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
What a great day!
After all the bad weather we've had in Western North Carolina Carolina, we had a beautiful, sunny day for our first Friends of the Smokies hike of the year.
I was not the only one who thought so, since over 30 hikers showed up to hike Little Cataloochee Trail. We stopped at every artifact, starting with the Hannah cemetery. See picture above where I managed to take a photo of some of the participants. The others were investigating graves, inscriptions or just catching up with each other after the winter.
We continued on Little Cataloochee Trail, which was the main road when people settled here. Up to the Hannah cabin, a tiny place that may have housed who knows how many family members.
The highlight is always the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church with another large cemetery right in front and its rows of Decoration Day tables in back. Holly Demuth, Director of the NC office of Friends of the Smokies, talked about the work of Friends.
"Every good program deserves a commercial", I told the group.
Over 20 new people showed up for this hike. Many had probably "meant to come", but the good weather and maybe a new year's resolution brought them out to actually put their boots on the ground. Our lunch stop and turn-around point was the Cook Cabin.
These monthly hikes are more than just a few hours in the woods for me. It means showing people new areas of the Smokies. Most had been to the Cataloochee Valley, or "big Cataloochee", but had never driven on NC 284 to the entrance to Little Cataloochee. That even included folks that grew up here.
It also means introducing new topics like exotic species, hemlock wooly adelgids, the challenge of keeping the cabins and churches in good conditions and a host of issues that most people think "they" take care of. Who is this "they", if not us the people who own the national parks?
Somehow talking about these challenges in the sunshine makes it more real and enjoyable. Register for the next hike, Tuesday April 8 by contactingor 828-452-0720..
One more day in Athens, OH.
Lenny and I joined the Athens, OH, Sunday morning hiking group with our younger granddaughter, Isa. It's an informal family hiking group, which, surprisingly, attracts hikers without children.
So Lenny, Isa and I arrived at the meeting point, Sells Park, ten minutes before the start time, just like we do with Carolina Mountain Club. Only two women were waiting. Since they didn't have children in tow, we were sure that they weren't part of the group.
At exactly ten o'clock, a small army of adults, children and dogs came around the corner, ready to hike.
A newborn girl, seven weeks old, was nestled in her mother's bosom. A couple of rambunctious six-year old boys informed me that "we're going to look for treasures in these caves".
Isa and her four-year old girl friend did their best to keep up with the boys. Two tweens were talking up and down the line. And two dogs chased each other, back and forth, on the trail.
Sells Park is an intown park, off the main shopping street, with lots of trails. Not really wilderness, but neither is Bent Creek in Asheville. According the signs at the trailhead, the land was donated to the Federal Government. But what was the national park service going to do with this small piece of land? Thirty years later, they gave to the city of Athens. The result is a bunch of trails and some intriguing rock formations.
Each Sunday, the group walks for about two hours, mostly in Sells park but it sometimes ventures further. After an hour, the folks with children decided to turn back. The unattached adults sped up. We continued another twenty minutes before we headed back.
No nature deficit disorder here. Maybe most of these kids will go on to more challenging hiking, as they get older.
Wonderful group... OK. I wasn't enamored by the dogs. I was concerned that they would run down the small kids, but I have to get over it. Lenny and I will be back.
Nature deficit disorder... It's the new mantra that you hear all the time. How to attract children to our park? Well, if they're children, they have to be taken to parks and forests by their adults.
We're visiting our son, daughter and granddaughters in Ohio for the weekend. Today we all went to Hocking Hills State Park, a well-loved park in Ohio with trails, camping and even a pool. OK, so it's too early to use the pool.
Unfortunately, it was also too early to do any serious hiking because the trails were too icy. We slipped and slid for a while but decided to go cross-country and stay on dirt instead of ice. So did a lot of other visitors who held on to each other and looked very precarious.
Lots of adults, children and dogs around the visitor center and trailheads. Not too many on the trails. We'll have to go back when it thaws out.
The point is that children, by definition, go where the parents and other adults go. If their adults are enthusiastic about the outdoors, so will children. If the adults are fearful, bored or play with their cell phones, children will be disinterested. It's not the kids' faults.
This press release is worthy of being reprinted without any remarks from me.
A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 9,685,829 visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 spent $741 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 10,959 jobs in the local area.
“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides for visitors. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”
National park tourism is a critical economic driver for gateway communities across the nation. Researchers estimate that for every $1 invested by American taxpayers, the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy.
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber along with Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.
According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and B&Bs (27 percent), and other amusement and recreation (20 percent).
To download the report visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm
Senator Lamar Alexander, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos all converged in Townsend, Tennessee to announce plans to build the Joint Curatorial Collection facility in the back of the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center.
I knew I was going to like Ms. Jewell when I heard that she, the superintendent and a few Friends of the Smokies members hiked up Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hey, how come I wasn't invited?
Here was a Secretary of the Interior who would actually go into the interior. The trail is two miles up and steep. Friends of the Smokies is funding the rehabilitation of the trail under the Trails Forever program. Jewell walked the rehabbed section and the muddy section yet to be worked on.
Superintendent Ramos stressed the love and passion that we have for our national park; yes, it's my national park as well. He claims he's never seen the kind of support that private partnerships, like Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association give to the park in any other national park. "We, the park, can't do it all ourselves."
Sen. Lamar Alexander from Tennessee has been a long time supporter of the Smokies. "Lots of people have supported the idea of the curatorial facility, but Sally Jewell had to make a decision and she decided that we will go ahead with the building."
As he put it, this building will hold the items that people owned: the Walker Sister quilts, Jim Thompson photographs, the chair that FDR sat in when he dedicated the park and Alexander's favorite, the largest collection of stills in the country. Nearly half of the estimated $ 4.3 million cost of the facility has been provided by our park partners along with the donation of the 1.6 acre parcel of land provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.
Sally Jewell said that "Friends groups used to provide the margin of excellence. Now they're providing the margin of survival for parks."
That seemed to be her mantra as she repeated it several times. "I'm your advocate in front of Congress". But she pointed out that "your voices are important. The legislature needs to hear that parks are important to us."
Two questions stood out:
* A man questioned why the park was considering removing daffodils from the landscape. Yes, daffodils are exotic but they're part of the heritage. When you see daffodils, chances are that there was a home here. Ramos said that maybe we could consider daffodils part of the heritage, like cabins.
* Next question. When is Congress going to pay Swain County for the settlement for the North Shore Road?
Jewell said that she had to recuse herself from talking about the settlement because she had been on the board of National Parks Conservation Association. But Senator Alexander stepped up and said he could talk about it and did.
"The Government owes money to Swain County and I'm going to do my best to see that the Government pays".
So the question is: Where are our two senators from North Carolina on this issue?
On a more amusing note, retired superintendent Dale Ditmanson came and quietly sat in the back. He grew a beard.
Look who's really retired?
Am I the only hiker bothered by the trail sign above in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Apparently, yes, because it's been up for a long time.
Yesterday I hiked up Newton Bald Trail from US 441 and came down Mingus Creek Trail. At the top, at the intersection, I found this sign, shown above. To help you, here's what it says:
MINGUS CREEK TRAIL
Cooper Creek Trail 5.1 -->
Thomas Divide Trail 8.8 -->
Indian Creek Trail 9.0 -->
But when you go down Mingus Creek Trail, you don't intersect any of these trail. Instead, you'll find Deeplow Gap Trail on the left after 2.8 miles. All these other trails are off Deeplow Gap Trail. So what does it mean? Obviously it's an old sign that's never been updated. After all, who goes there but hikers and they know where they're going?
Cooper Creek Trail now is only 0.8 miles from a private entrance into the park. This sign may date back from before then when the entrance was public. I've set this puzzle to Bill Hart, author of 3000 miles in the Smokies and president of Great Smoky Mountains Association. If anyone can unravel this, it's Bill.
There were other highlights of this hike.
Newton Bald Trail is the route of the new Mountains-to-Sea Trail while Mingus Creek Trail was the old route. I found a white circle on the Newton Bald Trail which is just coincidental but it makes for a good photo.
But the puzzle still stands.
Send out the picture of the sign to your hiking friends and Smokies and afficianados and see what they say. Of course, as my hiking companion said "Danny, others may not be as fascinated by this sign as you are."
When Dodie of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) called me last week and asked if I would participate in a project on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was intrigued. The ACVB is doing a large project on several aspects of the Blue Ridge Parkway and I was going to be their "hiking" person. Yes, yes, I said.
"You realize that most of the hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway is on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail," I said. "You know, those white circles on the trail that takes off from the road?"
Besides writing up several hikes, they wanted a photo shoot, including an interview and B-roll of me walking on the trail. I finally looked up "B-roll", secondary film footage that they can use any place.
They wanted to have the interview on the trail. It all sounded good until the day of the shoot, which was today. It was 22 degrees at 10 am when I met Dodie, Cat, her assistant, and Jerred, the camera man, at the Arboretum.
Now 22 degrees is not bad if you're bundled up and keep moving but neither were going to happen. They wanted it to look like spring or at least, not like we were in a deep freeze. I wore my ski pants, pants that I've never worn here in Asheville, several layers, a puffy jacket and hat and gloves.
Mercifully, we had the interview indoors at the Education building in the Arboretum. See the picture above.
We talked about the features that make the Parkway so special. I tried to mention the MST as much as possible. But they will edit the interview down and who knows how many references to the trail will stay.
But after an hour in a nice warm room, we weren't finished.The picture to the right is me, Dodie and Cat.
We headed out on the MST just above the Arboretum. I had taken my daypack and hiking poles, just in case. I even filled my two water bottles to look authentic.
But they wanted me to look like I was hiking through springtime. So I took off my wool cap and put on my hiking hat. I wore my rain jacket instead of the down jacket and off came the gloves.
Back and forth, back and forth, I walked the same 100 feet of the MST, so Jerred could take the shots he needed. I was freezing. The temperature may have gone up another 10 degrees but it was cold.
It's not easy being a trail model in the winter.
This morning, WLOS-TV, the Asheville ABC affiliate, asked the following question to its viewers.
How many national parks are there in the U.S.?
The answer is 59. That's easy.
How many national park units are there in the U.S.? 401.
I'm working on seeing the 66 units in the Southeast, which should be easy-peasy by now. After all, I've visited the most expensive ones in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. But it's not easy, since I am trying to put a few parks together in one driving trip.
National parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Everglades are open all the time. The visitor centers stay open and staffed, almost through any kind of weather. They may be hurting for money and cut down on trail maintenance and ranger programs but they don't just bar the gates. They don't have gates.
Not so with other units.
Historic sites and battlefields have gates and hours, usually 9 am to 5 pm. They can close certain days and hours, if they don't have the money to keep their visitor centers open and staffed.
Such is the case with Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. I've been trying to call the visitor center for weeks. I get a voice mail and no one returns my calls. The site features the home of Booker T. Washington who created the Tuskegee Institute, which became a center for African-American education. The site also holds the George Washington Carver museum.
Right now, the Carver museum is closed for renovations. According to their website, the museum is supposed to have reopened fall, 2013. Well, winter 2014 is almost over and it's still closed. This from a maintenance worker which I managed to track down by calling the administrative line. The Visitor Center doesn't answer its phones.
Is anyone out there? I'll let you know when I get there. Folks, this is a national park.
You know you've always wanted to volunteer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You get to meet park rangers and wear a uniform. You'll hang around the coolest part of the park, literally, the Information Center at Clingmans Dome. You even walk up to the Clingmans Dome tower several times, if you want to.
Here are all the details.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is recruiting volunteers to staff the Information Center at Clingmans Dome, from April 1 through November 30, 2014. The center sits at an elevation of 6,300 feet and is a source of information for the national park. Volunteers are needed to provide educational, recreational and trip planning information.
Until recent years, visitors to this popular destination did not have a chance to regularly obtain information about the park. With the help of volunteers staffing the center and walking along the Tower Trail, visitors can inquire and learn about the trails and interesting facets of the high elevation spruce-fir ecosystem.
Other helpful services provided include the ability to purchase guides, maps, outdoor apparel, and other products sold by the Great Smoky Mountain s Association (GSMA). GSMA is a primary park partner and is involved in a number of projects to improve the visitors’ experience.
Volunteers will be working alongside Great Smoky Mountain Association employees and each volunteer is asked to work at least one four-hour shift per week, either 9:30 am until 1:30 pm or 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm. Volunteers are needed to fill all days of the week, but especially Friday through Sunday. Interested persons will be provided orientation and training before their tour of duty.
Volunteers will be needed during peak season, from April 1 through November 30. Training will be held at the Oconaluftee Administration Building north of Cherokee, North Carolina on Thursday, March 13, 2014. To sign up for this volunteer program or for more information, please contact Florie Takaki at 828/497-1906 or Florie_Takaki@nps.gov Monday through Friday.
If the River Arts District (RAD) was anywhere but in my hometown of Asheville, it would be a coveted tourist spot. I would have remembered RAD as a highlight of my visit. I'm so busy hiking forest and park trails that I've neglected to explore the great Asheville neighborhood.
I confess, I just got to RAD today. I'm getting over something (you really don't want to know) and I wasn't ready to get back to the gym. So I parked downtown and walked about 1.5 miles to RAD and explored.
Asheville's River Arts District hosts dozens of art studios and galleries in former industrial buildings by the French Broad River--painters, sculptors, potters, weavers... Today, most studios were open and artists were working and greeting visitors. Well, they weren't exactly overwhelmed with visitors. In most places, it was just me.
The biggest celebrity is probably Jonas Gerard, whose colorful abstracts is seen all over Asheville. He's 73 years old and has been an artist since he was 16. His work is distributed all over the world. Today, Jonas was in his gallery, but not painting.
Besides his paintings, his gallery gift shop sells prints, coffee mugs, sculptures and even a suitcase with his paintings. Before he came to Asheviile, he lived in Miami. I told him that his prolific work reminds me of Romero Britto, an artist with a store in Miami Beach. Jonas loved the comparison.
Further down, the Warehouse Studios housed several artists. It was like a treasure hunt, trying to walk up and around these old buildings and find the next set of galleries.
My last stop before I turned around was the Nourish and Flourish tea shop on Depot Street.
Really the building houses a wellness center but I was mainly interested in their lineup of teas and a scrumptious lemon bar. The tea shop was empty except for the server who was also a photographer.
RAD had much more than what I could explore in a couple of hours. But, hey, I live here; I can go anytime.
If there's any downside to the area, it's the parking, as usual. Many spaces were reserved for visitors of one specific gallery or building. Well, if you're exploring, you're going to go to several buildings and spend a good couple of hours there.
Park downtown where there's never a parking problem. Take Patton Ave to Clingmans Ave. Pick up a map and just explore.
A fun walk, though probably not much exercise. Back to the gym tomorrow.
Spring is coming, honest. And so is another year of
Friends of the Smokies is offering another series of great monthly hikes, the second Tuesday of the month. OK, I'm leading most of them but it's all about the hikes and of course, . Remember, the Smokies is the real star.
Our first hike this year is Tuesday, March 11th to Little Cataloochee. This hike is easy and a good way introduction to the new year's hiking schedule. The stats are the following: 6.1 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of 1,100 feet. We'll visit we visit Hannah Cabin, Cook Cabin, and Little Cataloochee Baptist Church.
We carpool from Asheville and Waynesville. Classic Hikes are $10 for Friends members and $35 for non-members, who will receive a complimentary membership. Members who bring a friend hike for free.
You can pay in advance with credit card over the phone (828-452-0720) or mail a check to Friends of the Smokies, 160 S. Main St, Waynesville, NC 28786. Brent, who co-leads the hikes, can also accept payment on the morning of the hike as cash or check.
For those who are curious, we'll drive over to Big Cataloochee and check out the state of the Boogerman Loop bridge.
So sign up.
Today's hike showed the resilience and flexibility of Carolina Mountain Club hikers.
Two hikes in Montreat Conference Center were on the schedule, an all-day hike and half-day hike. But the snow was so high and abundant that they didn't recommend that we hike there.
So at the last minute, Daisy, a first-time leader, switched the hike to a combination Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Bent Creek hike. She didn't have time to scout the new hike but depended on experienced leaders.On the CMC website, she said that we would have a good experience and enjoy the sunny weather. So, in other words, just come; you'll have a good time.
Thirteen people showed up. No one really needed to know the details. How long was it? How steep? How much ice? We were here to just get out into the woods after the horrendous weather of the last few days.
We started on the icy MST. I carry creepers, like baby crampons, but they're so hard to put on that I don't remember ever actually wearing them on the trail. No one in the group would wait for me in the cold while I put them on.
One person decided to turn back because she was concerned about the ice. That was a real shame because the trail stayed uncomfortably icy for a few hundred feet. Even with the ice and snow, it's obvious that hikers and runners, especially runners, had used it well.
Turning back on a group hike is not trivial, since we carpool. Her car was at Westgate Shopping Center where we met in the morning but Carroll decided to turn back with her and drive her back to her car. He stopped by his place to pick up his creepers but managed to catch up with the rest of the group.
Further up, the snow was softer and we walked faster. See the picture above. By the time we headed down to Lake Powhatan in Bent Creek, we were warm. We passed mast collectors, mesh bags that collect acorns and other stuff that bears and squirrels eat. Right now, all the bags are collecting is snow.
Lunch at Lake Powhatan at a real picnic table. Someone spotted a tiny bat hanging on to a tree. We weren't sure if it was sleeping, hibernating or just dead. And no, we didn't poke the bat to test its reactions.
We got back to the cars very early. Thanks to Daisy for leading a great hike, not losing anyone and making it enjoyable to all.
May you lead many more!
We've just had two snow days in Asheville, North Carolina. Our town isn't used to 8 to 10 inches of snow and our world pretty much shuts down. Offices and stores closed. Appointments and meetings are canceled. Our Carolina Mountain Club Council meeting, scheduled for Thursday evening, was rescheduled--with all the work and round of emails that it entails.
Stay home. Don't drive. The advice kept coming from WLOS our ABC affiliate. Have you ever wondered how they get to the studio? The news staff isn't working from home. But I would like to tell them that not driving doesn't mean that you have to stay home.
On Wednesday, we walked to the Grove Park Inn. The roads were quiet. It felt like Christmas morning, when we seem to be the only people out on the street.
We stepped into the GPI lobby and it was almost a ghost town. Where usually, you see guests checking in or checking out, now the few people stuck there were wandering, holding their cell phones and looking lost. The staff had put out coffee, just coffee, in the lobby but we didn't touch it.
What does a snow day mean when you're not punching a clock?
To me, it means gaining an extra day of quiet. Yesterday, I continued to work on a piece of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail trail guide from the Smokies to Scott's Creek on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Books, maps and notes were spread out on the dining room table as I wrote directions [turn left, turn right] and calculated distances. Some of the distances had to be figured out from multiple sources. I was frustrated and wanted to jump into the car and just go there. But the Parkway was closed and Heintooga Road was closed. Even the Smokies roads were closed.
Checking and rechecking the route and distances is a detail assignment that you need to do all at once. Once I got the rhythm, I didn't want to lose it. Eventually, there will be a Friends of the MST official trail guide.
Then I had to get outside because my eyes needed a rest. I walked through North Asheville, ending up at Beaver Lake. See above. By mid-afternoon, the world had woken up. The local supermarket was open and a few people were walking around Beaver Lake. The snow was still on the ground but the snow day was over.
Yesterday, I received an "official" 2014 U.S. Government Survey from my Congressman Patrick McHenry. My Congressional district (NC-10) has been so gerrymandered that my zip code is split.
Instead of just ignoring the survey, I decided to look at it carefully. He asks about taxes, taxes and taxes. Whether his question is about food stamps, the national debt of social security, it comes down to "do you want your taxes cut?" But taxes is what we pay for a civil society.
The survey completely ignores the state of our public lands. So I wrote him a letter as well.
I am disappointed in your priorities for our state and country.
As I fill out your survey, I see that you ask no questions about our environment or the state of our public lands. In North Carolina, we are so lucky to have both the most visited park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park unit in the country, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the most visited national scenic trail, the Appalachian Trail.
We also have our own hiking trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina, part of our NC state park system.
I also see that you voted to drop protection of our own Cape Hatteras National Seashore. H.R. 2954 is a package of bills damaging to public lands. I oppose provisions to remove protections at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Title V) and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (Title VII). Why did you vote this way? Do you know why?
The stewards of our public lands are working harder and harder and need our support. Thank you!
PS I doubt I'll get an answer.
By the way, the bill would remove protection in Cape Hatteras and allow more vehicles on the beach.
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported today that Great Smoky Mountains National Park spent $8,300 in overtime and supplies to rescue three hikers stranded in the park last month.
Jonathan Dobbins, 21, Steven White, 28, and Shawn Hood, 32, all of Gaffney, S.C., were rescued Jan. 3 after they were snowed in along the Appalachian Trail. The three men started at Fontana Dam completely unprepared without a tent. They wore cotton clothing as the wind chills dipped to 20 below zero. They said that they had planned a 10-day hike. Did they know what a 10-day hike is? How much backpacking had they done in the summer?
They were going to stay in the A.T. shelters. The article didn't say if if they had bought their permits for the shelters.
The Smokies rescue was only the start of the cost of getting the three men to safety. A helicopter, provided by the National Guard, airlifted them out. Eventually they ended up at Mission hospital in Asheville.
Did they have health insurance or did they think they were invincible and bullet-proof? Have they taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, now that they must have multiple "preexisting conditions"?
Some readers who commented on the story online said that they should be charged for the rescue. But the National Park Service says that they don't do that. They think of themselves similar to the police on the street.
I'm concerned about the people who followed this story and now will say that hiking and backpacking are too dangerous. They might discourage prepared and fit hikers from getting out in the woods.
The picture above is of Fontana Lake from Shuckstack Tower on the A.T. It's a beautiful view, if you're prepared to hike up and more importantly, hike out of the woods.
Some park units are not on the way to anything. You just have to make them a destination. Obviously that's true of the large iconic parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can spend weeks there but it's also true of Ninety Six National Historic Site in (you guessed it), Ninety Six, South Carolina.
As part of my project to visit every national park units in the Southeast, I traveled over two hours from Asheville to the site. Every unit has a "first". Ninety Six is the site of the first significant land battle in the South during the Revolutionary War. It happened on November 19, 1775.
That by itself might not have made it a national park site. But the town of Ninety Six was an important trading post for Cherokees and settlers, between Charleston and the Cherokee town of Keowee, about 96 miles away. That is the best theory of how the area got its name.
But the bigger event occurred in the spring of 1781, while Loyalists (forces loyal to Britain) were garrisoned in the town. They built a 8-point Star Fort, a master of British military engineering. The Patriots built their own tunnels and in June of that year, launched an attack. The Patriots didn't do too well and slipped away. The Loyalists burned the town and also moved away.
So what can you actually see?
On a one-mile paved walk, you'll see the remains of the fort. There's actually quite a lot of it left. Just as interesting is the original Charleston Road (see above), part of a hiking trail. The park service has outlined the boundaries of the original town of Ninety Six; it was awfully small. I also walked the Gouedy Trail, site of a major trading post.
Today, two groups of school children visited the park. I found them at the Logan House, a wooden structure moved here as an typical settlers house in the 1700s. It was used as the park's first visitor center.
After visiting this park, I've done 44 parks out of 68 and finished all the parks in South Carolina. I plan to finish visiting them all by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Most of the remaining ones will be "destinations".
Last week, I spent a lot of time at airports. As I wandering around the magazine and book stores, the headlines were screaming at me: How to lose weight fast.
Most stories were still talking about New Year's resolutions and losing weight now has replaced stop smoking as the number one resolution.
But I never saw an article on how not to gain weight in the first place. Maybe you can't sell stuff to people maintaining their weight. Maybe there are too many people trying to lost weight. [How did they gain weight in the first place?] Or if you've maintained your weight for years, you're doing something right so why read a magazine?
I have been watching my weight since I was 12 years old. And that's a long time ago. I must have had a boring summer at that time because I memorized the calorie table. All those bad things that people ate in the late 1950s were just as bad as now.
A small bag of potato chips is 155 calories and you can finish that in an instant. A slice of American cheese was 100 calories, before they used 2% milk. I decided that there were indeed bad foods. And on top of the list was potato chips. Now you can add corn chips, fritos and all fried stuff. I haven't had a potato chip since I found out how many calories it had.
I have a set weight. If I go over a pound, I cut back. Calories in, calories out.
Everyone has time to exercise. We wouldn't have 500 TV stations, if people were so busy, not to mention all those nail salons.
Unfortunately, my daily life has never given me the exercise I need. So I have to go to the gym, go hiking or go for a power walk. I aim for every day so I do it about five or six times a week.
The idea is to incorporate an hour of exercise, without it being a big scheduling deal. When I punched a clock, I exercised between 5 and 6 am. No one needs you at that time. That's why our local YMCA opens at 5:30 am.
Eat less and Exercise more is never going to sell books and magazines but it works.
The Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail annual is always fun. This year, I was asked to join the board and it's become even more relevant to me.
On Friday evening, the FMST board met at Haw River State Park, north of Greensboro, for an orientation session for new members (that's me) and a regularly scheduled meeting. It turns out that I know most of the board members because little by little I've been volunteering for more and more assignments.
Kate Dixon, the Executive Director, knows how to do this very well. "Would you be interested in doing this little task? How about being on a committee? Not much work." And the next thing I know, I'm on the board.
The next morning, we all drove to Elon University, just west of Burlington where we had the annual meeting. The campus is beautiful but we came to hear about the MST.
First up was Brad Ives, the NC Assistant Secretary for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR). After all, the MST is a state park. He praised FMST and even hinted that a superintendent for the MST might not be out of the question. He reminded us that 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the NC state park system, as well as the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
Plaques were presented to hikers who completed the MST in 2013. Out of the three people who finished last year, only Trevor Thomas came, along with his dog. Trevor, whose trail name is Zero/Zero, is the celebrated blind hiker, who has made a professional career out of hiking. He's sponsored by many national outdoor outfitters. His trusted dog, Tennille, also received a plaque. From left to right, Allan de Hart, founder of FMST, Trevor, and Howard Lee, also a new board member along with Tennille, the dog.
I had two five-minute presentations: one on the MST through the Smokies route and one on my book "The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina", the only memoir about the MST. I always enjoy talking about my book, though the audience was more interested in the guidebook that will be created on the whole trail. Fair enough-That's more important.
I learned two new words:sectioneer and stage hiker. This describes a hiker who does a whole trail in sections. I haven't found it on the web yet, but I'll start using it.
The MST Task Forces were recognized for their efforts in 2013. As usual, Carolina Mountain Club had the most hours-6,375. Second was the Elkin Valley Trails Association with 5,087 hours. They're a small group but the whole town is involved with their trail project.
I can't finish this blog post without mentioning the terrific lunch that FMST offered in conjunction with Elon University.
Instead of the deep fried, cheap food that I usually associate with feeding over 100 people, two types of salads, two types of wraps, cookies and iced tea were on the buffet table.
I don't know how FMST was able to afford this, but they now have a high barrier to meet next year.
Back in the snow and reality after two weeks visiting national parks in the US Caribbean.
Yesterday I wrote about Christiansted National Historic Site in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. We visited two other national parks on St. Croix, Buck Island Reef National Monument, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park. All three need lots of help from friends.
At Christiansted NHS, after the fort, we continued the tour:
2. Steeple Building used to be the original Lutheran church and now a museum - closed
3. Warehouse – closed
4. Custom house and post office from 1751. The signs are fading and the building is closed
5. The Scale House is used as offices, closed to the public. Outside there are exhibits on Alexander Hamilton.
6. Government House, closed.
7. Active Lutheran Church, also closed, though I managed to visit the church during a service.
I met Ranger David J. Goldstein, chief of interpretation for the three parks on St. Croix. I was hoping that a tour would be offered but the parks are underfunded and understaffed.
"My priorities are the children on the island. They don't know about this place. They don't know why they're here," he said. So no ranger talks for the general public. I sympathized with him.
I was really hoping for a tour of Salt River where Christopher Columbus landed. But there's only a Volunteer out there two days a week, just on weekdays--wrong time for us. But we got out there on our own after many twists and turns and Lenny's navigational skills. The picture above is the beach where Columbus landed on his second trip in 1493.
I am outraged at how little help these national park gems are getting. This is not a poor area. We met rich retirees from the mainland with second homes. Many are living here permanently. The upscale restaurants show that there is plenty of money here.
These folks could be volunteers. Where is the Friends group? Almost every national park has a Friends group. This group fund raises for the park, supplies volunteers and in general raises visibility for the park. The parks also need volunteers that will give tours, clean up the trails and do a thousand things that the park staff doesn't have the resources to do.
Heck, how about just writing a check? Even the Eastern National bookstore wasn't open this past weekend.
All three units could use a lot of help from the residents. The National Park Service can't do it all. Even before all the budget cuts and sequestration, the National Park Service was never well-funded. There has to be support from the locals.
And what about the Danes who come to see their country's heritage? St. Croix is the most Danish of the Virgin Islands. All park pamphlets were in Danish and English. So are the restaurant menus. A mother and daughter came from Denmark to celebrate the mother's 60th birthday. She had worked as a nanny in St. Croix over 40 years ago. There are Danish tours from November to April. I spoke to several Danes who say that they came for their history. Of course, they help the island's general economy but none seems to trickle in to the national parks.
Shouldn’t there be a Danish Friends of the St. Croix national parks? Money, time, and effort are needed to refurbish the fort and open up the other buildings.
Even the tourist brochures have very little mention of the national parks. VISITUSVI.COM has an exhibit board in the center of town offering sightseeing suggestions. Visiting the Christiansted fort is only suggested on Day 5, maybe.
I wrote a letter to the St. Croix Avis, their daily paper. But who knows if it will ever see the light of day.
If you're in the Virgin Islands, visit St. Croix and its national park gems and drop a ten-dollar bill in their donation box.
I'm back from our Caribbean National Parks trip. It would be so easy to just move on but I want to talk about at least one more park in the Virgin Islands, Christiansted National Historic Site, in St. Croix.
After enjoying the trails, beaches and donkeys of St. John, we flew to St. Croix. If you find yourself lucky enough to visit to the Virgin Islands, don't miss the island of St. Croix.
St. Croix, the largest of the three US Virgin Islands, is the most Danish. A latecomer in the European race for colonies and profits in the New World, Denmark occupied the uninhabited islands of St. Thomas (1671) and St. John (1717). When they needed land more suitable for sugar cultivation, the Danes purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. It became a cosmopolitan town; at one time or another, the white population of Christiansted consisted of Danes, and Norwegians, British, Germans, Dutch, Irish, and a few Sephardic Jews. There is an active synagogue in Christiansted, though we decided to skip the Friday night services.
The major historic building left by the Danes is Fort Christiansvaern. It sits in the middle of town, with its cannons still pointing out to sea, though I doubt if it could take on a hostile navy now. Christiansted National Historic Site was established in 1952 and consists of seven acres and six historic buildings; Government House (1747), Steeple Building (1753), Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse (1749), Custom House (1830), Scale House (1856), and Fort Christiansvaern (1738). The mission is to preserve the historic structure and grounds within its boundaries, and to interpret the Danish economy and way of life here between 1733 and 1917. It needs a lot of help.
We visited the Fort on a Saturday, hoping to get on a scheduled ranger tour but there isn't enough staff. Instead, Jasmine, a lovely fifth grader, asked if we wanted a tour. "Yes, please," we said.
She showed us the dungeon for bad slaves. "If you burned cane fields, they put you in solitary confinement." It was a small black hole. She also made sure that we saw the urinals where human waste went straight out to the sea.
Alexander Hamilton grew up in Christiansted with his divorced mother. The father, much more socially powerful than the mother, had her imprisoned for a while in the fort. At least, she had her own cell. Upstairs, the cannons faced out to sea. They had created a triangle with two other forts if enemies came but the fort was never attacked.
Jasmine had the singsong uptalk of a tween trying to recite important facts. But she did a great job and saved us the trouble of figuring out the rooms from a paper guide that had been photocopied to death. Jasmine is hoping to work for the Park Service and is getting a great start. At the end, we thanked her with a ten-dollar bill. She went off happy.
Most of the other buildings belonging to the site were closed. In the evening, I found a service in the historic Lutheran church. The pastor, a tall rotund man, wore a white robe with a rope holding the garment closed. When I got there, the congregation was up at the pulpit getting the Eucharist, followed by great singing led by an inspired choir.
The president of the congregation made announcements and asked. "Are there any visiting Danes who are worshipping with us tonight?" Three couples stood up. Other visitors? I didn’t stand up because I wasn’t worshipping, just observing. The music got lively and everyone swayed, even the minister and a woman similarly dressed in a white robe. The Danes’ eyes popped out of their heads. They sang, “I shall not be moved.”
The three national parks in St. Croix could use a lot of help. To be continued.