What do I mean “off the trail”? Don’t I mean on the hike?
Our Friends of the Smokies December hike was going to be an easy four mile hike on Kephart Prong Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, followed by a pot luck get-together at the Oconaluftee administration building. What could be simpler than that? Meet at OVC, caravan to the Kephart Prong Trail, up the trail and down and eat.
Thirteen hikers, including Lenny, my husband, met at Oconaluftee Visitor Center (OVC). Ann Lee Z. of the Friends Waynesville office, had volunteered to stay behind to organize all the lovely food that hikers had brought and make some hot drinks. We consolidated cars and started up Newfound Gap Rd.
Holly Demuth, also of the Waynesville office, and I were in the back of Lenny’s Prius, chatting when I heard a scream, followed by a thump. A deer had ventured on the road, didn’t look both ways and ran into Lenny’s car. Not good for the car and not good for the deer. I didn’t take a picture of the deer.
Thank goodness that we still had cell service. And thank goodness that Holly knew the phone number for OVC. We called and the ranger said that she was dispatching a law enforcement ranger. Lenny stayed with the car while the rest continued up the road. We got to the trailhead and started walking up the trail.
Our first stop was the Civilian Conservation Corps site – number 411 – one of the largest CCC sites in the Smokies. The picture above is of the group, minus Lenny and me (I was the photographer), in front of a rock information board left over from the CCC camp. These guys improved the roads, and built trails, parking areas and comfort stations. In 1942, they closed the CCC program and consciouscious objectors moved into the same camps.
We followed the stream on an old railroad bed. It was starting to hail a little as we climbed further up. I pointed out a WPA (Works Project Administration) fish hatchery up on the right and a couple of us climbed to the top. They bred rainbow trout to stock the streams.
After two miles and five bridges, we reached Kephart Shelter where we had an early, light lunch. After all, we were going to have refreshments very soon.
Holly talked about the exciting hiking for next year, including a trip to Le Conte Lodge. We discussed Horace Kephart and his influence on creating Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
And as we talked, Lenny came up the trail. Yippee!! The ranger had been very efficient, the paper work was done and the deer was well enough to limp away. The ranger called the wildlife officer who arrived to see the deer leaving. The park doesn’t rehabilitate the wildlife, so they weren’t going to set the deer’s leg, if it had been hurt.
We strolled down as the hail came down harder. But by the time we got back to the cars, the precipitation stopped. We drove back to OVC but we reached a barricade. The park had closed Newfound Gap Road because of the weather on top. Whoops!
We were in that in between area without cell service. I was ready to walk down to the visitor center but saw a car coming up, trying to go through. As they turned around, I asked them to give me a ride to OVC to ask for the ranger’s assistance again – this time to have someone come up and open up the barricade. I told my sad story to the ranger at the desk and she went through the proper channels. “They’ll get to it,” she said.
But Lynda Doucette, supervisory ranger on the North Carolina side of the park, helped us out. She grabbed the keys for the barricade, jumped into her car and I went with her.
We reached the barricade and I took pictures while she opened the gate. We were free – actually I had been free for a while but it would have been a long walk back to Asheville if I didn’t have a car.
So thank you, park staff, for helping us out today. We really appreciated your service and all you do to keep the Smokies a hiking park, even if visitors get in trouble on the road.
We had a great hike and kept the drama off the trail. And oh yes, the food and hot drinks were delicious. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
To register for 2015 Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact Anna Lee Zanetti at Outreach.NC@FriendsOfTheSmokies.org or call 828-452-0720.