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This Hiking Life Blog

This Hiking Life is a mix of my hiking trips in the Southern Appalachians, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and recently, Le Chemin de St. Jacques. It also discusses outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the mountains of North and South Carolina and beyond. Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Fall Harvest in the Smokies

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 19, 2014 09:15 AM
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park  Celebrates Fall Harvest at the Mountain Farm Museum

Volunteers Hannah Reed and Gee Phillips making lye soap (low res).jpgCome to the annual Mountain Life Festival in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Saturday, September 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Mountain Farm Museum adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

This special event preserves the legacy of Appalachian folkways and is a tribute to the many families who lived on lands that later became the national park.

The Mountain Life Festival provides an opportunity to share with park visitors some of the traditional fall activities that were an important part of rural life in the southern mountains and reflect the spirit of cooperation that existed among families and neighbors. All activities are free and open to the public including demonstrations of hearth cooking, apple butter making, sorghum syrup making, blacksmithing, lye soap making, food preservation, and chair bottoming. Artifacts and historic photographs from the national park's collection will also be on display.

The syrup making demonstration has been the centerpiece of the event for over 30 years. The sorghum syrup is made much the same way it was produced a hundred or more years ago, using a horse-powered cane mill and a wood-fired cooker.

And of course, there's music. You can also listen to  music jam sessions which are held on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center every first and third Saturday of the month from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

For more information, call the visitor center at (828) 497-1904.

Gen Jackson and me in Central Alabama

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 16, 2014 02:55 PM
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20140914HOBEgunhill 012A.jpgThe first time I heard of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was at the "Unto Those Hills" pageant in Cherokee, North Carolina. The outdoor play concentrates on the history of the Trail of Tears from a Cherokee perspective. In the play, they mention that Junaluska, a Cherokee, saved Andrew Jackson's life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in central Alabama is not easy to find and not a place to drop in; you need to want to go there. It's off a small road, away from any town. I had stayed in Oxford, Alabama the night before and followed my car GPS, phone GPS and a state map. About five miles from the entrance, I found the familiar and comforting brown sign. On a beautiful Sunday morning, I was the only visitor in the park. I felt that they had opened the park just for me.

Two SCA (Student Conservation Association) volunteers greeted me. No ranger was on duty that day. I watched a twenty-minute video, which recounted the complicated history of the Indian-European situation at the time. Here goes:

The Creek Indians in what is now Alabama supplied deerskins to Europeans before the American Revolution but after the revolution, the US was more interested in land than skins. The British gave a lot of Creek land to US as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the revolution.

That was nice of the Brits but it wasn't their land to give away. To make matters worse, the Creek were split on how they should live with the European presence. The Lower Creek adopted European ways, such as agriculture.

Enter Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior born in Ohio, who preached going back to the traditional ways and drive the "white man" from Indian Land. Today, we might refer to him as an outside agitator. Tecumseh wanted to create a pan-Indian confederacy to unite against the United State, just as the US united against the Brits. The Upper Creek Indians, referred to as Red Sticks because they painted their war clubs red, listened to this message.

After several attacks from both sides, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson felt that “Creek should not threaten the frontier or American expansion.” The Red Sticks built Tohopeka Village into the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River; the fortifications were supposed to render the village impenetrable to attacks.

On March 27, 1814, Jackson tried a frontal attack on the fort but to no avail. The Cherokees, who allied themselves with Jackson, crossed the river and attacked the Red Sticks from the rear of the village.

After a fierce battle, the Creek were defeated and ceded 23 million acres to the US, much of it becoming the state of Alabama.

Armed with this brief history, I got a park brochure, showing a 2.8-mile trail as well as a three-mile drive. First, the loop walk which crossed and recrossed the road. Each time the trail entered the woods, it had a sign, which warned you about "potentially Hazardous Wildlife" such as ticks, mosquitoes and poisonous snakes and plants. There were more signs on this trail than I saw in days of hiking in Denali. I didn't see any snakes or mosquitoes and hopefully, a tick didn't bite me.

20140914HOBEfield 002A.jpgToday, the site is a mixture of an oak, pine and hickory forest and several quiet meadows. I didn't encounter a single hiker and only one group of bikers zooming on the road.

In 1959, Horseshoe Bend was proclaimed a National Military Park. The state and Alabama Power had donated 2,040 acres. However, before it became part of the park service, a large monument was placed on Gun Hill commemorating the battle with the wrong date - 03/29/1814.

A plaque showing the terminus of Jackson's route through the wilderness was placed by the U.S. Daughters of the War of 1812. Well, if you can have Daughters of the American Revolution, of the Confederacy, Grand Old Army, why not of the War of 1812?  It seems that almost every US war has a Daughters group.

But what happened to Junaluska? Why is he not mentioned anywhere on the Horseshoe Bend site or website? I've got to check this out.

As for Andrew Jackson, he headed to Louisiana for the Battle of New Orleans - and that's where I'm heading to in a couple of weeks.

PS I emailed Ranger Heather Tassin and asked about Junaluska. Here's what she said:

We have no records that Junaluska was present at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend since he is not listed in the muster rolls. I have heard this same story, but it is probably more in reference to the Cherokees' participation in the battle than literally saving Jackson's life. The Cherokee warrior Whale swam across the river, stole canoes to shuttle people across and attacked the village of Tohopeka which changed the course of the battle and ultimately resulted in Jackson's victory.

Chasing parks in the Alabama hills

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 14, 2014 10:10 PM
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20140913liricanyon 001A.jpgOh, the places I go, while chasing down national parks of the Southeast. I’m glad that I committed to visit them all, independent of whether they “sounded interesting.”

The last couple of days, Beth, my hiking friend, and I wandered through the hills of northern Alabama. We stayed at Desoto State Park and visited three national park units.

First Russell Cave national monument, a cave that protected Indians from the elements for over 9,000 years. There's not much to do there. We looked inside the cave as far as we could go. Then we took a steep 1.5-mile loop trail.

We hunted down several artifacts from the Trail of Tears in and around Fort Payne including a cabin site, cemetery, and the house of Andrew Ross, a Cherokee leader. Fort Payne is also the home of the country music group, Alabama.

In contrast, Little River Canyon National Preserve was a hot bed of activity. The Little River flows on top of a mountain, and then plunges at the head of the canyon. The drive starts, or ends, at Little River Falls, which drops 45 feet.

It’s a small unit without an independent visitor center. The non-profit, which acts as an information center, was open from 10 am to 4 pm. We started the Canyon Rim Drive before 8 am and didn’t finish until after 4 pm, stopping at every overlook and walking every trail.

Beaver Pond Trail took us on a flat loop, where we found, we think, the remains of a snake-bird encounter. Lots of jewelweed, winter green and aster lined the trail. It was the only flat trail on the drive.

20140913lirimushroomrock 008A.jpgMushroom Rock is a group of huge boulders with a pattern like a rhinoceros. You could get lost in its maze.

Several trails, such as the steep Lower Two-mile Trail, took us down to the river.

At the bottom of one river section, we met two couples with small children.20140913lirifamily 023A.jpg The parents had packed the children down the canyon and were ready to go back up with their precious load. Good for them!

They weren’t waiting until the kids grew up. Then it’s too late to get them interested in the outdoors.

On the first section of the drive, we saw some signs of private property. A few houses were discreetly camouflaged by trees.  But people live off the Little Canyon Road. Bow hunting and trapping are still allowed.

After the Eberhart trailhead, the road is rougher, less traveled, and steeper. Lots of back roads and driveways emanate here along with more private houses. The drive ends at the canyon mouth park, with a gentle trail up the canyon and a picnic area.20140913lirilittleriverfalls 026A.jpgThis is the first place where we meet a couple of rangers.

Little River was designated an Alabama Wild and Scenic River in 1969, giving it a lot of protection. It became part of the National Park System in 1992.

Goodbye to the Alabama hills. I'm moving south.

Visiting the first national military park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 13, 2014 09:55 PM
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20140910Chic01wilderbrigademonument 026A.jpgI’ve finished the fourth day of my Southeastern National Park swing. Because I didn’t have internet access for a couple of days, it feels like I just started this trip.

Chickamauga Battlefield in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia is much bigger than Chattanooga, with a modern visitor center.

First, I drove the seven-mile loop road, stopping at various places.20140910Chic01boundaryline 022A.jpg This is always exhausting to me. Stop, get out of the car, walk a few steps, and get back in.

The picture to the left is the boundary line between the two sides.

The park is bisected by a busy road, but so is the Smokies with US 441.

The park is full of monuments to both sides of the conflict. The Wilde Brigade monument stands out among all the others. It looks like White Castle, a tower with a steep circular staircase. I walked to the top and met a couple with a dog, thankfully on a leash. They were trying to encourage this poor animal to walk down the narrow, tight stairs. There are places where dogs don’t belong. The monument honored Indiana and Illinois troops, including Captain Eli Lilly of the 18th Indiana battalion.

The park has about 50 miles of trail. I walked the big seven-mile loop through the military park, past more memorials.20140910Chic01snodgrasscabin 029A.jpg Here is the Snodgrass cabin, which was used as a makeshift hospital during the battle.

I saw two hikers and four women doing a day of service on 9/11. They were cleaning memorials with a spray of water.

ChickChat was the first national military park, created in 1890. It was supported by veterans from both sides who recognized that preserving portions of battlefields, commemorating the deeds of their comrades, and honoring the men who had fallen would benefit the reunited nation. In addition to historic and educational values, the National Military Park was created as part of the healing process for a nation that had been torn asunder by war.

This was carefully explained in the visitor center. Am I the only person who didn’t know that? Most historians would say that it’s more complicated than that but I’m a history user. This also explains why the military units concentrate so much of maneuvers and tactics – the blue stood here, the gray stood there – instead of bigger questions of causes and effects of the Civil War.

At ChickChat Looking for Lookout Mountain

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 11, 2014 06:20 AM
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20140910Chat01view 012A.jpgOn a short road trip to continue checking out Southeastern national parks

Do you know that there’s an International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga? I was trying to find Lookout Mountain in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park – ChickChat, as they call it. I was looking for Chat but there were more brown signs for the Towing museum than for Lookout Mountain. My car GPS was confused as well. I saw many signs for Point Park along with Ruby Falls and Rock City. It turns out that all those black Point Park signs pointed to Lookout Mountain.

At the Chat visitor center, the ranger was disinterested and just handed me the park brochure. But at 10 AM sharp, a volunteer showed up who was willing to talk to visitors.

A bit of history
After Union troops were defeated in Chickamauga (Chick), they retreated to Chattanooga. Confederates then  blocked the roads and rail lines, preventing Federal supplies from entering Chattanooga. With reinforcements, Federal troops were able to open a shorter supply line, which they called the Cracker Line, because they brought hard tack, a cracker than could break whatever teeth soldiers still had. But, hey, it was food.

20140910Chat01entrance 004A.jpgThat reinvigorated the Union army which pushed the Confederates out of their defenses, on hills above Chat, which became known as the battle above the clouds.

Chat, the gateway to the Deep South, was now in Union hands. It was a very strategic victory because the area had roads and railroads in every direction in addition to the Tennessee River. Chat became the base for Sherman’s drive to Atlanta and the sea.

The visitor center has the obligatory film and displays but it also has a huge painting titled The battle above the clouds by James Walker. From the web and as described at the visitor center:

In 1864 artist James Walker completed a painting commissioned by the federal government of the action of November 24, 1863, which he called "The Battle of Lookout Mountain." In 1870 General Joseph Hooker commissioned Walker to paint a much larger version (13 feet by 30 feet) of his original painting for $20,000. Walker returned to Chattanooga and studied the landscape. He paid a photographer to take pictures as well. After Walker presented the painting to Hooker it toured the United States and remained in Hooker's family until 1970, when it was donated to the National Park Service. Today the painting hangs in the Visitors Center near the entrance to Point Park.

But enough history.

20140910Chat01NYmemorial 009A.jpgI left the visitor center and toured the top of Lookout Mountain. The biggest memorial is from New York State. From Lookout Mountain, you can see the Tennessee River and the whole city of Chattanooga. See the picture above.

No place to go but down into a network of rocky trails, below cliff towers.20140910Chattrail01 016A.jpg

I walked down past rock climbers and a man reading in a hammock to Sunset Point. The trails were lush with late summer flowers, kudzu, and poison ivy.

I could have spent a couple of days exploring the trails but I was eager to move onto Chickamauga and check it out tomorrow.

PS I know. Most visitors would have done both areas in one day and more. But I can't absorb more than one park or one site a day.

On the Trail with Rock Stars - A.T., MST and Forney Ridge

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 10, 2014 06:45 AM
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Yesterday's hike with 20140909FOTSForneyRidgegroup 002A.jpg was difficult to scout, difficult to set up but the payoff was great.

Several years ago, Holly D., NC director of Friends of the Smokies, wanted a hike on Forney Ridge Trail off Clingmans Dome to show off the beautiful rock work, funded by Friends Trails Forever program. The trail goes from the Clingmans Dome parking lot to Andrews Bald. But 3.4 miles (round-trip) was not going to get me (or most hikers) to drive almost two hours to Clingmans Dome from Asheville.

So I devised a hike that would take us from the Fork Ridge Trail on the Clingmans Dome Road on the A.T. and Mountains-to-Sea Trail to Clingmans Done Tower and then continue onto Andrews Bald. We had to have cars at the Dome and at the trailhead; something that some hikers couldn't picture.

"Don't worry about it," I kept saying. "It will work out."

20140909FOTSForneyRidgeBrian 004A.jpgTwenty-two hikers started on the A.T./MST section. We met Brian, a backcountry ranger, who asked if we were camping. Now, seeing a backcountry ranger on the MST is rarer than seeing a bear. I think it's my first sighting.

The trail is rough here and it took us until lunchtime to get to the tower where we had lunch. After lunch, we walked down the paved trail to the Forney Ridge Trail. Who should we see but Leanna Joyner, from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy? She was in full hiking gear, on her way to check out a relo on the A.T.

20140909FOTSForneyRidgeTobias 005A.jpgTobias Miller, a rock star, met us at the trailhead. Tobias is one of the park folks responsible for the beautiful rehab work on the Forney Ridge trail.

He's the head of maintenance in the park and so much more. He talked to us about the work involved in making this trail as walkable as it is.

Holly joined us at Andrews Bald and reiterated how important the Trails Forever fund is for the park. The current rehab project is the Chimney Tops Trail, which we hope to walk next year.

Thank you, Anna Lee, for so ably sweeping the hike. And thanks to J.P. for also sweeping, so Anna Lee could talk to others on the trail.

I'm on the road right now for my current project (the Southeastern National Park units). But sign up with Anna Lee for the October 14 hike in Cataloochee. I promise that the hike setup won't be as challenging.

To register for this or any upcoming Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact

CMC Firescald Bald Hike - and more

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 07, 2014 08:50 PM

20140907ATfirescaldbald1.JPGToday's Carolina Mountain Club Firescald Bald hike was nothing like the scout.

Lenny and I scouted the hike a couple of weeks ago. We started from the top of Viking Mountain Rd on the way to Greeneville, TN, took a blue access trail that led to the A.T. heading north toward Jerry's Cabin.

Same hike today, with only two other hikers. Were the others concerned about the forecast? We took the famous Firescald Bald, a section of rock steps and slabs with great views toward NC on the right and TN on the left. We went slowly but the weather was with us in the morning.

We got to Jerry's Cabin shelter, a shelter that had obviously been a cabin a long time ago. Part of it was still stone. We sat down to lunch when John, a backpacker, came in with a dog. From the dog collar and radio antenna, we could see that the dog was a hunting dog.

20140907atfirescaldbald2.JPGHunting season has not started but hunters are training their dogs and staking out their territory and strategy. The dog was part of the training regiment but it got separated from the group. It was following John who had fed it.

Now John was turning the dog over to us. What!! He felt that we should try to get it back to its owner. John had called the owner; the telephone number was on the dog collar. Reluctantly, we took him on. But why was it sniffing me? There were three other hikers to befriend.

After lunch, we seduced it with food. probably not the kind of food that a dog should eat - trail mix and chocolate - but we wanted it to follow us and let John continue his backpack. At one point, I gave it a piece of apple but just like a child, the dog refused it and was looking for more sweets.

And then the skies opened up. It rained hard. Little rivulets became streams on the trail. Water came out of every side spring. We got drenched, all but the dog, of course, who didn't have any equipment to worry about.

In all that rain, I called the owners again and left another message. I told them exactly where our trailhead was and that's where we were leaving his hunting dog.

When we got to the blue trail, there was a huge pick-up. While we had walked this access trail, the hunter had driven it with his monster truck. Hunters don't walk. "The dog got lost yesterday," he said and thanked us.

When we got back to the trailhead, it was like a pick-up convention. Several groups had driven to the trailhead just to look; they weren't walking.

But one man, Ronny, approached us and said that he walked a little of the A.T. here but didn't know where it led to. He lived locally but had never explored the trails, which is not surprising at all.

He wanted to walk from here to Roan Mountain. He had never backpacked before; he hadn't even done a full-day hike but he stopped smoking and lost quite a bit of weight and wanted to know how to backpack. He had left us a note on my car which said:

Hello: My name is Ronny. I see you may be a hiker by the stickers on your car. I am thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail from Roan Mountain to this spot here where your car is. It's about 84 miles according to the Internet. Any info you may have about the trail would be greatly appreciated.

And he left his phone number. It seemed like a strange way to learn about the A.T.

I'm glad we got a chance to talk to him. We suggested that he join Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and go out with them for a while. Will he do it? We'll never know.

Acting Smokies Superintendent says goodbye

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 06, 2014 08:10 PM

HannahSuperintendentA.jpgActing Superintendent Cindy MacLeod (on the left) says goodby to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She's the second acting superintendent the Smokies has had. She writes:

Clay Jordan will be the acting superintendent in the park and will continue in that role until the permanent superintendent arrives in the park.

Working with you in Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer has been a highlight of my NPS career.  I have loved everyplace I have been in my 34 years, I must add, and it is inspiring to know that so many men and women are dedicated to the mission of the NPS. Thank you for teaching me about your work here, sharing your passion with me, demonstrating that the Great Smokies are in good hands, letting me play a part in the stewardship of such a treasured and storied national park.

I love the rocks, the waterfalls, the wildflowers, the critters large and small, the views, the structures, the trails, the trees, the fields, the history, the smells and sounds.  The clouds, mists, sun, and rain, too! You, the people of the park – volunteer, partner, career, temporary – are the heart of it all.  I’ve listened to you on the park radio; I’ve sat in meetings with you; I’ve hiked with you; I’ve enjoyed park programs with you; I’ve agonized with you over setting priorities for funding; I’ve rejoiced over new hires; I’ve mourned with you over losses of park staff in tragic circumstances; I raided the museum collection to spruce up the superintendent’s office; I planned with you for the Centennial of the NPS; I’ve offered perspective on contentious issues; I’ve tried to challenge assumptions in order to make sound decisions; I’ve urged you to listen carefully to each other; I’ve tried to keep safety at the forefront everyday; I’ve felt privileged to serve as your superintendent.

Please continue to work together to protect the resources and provide for their enjoyment.  Our mission has inherent conflicts but we shouldn’t with each other – we need to identify how we and our partners can multiply the good effects of what funding we have and make the best possible steps forward in creating more good stewards and in being good stewards for perpetuity.  As Pedro Ramos said as he left, there are challenges ahead.  I agree that one of the most important things we can do is to continue learning about the cultural and natural resources, their interplay and their evolution, and we need to anticipate threats and needs in order to be prepared to manage effectively.

Thank you again. I look forward to seeing any one of you again in Philadelphia, the Smokies, or where ever our paths take us.  Best of luck to you – enjoy 2015 and our Centennial year.  It’s a great time to be in the NPS!

It's a great letter but the park needs a permanent superintendent.

Tracks, the Movie - Never say Never

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 04, 2014 12:45 PM

tracksA.jpgYesterday I read a small item in Time Magazine that made me leave my breakfast and scurry to my computer. In a long list of fall movies, Time said that Tracks was coming out in a couple of weeks. Finally, a movie?

Tracks recounts the tale of Robyn Davidson, a 20-something Australian woman, who treks 1,700 miles across the outback. She did the walk with several camels in the 1970s and her book was published in 1980.

In 1992, I lived in New Zealand for six months on an academic sabbatical. After my teaching stint, Lenny and I met in Australia where we toured and hiked, or bushwalked as they call it. We visited Alice Springs in the center of the country and climbed Ayers Rock, Uluru. Nowadays climbing the Rock is really frowned upon since it's considered a sacred place for Aborigines.

I discovered Davidson’s book on this trip. She was sponsored by National Geographic on the condition that a photographer meet her at various points on her trek to photograph her. Of course, she accepted these terms.

Eventually she has an affair with the photographer. Davidson portrays herself as unprepared and disorganized which makes a better book, I guess, than the fit, organized Jennifer on the A.T. in Called Again.

Completely coincidentally, the National Geographic photo exhibition entitled From Alice to Ocean, was on display in Sydney when we were there. Almost immediately after, there was talk about a movie. Julia Roberts was going to play Davidson. Well, Roberts was in everything at the time, so why not this movie? But it never happened.

Davidson seems to have led a writer’s life in several countries. Now she's in her early 60s and I wonder if this movie will fundamentally change her life. Mia Wasikowska, a fellow Aussie, is playing Davidson in her 20s.

So there’s hope for any book. I don’t think that anyone will make a movie of The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina. Besides I did this trek only a couple of years ago, so who would play me? When I was much younger, I indulged in a fantasy that Sally Field could play me. We're the same age and height. But I don’t think she’s that active anymore. But what about Diane Van Deren, the ultra runner, who ran the MST in just over 22 days?

I hope that Tracks will come to Asheville soon. Are you listening, Fine Arts Theater? And I’ll be there on opening night.

Enter Friends of the MST photo contest - 2014

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 02, 2014 04:25 PM
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MST - Sharon crossing Deep CreekIt's that time of the year - the annual Friends of the MST photo contest.

What are your best pictures of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail?  A committee put together by Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will judge. You have until October 31 to send in your best pictures.

There are two categories for those of us older than 17 - views from the trail and people on the trail. They ask for a maximum of two in each category. You can see all the rules and regs at

For the past three years, I've had the honor of winning third prize in the "people on the trail". I've not sent in any beautiful pictures of views and flowers because I'm not a good enough photographer to compete. But people?? I can find quirky hikers and funny situations. The picture above is of Sharon, my hiking partner, crossing Deep Creek.

If you hike the MST in Western North Carolina off the Blue Ridge Parkway or in the Smokies, you must have a bunch of pictures that can be contenders. So go through them and send in your best.

Not happy with what you have? Well, that's easy. Get on the MST and shoot more prize-winning pictures.

Remember - the deadline is October 31, Halloween.

Gran Fondo Asheville - Bicycle Race

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 30, 2014 09:15 PM
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Big bicycle race on Sunday September 7!

Whether you are a beginner or a hardcore racer, the Gran Fondo Asheville takes cycling to the next level. Challenge yourself on 30-, 60- or 110-mile routes and compete for the best combined time. The race features mechanic support, fully stocked aid stations along the route, food & beverage at the finish, a cash purse, and prizes for overall and age-group winners.
Experience one of the most beautiful race courses in the country and cross the finish line in the heart of Downtown Asheville! Look here to register.
How You Can Help
If you want to support Friends of the Smokies but are not able to participate in the race, here are some ways you can help:

Sponsor A Rider
Have a friend or family member racing in the Gran Fondo Asheville? Go the extra mile and make a gift in their name.
Sponsor your rider at $0.50, $0.75 or $1.00 per mile and give them the boost they need to finish strong!

Retired Smokies Deputy Superintendent and triathlete, Kevin Fitzgerald asked his friends and family to sponsor him in the race. And what's more, if he wins his age group, they will double their donations! Follow his lead and try to keep up!

Scouting a Hike with new Friends of the Smokies Staff

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 28, 2014 04:25 PM

20140826FOTSAndrewsbald 052A.jpgI've always said that every hike is different, even if the trails are the same.

A couple of days ago, I scouted a hike for the September 9 Friends of the Smokies hike with Anna Lee Zanetti, the new Development & Outreach Associate in the North Carolina office. Friends had decided that it was time to move up from interns, as good as they were, to permanent staff. So, welcome, Anna Lee.

20140826FOTSAnnaleeonMST041A.jpgAnna Lee comes with great qualifications and most important to me, she is eager to hike. Yippee! Here she is on top of Clingmans Dome at the western end of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

We scouted a hike that shows off so many important aspects of the park. We started on the Clingmans Dome road and walked westbound on the MST, which is also southbound on the Appalachian Trail.

This section, among the spruce-fir forest, is the only piece of trail where the MST and A.T. are concurrent. We met a couple of A.T. southbounders and even a flip-flopper. The guy had started in Hot Springs, walked to Katahdin, Maine. Then he got himself back to Hot Springs and is walking south to Springer, GA. I made sure that he knew that he was also on the MST.

20140826FOTSclingmansdome045A.jpgAt the Clingmans Dome tower, Anna Lee and I hunkered down and had our lunch. The assortment of people who had come up from the parking lot were not prepared for the wind and fog.

Here's an Eastern View from Clingmans Dome but we couldn't see the ocean. Hah! Hah! or even Mt. Mitchell. I don't think this will win a prize in the MST photo contest. I've got to try harder.

Once back in the parking lot, we walked out to Andrews Bald on Forney Ridge Trail. This was the first trail that was rehabilitated with money from Trails Forever, funded by Friends of the Smokies. The view at Andrews Bald was magnificent. See the top picture.

Getting a Ride back to our cars

Our car was about 3.5 miles down the road from Clingmans Dome. We could have taken two cars but it was an long, long way to drive from Asheville. So I suggested to Anna Lee that we could probably get a ride back to our car. She was a little skeptical.

"Or worse come to worse, we could walk back another 3.6 miles" I said.

When we got to Andrews Bald, I looked around for a likely driver to give us a ride. A couple from northern Michigan was enjoying the view and I went to chat with them.

The view, Friends of the Smokies, wasn't the Forney Ridge trail beautiful? And oh, any chance we could get a ride from you back to our car?

Of course, they said.

They got back to the parking lot only a few minutes after us, found their car, and picked us up at the trail sign. It was so easy that it didn't even challenge my skills at getting a ride.

Anna Lee and I will lead the hike on Tuesday September 9. We will have enough cars so I won't have to get rides for everyone. But if you want to really challenge me...

To register for this or any upcoming Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact or 828-452-0720.

Cold Mountain with Carolina Mountain Club

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 26, 2014 08:45 PM

20140824ColdMountain.JPGOn Sunday, I went up to Cold Mountain with Carolina Mountain Club. It was the standard, scheduled Sunday hike. Because the hike is in the Shining Rock Wilderness, the group size was restricted to 10 people. Brent Martin, who works for the Wilderness Society, was certainly going to keep to the legal limit.

I signed up for the hike almost two months ago. But to my surprise, only eight people showed up. I was sure that this hike was going to be a sell-out a month ago. I only knew Beth R., and Brent and his wife Angela. The others were new to the club.

It was a tough hike - 10.4 miles and 3,400 feet, according the CMC schedule. But all the climbing was on the way out to the top. Some of the trail was flattish, so it was more like 3,400 feet in about four miles. The trail was rocky and steep; no nice switchbacks like in the Smokies.

The first time I hiked up Cold Mountain must have been 2001, when we moved to Asheville. Tom Sanders, the leader, didn't know me and explained how difficult it was going to be. He was right.

I've done it several times since then. But I was surprised that none of the hikers I did the Cold Mountain then were on this hike. What hike were they doing?

The top was all foggy and I felt sorry for those who had reached the top for the first time. The picture I took was on top so I couldn't back up enough to get the whole group in. Sorry to those who got cut out of the picture. Maybe I'll see you on another CMC hike.

National Park Service in 98 years old on Monday Aug. 25

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 23, 2014 12:00 PM
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2014FOTSNewtonbaldhike-02A.jpgGreat Smoky Mountains National Park will celebrate the 98th birthday of the National Park Service on Monday, August 25. There will be many ranger-led programs at park visitor centers. Of course, you can enjoy exploring the park along a scenic roadway, trail, or river on your own.

This is like a practice run for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. On Monday, August 25, all park entrances in all parks will be free. There are just two more entrance-fee-free days this year: September 27, to mark National Public Lands Day, and November 11, Veterans Day.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Acting Superintendent Cindy MacLeod said "We look forward to the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.”

Most units of the park system don't charge fees, and that includes the Smokies. Just 133 of the 401 units have entrance fees.

Leading a group through Hazel Creek

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 20, 2014 03:55 PM
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20140820GSMAHazelcreek700.jpgThe Smokies are my home park. I seem to be in one part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park or another every week. But some areas of the park are much more popular and accessible than others.

About six months ago, Lisa Duff, marketing director of Great Smoky Mountains Association, asked if I would lead a hike to Bone Valley from Hazel Creek. I hadn’t been on that trail since 2008, when I did a three-day backpack with Sharon, Smoky Scout, the bang-on start to her Smokies 900M challenge. The Hazel Creek trail starts in the deserted town of Proctor. The fastest way to get there is a 30-minute boat shuttle across Fontana Lake.

But here, we weren’t going to backpack.

“Sure, “I told Lisa, “I’d love to. But this is not a day hike.” The drive to Fontana Village is over two hours from Asheville. “We need to stay at Fontana Village the night before. And I won’t be able to scout the hike. I’m sure I can find my way.” Lisa and Marti, also in Marketing, put the overnight trip together. They screened the hikers before they signed up. Marti is a Smokies 900M as well and a strong hiker.

On Monday, I drove out to Fontana Village, a historic resort in the southwest corner of the Smokies. I had volunteered to lead a half-day hike as well.20140820GSMAHazelCreek530.jpg It seemed worthwhile to get as much in as possible since I never know when I’ll get the opportunity again.  Only two other hikers took me up on the half-day hike.

We drove to Fontana Dam, the tallest dam in the Eastern US but the access road across the dam was closed for maintenance. So we walked the road and walked another 0.5 mile to the trailhead.

We took Lakeshore Trail, a flattish trail, to the old cars. Where did these cars come from? You can read an article that I wrote for National Parks Traveler.

Here’s a quickie summary. The area north of the lake was not part of the original park. During World War II, TVA flooded NC 288 to create Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake. The residents had to move out, quite quickly. Some left their cars in place. Remember that during the war, there was tire and gas rationing. And who knows how well these cars were working.

But Hazel Creek predates that history. The Ritter Lumber Company came in the area in 1902 to log the area. By the 1920s, Proctor was a modern town with electricity, schools, and even a movie theater. When Ritter decided that they had brought down every tree worth logging, they left the area, taking everything with them. Many logging families went with them to the Pacific Northwest. The ones left were back to subsistence farming.

On Tuesday, 20 hikers took the Fontana ferry to Proctor. We crossed Hazel Creek on a substantial bridge and started walking. The trail is maintained as an administrative road because park SUVs travel up to maintain the Hall Cabin, our destination. It climbs ever so gently that I thought we’d be able to keep the group together.

But alas, by mid-morning, some had shot ahead of me and others stayed with Marti, who was acting as sweep,
We turned on Bone Valley Trail, a short minor trail that would take us to the Hall cabin. There were five water crossings, about calf-deep on me.

Each person took the crossing a different way. A few just got into the water without hesitation. I was part of that group. My boots and socks got wet but my feet were protected from rocks, roots and anything else that I couldn’t see at the bottom of the flowing stream.

Others changed into water shoes, which offered less protection but kept their boots dry. A couple of hikers used flip-flops, which seemed dangerous on the ankles. And a few others walked barefoot. A woman slipped and fell in. I’m not sure which group she belonged to. By the time she righted herself, it didn’t matter how wet her feet were.

By now, we were in two major groups: slow and fast. We all had lunch at the Hall Cabin, a large cabin built in 1892. The Halls took in tourists that wanted to fish in the Smokies before it became a park. I took a few hikers to the Bone Valley cemetery. When it was time to recross the five creeks on Bone Valley Trail, some took it slowly and carefully.

Turning back on Hazel Creek, a few of us climbed the Jenkins Ridge Cemetery. Cemeteries are often put at the top of a hill, saving the best bottomland for farming. I’m not sure if “Jenkins Ridge” is the official name of the cemetery but it was located close to the junction of Hazel Creek and Jenkins Ridge Trail. It was obvious that Decoration Day had occurred recently. The graves were all mounted neatly, a Southern Appalachian tradition and new plastic flowers had been stuck in the ground.

We walked at our own pace. We had asked for the boat to come back for us at 5:45 pm and it was obvious that we were going to be quite early. We gathered at the Calhoun House, a frame house that is falling apart. This house, built in 1928, was quite modern. It had electricity, a hot water heater, running water and even an indoor bathroom.

I gave at least three tours inside the house. Some hikers were afraid to go into the house by themselves. “No, there are no ghosts,” I told a woman, “but there are a couple of bats hanging from the ceiling.

After the park acquired the Calhoun house along with the rest of the North Shore land from TVA, they used the house as a ranger station. But now they’re built a modern structure behind the house and the historic house is feeling the neglect.

Ken, our friendly captain, showed up on time. He had a huge cooler full of alcoholic drinks as well as sodas and water. What a lovely surprise. I would have killed for a hot cup of tea but that was not to be until I got to a Chinese buffet in Asheville.
With the side trips to the cemeteries, we walked 16 miles and still smiled. All in all, a great success.  

Driving the Smokies, looking for GPS points

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 16, 2014 01:40 PM
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MST Clingmans Dome - 4

Yesterday I drove over 220 miles in and out of back roads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park but didn't hike one of these miles. On such a beautiful day, I was on a mission and in my car. Sad...

Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is writing a trail guide for the 1,000 miles MST across North Carolina. It will be first trail guide written by volunteers and owned by Friends of the MST. We have a capable professional editor at the helm, so the guide will be accurate and up-to-date. All sections will have the same format. I'm writing the first section in the mountains: Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob.

I've written the directions [turn left, turn right] and the other required sections. Only the GPS points for the parking areas remained. That was the job for yesterday.

If you look at the Smokies map, they still show the old route that starts at Clingmans Dome and ends at Mingus Mill. Now, the MST will go down Deep Creek but head for Smokemont campground, up Bradley Fork and Chasteen Creek and eventually end up on Straight Fork Road. From there, you walk to Pin Oak Gap and on Heintooga Rd. If you can't picture the route, get a map where those trails might be clearer.

FMSTdriveSocogapsign 05A.jpgI was using my car GPS.

First stop was Waterrock Knob, the end of my guide section. Motorcyclists were already in the parking lot, admiring the views. I must say that I just wrote down the points and moved on.

Going backwards, or west, I stopped at Soco Gap where I saw the sign above.

The piece of paper says NO EXIT.

What it means that you can hike the MST from Soco Gap but it won't take you to Waterrock Knob, at this time. The Carolina Mountain Club is still working on building the route to Waterrock Knob.  They're getting there. But for now, at some point, you will hit a trail under construction and then, just a forest.

Then up to Heintooga Road, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at every named overlook to get a GPS point. When I reached the one-way section, I had a choice. Do I drive the unmaintained road at 15 miles an hour or do I turn around and go through Cherokee and out Straight Fork Rd? I chose the latter, though Straight Fork Rd is just as unmaintained and no picnic to drive either. These minor park entrances are not on the tourist circuit.

Back through Cherokee, following the speed limit meticulously, I finally got to Oconaluftee Visitor Center. I went in to say hello to the rangers behind the desk, dropped off Friends of the MST pamphlets and signed copies of my books, being sold at the park bookstore.

Finally up to Clingmans Dome in the afternoon. The parking area was almost full. I visited the Clingmans Dome information station and went through the same routine as in OVC - hello, give them FMST pamphlets and sign. But here, I paused to admire the view. See above.

It was a slow drive down Newfound Gap Rd. A little way before Oconaluftee Visitor Center, an elk with a large rack of antlers, was just ambling in a field. There was a full-on elk jam, complete with visitors out of their car and getting too close to the elk. Others stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture and a volunteer in uniform trying to keep order.

But what was that male elk doing by himself? Why wasn't he working on getting his harem together? The rut--mating season--is starting and he's wasting time just parading for visitors. One possibility is that he's an geezer elk and past his prime.

Always something new in the Smokies, even if I didn't walk a mile. Watch for the MST instructions on the web in a little while.

Carolina Mountain Club and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail are number one!

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 14, 2014 08:25 AM

logocmccolor.jpgCarolina Mountain Club and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail have been voted number one. But I could have told you that.

The Mountain Xpress just published the results of their 2014 readers' poll. They have 561 categories.

In the Hiking Club category, Carolina Mountain Club was voted number one for at least the second year in a row. We're the largest hiking club in Western North Carolina, but certainly not the only one. We did have legitimate competition.

LogoFMST.jpgThe Mountains-to-Sea Trail was voted the best Hiking Trail in Western North Carolina. The trail has been voted the best for a few years because it is now in the Hall of Fame. They even printed the Friends of the MST website. In case you're wondering, the Appalachian Trail came is second and the Art Loeb Trail through Pisgah National Forest was third. So the competition was real.

But there are other reasons to feel good over these votes.

Only a few years ago, voters didn't even know that they were walking the MST. I remember clearly that the Blue Ridge Parkway won the "best hiking trail" category. Of course, hiking voters meant the MST, they just didn't know they were walking it.

See the article I wrote in 2007 for the Mountain Xpress. Ironically, I contributed to the Mountain Xpress Outdoor column for several years but the magazine decided to drop the Outdoor column at the end of 2010.

The Mountain Xpress also had a box on the MST that I'm reproducing here:

How Far Can You Go?

The almost-complete, 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail - North Carolina's longest marked footpath--connects Clingman's Dome (sic) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey's Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks.

OK, so there isn't an apostrophe in Clingmans, but I'm delighted anyway.

So come out with CMC and walk the MST. We're number one.

PS Diamond Brand Outdoors won the best Outdoor-Gear Shop category. They are a great supporter of CMC. Congratulations to them, as well!

Do volunteers get sick days?

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 12, 2014 05:10 PM
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charliesbunionA.jpgI'm not supposed to be at home, writing this blog post. I was meant to be on the trail, leading a Friends of the Smokies hike to Charlies Bunion today.

I had made my sandwich--peanut butter and peach slices--, cut up an apple and took some trail mix. I even had a package of dark chocolate to offer my hikers. Water, map and knee bandage, I was ready.

At about 8 pm, or so, I started getting queasy. That was followed by violent vomiting. I don't vomit very often, so I wondered what I had eaten, or was it something worse?

About an hour later, Lenny, my husband, had the same problem. In a way, I felt better that he was vomiting as well and blamed it on our shrimp dinner. I had bought the shrimp at a reputable natural food store. Let's just say that I was glad that we have two bathrooms.

By 10:30 pm, it was obvious that I wasn't going anywhere the next day. I called Holly D., NC Director of FOTS and explained that she would have to step in. To make matters worse, Anna Lee Z., the new NC outreach communications person, would be leading her first hike by herself. We scouted the hike together a couple of weeks ago, and I know that she did a great job but, still, it must have been an anxious time. See the picture above during happier times.

In addition to leading the hike, I had scheduled a bunch of engagements that would cross a personal organizer's eyes:

*provide a shuttle to three Carolina Mountain Club members,

*give Anna Lee some material to pass on to Brent, now working in the Tennessee,

*meet Lori at Newfound Gap, one of two directors of the Smokies 900M, and return a couple of heavy boxes.

All of those meetings had to be unraveled or dealt with, along with the hike.

I've been involved with the Classic Hikes of the Smokies since 2010. I've never missed a hike, scouting a hike or a meeting. This is one of my several "day jobs", now that I no longer have to punch a clock. I schedule everything around these commitments, obviously everything but getting sick.

So I ask: Do volunteers get sick days? And what do I do with an old peanut butter sandwich?

PS I called the Asheville Health Department and reported the incident. They took it seriously.

Happy Belated Birthday to Smokey the Bear

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 11, 2014 08:20 AM
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Happy 70th birthday, Smokey the Bear, one of the most recognizable characters in American history. On August 9, 1944, the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign published the very first Smokey Bear poster.

Who remembers "Only you can prevent forest fires". Of course, when I was growing up, I had never been in a real forest, just a city park. I just thought that they were referring to people putting out their cigarettes before they threw them away.

Note that Smokey the Bear has an "e" in it. Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn't. The Smoky Mountains refers to the blue haze or smoke. I always associate Smokey the Bear with the U.S. Forest Service.

A little history

The ad campaign came about as a result of World War II. Thinking that wildfires could be used as a weapon, the Japanese military in 1942 began making attempts at starting wildfires along the coastal forests of southwest Oregon.

Between November of 1944 and April of 1945 the Japanese began a campaign of launching more than 9000 "fusen bakudan", or fire balloons, into the jet stream. The balloons were equipped with a 15 kilogram antipersonnel bomb and two incendiary devices, which were designed to explode upon impact. It's estimated that 300 to 1000 of the balloons made it to the United States, including as far inland as Iowa and Michigan.

According to a 2009 report by the Ad Council, Smokey Bear and his message are recognized by 95% of adults and 77% of children.

Friends of the MST Board Meeting - A few gems

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 08, 2014 09:35 PM
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20140808FMSTmeeting 004A.jpgMove over Wilbur and Orville. You've had a good run with "First in flight" but now North Carolina will be known as the Great Trails State.

That was one of several exciting developments at the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Board meeting today. Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST talked about a coalition of three trails, the North Carolina Trails Coalition, in or passing through our state.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, of course, is one trail, going from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 1,000 miles through North Carolina to the Outer Banks. The Carolina Thread Trail, based in Charlotte, is the second. A 2,900 mile project, the East Coast Greenway, is slated to go from Maine to Key West - an ambitious undertaking.

I like to think about trails in terms of hiking or biking. But it's more than that. These trails connect places and pass through or close to where more than half of the NC population lives. Trails improve the economy and offer jobs. At its simplest, let's think about the number of visitors who discover the white circles on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The meeting hosted two guests, Brad Ives, Assistant Secretary of NC DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and Mike Murphy, Director of the Division of Parks and Recreation.

Murphy, on the job just 14 days, has already seen that people are passionate about our state parks. But with the reality of budget cuts, there has to be additional ways to generate revenues. Yep, the national parks have learned a while back that they need friends.

Another exciting development. The NC legislature has directed a study of road signage for state parks, including the MST. Most of our state parks have at least one brown sign on the highway, directing visitors.

Not so with the MST. If you don't know where to go on the MST, you won't learn about it driving around. At the end of this blog post, for your amusement, I'll print the actual signage study law. We were all pretty excited at the potential of having the general public learn about the MST, but we have to remember that it's just a study now.

Who are the people in the photo above? From left to right, Jerry Barker, president of the Friends of the MST Board, Kate Dixon, E.D. of Friends of the MST, Mike Murphy, Director of State Parks and Brad Ives, Assistant Secretary of NC DENR. We should know who makes all those decisions about our North Carolina parks.

OK... Driving to Raleigh yesterday wasn't that exciting and driving home was even slower, but the meeting was very interesting.


(a) The Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the State Parks and Recreation Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Commerce, and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, shall study the use of highway signage as a means of improving the North Carolina residents' and tourists' awareness of State parks, including historic and cultural sites as well as the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The study shall include an examination of at least all of the following:  
(1) Whether signs currently located on or near highways in this State are sufficient in number, location, and size and presentation to make travelers on the highways of this State aware of the existence and location of all State parks, including historic and cultural sites as well as the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
(2) Whether signs currently located on or near highways in this State adequately inform travelers that portions of the roads they travel on are part of the current route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  
(3) What measures could be taken to improve the efficacy of highway signage in achieving the goals described in subdivisions (1) and (2) of this subsection.  
(4) What the costs and benefits of implementing the measures described in subdivision (3) of this subsection would be.  
SECTION 34.15.(b) No later than April 1, 2015, the Department of Transportation shall report the results of the study required by this section to the chairs of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee and to the Fiscal Research Division.

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