Entries For: February 2010
I'm going to Big Bend National Park in a couple of days. I've got all my stuff laying in a corner - the tent, sleeping bag, pad... It's amazing what's on the list from our Sierra Club leader. But here are three things that I always take.
In Western North Carolina, our National Parks and Forests are free but that's an anomaly. Most National Parks charge admission. If you have this pass, you'll get in for free. It's $80 a year if you're under 62. But when you turn 62 years old, it's only $10 for a lifetime pass. How can anyone turn that down?
Where do you get it? You must get it at a place that charges admission and that is run by the Federal Government, not just at a visitor center. You can't get the pass online. I got mine when I went to Rocky Mountain National Park. In Western North Carolina, the only place I know that charges an admission fee is the Cradle of Forestry. They sell the passes.
You get 15% when you buy stuff in the Smokies but you get a good discount in other parks that have cooperating association. I'm sure that Big Bend Natural History Association, the cooperating association there, will get some of my money.
No, I'm not going to give you the link to the U.S. Postal Service. I enjoy sending postcards. Stamps are the most difficult things to get on the road. I'm usually not in civilization when the post office is open, even if I can find one. So I always take a few stamps.
None of these things were on our Sierra Club packing list.
How do we celebrate Valentine's Day? On the trail, of course.
We started on the North Slope Trail past the Davidson Campground. The trail climbed and it was a good thing too. I was freezing and it took me almost an hour to feel my hands. Others had used the trail before and we walked in a trench all the way up.
We took the North Slope Connector for a short while which connected us to the Art Loeb Trail. That's where we encountered blowdowns which really slowed us down.
Several of us had YakTraxs or crampons of various types. We showed off all of them in a can-can pose at lunch time (above). My YakTraxs behaved this week and stayed on the whole time but Lenny's broke and are now in the trash.
The Art Loeb Trail took us down to our cars. On the way, we saw the clearing from the Ecusta Plant, the paper manufacturer that Art Loeb managed in the 1950s and 1960s. Now it's being cleaned up and will be developed as a mixed use site with shops and homes. I guess cigarette and bible paper, which is what Ecusta made, are no longer a going proposition.
A few days ago, National Parks Traveler, a great authoritative website on National Parks, asked: what will you do for Valentine's Day?
I said - hike with my sweetheart and share a bar of fancy chocolate. So here we are.
Sunday was time to get out - never mind the weather or road conditions. Carolina Mountain Club scheduled a hike in Montreat near Black Mountain. When planning the hike, the leader got a little ambitious and wanted to go up Graybeard Mountain.
Instead we did a seven-mile loop which took us almost six hours. The trail was covered with snow from the time we got out of the car until we got back to our cars.
Of course, part of the reason we were slow was that we trudged through the snow and ice. We broke a trail that had not been touched. Bruce, to our left, with his YakTrax Pros, walked ahead and made footsteps in the snow for the group. Lenny and I had YakTrax Walkers which kept coming off in the most challenging places. There really is a difference between the two YakTraxs.
But the main reason is that we stopped to take so many photographs of frozen leaves, buds and branches. Look at the pictures - who could resist these scenes? They don't happen often in Western North Carolina.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association is the non-profit group that publishes books and other media about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their most popular items are the Hiking Trails of the Smokies and the Smokies Trail map.
Association of Partners of Public Lands is the national umbrella group for park and forest associations. This is like winning the Oscars for Park Associations. Here are the awards for the Smokies:
Theme Related Items Winner
Products Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of GSMNP
Multi-Media Program/Project Winner
Great Smoky Mountains Association Web Site
Commemorative Project or Program Winner
Great Smoky Mountains 75th Anniversary Events and Web Site
Membership/Fundraising Materials Honorable Mention
Dolly Parton CD and Dollywood Store
Education Program/Project Honorable Mention
Smokies 2009 Family Friendly Junior Ranger Programming
James V. Murfin Award for Partnership Winner
Terry Maddox, Executive Director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association
I am now on the board of GSMA and I could have attended the APPL conference in sunny California. Instead I decided to wait a year until I actually knew something about GSMA. Given the weather here in the mountains, maybe I should have gone.
I got electric power and my cable back, so things are back to normal - until the next storm.
Here are some pictures of the Historic Signing of the Four Party agreement on Saturday Feb. 6.
Four Party Agreement
Signing and Witnessing
At the reception at the Calhoun House, a wooden bear was displayed. It will be presented to Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, who was not able to be there.
Morgan Sommerville, Regional Director of the Deep South section of Appalachian Trail Conservancy, with Dale Ditmanson, Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Congressman Heath Shuler.
It promised to be the biggest event in Western North Carolina in 67 years. The North Shore Road controversy in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was over. Swain County was going to get its $52 million over 10 years -an amount that was calculated as the present value of the road that was flooded in 1943 to create Fontana Lake and Fontana Dam.
On Friday Feb. 5, Swain County Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement by the Department of the Interior, Swain County, North Carolina, and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Department of the Interior will pay up to $52 million into a trust fund established for the County. Only the earnings can be spent. The County was one of the four signatories of the original 1943 agreement. In fact, the two principals in the negotiations were the County and the Department of the Interior.
The next day (Saturday, Feb. 6), a day which promised to be wet, cold, and icy, a signing ceremony was held at Swain County High School. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, was scheduled to attend but the weather in Washington kept him away. This omission did not dampen the audience’s enthusiasm. This day was about Swain County and Congressman Heath Shuler, the hero, coming back to Swain County High School where he played football.
Leonard Winchester, president of the Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County and a retired Swain County education administrator was elated. “It’s a historic day. We’ve already received $4 millions and will receive another $8.8 millions in 120 days. We have to continue working to make sure that we get the rest. But now we can ask our two senators to help because there’s only one option.”
Ted Snyder has been working on this issue since the 1960s. Snyder, a retired lawyer from South Carolina and former National President of Sierra Club, feels that the agreement “does something for the parks, the plants and the animals.” Next, he plans to work on Wilderness Status for the Smokies. “Wilderness status is feasible but the locals won’t support wilderness status until they get all their money.”
Glenn Jones, Chair of the Swain County Board of Commissioners proclaimed that “It took us 67 years to reach this point. The journey has not been easy. People have made sacrifices but these sacrifices are going to make the future easier. Every citizen in Swain County will benefit from this cash settlement.” He praised Congressman Heath Shuler, a Swain County graduate who played quarterback for the Swain County Maroon Devils. Yes, there were proroad supporters. Jones instructed the proroad people to put their protest signs away. The proroad folks stayed quiet but carried “Build the road” signs.
Superintendent Dale Ditmanson of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, representing the Department of the Interior, recapped the Federal Government’s involvement in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). There were 75,000 comments on the DEIS and it was determined that the road would not be built. “No one has worked as hard over the last three years on the monetary settlement as Congressman Shuler. The National Park Service will continue to provide transportation to the cemeteries.” Ditmanson brought a message from Secretary Salazar who said “the settlement is good for the people of Swain County because it generates much needed revenue; good for the department, because it protects one of America’s most treasured parks; and good for the American taxpayers, since building the road would have cost several times more than the settlement.”
Finally it was Congressman Heath Shuler’s turn at the podium. He recalled that “growing up, I saw both sides of the issue. It’s divided this community. Our next generation can grow up with better education. It’s time to let go of something in our past that divided us. My roots are here. My foundation is here.” Shuler received three standing ovations.
Three of the four parties had already signed the historic document. The last, Glenn Jones for the Swain County Board of Commissioners, signed and it was witnessed by Congressman Shuler. This truly was a historic day and I was thrilled to be there.
I've just been voted onto the board of the Great Smoky Mountains Association and I'm getting a first-hand look at how the association runs. Like all Cooperating Associations, GMSA is non-profit 501(C)3 organization, with an official agreement with the National Park Service to provide books, maps, and other educational materials on the Smokies and sell them in visitor centers. We work closely with the park and there's a great trust level between us - the GSMA office is across a small courtyard from the park headquarters.
We can't tell the Smokies staff how to run their national park and we don't take positions on park issues as an association. This must have been difficult during the long, protracted North Shore Road issue, one where almost everyone favored a financial settlement rather than building another road through the park.
Terry Maddox, who has served as the association's executive director for 20 years, says "the park decides what projects they support. We try to help them."
The Association has over 11,000 members and a budget of $7.5 million. All members get 15 percent off on anything they buy in visitor center stores and on the web. With a basic membership of $25, a membership quickly pays for itself. GSMA books and maps are not easily available in most other bookstores and are not sold on Amazon. So if you want Hiking Trails of the Smokies, the hiking bible describing every trail in the park - accept no substitution - you have to buy it from GSMA. In addition, with your GSMA discount card, you can get a discount in other park associations stores.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association currently publishes 38 books, and many nature trail booklets, maps and DVDs. Unlike commercial publishers, their books seldom go out of print. Mountain Makin's Cookbook, published in 1957, was the association's first book and is still offered today. Probably the best-known publication from national park associations is the park newspaper, which comes out four times a year.
In addition to books and educational materials produced by GSMA, visitor centers in the Smokies sell other products, including my two hiking guides. A park committee votes on whether an item is appropriate for Association stores. The sales also help out the Smokies, as GSMA returns 17 percent of its gross income to the park. In return, the park doesn't charge rent.
Lots more when I learn more about what my role is.
There has been so much excitement about the financial settlement of the North Shore Road issue. My email inbox has been almost about nothing else. Everyone from the Great Smoky Mountains Association board to various environmental groups have been sending out congratulations.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, is going to be in Bryson City to formally announce this settlement. Imagine! This has been going on since 1943. Now thanks to our Congressman Heath Shuler and Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, it will be settled.
So come to the celebration!
What: Signing of Settlement Agreement on proposed North Shore Road in Swain County, NC.
When: Saturday, February 6th, 11:30am – 12:30pm
Where: Bryson City Town Square
Intersection of Main Street and Rector Street
Bryson City, NC
(Rain location) Fine Arts Center Swain County High School 1415 Fontana Road Bryson City, NC
This decision is so important that I've repeated the Superintendent's media advisory in full. Here goes:
After nearly 70 years of debate and a nine-year decision making process, it appears virtually certain that the proposal to construct the North Shore Road will come to an end this Saturday. Swain County Commissioners are
scheduled to vote on Friday on whether to accept a new agreement, which has been proposed by the Department of Interior, to replace the 1943 Agreement.
There is every reason to expect that the Commission will vote to accept the new agreement, which explicitly nullifies the earlier agreement, and supports a payment to Swain County of $52 million over a ten year period.
If the Commission accepts the new agreement, there will be an event on the lawn of the old Swain County Courthouse on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Chairman of the Swain County County
Commission will sign the new agreement. NC Governor Bev Perdue and a representative of TVA have also been invited. Representative Heath Shuler, who has played a critical role in gaining federal acceptance of the new agreement, will also participate.
This is the outcome supported in the NPS Record of Decision issued in December 2007 as the alternative that best protects the resources of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a goal that I know we all share. Although we are glad that we have finally reached this landmark decision, we also
need to be sensitive to those that made the sacrifice when they were moved off the land. While the outcome of the Swain County vote on Friday is expected to be 4-1 in support of the settlement, that one vote has been the
voice of those that supported the road. Those are among the families whose heritage we praised during the 75th Anniversary celebrations throughout 2009. As was stated in the EIS, the Park is committed to continue to provide the same access to the North Shore cemeteries as we have in the past.
Finally, I want to thank all of you who worked for many years towards reaching a resolution to this issue. I know that many of you spent many hours working on the EIS alternatives, attending and organizing public meetings, and communicating with the public about the North Shore Road
issues and decision-process. Few initiatives that the Park has undertaken contribute more significantly towards the Park’s mission of preserving our natural and cultural resources and providing for the enjoyment of these
resources unimpaired in the future.
This morning Congressman Heath Shuler announced that he had been able to negotiate a new agreement with Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior for a Monetary Settlement with Swain County for the North Shore Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Secretary Salazar has announced that he will be in Bryson City on Saturday, February 6th, to sign the new agreement. Supporters are welcome to see this historic event.
New appropriations provided for the the agreement will bring the settlement amount up to $52 Million.
Once the new Agreement has been signed, the infamous "1943 Agreement" will be ended and can never be revived.