Mountains-to_Sea Trail Day in the Smokies on May 4, 2013
Sometimes all the publicity in the world can't top a forecast of rain. Yesterday was Mountains-to-Sea Trail day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was sponsored by the park and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Even National Parks Traveler did a very complementary story about the hike and talk.
But the forecast was for possible rain. The skies were dark and the ranger at Oconaluftee Visitor Center told people that according to the weather forecast, it was going to start raining at 11 am. That gave people an excuse not to hike.
Still five active, enthusiastic visitors came to hike. We didn't have a drop of rain. I always say that "Whoever shows up, shows up. I'm going to hike anyway."
We started at Mingus Mill and walked to the Mingus cemetery and back.
Flowers were everywhere. I don't think that the hikers appreciated the diversity of flowers in the Smokies. We saw foam flowers, Solomon seal and Solomon plume, several types of violets, and, my first showy orchis of the year.
Since most were not local, we discussed that the Smokies is not untouched wilderness. People lived here until the area became a park. Nothing says past civilization like a cemetery. I had also taken them to the slave cemetery just off the parking lot as well.
They asked a lot of questions about the MST and I was able to hold off most of them until the afternoon. About a dozen people came to my MST presentation. It was held on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and we were cold. The group included four of the hikers and a bunch of locals who had heard of the MST. One couple from Sylva even knew about the two-trail options out of the the park.
It's not easy to convince visitors to hike in the park. A couple of trails are busy in the summer, mostly on the A.T. But in general, the trails are empty. Yesterday, There was traffic in the Mingus Mill parking lot. But our group didn't see any other hikers.
You've always wondered. How can I volunteer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? How can I wear the cool uniform? Not the green and gray but still cool. Here's your chance.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is seeking volunteers to assist rangers with managing traffic and providing visitor information on responsible elk viewing practices in Cataloochee, NC.
Cataloochee is a remote mountain valley on the eastern edge of the Park where remnants of early settlements are preserved. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the isolated valley is a popular, year-round destination. Elk were reintroduced in Cataloochee in 2001 as part of an experimental release to determine if an elk herd could sustain itself in the Park after a 200-year absence. Approximately 140 elk now live in the self-sustaining herd.
Each volunteer is asked to work at least two scheduled, four-hour shifts per month starting the second week in May and continuing through November. This target period is during high visitor use from late spring during the elk calving season through the end of the fall color and elk mating season.
Volunteers will spend time roving the valley in a zero-emission electric vehicle or by bike. Volunteers who prefer to rove by bike are required to bring their own bicycle and protective riding gear. Bike patrol volunteers will rove along the road through the valley which is mostly flat with very little change in elevation.
If you’re interested in volunteering or would like more information about the program, please contact Park Ranger Pete Walker at (828) 506-1739.
Yesterday, I led a Friends of the Smokies group up Hyatt Ridge again. Though I had scouted the hike two weeks ago, it seemed like a totally different hike. OK - not totally different. The climb up Hyatt Ridge (1,500 feet in less than two miles) was as steep as last time. But the weather and the flowers made it a different hike.
Fourteen hikers, several new faces, climbed up. If some felt that they were behind on the climb, they weren't. When we stop for a break, I always look at my watch. From the time I stop until Keith, the sweep, catches up, it's always less than five minutes. One hiker came from Oak Ridge, TN and another from Raburn, GA. Most were from Waynesville and Maggie Valley.
The hills were alive with wildflowers.
White trilliums were the stars of the hike. But coming down on Beech Gap Trail, you couldn't help but feel you were in a flower book. Here's what I can remember:
White trillium and Catesby Trillium
Hepatica, fields of spring beauties and still some bloodroot
Yellow bellwort and trout lilies
Violets of all color and size
Brook lettuce in the run-off from a little waterfall
Fringed phacelia in the parking area
And lots more I can't remember.
You get one more crack at an abundance of spring wildflowers. On Tuesday May 21, Friends of the Smokies will go to Big Creek for an easy, gentle hike which should be full of wildflowers.
To register for the hikes, contact Friends of the Smokies ator 828-452-0720.
Sometimes it makes me proud to pay my taxes.
Yesterday, April 2, Keith of Friends of the Smokies, Janet and I scouted the Hyatt Ridge loop again. We had scouted it in late October but didn't realize that the park closed Straight Fork Road in early November.
It was a close one this time as well. Straight Fork Rd. was scheduled to open on April 1, later than usual because of the tight budgets. But it opened on time and we were climbing up the trail the next day.
But to my surprise, not only was the road open but the maintenance crew was already on the job. As we huffed and puffed up the trail, they were already coming down, having cut some blow-down. Thank you, guys!
We reached the intersection with Enloe Creek and turned left to continue on Hyatt Ridge. The maintenance guys must not have gone up that way. We had to maneuver over and under a couple of branches.
We reached Campsite #44, which still had plenty of snow. By then, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and Janet was inspired to create snow angels.
Lots of rivelets had created a maze through the grass. That must be the water supply for the campsite; we couldn't find any other creek or spring.
We came down on Beech Gap Trail. This is where we saw our first spring flowers--spring beauties, a couple of blood root and lots of hepatica.
I'm familiar with white hepatica but here we also saw a profusion of pink hepatica and even a couple of blue ones. By the time, we lead this hike, the trail will be in full bloom.
Friends of the Smokies will lead this hike on Tuesday April 16. To register for the hikes, contact Friends of the Smokies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-452-0720.
Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes of North Carolina started yesterday with a tour of Deep Creek. We advertised it as three waterfalls and three cemeteries. A record 20 hikers came out on a beautiful March day. After the rain that pelted down on Monday, we were in awe of the sunshine and blue sky.
One fellow had walked from his house to downtown Bryson City and we picked him up. He had already walked a mile.The hike started at the Deep Creek trailhead outside of Bryson City. Keith and I had scouted the hike in February and found it a different hike yesterday.
Sure, the waterfalls and cemeteries were still there; the dead hadn't moved. But the tadpoles eggs had gone. Who knows if the tadpoles found another source of water? Daffodils were in bloom at the home sites. We spotted a couple of purple violets.
The group was fascinated by the cemeteries. One cemetery on Indian Creek Trail had a headstone which had mirror image writing on it. So a hiker pulled out a mirror to see if it really worked. It did!
Keith, the Americorps intern, quote something about the eyes being the mirror of the soul. But a gravestone?
How did you find the cemeteries? They wanted to know. A lot of exploration and some hints which you won't find on the blog. For that, you need to come on my hikes.
The next hike will be on Tuesday April 16. All the hikes are on the third Tuesday of the month. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know the drill. Call Friends of the Smokies at 828.452.0720 and sign up with Keith.
As if our National Park Service budget is not tight enough, now we have sequestration. This means our U.S. Congress has cut another 5% to an already sparse budget. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has had to make tough decisions on what to close, leave open or just delay. This is a sad, sad state of affairs that is affecting me personally.
Three campgrounds will never open - Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain and Look Rock. These are small, out-of-way campgrounds that some visitors may have loved and visited year after year.
With the closure of US 441 (Newfound Gap road) until May and the other road closures due to budget cuts, we've had to change our Friends of the Smokies hikes several times. We've just had to adapt. But we'll still have a good hiking program.
The road closure that will affect hikers the most on the North Carolina side is Heintooga Road. Since the road is closed, Polls Gap, the easiest way to Hemphill Bald, is not accessible. Friends of the Smokies has gone up there the last two years to meet Judy Coker, the owner of Cataloochee Ranch. See the picture above. Thankfully, that's not one of our planned hikes this year.
All these closures will also affect those hikers trying to finish the Smokies 900 - all the trails in the Smokies.
Hikers, keep things in perspective. The Smokies has over 800 miles of trails. Almost all are open. So you'll just have to be inventive and find other ways to get to your trail.
This month, March 2013, marks the 60th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Happy Birthday, GSMA!
March 1953. GSMA was created to do what the National Park Service couldn't do. They publish books and other material about Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They also manage the bookstores in and around the park. Organizations such as GSMA are known as cooperating association. Here is their mission statement:
Great Smoky Mountains Association supports the perpetual preservation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the national park system by promoting greater public understanding and appreciation through education, interpretation, and research.
You might know the Association by their famous "brown book" - Hiking Trails of the Smokies. That is the definitive description of the official 803 miles trails in the park. You might know the "one-dollar" trail map which is updated each year. And lots of other products.
So how do they help the park?
First, they publish and sell official publications. These products are reviewed by park staff to make sure that it's accurate. Secondly, GSMA donates a good percentage of sales to the park. With this money, the park is able to fund programs that they couldn't do with their government funding. Too many good works to list them all. Check out the list.
Don't confuse GSMA with Friends of the Smokies. The latter group was created exclusively to fund-raise for the Smokies. Different group, different method of supporting the park. But same sentiment--too many needs, not enough tax dollars.
Happy birthday, GSMA!
Last night, Friends of the Smokies presented Hiking in the Smokies 101 at REI in Asheville. Over 40 people signed up.
We wanted to introduce folks to the joys and details of hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Where is the park from Asheville?
Where are all the entrances? OK, we didn't show all the entrances. That would have taken all night. We talked about a few entrances like Deep Creek, Fontana and Oconaluftee.
The park is bisected by the Appalachian Trail and we traced the trail from its entrance at Fontana Village to its exit at Big Creek.
Gracia Slater, another Smokies 900 miler, talked about her gear. She takes everything out of her pack and shows all the stuff she carries.
Holly Demuth and Keith Hoffman put in a plug for all the good work that Friends does in supporting the park.
It was ironic that we presented this program the evening before the sequestration. Though most people didn't make the connection, the park's budget will shrink automatically this morning - March 1, 2013.
We also handed out the list of hikes that we're offering this year. Our first hike will be at Deep Creek on Tuesday March 19.
To register, please contact Friends’ Waynesville, NC office at (828) 452-0720 or email Keith Hoffman, the AmeriCorps Outreach Associate at email@example.com.
Friends of the Smokies will present Hiking the Smokies 101.
Where are all the different entrances into the Smokies?
What do you need to carry for a good day on the trail?
What hikes are Friends of the Smokies offering this year?
I'll will share my experiences hiking in the Smokies and review reading a Smokies map, including information about entrances (in addition to Hwy 441) and facilities.
There will also be a day-hike equipment demonstration by Gracia Slater, who has hiked all the trails in the Smokies - without any camping!
We'll share updates on the Smokies Trails Forever program
Two sessions are offered.
Tuesday February 19 at Blue Ridge Bookstore in Waynesville at 4 pm.
Thursday February 28 at REI in Asheville at 6:30 pm. For the REI program, you must preregister.
Please bring a map of the Smokies. A National Geographic map of the whole park is the most convenient.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not closed. Though the news has been focused on the closed roads and landslides, Sawako, Keith of Friends of the Smokies and I scouted a great Deep Creek hike - three waterfalls and three cemeteries.
The waterfalls were full and almost overflowing. The water in Juney Whank, above, rushed downhill under the bridge. Same with the other two on the Deep Creek/Indian Creek loop - Tom Branch and Indian Creek, shown at right.
But I also wanted to include the three cemeteries, which are not as well known as the waterfalls.
Unfortunately the entrances to these cemeteries don't have signs. The one on Deep Creek Trail was reached by a short but very steep trail. Once up there, you see seven mounted graves--no names, just rock stumps.
We walked up Indian Creek Trail to the "turn-around". It had rained so much that a red crayfish was laying in a rut full of water. We thought it was plastic at first but it was real but very dead.
Tadpole eggs filled in ruts on the road. We even saw the frog. But what will happen once the road dries up? Daffodils and an immense boxwood bush signified that this had been a home site.
A pileated woodpecker streaked through the trees. On the road to the trailhead, we saw two deer past the picnic shelter.
I'll be leading the hike on Tuesday March 19. I can't promise that you'll see all the wildlife we saw. By then, different conditions will apply. But I do promise that it will be a fascinating hike and much more than just the Deep Creek/Indian Creek loop. We'll walk about nine miles and an altitude gain of 1,600 feet. A very moderate first hike for Friends of the Smokies.
To sign up, call or email Keith at Friends of the Smokies at 828.452.0720 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But how much lemonade can you drink?
On Sunday, Lenny and I went scouting our Kitsuma Peak hike located outside Old Fort. Yes, we had had freezing rain on Friday but it had warmed up nicely--but apparently not enough in Old Fort. Even though our starting altitude was 1,600 feet, the parking area and trail were still icy.
We plodded up the trail for about a half-mile but kept slipping back. Of course, our creepers, Yak-tracks, were still home instead of in our packs, where they should be. We turned around and called it a day.
Tuesday, I was scheduled to scout a hike in Cataloochee with Keith, the intern at Friends of the Smokies, for our classic hikes of the Smokies series.
On Monday evening, he called to say that he had heard that Cataloochee was closed because the road up to the park entrance had suffered a slide. We cancelled the hike. See the picture above taken by Keith Hoffman.
But with the promise of a high of 65 degrees, I was going hiking. With Sawako, an enthusiastic Carolina Mountain Club member, we scouted Kitsuma Peak. The snow had disappeared and the sun was shining.
The hike back on Point Lookout Trail is the most interesting, even if you are walking on a (closed) road. The bends and curves of the Swannanoa tracks through many tunnels are visible. At one point, you can walk up to the tracks. See the picture above.
And I always learn something new.
Sawako took me on a side trail and showed me a lonely grave of a Confederate soldier. The gravestone looked amaterish.
The circle insignia was not a great circle but I never knew that grave was there.
Now, all I have to do is figure out a hike to lead for our March kick-off hike.