Entries For: May 2009
On my way back from Unicoi State Park yesterday, I stopped in Tallulah Gorge State Park, just south of Clayton, Georgia. What an amazing place. This park is what wild Linville Gorge would be if it was a state park.
First, I went into the huge interpretive center. Three floors of exhibits, stuffed animals and photographs. I didn't think anyone stuffed bears and birds any more. The desk volunteer was very knowledgeable and suggested a 3.5 mile hike on the North and South Rim Trails around the Gorge.
The loop includes 1,052 steps - going down and back up 1,052 steps. I was more impressed about what it took to build these wooden and metal steps than what it takes to walk them. On this loop, I passed 10 overlooks into the gorge, many showcasing pools, waterfalls and cascades. To cross the river, you walk on the side of the road above the dam one way and on a suspension bridge the other way. They call it a suspension bridge but it is solid and does not sway.
Georgia state parks are very well maintained. But why is this state park so full of amenities not usually found in other parks? Because it is partly funded and operated by Georgia Power Co. through a public-private partnership.
The loop may be the most popular hike but it is not the only one. You can walk into the gorge which is what I'll do the next time I go there. Amazing!
Yesterday I joined the Elk Bugle Corp. It's a large volunteer effort (76 of us) in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our main purpose is to educate the public about elk and to keep them at least 50 yards from these large grazing animals. And they are large. A bull can weigh up to 800 lbs. and a cow up to 600 lbs.
Four new volunteers met in the maintenance building with Mark LaShell, the Cataloochee Valley Ranger, and several experienced volunteers. In particular, Gini and Pete are full-time volunteers who live in a RV in the campgrounds. These folks know all the elk by number and what they're up to. For example, #80 (the elk have numbers, not names) just gave birth to her third calf.
A little history, if I may. The eastern elk became extinct in the late 18th century in North Carolina, the early 19th century in TN. The word that the park uses is extirpated, which is a fancy word for "exterminated".
There are three reasons for their extinction - overhunting, habitat loss and the introduction of live stock into their habitat. In 2001, after a lot of studying and research, the Park reintroduced 25 Manitoba elk, the closest subspecies to the original, from the Land between the Lakes, a park on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. The next year, they brought in another 27 from Elk Island National Park in Canada. For a while, it looked like the elk would not be sustainable (story to come in the next few blogs) but now there are 92 elk. There will be a few more, as calves start giving birth in June.
Donna, another volunteer, showed us the elk box which was put together to make the whole story clearer. We got a lot of facts, enough to make my head swim. I was gratified to hear that we will be paired with experienced volunteers who will get me started on this exciting job. Stay tunes because I plan to let you know about all my experiences.
Well, I was overly optimistic when I thought that we were finished with discussing "Guns in the Park". At least I did say "The Story Continues". So here is the latest installment.
Congress sent President Obama a bill Wednesday (May 20) that seeks to rein in credit card fees and interest rates. And with that is a rider that will allow visitors to National Parks to carry concealed weapons. I don't blame the NRA; I blame the politicians who listen to the NRA and take their money.
Our National Parks will become more dangerous as hot-heads with guns may use them to settle differences. Pres. Obama is scheduled to sign the bill into law on Thursday May 28. There's no word yet on when the bill becomes law.
Every media outlet is talking about the credit card changes but not giving enough press to the guns issues. Maybe they're tired of it too and that's how the other side wins.
Sometimes we're so blinded by absolute altitude that we miss some of the beauty at lower elevation.
Yesterday, I checked out Unicoi State Park in North Georgia and Anna Ruby Falls in the Chattahoochee National Forest for an article I'm doing for Smoky Mountain Living. I drove over 350 miles round-trip for a few miles of hiking. And that's just the first trip.
Anna Ruby Falls is at the junction of Curtis and York Creeks. Both creeks start on Tray Mountain, on the Appalachian Trail. When I went into the Visitor Center, the man behind the counter said that Tray Mountain was just a couple of miles from here as the crow flies. When I told him that I had done the A.T., he asked me if I remembered Tray Mountain. Since I hiked the Georgia section of the A.T. in 1995, the answer was a resounding "no".
You only need to walk less than 0.3 mile to the Falls so there were a few people on the trail. But you can take Smith Creek trail from Unicoi State Park for a 10 mile round-trip hike, which I will do next week.
The falls are part of a scenic recreation area which means you need to pay two dollars a car to get in - if you don't walk, that is. It's worth it.
Yesterday I walked up Laurel Falls Trail and down the Cove Mountain Trail. The day started gray but it was still dry as Lenny and I climbed up. The skies opened up about 11:30 A.M. when we got to the Cove Mt. Tower and it rained most of the way down.
The Cove Mountain Trail is right on the park boundary. About halfway down, we noted two new houses discreetly off to the left. The trail around the houses had been planted with new white pines because these trees are fast growing. We saw blackberry vines starting to take over. These invasive plants grow whenever soil is disturbed and it was obviously disturbed when those houses were built.
The trail down went back to hemlocks and rhododendrons, much more typical of that area. Further down we saw the house pictured above which was right on the trail. Well, to be fair about it, I know that it did not step over into park property. Besides the Private sign, they had a "Never mind the dog, beware of the owner sign" and a hand-penciled drawing of a mean dog with his fangs showing. As I think about it, the dog drawing could not have been hand-drawn on a piece of paper because it could not have survived the downpour.
I know the park has to end someplace and then private property takes over. That house right on the trail may have been a product of the last couple of decades when it was considered so cool to say that your house was right in the Smokies. But now, developers are getting smarter and building discreetly away from the trail. Home owners can still walk right from their house into the park, if they are hikers. Now if builders can only do something about blackberries and other invasives.
Yesterday (Wed. May 6), I was invited to give a talk to the Carolina Berg Wanderers, an outdoor group based in Charlotte. This group, over 30 years old, hikes, bikes, camps and does other outdoor sports. Many are very serious about their outdoor pursuits and seem to be out most weekends and weekdays after work.
The Bergs, as they are known for short, seem to span people from their 20s to 60s, though the leadership was definitely toward the older set. They have monthly meetings. In the summer, they have a monthly pot luck dinner in a city park and just socialize. The rest of the year, they meet in a church classroom and have a speaker and a short business meeting.
On the evening I was there, I spoke for about 45 minutes - I was the program. Then there was a business meeting. That evening, they were getting ready for their yearly elections. To my amazement, there was actually a two-way contest for president. The members also seemed to be amazed. Each candidate spoke for a few minutes. The president then announced that the ballot was going to be sent out via email and they were going to check carefully to make sure that only members voted.
The Outing Chair then mentioned all the activities that were going on until the next meeting. Though all the activities are detailed on the web, the Outing Chair wanted to make sure that newcomers understood how the club ran things. He also introduced the hike leaders if they were present.
The group communicates via a Meetup site but they also communicates via their monthly meeting.
I got a T-shirt as a thank-you gift. I also got a nice rating. With Meet-Up, you can comment and rate the event.
Writing a guidebook is not just hiking or even writing. That's half the job. The other half is marketing.
Way before the book is published, I had to think about where to go to sign books, talk to hikers (and yes, buyers) and do a slide show.
I came up with the idea of a slide show for my first hiking guide, Hiking the Carolina Mountains. I felt that I couldn't just read from a guide. So I created a 45 minute slide show which I tailor to the audience.
A slide show draws more people but it complicates things, for me and for the store. I have my own LCD projector and laptop, of course, Some venues, like Diamond Brand where I had my book launch, were completely at ease with a slide show. I came in with my laptop, plugged in to their projector and everything went smoothly. They had placed their stand and table exactly and there was no moving back and forth. Others, like my visit to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy annual meeting, was even better. "Just bring in a thumb drive," they said.
But at the Black Mountain Library where I went on Thursday, I had to bring in everything, hook up my projector and laptop and set it just right so it fit the screen. Some places don't have screens, just walls.
But that's OK. Whatever they have, I'm happy for an audience and I don't worry about how many books I've sold. The store obviously does but I'm interested in educating folks about our great outdoors and even more important, getting them outdoors.
Today, I'm off to Fireside Books in Forest City. I've never been to Forest City and I look forward to another trip. But tomorrow, Sunday, I'm going to be hiking.
I'd love to see you at one of my book events. Check out my schedule.