheduled on the powerline near campground during February and March. Campers should expect some noise from chainsaws and power equipment in the vicinity during daylight hours on Monday through Friday.

REMINDER ... Firewood Regulations: Beginning March 1, 2015 only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or a state Department of Agriculture may be brought into the park. Campers may also collect dead and down wood found in the park for campfires.
Group Camping will be available at seven campgrounds (see schedule for opening dates) and reservations must be made through Recreation.gov.  Group camping is available at Big Creek, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Cades Cove, and Smokemont.  The cost for group camps ranges from $26 to $65 per site per night. 

2015 Open/Close
of Sites
of People
Big CreekReserve Now
(423) 487-2683
April 10- Oct 31
Cades CoveReserve Now
Nov 1- May 14
(865) 448-4106

May 15 - Oct 31
(865) 448-4103
March 13 - Oct 31


1-with pavilion




CataloocheeReserve Now
(828) 497-1930
April 3 - Oct 31
CosbyReserve Now
(423) 487-2683
April 10- Oct 31
Deep CreekReserve Now
(828) 488-3184
April 10- Oct 31
ElkmontReserve Now
(865) 430-5560
April 24 - Oct 31






SmokemontReserve Now
Nov 1 - May 14
(828) 497-1940

May 15 - Oct 31
(828) 497-9270
May 15 - Oct 31
Horse Camps at Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Tow String will open April 3.  Anthony Creek will open on April 1 and Big Creek on April 11. Reservations are only available through Recreation.gov.  The horse site fees are $20 at all horse camps except for Big Creek where it is $25.
Picnic Areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms picnic areas are open year round. Chimneys picnic area will open on March 14 and Collins Creek picnic area will open on April 3. Big Creek and Cosby picnic areas will open shortly after on April 10. Heintooga picnic area will open on May 22. The opening of Look Rock picnic area is yet to be determined. 

The park’s largest picnic pavilion at Twin Creeks opens on April 1 and reservations are required through Recreation.gov. Twin Creeks’ fees range from $35-$75 depending on the number of people. In addition, picnickers can reserve five other picnic pavilions on Recreation.gov.  They are located at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, and Greenbrier picnic areas.  The cost is $20, except at Greenbrier where it is $10. 

Horseback Riding - The opening dates for the three horseback concessions located on the Tennessee side of the Park are:  Smoky Mountain Riding Stable on March 1; Sugarlands Riding Stable on March 1; and Cades Cove on March 7.  In addition to horseback rides, Cades Cove Riding Stable will offer their customary carriage rides and hay rides which are wheelchair accessible.  The Smokemont Riding Stable in North Carolina will open March 28 providing guided horseback rides along with horse-drawn wagon rides along the route of the historic Oconaluftee Turnpike.

LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, will open on March 23.  Reservations are required and can be made by calling 865/429-5704, fax 865/774-0045 or email: reservations@lecontelodge.com.  One night at the lodge costs $136 per adult and $85 for children 10 and under (tax not included). The price includes two meals--dinner and breakfast.   Day hikers and backpackers can purchase a prepared bag lunch and snacks/beverages at the lodge. Please note that Alum Cave Trail will be closed Monday through Thursday beginning on May 3 through November 19 for trail restoration. Hikers will need to choose one of the other five trails to reach LeConte Lodge on those days.

Campground Concessions – The Cades Cove Campground Store has been open since March 13.  The store provides groceries, camping supplies, firewood, ice, vending, limited food service, souvenirs, and bike rentals.  The Cades Cove Store has multi-speed comfort bikes, single speed cruisers, and electric assist bikes for rent.  The Elkmont Campground concession opens on March 13.  The concession provides firewood, ice, limited camper convenience items, and vending of soft drinks, newspapers, and snacks. 

For more information on park events, please visit the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/calendar.htm.

12 March 2015

Park Seeks Oconaluftee Roving Volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is recruiting  volunteers to assist park visitors by roving the Oconaluftee River Trail, Mountain Farm Museum and the fields along Newfound Gap Road around the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina.  Volunteers are needed from mid-April through mid-November and typically work one four hour shift per week.
Elk in fields near the Mountain Farm Museum in Cherokee, NC. (NPS)
Roving volunteers provide information to visitors regarding park regulations that best protect wildlife including proper waste disposal and safe wildlife viewing.  In addition, they provide information about cultural resources found at the Mountain Farm Museum and natural resources along the Oconaluftee River Trail.

When elk are present in the fields, volunteers assist park rangers with traffic management and provide visitors with information on safely viewing elk.

All interested volunteers are required to attend one 5-hour orientation and training session on Wednesday, April 1st at 10:00 a.m. at the Oconaluftee Multi-Purpose Room adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.  To register for training or for more information, contact Kathleen Stuart at 828-497-1914.

11 March 2015

Laurel Falls Trail Washout Causes Temporary Closure for Repairs

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the temporary closure of Laurel Falls Trail due to storm damage. The park has received a significant amount of rain over the past week. The rain comes after several ice and snow storms had already saturated the soil.  On Wednesday afternoon, a park volunteer discovered a portion of the trail just before the falls had washed out.

Laurel Falls Trail Washout. (NPS)
“Our trail crews are experienced with these kinds of washouts and will work to make the necessary repairs so that the Laurel Falls Trail, one of our most popular in the park, can be safely reopened for hikers,” said Trails Program Manager Tobias Miller.

Trail crews will assess the condition of the trail and make a plan for repairs.  Once those determinations are made, the park will announce an expected reopening date.

For more information on road and trail closures, please visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm.