Entries For: June 2012
Walking was the best part of completing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. But a close second are the people I met both on the trail and now, when writing a book on the trail.
The 65 miles around Falls Lake are a major part of the MST. The creation of Falls Lake mirrors the creation of many big lake projects, where the government bought the land of the residents and people had to move out.
And yet, it has its own story. Unlike the story of the Smokies or the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is recent history. The lake was built between 1978 and 1981 and it occurred at a time of increased environmental awareness.
Janet Steddum chronicles that story in her book The Battle for Falls Lake. I had a chance to talk to Janet.
What fascinated you about the history of Falls Lake?
I live pretty close to Falls Lake. I saw things that seemed to not fit in the forest. There were abandoned cemeteries and remnants of homestead. People were there and then they weren't. Nature takes over but if you look closely, you can see human footprints and roads that drop into the lake.
People were in the way of progress but some residents were still alive when I started the project. It was such a thrill for me to interview the locals.
I started doing research into the past. I could go back to mid-1600s with written records. The Army Corp of Engineers was instrumental in looking at archaeological sites. I relied on the Corps so much.
I also used Elizabeth Reid Murray's two volumes of Wake County. I looked at the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.
You studied the Falls Community but I assume other communities were also flooded and moved.
I focused the Falls Community because it was the oldest active community. The lake devastated the community and yet, it still exists around the River Mills condominiums at Falls of the Neuse. People from the original community are still all together but they're dying off.
There were also communities in Durham but they didn't survive the Civil War. I get asked to speak and I'm thrilled.
Was there any formal organized opposition to creating Falls Lake? I'm thinking about the Eno River that was saved from impoundment.
I didn't think there was any choice on building the reservoir. There was some opposition but it wasn't successful. The Federal Government paid for most of the lake and that probably wouldn't happen today.
The challenge was more an environmental opposition. The Neuse River was dirty. People were rightfully concerned that they were going to impound a dirty river.
The nation finally realized that we needed to be better stewards of the land and the Corps was caught in the middle of it.
The Corps is under the Dept. of Defense but hires many civilians. It's easy to take pot shot at the Corps but they have been so cooperative and incredibly open. They said that it's public land, not government land.
Do you still have contact with the people?
I went to a Southern homecoming to meet some of the residents. Old timers want to speak to me.
A daughter whose parents lived in the original Falls community brought her widowed mother and said
You wrote the book that my father wanted me to write.
If you've walked the MST around Falls Lake or have done some trail maintenance, you'll love The Battle for Falls Lake. And if you've studied the formation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934 or the formation of Fontana Lake in 1943, you'll want to read a modern day version of the story.
When Holly D. approached me last year to lead a hike for Friends of the Smokies, she didn't say "Could you volunteer?" because she knew that I would say that "I was very busy". Instead she asked if I would lead a hike for Friends in North Carolina.
Lead a hike? Sure. That's what I do. So we planned a hike and a second one... Last year, our hiking schedule was a little "catch as catch can". But this year, we worked on a schedule that made sense.
Could we come up with nine hikes that would show off the best of the NC Smokies, each appropriate to the weather? Of course. Nine? That's no challenge. But there were other requirements that I mostly put on.
Each hike had to be a full-day hike. I was not driving from Asheville for three miles, no matter how wonderful the three miles were.
There would have to be a hook, a highlight. Though any Smokies trail can be enjoyed almost any time of the year, I wanted the hike to have a purpose - flowers, history, hiking culture or sometimes, National Park Service culture. [I need the help of a PR person on this last one. Can someone help me find a better name?]
Yesterday's hike exemplified that I mean. Here's what we did:
We placed cars at Clingmans Dome, then drove back 3.8 miles on Clingmans Dome road and parked at Fork Ridge Trail.
We crossed the road, got on the A.T. going south toward the tower for 3.4 miles, 1,250 ft. ascent. The trail, also the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, took us just to the bottom of the tower. We climbed the tower.
Then we walked down to the parking area (0.5 mile), and took Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald and back, 3.6 miles and 850 ft. ascent.
That's a total of 7.5 miles, 2,100 ft. ascent, a very solid hike.
About the Highlights
Natural history - How can you tell spruce from Frazier firs? Why are the trees dying and what is the Park doing about it? And Wow, we saw two purple-fringed orchids at the start of Forney Ridge Trail.
History and hiking culture - Where does the MST go? What are balds and how do they stay bald?
NPS Info and culture - Forney Ridge was transformed last year from a rocky, slippery trail to a beautiful walkway. How did this happen?
Why does Clingmans Dome look so futuristic? We talked about Mission 66.
Not all hikes hit each category but every hike has a highlight. Sometimes themes flow from one hike to the next. If you want to see what the Park is doing about the dying balsams, come on the next hike.
I rarely like to redo a major trail. But a section of trail around Falls Lake Recreation Area has been added on since I finished the Mountains-to-Sea Trail last year. So Saturday, Kate Dixon, ED of Friends of the MST, and I walked from Penny Bend Nature Preserve on Old Oxford Rd. to E. Geer St. in Durham - 11 miles and 500 feet of ascent.
We enter the woods after crossing the Eno River on a small, but busy bridge. The woods are filled with ferns and lots of hardwood trees including oaks and sweet gum. The trail is fresh and so new that orange flags are still on the ground. The trail crosses several small, forgotten roads.
The highlight is finding a stash of moonshining paraphernalia at a road crossing. Several large metal barrels and glass mason jars lie helter skelter close to a dirt road. People may have stayed there overnight. There's a rusty, open can of canned beef stew. People may have used this site for dumping because an old metal bed frame lies on its side.
But where was the water source? To make moonshine whisky, you'd need clear, flowing water. Before the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Neuse River to create Falls Lake Recreation Area, small streams may have run a lot more freely.
Though the trail gets close to the river, we can't get a good view but have to see it through trees. A great blue heron rises out of the water and flies in circle high above us, as if to say "I own this place". The water is still, muddy and full of swamp grass. In the flood plain, several islands of stunted trees have formed. It feels like we're at the beginning of Falls Lake proper. A great egret sits at the edge of the water.
Several railroads cross the trail. The first one is obviously abandoned since it looks like a nursery log, full of plants. See Kate in the railroad tracks.
The Norfolk Southern line has a spur which ends at a finger of the lake. These tracks are clean and look like they're in working order. But where would they go? Are they a remnant of logging days? I have to keep remembering - 1980s, 1980s. We're not in the Smokies.
We cross a cleared area where power lines with double posts stand like guards. See the picture above.
Some literature explains that "power line easements create an 'edge effect' that attracts animals". Two large osprey nests sit on top of the structure. An osprey circles his territory, crying out that we should get out and we do.
We reach a confusing intersection of trails. Several trails dart from here and we take them all, but we can't find white circles on any of them. Reluctantly, we go to the parking area at the intersection of Tom Clark Rd. and Redwood Dr.
Art Kelly's map, which has been excellent so far, shows a tiny, tiny bit of road walking. It turns out that the road sign has been turned around, adding to our problem. Kate goes one way and I go another. Finally, after walking a couple of hundred feet on Redwood Rd., we find the trail back into the woods. Another 1.4 miles and we're back on E. Geer St. where Kate left her car this morning.
The old route used to take hikers through the working part of Durham. Last year, I passed by a firefighter academy complete with a burned brick building which they use for practice, the transfer and recycling station and the Durham County Animal Shelter and walked through public housing. I enjoyed seeing the city infrastructure but of course the trail goes into the woods any time there's an opportunity.
This is my third time at the end of E. Geer St. by the airport. Have I not progressed in life?
I'm going to lead a hike from the Clingmans Dome Road to Andrews Bald. This 7.2 mile “Classic Hike of the Smokies” is moderate in difficulty and has a total elevation gain/descent of 1,600 ft.
This hike will include the Forney Ridge Trail, the site of a three-year trail reconstruction project by the Trails Forever program in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Trail crews and Park volunteers worked to reconstruct the trail by installing drainage structures, constructing staircases out of locust wood and native rock, as well as a few elevated turnpikes and even a plank walkway or two.
“Classic Hikes of the Smokies” occur on the third Thursday of every month.
To register for any of the hikes, contact Friends of the Smokies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-452-0720.
I went back to Eno River State Park to check out some attractions that I had missed when I walked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail the first time around. That's one of the perks of writing a book; you need to do lots of research.
On the Pump Loop trail
I walked the Pump Loop Trail again. The river was once Durham’s water supply but it wouldn’t be again.
Thanks to activists like Margaret Nygard, the locals created the Eno River Association and protected the river from being dammed up. Today, the Eno is flat and slow moving river with lots of grass and rocks visible.
I found the crumbling walls and remnants of a holding tank for the old water supply. Lots of metals parts are partially buried in the ground. Poison ivy covers the brick structures and that may be the best protection from vandals. An old well has a tree growing out of it.
Dappled light makes for poor photos and I couldn't get any better photographs than I did last time but the remains are plentiful.
Laurel Bluff Trail
Laurel Bluff Trail goes along above the river but the river isn’t moving. Too many good wooden bridge have been built over dry streams. The trail is really over bridged that's a state park for you.
Lots of access points allow visitors to put your feet in the water. Since I was by myself, the woods were quiet and I surprised a deer and fawn.
West Point on the Eno
When I walked this area last time, my last entry was
We zip through West Point Park on Eagle Trail on a well-blazed trail, cross the Eno River again on a huge metal bridge and find the car.
I missed a lot last time at West Point on the Eno, a Durham City Park. The park was opened in 1976 and now has 400 acres. Not too big but it's well used.
With the warm summer weather, the park attracts day camp for inner city kids. Kids in the water, kids on the lawn, kids running around, kids being given a snack before quiet time and going home.
Hey, that was me. I was a camper and a counselor, in day camps and in overnight camps. Children's camps are very important.
And obviously some snakes - see the picture above.
Lots of historical buildings dot the park. But I wanted to see the Hugh Mangum Photographic Museum. And through the generosity of spirit of the park manager, I was able to get into the building, even though it was technically closed. I was so, so lucky.
Hugh Mangum grew in Durham (1877 - 1922). The Mangum house on the park property was the family summer home and later their permanent home. Hugh Mangum became an itinerant photographer. He wandered the South looking to photograph people and returned home when he ran out of money.
Mangum used large cameras and dry glass plates since roll film had not been yet been available. He took over the second floor of the Mangum Pack house, a tobacco building where tobacco was sorted and graded. This building has now been turned into a museum.
His personal effects (shaving kit, bible) are on display along with his photographic equipment.
He was fascinated by the lyrical, beautiful and extravagant in everyday life.
And he was able to follow his fascination.
On the second floor are the photographs that he took, mostly of people that he encouraged to pose, including a few African Americans. All were very formally dressed. You can peek in his darkroom.
He recorded his trips on his traveling trunk with the date and location. You’d think he would have used a notebook but a notebook would have disappeared. He was always shown with his wire rim glasses and always with a jacket.
The museum displays a wicker posing chair, where his customers sat for their portraits.
Mangum died of pneumonia in 1922 when he was 44. His brother, Leo, lived in the house until 1966 so the property was not vacant for long.
Hikers who want to travel smarter on trails in the southern mountains now have one more good reason to stash their phones in their daypacks. A mobile app called Great Hikes of the Southern Appalachians now lets adventurers carry all the maps, directions, and other hiking info they need with them on their iPhone.
The new app is the brainchild of Jim Parham, guidebook author and founder of Milestone Press, my publisher, that has been producing outdoor adventure guidebooks since 1992. They put hikes from my books on an apps, as well.
“When folks asked me if our books will be available in e-format, I just couldn’t picture it,” says Parham. “It didn’t make sense to take an e-reader on a hike. But it does make sense to carry all that information on a phone—which now with this new app can become the perfect hiking companion.
Now one device covers the tools you might be bringing with you anyway—your camera, your GPS, and your guidebook with the maps, directions, distances, elevation gain, and trail highlights—with much less weight and bulk. This app also takes advantage of the GPS function of your phone to show your precise location on the trail—or while driving to the trailhead. That’s something a printed guidebook can’t do.”
Read the article in the Asheville-Citizen Times.
For more information about Great Hikes of the Southern Appalachians, visit Apple’s App Store or www.milestonepress.com (for a link to the app itself).
In today's Asheville Citizen-Times, Karen Chavez, outdoor reporter, wrote a piece on staying safe in the woods for "hiker girls".
It is impossible to ignore or not have strong feelings about the rape and stabbing that occurred on the Gatlinburg Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a few days ago. And each time, a woman gets assaulted on the trail, the fear and precautions come out. On the same page, there was an article about a motorcycle crash which killed an 18-year old woman but no cautions about staying off motorcycles.
I'm concerned about all these women who now decide that hiking is unsafe. One more reason not to hike, to visit a park or to exercise. Are we going to let one isolated incident keep us out of the woods?
The assault was tragic but as the public affairs officers keep saying, a very rare incident in the park. The Gatlinburg Trail is an extension of the town of Gatlinburg. And though I've never worry about a man assaulting me in town, the trail is not really "in the woods."
The further in the woods you are, the safer you are. Thugs and nutcases are not likely to hike in the backcountry. Note that the attack on the woman in Nantahala was on Wayah Road, not a trail.
All the official advice tells us not to hike alone. That's one reason hiking clubs are so popular. The leaders know where they're going and there are a lot of friendly people around.
But for those of us who hike for a particular hiking challenge or to learn a new trail, it is impossible to find someone to join us to hike exactly where we need to hike at the time we need to do it.
I'd like to add to all the safety tips, if you're concerned about men attacking you - yes, I'm going to keep saying "men".
* Look like a hiker. Wear hiking boots, a pack and take water. I use hiking poles because my knees have had a lot of use, but poles are not a bad idea to look like a serious hiker and maybe ward off a dog in the Forest.
* Use some of your city street smarts. Don't doddle on the first mile or so from the trail. Hike steadily to get into the woods. Know where you're going. The time to study the map is at home or in your car, not at the trailhead.
* More street smart told to me by a ranger. Change into hiking boots and organize your pack at a busy place like a visitor center. When you get to the trail, take your pack, put your car keys where you'll find them again and go.
* Same routine when you get back to your car. Jump in your car and change out of your boots at a busy place. Of course, if you're going to a busy trailhead like Laurel Falls, you can change right there.
* Don't talk on the phone or listen to music on the trail. A good idea when walking anyplace.
* I try to say "hello" to everyone I meet on the trail. It's friendly and then they know that I'm there.
I've only done the Gatlinburg Trail once, to finish out the Smokies 900 challenge but I want more people to hike in the park. Do we need a Take Back the Gatlinburg Trail march?
PS - If you want to read Karen's article, do it quickly. The Asheville Citizen-Times takes articles off the web in a few days.
A hike is not always about the view - or the flowers or the trees.
Yesterday I went on the regularly scheduled Carolina Mountain Club hike from the Nolichucky River to Indian Grave Gap on the Appalachian Trail in Cherokee National Forest. It was billed as a mostly downhill 8.3 mile hike with a 2,300 ft. descent but four of us decided to climb uphill. I needed the exercise and my knee was still hurting from the downhill hike last week.
The area is frankly not a section that an A.T. completer will remember when she's finished.
As soon as we left the parking lot at the River, we needed to cross a railroad track. At that exact moment, a long, long train came along.
We crossed a couple of streams on good bridges and had lunch at Curly Maple Gap Shelter, a new shelter so new you could still smell the wood. Later we came upon the outline of the foundations of the old shelter.
We met several long-distance hikers, including a group from Georgia ATC - and Meandering Snail. Snail, or should I call him Meandering, started at Amicalola Falls on March 1. By his own admission, it took him six days to get to Springer Mountain. This is not a typo - yes, 6 days for 8 miles. He has seven months, he says to get to where ever he gets.
His equipment was bulky and wrapped in heavy plastic but he seemed happy and content by this experience, so good for him. Let him meander.
The four uphillers spent most of the time catching up with each other.
What trip had you taken and what trip were you going to take?
I had come back from an aborted trip and Janet was about to embark on her own adventure, which I hope would be more successful than mine.
Yes, there was a view - see above - but the people and the shelters, old and new, were the highlights.
Five Friends of the Smokies will speak at the REI in Charlotte on Thursday June 14.
Fresh from their successful performance at REI in Asheville, they have retweaked their presentation to fit the Charlotte audience.
Holly Demuth and Hannah Epperson work for Friends of the Smokies and will talk about the serious stuff such as all the great projects that Friends of the Smokies fund. They'll also explain the situation with our full-color license plate. Where is the North Carolina legislature on letting this successful program continue?
So why REI? Because they invited us. Because they felt it was important to have their customers hear our story. This program is free but you have to register. And they're quite serious about that.
So go to their site and register. Only a few spots left. See you there.
What if Big Bald on the Appalachian Trail was no longer bald? Worse, what if Max Patch became an enclosed maze of bushes, bramble and vines? See the picture above.
Balds stay treeless because someone mows them. There are many theories on how balds came to be. Lightning, fires, animal grazing but now the only way they stay bald now is by human action. For example, Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald in the Smokies are mowed once a year.
Traditionally, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail budget included money to pay the Forest Service to mow traditional balds. But this year, The National Park Service budget for 2012 contains no money for maintaining open areas, such as Max Patch and Big Bald, along the A.T.
Unless these areas are regularly maintained, they will quickly revert to brush and trees and we will lose some of the most iconic points on our section of the A.T. When and if money is restored, it will be harder and more costly to mow them again.
Yes, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy could institute a program to have goats mow the bald, as they do at Roan Mountain. But this is costly and time consuming work, not likely to happen this year.
Some say that "let's just ask volunteers with large tractors to do this." These large balds are not your backyard.
Volunteers are needed in lots of endeavors but I doubt if the US Forest Service would let non-forest service volunteers just mow away. Recently a mower accident on the Blue Ridge Parkway stopped all mowing for the whole NPS system for a while.
Losing that funding was a bureaucratic bungle. I don't think that those who made the decision realized how iconic these balds are in the Southern Appalachians. We need to have them restore the money now.
Spread the word. Call your US representative, call your newspaper and put this on your face book page.
When life gives you lemons, you make the best of it.
Lenny and I had barely gotten to Salt Lake City when we had to return home for an emergency. I put him on a plane and drove back. I had never driven this long by myself and I decided to stop at a couple of places, the kind of places that may not be destinations but are great to see if you happen to be in the "neighborhood".
I've always wanted to see where the first batch of Smokies elk came from - Land between the Lakes. LBL is a long, narrow national recreation area in Kentucky and Tennessee. The recreation area was created when two rivers were dammed up - Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. They created two parallel lakes - Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. The land in between became a recreation area, managed by the US Forest Service.
Like in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Forest Service bought the properties and residents had to move out. There are plenty of cemeteries and also decorations days. Unlike the Smokies, I don't think anyone was clamoring for a road.
I could have settled in for days in there but I just had a couple of hours. So I walked around Hermatite Lake, a minor lake, and went in search of the elk.
Unlike the Smokies, elk, here, and bison are penned up. You pay five dollars which opens a gate to a 700-acre fenced in area. I drove in and stopped at a couple of approved spots. I couldn't see any elk but bison were resting at a watering hole. See the top picture.
LBL got their elk from the same place that the Smokies got their second batch - Elk Island National Park in Alberta.
But the elk we got from LBL were not used to dealing with predators like bears. No wonder. They're living in Disneyworld without an enemy or care in the world here. Based on the sign above and several others, LBL is also skittish about letting people in. There's no Elk Bugle Corps. Visitors are warned and warned but are on their own.