Entries For: January 2012
It may seem like a long time from now but a committee has been working on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy 2013 Biannual meeting for a couple of years.
I'm responsible for excursions and I've started to plan and check out possible excursions.
The first stop is at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. It tells the story of the Cherokee People in a very vibrant way. Before visitors are let loose in the town, they might want to know about the history of the people here.
Across the street is the Qualla Arts Gallery, with exquisite and expensive native art. Cherokee has been criticized for having a lot of cheap stuff from China such as beads, moccasins and T-shirt. Well, this gallery is the real deal.
Before I head out to Mingo Falls, I have coffee at Tribal Grounds Coffee Shop. This is the best and really only place to have coffee and tea.
Mingo Falls is 120-foot waterfall right in the Big Cove area of Cherokee. I pass the educational complex, a beautiful building for all students in the town from Kindergarten to 12th grade. After about five miles, I turn into the Mingo Falls parking lot and walk up a long staircase to the falls. The water was really falling yesterday.
Lunch is at Paul's Diner. This is a traditional Cherokee restaurant which means fried bread with everything. If you want rabbit or bison, this is the place. But the restaurant is not about the food. It's a real Cherokee atmosphere with Indian themed pictures on the wall and over the fireplace. People sit at a bar in front of a large-screen TV. You can't buy an alcohol drink in Cherokee but that doesn't mean that patrons can't watch the big game anyway. A pie case rotates showing off the most lavish sweets around. And of course, most of the diners are Cherokee.
The tacky kitch is very visible in Cherokee because as they will tell you, this is what tourists want. So you'll pass
Pan F'r Gold, Native American Dance Shows and the Wigwam Motel. You'll also pass Harrah's Cherokee Casino and resort, the largest single tourist attraction in NC with 3.5 million visitors. But the excursion won't take you there because it's been vetoed by the Chair of the conference committee.
But even with all that kitch, you know that this is a real live town, not just a tourist attraction. There's a hospital, public transit system with large vans, a supermarket and apartments.
I discovered a bookstore, Talking Leaves which you won't find just walking around. The low building housing the bookstore is overshadowed by the KCF at the intersection of US 19 and US 441.This bookstore specializes in native American books and seems to have books about every tribe. It also had cookbooks, children's books and every book that Sherman Alexie has written. I bought a book on Indians and the National Parks.
This will be a real popular attraction, I'm sure.
I have probably done the Boogerman Loop in Cataloochee more than any other hike in the park. It's easy, historic, fun and a loop hike. Why did I need to scout it again? Am I glad I did!
The Boogerman Loop is a "C" shaped trail which starts on Caldwell Fork Trail. I like to go to the top of the loop, crossing on all ten bridges before starting Boogerman Loop. Another good decision. [For those who really know this hike, my bridge numbering does not include the small bridge over a puddle, only the bridges over Caldwell Fork.
The first bridge, which is supposed to be the longest wooden bridge in the park, is deteriorating. The railing wobbles, the creosote coating on the surface of the bridge is wearing off and the wood is chipped in places. I was not happy crossing the bridge and knowing I would have to cross it again. I was not going to pull out my camera and take more detailed pictures while on the bridge.
The second bridge tilts to one side. Like all the other bridges I encountered, the walking surface was once scored with grooves to make it less slippery but now the lines have been worn away. I wonder why the Park never went into putting chicken wire on slippery surfaces, like I've seen in New Zealand Parks.
Bridge 3, 4, and 5 were fine. Their surfaces could have been scored as well but that's a detail. Bridge #6 was closed - period. See above.
There's a crack in the middle which I now realize you can't see well in the photo, but trust me, you don't want to use the bridge now. So to recoup the day, Hannah and I went back to the first Boogerman Trail intersection and walked to almost the second intersection with Caldwell Fork and walked back.
Boogerman Trail was still as wonderful. The big trees, stone walls, burned tree that you can walk into. All the good stuff was there. Without leaves on the trees, we had great views. I calculated that taking this route, we did 8.6 miles and about 1,800 feet of ascent.
Those numbers don't include the walking to the closed bridge #6.
With Friends of the Smokies, we would skip that. Or would we? Maybe Friends of the Smokies hikers need to know viscerally that Smokies Trails need our help. The Park can't do it alone. So another plug for the Trails Forever program.
According to a recently-released National Park Service study, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the nation’s most visited national park, it also tops the 397 national park units in visitor spending. The study estimates that in 2010 the Park’s 9 million visitors spent over $818 million in the gateway communities surrounding the Park.
The study also estimates that 11,367 local jobs were supported by Park visitor spending.
That's not surprising. Other than books, maps and maybe a T-shirt, there's nothing you can buy in the park. You can't get a cup of coffee or a bed. By the time, the Smokies became a park, the gateway communities, especially Gatlingburg, were tourist towns. So it was decided that tourist accommodations were going to stay outside the park.
All those folks who may see the National Parks as a money drain may want to reconsider and see them instead as money and job generators.
The entire study can be found at:
The Carolina Mountain Club hike on Sunday was not at all routine. The area was in the news yesterday.
We started at the new trailhead at Florence Preserve in Hickory Nut Gorge - US 74A. I had scouted that hike in November for a new printing of Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage. At that time, the trail at the beginning went straight up.
But since then, the owners of the land, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, rerouted the trail to make it more friendly. They hired some mechanical help (read - a guy with a bulldozer) to switch back the trail. CMC trail crew put in several log bridges.
Once out of Florence Preserve, we walked on a road up to the top of Little Pisgah Mountain. I spotted several Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) signs. And also a bathtub on the side of the road - see the top photo. Where did that come from?
According to the Asheville Citizen Times, the Fisher family owns the property along with a summer home on Little Pisgah Mountain. SAHC, the conservancy, arranged for a conservation easement that is supposed to be valued at $1.5 million. The property remains with the family but the land can't be sold for development - ever. In return, they save on property taxes. Well, that makes sense. The land is now worth less if you can't develop it.
For some reason, they can still put six homes somewhere on the property.
Here's the full article in the Citizen-Times. Read it quickly because articles on the Citizens-Times website disappear after a week.
There's always something. There's always some threat to the funding of our parks, forests or trails. This time the threat is to the Recreational Trails Program.
The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is a national program that provides funds to the States to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonmotorized and motorized recreational trail uses. These funds are then distributed to the States so that they can be used to build or improve greenways, hiking and bicycle trails. One of the recipients of this money has been the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. (The picture above is on the Tanawha Trail on the MST.)
For the last two decades, RTP has received a portion of the gas taxes paid by users of off-highway motorized vehicles to fund trail building, maintenance and other trail-related projects.
And now the program is in deep trouble. The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved transportation reauthorization legislation known as MAP-21 that would effectively eliminate the RTP by stripping the program of its dedicated funding.
The RTP is the foundation of the state trail programs. If the RTP loses its dedicated funding, organized trail planning and development will simply vanish in many areas of the country. But this is not a North Carolina issue. This is an issue of national importance, if you use a trail.
So we're asking you to call or email your U.S. Senator and ask their support to protect dedicated funding for the Recreational Trails Program.
The key messages are simple:
* Unless the bill is changed, MAP-21 will effectively eliminate the Recreational Trails Program; and
* Please amend MAP-21 to include dedicated funding for RTP.
If you live in North Carolina, here's the information you need:
1) Call Senator Burr and Senator Hagan's offices to ask them to work to have MAP-21 amended to include dedicated funding for RTP. Here is contact information:
Senator Richard Burr - 202-224-3154. You can leave a message for the Senator or you can speak to Matthew Dockham, his staff member who focuses on transportation and conservation issues. If you'd like to e-mail Matthew, his e-mail address is email@example.com.
Senator Kay Hagan - 202-224-6342. You can leave a message for the Senator or you can speak to Aaron Suntag, her staff member who focuses on transportation and conservation. If you'd like to e-mail Aaron, his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
For North Carolina State Parks, 2011 was a great year. Over 14 million people visited the parks. And I certainly did my part.
Because of my Mountains-to-Sea trek, I visited Hanging Rock State Park, Eno River State Park and finished at Jockey's Ridge. I also took my granddaughter camping at Lake Jordan and the family to Mt. Mitchell. Actually my whole MST hike was in a state park.
Surprisingly, Jockey's Ridge had the most visitation. Maybe it's because it's close to several National Park units - Cape Hatteras, Wright Brothers and Fort Raleigh.
The experts gave lots of reasons as to the increased popularity of our state parks. The poor economy means that people are staying closer to home. State parks are for the most part free.
But state parks are also perceived as the safest place to go outdoors. They specialize in soft-core adventures. So their trails are well-marked and well-maintained. Signs are accurate and up-to-date. State Park rangers offer a lot of programs for the family. And if anything is up to snuff, they close the particular resource.
In Western North Carolina, hikers are sometimes guilty of ignoring state parks. They're so small and "wimpy" compared to National Parks and Forests. But for most people, in and out of North Carolina, state parks is their access to nature.
You can look at the attendance figures at
The National Forests in North Carolina wants your input on trails in Pisgah and Natanhala Forests.
If you always wished you could tell "them" about Forest trails, this is your chance. Here's what they say:
In 2012, trail enthusiasts and others with knowledge of non-motorized trails in North Carolina will have a chance to provide input on the US Forest Service trail planning process.
So this is your invitation to attend a meeting where you can get involved in the planning process and possibly, the improvements of forest trails.
The Forest service is having meeting all over Western North Carolina. The details are on their website.
Note that the meetings have already started. So plan to go to one of the remaining ones.
How did Jennifer Pharr Davis walk the Appalachian Trail in 46 days? In one word, displicine.
But for more nuance and details, read Brew Davis' 46 Days: Keeping up with Jennifer Pharr Davis on the Appalachian Trail. The thin book is the blog that her husband, Brew Davis, kept while leading the Pit Crew that supported Jennifer on her trek.
Day by day, he describes her mileage and length of her walking day. On average she walked from 5 A.M. to 9 P.M. Now that's discipline. The average mileage, 46.4 miles, is amazing. Brew describes the logistics of meeting her at road crossings, giving her food and drink, helping her with any problems like icing shin splints - and of course, encouragement.
Just as amazing as her mileage was the food she ate. A moderately active woman should eat between 1,500 and 2,000 calories. Jennifer was supposed to eat 6,000 calories. So much of it came from fried foods - French fries, onion rings, hamburgers and cheap fast food buys. How did her stomach take in all of that?
Brew is amazed by his wife's feat. He keeps saying that "she's a freak of nature" and "what a woman". He was sidelined by a knee injury and couldn't walk much with her. But many other supporters did walk with her. She didn't run. I recognized Matt Kirk, a trail runner who set the record for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail last year.
Jennifer felt that she had pushed herself to the limit. So few people take the opportunity to do that. In her epilogue, she knows that someone will beat her record. But for now she is the fastest person on the A.T. I just wished I could see her picture on a Wheaties box.
Yesterday I took a trip to Jackson County for two purposes.
I wanted to go to Western Carolina University to see where the 2013 Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial meeting was going to be held. I had been to Western several times but now I was paying attention.
But the main reason was to explore Sylva as a possible trail town. When Sharon and I did the Mountains-to-Sea Trail close to Balsam Gap in Jackson County, we stayed on the highway and went into Sylva for dinner. Sylva could be a great MST trail town. To qualify as a trail town, in my opinion, the people in town must know about the MST. That will take a long time but it's never too early for hikers to educate business owners about the MST.
If you're reading this as a Board member or part of the staff of Friends of the MST, rest assured that I know that the MST is not ready for trail towns. But I can speculate.
A trail town should be small so that residents get to see MST hikers as assets that bring in money and publicity to the town. Conversely, hikers get a good feel for the town. Sylva is less than three square miles and has only about 2,600 people.
But for most hikers, a trail town is all about services. Traditionally, long-distance hikers look for cheap food and a laundrymat - Sylva has both and more.
The old County Courthouse is on a hill overlooking Main St. See above. When the new Jackson County Justice and Administration Building was completed in 1994, the old building stayed empty until it was completely restored and reopened as a library complex in 2011.
I walked the 107 steps. But after I reached the top, I saw that the steps no longer lead to the entrance. Now you go into the building from the parking lot. A majestic entrance was lost in the redesign.
At the top of the stairs, a statue of a Civil War soldier guards what was the front of the building. That was the last major war in the U.S. before the building opened. Every town in the South needs a Civil War memorial. The complex includes a room for the Jackson County museum. When I got there at 12:35 pm, the room was closed. The museum was supposed to be open at noon. I asked several employees about the museum but all I got was a polite shrug.
Main Street is the classic small town street - a hair salon, a fly fishing shop, bicycle shop, an outfitter, and a used bookstore that benefits the library.
Massie Furniture Store carries 1950s furniture, the kind in my parents' apartment in Brooklyn.
A hardware store and Jackson General Store have clothes and dishes and everything else that's supposed to keep you from going to Wal-Mart. Peebles, a one-floor department store that seems to pop up in small towns, sells 1960s clothes. The craft gallery is closed for January and February. Free wifi is advertised everywhere. I need to go back to Sylva in the spring when it comes back to life again.
Up on a hill, City Lights Bookstore is very much alive and stays open until 9 pm. Under the bookstore is a coffee shop and cafe that also serves meals and beer and wine. It's the best place for coffee and goodies.
Mill Street parallels Main Street. By the railroad tracks, Bridge Park has a great looking picnic shelter. Wouldn't that make a good place to camp for long-distance MST walkers? The town would have to install a couple of Port-o-Johns. I don't think that's going to happen any time soon but hikers could stay at Blue Ridge Inn. It's a privately owned nonchain motel with rocking chairs and outside entrance to each room. Don't look for rave reviews on Trip Advisor.
Most of what a long-distance hiker needs is on US 107 including Ted's Laundromat and several supermarkets for resupply. All types of fast food are available on the highway. Two all-you-can-eat buffets, Ryan's and Jade Dragon, will fill up anyone.
But this may be an old-fashioned stereotypic view of long-distance hikers. Not everyone who does a long-distance hike walk is trying to do it the cheapest way possible.
Sharon and I wanted slow food. Lulu's on Main Street is the classic place.
But Soul Infusion further north has, well, soul. They offer over 60 different teas, served properly in a tea pot with boiling water. That's the infusion part. The soul is the 1970s funky decor - posters, signs, lei hung on the wall - and friendly people that will talk to you. The food is good and, yes, they serve beer and wine.
So when the time comes, Sylva has a good chance to compete as a MST mountain trail town.
Where have I been? Where am I going? I don't mean it as a philosophical question - just a practical one.
As I clean up and rearrange my office to take on writing Walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, I decided to let go of a lot of stuff. Various drafts of Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage can really be recycled. So can the several versions of my slideshow presentations.
But in the meantime, I've been moving and shifting my stuffed animals. I've been collecting meaningful stuffed animals from Lenny's trips and mine. From left to right, starting in the back row, they are:
- Moose from Canada
- Puffin from Alaska
- Koala Bear from Australia
- Dodo from La Reunion in the Indian Ocean
- Blue footed boobie from the Galapagos
In the second row, I have:
- Black-billed spoonbill from Taiwan
- Tucan from Costa Rica
- African Penguin from South Africa
- Kiwi from New Zealand
I have not been to Reunion, the Galapagos and Costa Rica. The first was from one of Lenny's business trips and the last two from his birding trips.
It's time to take a picture of them and let them go.
It's been an emotional week as we remember Ranger Margaret Anderson, the ranger who was shot and killed by a gunman in Mount Rainier National Park. National Park Service employees are a family. And they all feel the tragedy.
Today is January 8, the day last year that Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot and seriously wounded in Tucson, AZ. And though she's made a tremendous recovery, she has a long way to go. Will she ever be able to run for Congress again? I wrote about my personal connection with January 8 last year and I'm not going to do that again.
So today, I went on the regular Carolina Mountain Club Sunday hike. I expected rain and icicles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I didn't expect the leader, Mary Beth, to distribute flowers throughout the hike.
Mary Beth had scouted the hike on Friday. At that time, she had tied pink flagging tape around trees. She did that on maybe 10 trees.
Today, she brought a bouquet of roses and greens. As we reached each tree with a piece of pink tape, Mary Beth stuck a flower in it. What was this all about?
Mary Beth explained that she had taken care of a friend who had just died. She was part of a Hospice team at this woman's home. Mary Beth was understandably still very emotional about the experience. It had been very difficult but it was the right thing to do. So this was a memorial for her friend - on January 8.
And for those who worry about those pink ribbons? She's leading the same hike on Wednesday and will then take them all down.