Entries For: August 2010
A quiet day at the Visitor Center. But that means that we could spend more time with each visitor.
I always ask visitors if they want to hike. I don't make any assumption, based on age, weight or demeanor. When I ask Americans who don't want to hike, they always hem and haw, say "a little" and apologize.
"We don't have time".
"We have little kids," though the children seem more active than their parents.
"We have elderly parents in the car."
But when I ask international visitors, they're quick to say "No!" and I admire their candor. But lately I notice that they make a distinction between "walking" and "hiking".
"Walking" means dayhiking to Brits. And other English-speaking Europeans use the same expression. Yesterday one couple from Germany said that they didn't want to "hike". But I told them about the mile round-trip to Clingmans Dome and the walk to Laurel Falls (three miles round-trip). Both are paved trails so they're certainly not considered "hikes" by Europeans.
I'm going to try that strategy with Americans and ask "Would you like to walk?"
I walked up Bradley Creek and turned onto Chasteen Creek Trail. It was muddy, made more so by the horse traffic. Chasteen Creek Falls is a destination for people on horses.
I've been up and down Chasteen Creek Trail several times but have never taken the time to take the sidetrail to the falls. How could I suggest it to visitors, if I didn't have a clear idea myself? I'm sure that those who work the Visitor Center desk do that all the time, but I can't do it. Now I know where it is and that it's a destination worth recommending.
In other news, the new Visitor Center now has the start of a roof. They're making progress.
I don't know when the building will be finished but I'm looking forward to it.
If I was a better cyclist, I'd be on the road right now with the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club. Instead, yesterday, I was privileged to go on a training ride with Claudia Nix, co-owner of Liberty Bicycles in Asheville. Claudia and her husband Mike have been honored many times for the bicycle advocacy work they're doing in the community. Their bike shop has been voted best bicycle store for years.
So I knew that I was being coached by the very best. I told Claudia that I needed to get back on a bike because I was working on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and that 500 miles of it was on the road. Most people who have finished the MST (and there are only 18) walked the road part. But Sharon, my hiking partner, wants to try riding the Piedmont backroads part of the MST. She's a much better cyclist than I am and her husband is a very committed road cyclist. So I said I'd work on it - and I'm starting now.
Claudia picked out a Trek fitness bike - that's what the company calls the model. We started in the parking lot. Up and down, up and down. I needed to get comfortable with the brakes and the gears. We practiced left and right turns - I was OK on left turns but somehow lost my nerve on right turns.
Claudia had the patience of Job. She kept encouraging me and told me how well I was doing. I kept thinking of the New Zealand expression "Bloody Hopeless". But I persevered.
Then we went on the road through Biltmore Forest across Hendersonville Road from their store. Biltmore Forest is a small, independent town with large upscale houses. In the middle of the day, no one seemed to be in a hurry. I was fine uphill, pedaling and changing gears. Downhill was a challenge - I'm just plainly afraid of falling. We practiced shifting, turns and starting on a hill.
Claudia and I agreed that I was not ready for even the simplest group ride. "How fast and how far do I have to go to be able to go on a group ride?" I asked her. "I need numbers".
"At least eight miles an hour. You must pedal consistently for at least 20 minutes,"Claudia said. She thought that we were going about three miles an hour, now.
"Three miles? I can walk faster than that on the road," I told her. It was discouraging. My hand was cramping up.
By the evening, my back and neck were feeling all the jolts and bumps of the practice and ride. But I'm persevering. If doing the MST is all about new experiences, this serious biking is a new experience for me.
I'm going next week, by myself this time, to practice again in Biltmore Forest. If you see me weaving through Biltmore Forest at three miles an hour, wave!
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has released its Environmental Assesment of Elk Management.
Elk were released in the Smokies in 2001 and then again in 2002. This release is still considered an experiment. An original 52 elk is now a herd of 135 elk. Some animals have left the Cataloochee Valley and moved on to other parts of the park.
Now the park has determined that the elk can be sustained over the long-run. They wants to transition to a long-term management strategy. This means that the elk will be protected like other animals in the park and not managed on a day to day basis.
No experiment lasts forever. I wrote in my comments and supported their preferred alternative. But I added:
But at some point, maybe years or decades, people in Western North Carolina will want to hunt elk when the animals cross over to National Forest land. Some do now. I hope that the Smokies will get involved in this issue and give their expert testimony.
For more details and to comment on this proposal, go to the NPS planning site.
I've been writing for National Park Travelers for almost a year, now. It's a free website for everything National Parks. It's a semi-blog with lots of good information of National Park units, as issues come up. Readers are encouraged to comment. And they do. The website gets over 100,000 hits a month. I wish my blog was that popular.
Now, they're asking for reader input for a special fall-in-the-parks series. What national park do you think should definitely get some attention for a fall visit? You can comment by going to this link.
The park that gets the most mentions will be added to the to-do list. They're fairly good with the obvious choices. What they're need your help with is the unusual! So, tell them which one, and why, and they will assign folks, maybe me.
It was not a quiet day at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, yesterday.
When I checked my Facebook page, Lynda Doucette, Supervisory interpretive ranger in the Smokies, had written that Newfound Gap road was closed because of a rock slide near Collins Creek. By the time I got to the Park, the road from Cherokee was one lane because of construction but the rock slide had been cleared up. Great news!
It was quiet for a couple of hours and I helped Ranger Ann Kidd, plot out a backpack in the Hyatt Ridge section of the Park. She was looking to bushwhack to Breakneck Ridge north of Three Forks - looked tough.
I also had a first. I sold three of my books while I was working there. One of the Great Smoky Mountains Association sales assistants learned that I was the author of two hiking guides and started promoting my book, right in the store. I wasn't complaining and I signed and personalized the books.
And then the accident!
Then at around noon, the park radio exploded with bad news. A motor home had turned over and rolled down the "mountain" three miles south of Newfound Gap.
Seven people were in that RV as it tumbled down. The folks in there must have felt like they were in a washing machine. Now, when a vehicle runs off the road off Newfound Gap, it doesn't get stopped by a sidewalk or a house in town. It keeps falling. We heard emergency vehicle after vehicle zip past the Visitor Center - Cherokee Tribal EMT, Bryson City, Swain County Rescue - all the emergency services in the surrounding communities.
Newfound Gap closed again at the barrier just north of Smokemont Campgrounds and then we got busy. Visitors streamed in:
"When are they going to open the road?"
"I have reservations in Gatlinburg."
"I have to get to Knoxville."
We had no real idea when the road was going to open so we gave out written instructions on how to get to the Tennessee side of the Park when the road is closed. Suffice it to say that it's far and complicated.
If you take an Wilderness First Aid course, you're taught that you don't just worry about the people who got hurt but also the bystanders. The phone was ringing off the hook from visitors who had heard about the closures and others who confused it with the morning closure.
Dan, a seasonal ranger, called the surrounding town visitor centers and Cherokee Harrah's Casino to let them know about the road closure. He changed the phone message to reflect what had happened.
I worked the desk and I encouraged visitors to see things around Oconaluftee.
There's the Mountain Farm Museum, Mingus Mill and the Smokemont Church (I bet you didn't know about that one).
If you want to hike, you can do Mingus Creek Trail to a cemetery, Bradley Fork Loop and of course, the Oconaluftee River Trail. There's plenty to do right here - you don't need to go to Cades Cove this afternoon. Some were not convinced.
At 2 P.M., I roved the Farm Museum and River Trail. Plenty of people, since we were sending everyone here. Some were relaxed enjoying the sunshine - thank goodness the weather was on our side. I had 34 visitor contacts.
When I returned a little before 5 P.M., the road was still closed. We heard that the RV had split in two and getting it up to the road was time-consuming.
A WLOS truck pulled up in the Visitor Center parking lot. That's Asheville's ABC-TV affiliate, getting ready to film a live segment on the accident. You know "If it bleeds, it leads." I couldn't resist taking a picture.
No, I don't have pictures of the accidents. I don't have a press pass.
So I changed out of my uniform shirt, put on a T-shirt and went home. Later I read that the road reopened at 7 P.M.
Everyone needs friends - especially national parks.
The Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara will host their third Hobo Ball on Saturday, September 11, 2010, at the Kenmure Country Club in Flat Rock, NC. The fundraising event is a festive and casual evening in a beautiful setting. The social hour begins at 6:00 p.m. with complimentary beer and a cash bar and features entertainment by Elaine Anderson and Amber Steele, a popular mother and daughter guitar duo. After dinner, renowned singer, composer, and guitarist Tom Fisch will share a few of his favorite songs.
The Hobo-style buffet dinner will include complimentary wine. A silent and live auction will feature items donated by both individuals and community businesses. Items include jewelry, antiques, art work, photography, quilts, overnight stays in fantastic inns, a cocktail party with entertainment, a guided hike followed by an alfresco lunch . . . and more.
Proceeds from the event enable the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara to support the historical, literary, educational and interpretive activities of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site such as the annual student poetry contest, the Folk Music Festival, summer education interns, and the Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence program, which had its debut in 2010.
Dress for the evening is casual, and certainly denim is popular. The last event included many guests in hobo attire complete with knapsacks! Tickets are $75 per person and seating is limited.
For information or to secure reservations, please contact Kathleen Hudson at 828-698-5208 or Jan Spicka at 828-891-1606. Additional information is also available at www.friendsofcarlsandburg.org.
Yesterday, my granddaughter, Hannah, became a Junior Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I had bought the booklet for 7 and 8 year-olds a week before and studied it to see how she could accomplish this in a day. I know it's using inside knowledge because it's difficult to do this properly in a day. The children need to do several activities, pick up a bag of trash and go to a ranger program. When there's no ranger program, another activity can be substituted.
We start at the Mountain Farm Museum just outside Oconaluftee Visitor Center. She's really taken by the pig and the rooster. We hear the rooster and walk around the barn several times until we see it on the upper loft.
After finishing the farm, we stop on a bench so Hannah can make notes and fill in one of the activities. She had come prepared with pencils, a sharpener, eraser and crayons.
We walk part of the Oconaluftee River Trail and look for trees - a leaf hunt including tulip tree, hickory, maple , sassafras and dogwood. We see lots of poison ivy on the ground. Now wouldn't that would be a useful thing to be able to identify?
We drive to Clingmans Dome to find trees at a high elevation. Hannah is supposed to smell the air. "How is it different from your neighborhood and school?" Cold and foggy - that's how.
We climb the tower in the fog but all the views are the same color - gray. We look for fir, spruce, yellow birch, American beech. The walk to the top of the Clingmans Dome tower may not have been the best place to identify these trees since it's hard to get off the pavement but we find all those trees.
All this time, we're on the lookout for trash. It's not easy in a day; the park is so clean. We pick up a few stray pieces of cellophane and add our lunch trash.
The first two activities are about the regulations (a tough word for a seven-year old). Adults might be put off with "thou shall not" but children feel comfortable with rules.
"Hey! We have rules around here... leave everything as you found it, don't feed the wildlife, don't carve your name on a historic cabin
At the end of the booklet, Clingmans Dome at 6,643 ft. is compared with other sites. A big stretch for 7 and 8 year olds - Eiffel Tower (985 ft.), Big Ben at 316 ft. The only height she really understands was a two story house (20 ft.)
Our final stop is at Mingus Mill, a working corn mill with a miller. They grind corn though they don't sell the corn they grind because of health regulations. It'd raining cats and dogs but we persevere. We scramble up to a slave cemetery just before Mingus Creek Trail to see several mounted graves with a stone on either end of the graves to signify the length of the body.
Finally the ceremony.
We traipse into Oconaluftee Visitor Center, soaked but protecting the booklet and get the attention of Range Florie Takaki. Florie is in charge of volunteers so we know each other well.
She asks Hannah where she lives and what grade she's going into. Then she announces in a loud voice, meant to get the attention of everyone in the Visitor Center.
"We have a special girl about to be sworn in as a Junior Ranger." Hannah is mortified at the attention but Florie puts her arm around her. She asks Hannah to raise her right hand and read the Junior Ranger promise:
As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help protect the plants and animals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and keep the air, water and land clean. I will continue to learn more about the park so I can help protect it for all the years to come.
Florie helps Hannah with a couple of hard words. Then she offers Hannah the choice of a pin or badge - a badge of course, which is unique to the park. Florie fills out and signs the certificate with a flourish.
I take a picture of Hannah in a flat hat - a ranger's hat. Maybe one day, Hannah will earn a real hat and badge.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center was quiet today, except when it wasn't.
A family from Eden, North Carolina, north of Greensboro, said that she had a "panther" on her property that growled at her and her daughter.
"What should I do about it?" She asked.
I guess we're the information center for everything. This happened to the telephone company and that's why in the 1970s (I think), they changed their service from "information" to "directory assistance".
I suggested that she calls her county's animal control department and that it was probably a bobcat. "There hasn't been a bobcat in North Carolina since the 1800s."
"OK, bobcat, but they won't do nothing".
"Then you need to go to the state level," strongly hinting that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park couldn't do anything. But she kept on and on. There weren't too many people around so I listened.
I must have listened too intently because I didn't notice that a bee or wasp had landed on my shirt collar or neck. But the next visitor did and flicked it away. The wasp landed on a stack of newspapers on the floor and I promptly stomped on it.
When I told Maryann, a seasonal ranger, about the wasp, she said that she knew about it but "she didn't like to kill things." When it comes to bees in any variation, I don't mind killing.
School is back in session for most of western North Carolina, including Asheville. I didn't see too many visitors on Kephart Prong last week so I stayed close by on the Mountain Farm Museum and Oconaluftee River Trail.
Corn and sorghum are really tall by now at the farm. The rest of the garden is also doing well, being lovingly taken care by volunteers. They also tend the pigs and chickens. Not me! I barely take care of my own yard. And the only animals I feed are the birds at the bird feeder outside. So I rove and talk to people.
The River Trail is one of only two trails that allows dogs on leashes, and bikes. Then the skies opened up and I heard thunder. I kept walking because I was already wet and so did visitors with dogs. Several people on rubber floats on the Oconaluftee River passed by. They didn't care; they were already wet as well.
It is definitely autumn on the trail. Not much but cone flowers and you've seen plenty of pictures of those. But I found passion flowers (passiflora incarnata) in the bushes on the way to the Mountain Farm Museum. Passion flowers are tropical but Passiflora incarnata is an exception in that it is deciduous and can survive winter freezes.
We went to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock yesterday. We took a tour of the home with a volunteer who was fascinating. Carl Sandburg was a writer, poet, biographer who won two Pulitzer Prizes but Mrs. Sandburg was a champion goat breeder. The goats are still at the site, being taken care of by rangers and volunteers.
But like all National Park site, this one needs help from its friends. Hence the fundraiser.
The Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara will host their third Hobo Ball featuring dinner, entertainment and an auction to benefit Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site on Saturday, September 11, 2010, at the Kenmure Country Club in Flat Rock. In the spirit of a Hobo Ball dress is casual and denim is certainly
popular. Knap sacks are welcomed.
Proceeds from the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara and the Hobo Ball support diverse and growing educational programming for youth, school groups and the visiting public at Carl Sandburg Home NHS. This spring Poet Christina Lovin resided in the Historic Farm Manager’s House and served as the Inaugural Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence.
“The Friends have consistently been there in funding the site’s education programs and developing the Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence. Their support is critical to ensuring school groups, families and and all who visit have an enjoyable and meaningful experience,” says Connie Backlund, park superintendent.
The other National Park Service sites dedicated to writers include John Muir National Historic Site in CA, Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site also in CA, Longfellow National Historic Site in MA and Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in PA.
For more information or to secure reservations, please contact Kathleen Hudson at 828-698-5208 or Jan Spicka at 828-891-1606. Additional information is also available at www.friendsofcarlsandburg.org.
We walked to Big Glassy and then back to the house where Lenny found Sandburg's chair.
Starting with 340.1 miles, 51,850 ft. ascent
Woodlawn Park to Old NC-105
15.4 miles, 3,100 ft. ascent
I'm back from vacation reestablishing my routine and part of my routine is continuing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
It has been hot and humid for weeks now but Sharon and I had a hiking day planned for a long time and 90 degree weather was not going to deter us.
Some say that the section from Woodlawn Park to Kistler Memorial Highway (Old NC-105) is the hardest section on the MST. I'll tell you when I complete the trail. The hike was in the Grandfather District of Pisgah National Forest but not yet in Linville Gorge.
We met at Lake James State Park outside of Nebo. We discovered that all the camping sites were walk-in and ours would be quite a walk. Then we were reminded that almost all North Carolina state parks are gated until 8 A.M. So we wouldn't be able to leave the next morning until eight o'clock.
We had a long and difficult hike ahead so we packed up, placed a car at the end of the trail and went back to stay at my house in Asheville. I'm glossing over the "place the car" bit but we knew where to leave the car only because I had checked it out with Jim Reel, a Carolina Mountain Club member who really knows the back roads in McDowell County. I still got lost on my first try.
The first few miles in the cool of the morning were on forest roads, meandering through meadows. Sharon proclaimed it a mushroom day and must have photographed every "shroom" we saw. My camera died early in the day and most of the photos are from her camera.
We crossed the North Fork of the Catawba River on a beautiful bridge, built in 2005 (see the picture above). Before that, MST hikers needed to wade in the muddy waters. We crossed the Clinchfield Railroad tracks and then the climb started to Bald Knob. By now, I was hot and sticky and felt I was peeing through my pores.
Sharon practiced her resting steps. Here's a good description from a website -- a step that hikers use on long and difficult treks, so that they can complete it without exhausting themselves. The step is so slow that the hiker has the experience of resting while moving forward. One foot is completely planted, before moving the next. Each leg is straightened so that the hiker's weight is supported by his or her bones, rather than muscles - enabling the muscles to relax.
The trail to Bald Knob (3,400 ft.) had good switchbacks. It offered several rocky lookouts, though it was so hazy that we didn't bother with scenery photos. Then the trail plunged down only to climb again, without switchbacks to Dobson Knob.
The hike was tough but it was fine with me because the trail was well-maintained and blazed. There was never any question as to where to go. Thank you to Friends of the MST and the Bald Knob Task Force. I don't know how these folks maintain this stretch of trail but they made a difficult trail much easier.
The rest of the trail was again on pleasant forest roads. Sharon spotted orange-fringed orchids, a little past their prime but we were thrilled anyway. I had never seen these orchids.
We then passed the Overmountain Victory Trail. It's a trail that seems to pop up in small sections all over the area. Here's a little background, mostly from Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage.
The Overmountain Men settled in Sycamore Shoals, TN, now present-day Elizabethton, in the 1770s, thereby defying King George’s Proclamation of 1763, which stated that English settlers must not move west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To rule themselves, the settlers created the Watauga Association, which today may be considered the first (male) majority-rule American democracy.
Fast forward to the summer of 1780. The British Royal army aimed to conquer the South. They thought it would be quick work and assumed that the South would be more loyal to the British Crown than the North. They then would recruit Loyalists to help the British Army in battle with the North.
Instead, western settlers from Eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia, dubbed Overmountain Men, marched through these mountains east to Kings Mountain, SC. As true volunteers, they provided their own horses, food, and guns. They defeated the Tories on October 7, 1780. This American victory freed the American South from British domination and was a turning point in the war.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail starts in Abingdon, VA, goes through Elizabethton, TN, over Yellow Mountain Gap, down to Cowpens National Battlefield (another major encounter with the Tories), and ends at Kings Mountain National Military Park, SC.
There was an OVT sign and an information plaque which explained the significance of the Trail.
We got out of the woods and on the road for the last 0.8 mile, dusty, sweaty and thirsty but feeling victorious. Sharon put on her yellow crocks - how's that for a sight for sore eyes - and everything else as well.
Cumulative after day 30, 355.6 miles, 54,950 ft. ascent
Now through the end of August you can help your favorite land a $100,000 grant by voting in a National Park Foundation contest.
The funding comes from Coca-Cola, which will give the $100,000 to the state or national park that lands the most votes by August 31. There is no limit to the number of times you can vote, either.
To cast your ballot, visit this site.
By the way, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in second place right now. There is no money for second-place winners. So let's keep clicking.