This Hiking Life Blog
This Hiking Life is a mix of my hiking trips in the Southern Appalachians and outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the mountains of North and South Carolina. Hope to meet on the trail! Danny
Spring is really here!
Our group of four (from left to right - me, Tish, Sawako and Lenny) continued hiking the Carolina Mountain Club section of the Appalachian Trail by walking from Brown Gap to Lemon Gap. Where two weeks ago, the weather was cold, icy and snowy, today was beautiful, sunny and dry.
The hike was easy - 8.9 miles and 1,700 feet of altitude gain. What was difficult was placing the cars. First we met Tish at Max Patch. We drove two cars to Lemon Gap. Then backtracking quite a bit to go to Brown Gap where we left the other car. The hike was easy but the shuttle was horrendous. Finally we started walking.
The trail was the typical green tunnel, between two sets of trees, except that the trees had not leafed out yet. So it was really a brown tunnel. The picture here is of Sawako being dwarfed by a large blowdown.
But then we reached Max Patch and the world opened up. See the top photo.
The top of Max Patch is a favorite destination for non hikers. In a quarter-mile, you can get to the top and be in outdoor heaven. The views are outstanding.
Then the trail went down, down, down. First to Roaring Creek shelter, one of the newest shelters on the CMC section. Then down the rest of the way. And this is where spring flowers really came out.
Hepatica and spring beauties, lots of spring beauties. If those were all the flowers that we were going to see, it would have been enough. But blood root (shown just above) blossomed and even a few trout lilies. There was the promise of trilliums in the next couple of weeks.
I hope you're getting out because this is the best time for spring wildflowers.
Writing a book is only half the job; maybe only 25%. Marketing is the other part. Without marketing, no one is going to know about your book or buy it or read it.
So off I went to the Triangle this past weekend. First, I stopped at UNC-TV at Research Triangle to be interviewed by D.G. Martin for NC Now, a weeknight show. Now D.G. is best known for NC Bookwatch, a half-hour show where he interviews authors. I've always wanted to get on NC Bookwatch; it was like a "reach" goal but I never made it and now he's no longer doing it. So what am I going to shoot for now?
That Friday evening, April 5, I gave a book presentation at Quail Ridge Books. Quail Ridge is the independent bookstore in Raleigh. Boy, can they attract readers and customers!
Katie Parry of History Press had come up from Charleston for the book event. She provided the food and wine. Over 110 people showed up, my personal best. The picture above is of Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST, me, and Katie Parry. Allen de Hart, the person most associated with the MST, also came. In my book, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina, I call him the granddaddy of the MST.
Then on Sunday, I went to Glencoe Village, a restored village located north of Burlington. Lynn Pownell, who runs Rockworth House, a textile studio, invited me to give a talk at their gallery. It was a small but very enthusiastic audience.
Lynn outdid herself. She baked cookies in the shape of North Carolina with the MST running through it. How clever.
I drove over 550 miles. So what did I accomplish? I talked to many people about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, encouraged a few to get out on the trail and put my book into a few more hands. Was it worth the effort, time and expense? Absolutely. When I think about writing a book, I know that I'll have to market it extensively. Like I said, that's much of the job.
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.
I think I'm one electric cord away from losing it.
On Friday evening, I went to City Lights bookstore in Sylva. The bookstore is very active in promoting authors. I showed up with my laptop, projector and speakers so I could give a slide/video show.
Most authors just waltz in with just a copy of their book., They've put post-its, marking the pages they're going to read. Some don't even bother preparing. I've seen authors flipping through their book and saying "Now what shall I read?"
But not me. I come with several boxes of equipment.
Though I 've done slide shows before, several times for The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina, I keep adding more stuff. Technology changes as well.
One positive of technology changes is that more venues have projector display systems. All I have to bring is a flash drive. But not enough venues, in my estimation. Small independent bookstores expect their authors to just read.
So along with the laptop, digital projector and speakers, I better remember power cords for all that and cords to connect one to the other - and power strips Forget one bit and I might as well not have bothered with it all.
It takes me a while to put it all together, test it and protect it to make sure that someone with an itchy finger not touch a computer key. I get a lot of old guys who volunteer "to help" and I have to be polite when I say that I can handle it all.
Keep away from my stuff!
On Saturday, I drove to Franklin to exhibit for Books Unlimited. From 10 am to noon, I was stationed on the Main St. meeting and greeting the few people who passed by on their way to the A.T. Trailfest a couple of blocks away. No equipment, no slide show, just me.
My companion author was Barbara Woodall who wrote "It's not my mountain anymore". She chronicled the changes she's seen in the past fifty years living outside of Clayton, GA. You may remember that Clayton was the setting of the Deliverance movie, a connection that Clayton still encourages, according to Barbara.
I asked her about her book but she didn't bother asking me about the MST book. I was cold and not prepared to be outside for two hours.
It has taken me almost a week to finally write about my Appalachian Trail hike from Brown Gap to Davenport Gap (13 miles, 3,500 feet ascent).
On Monday, we did the second hike for the Carolina Mountain Club A.T. 90 in 90 challenge. Lenny and I had made plans with Tish and Sawako and we were going.
Yes, it was cold but dry here. We met Tish and left a car at Davenport Gap just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove to Brown Gap and started the hike at over 3,600 feet. The whole scene from the ground to the trees was in snow. Pretty, but not comfortable if you're going to spend the whole day on the trail. But how could I complain when I was there for a day hike and thru-hikers had slept on the trail?
I was cold. I was cold from the time I stepped out of the car until the time I got back into the car. We had few stops. And the ones we did have were uncomfortable and awkward. I took off my gloves, put more clothes on, pulled out my snack and the rest of the group had already eaten, packed up and were waiting for me impatiently.
Lunch was at Ground Hog Creek Shelter. We met a young couple still in their sleeping bags. They weren't moving.The picture to the left is of the moldering privy for the shelter.
I asked everyone I met, at least those that stopped long enough to talk, how and where they got their Smokies shelter permit. Most had gotten them at home before they left for the trail. They found it easy and no big deal. Twenty dollars to stay in the shelters was not excessive.
A couple of hikers didn't realize that they needed a permit until they got to NOC. They were able to use the computer there. And again no big deal. A small group of locals, who want to stay anonymous, are suing the park over the backpacking fee but hikers from the rest of the country didn't seem to get excited over the fee. Of course, this is a small and throroughly unscientific survey which I will continue whenever I meet hikers who've come out of the Smokies.
Once, we went under I-40 and started up again, it got a little warmer. I saw my first spring flowers: a couple of blood root, star chickweed and closed trilliums.
We reached Davenport Gap at about 5:30 pm and went to pick up the first car at Brown Gap. The road up to Brown Gap was covered with snow and so was the car. We came down awfully slowly and finally made it home at 7:30 pm.
I caught a whopper of a cold, or maybe the flu, and I still have some of the effects.
I was a math major in college and worked in computer science for 35 years, way before computers were cool. So I feel comfortable working out one right answer.
Imperiled Promise: The state of history in the National Park Service shows in a 143-page report that history and the interpretation of history of our national parks are complex and nuanced. There isn’t necessarily one right, immutable answer. The report was undertaken by four academic historians (Marla Miller, Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Gary Nash, and David Thelen) and published by the Organization of American Historians at the request of the NPS chief historian’s office. Recently, the study won the excellence in consulting award (group) from the National Council on Public History.
As a national park aficionado but certainly not a historian, I found the report fascinating. The report is peppered with insightful comments from NPS historians, interpreters, and administrators.
The basic premise of the report is that the National Park Service takes care of and interprets some of the most important historic sites in the country. The NPS is the keeper of our history as well as the protector of natural vistas. Over two-thirds of the park units are historic in nature, yet culture resources funding has been lost in favor of traditional NPS emphasis on natural resources and law enforcement. There’s little support for historians and more professionally trained historians are needed. Funding is poor--no surprise here. The report was started in 2008, so it doesn't focus on any particular budget crisis.
The NPS concept of history is narrow and static and interpretation is timid but this isn’t a new problem. In a 1988 report, Bob Krick, Chief Historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, wrote that even when the consequent attitude toward history is not outright disdain, there is a dreadful tendency to view historic sites as somehow emasculated by the absence of geysers, waterfalls, granite grandeur, and genuine law enforcement challenges (quoted on pg. 14).
The report writers feel that the public perceives history as a boring set of facts that they had to learn in school or a lot of debates on esoteric subjects. I never felt either in school. Rather even then, I thought that history overemphasized wars, battle tactics, and sports to keep the boys occupied. This is still true today.
The report describes what it felt was a good way to engage the public. At Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, a program examined the issue of segregated high school basketball teams as an example of Jim Crow laws. This topic drew 450 people to the park, double the number commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Talking about sports brings in visitors.
At Antietam National Battlefield, we can be Confederate soldiers looking up at the distant hills as we imagine Union troops coming over the crest of the hill. One park interpreter has the audience line up and then the reinforcement line up behind. We’re trapped and Union troops can mow us down. That’s a good, though emotional, example of interpretation.
Many battlefields were preserved while Reconstruction itself was still fresh in many minds. So the sites became memorial and commemorative sites, rather than places that prompted historical reflection.
The focus of interpretation, according to several survey respondents, is to have visitors make emotional, not intellectual, connections. Stories help you to remember better but history and heritage are not the same. Professional historians aren’t in charge of interpretive exhibits or programs in historic parks. The actual visitor programs are left to rangers who are probably not historians or to poorly trained seasonal workers. But that’s true in every field. Your primary care doctors don’t conduct medical research; they interpret it. And how many of us remember being taught by teaching assistants in college?
This distinction between history and emotional interpretation explains my major annoyance about ranger talks in historic units. Their talk always seems to end at the conclusion of the battle or the life of the great man. The battle of Antietam occurred in 1862. What happened to the site, the buildings, and the artifacts afterwards? Who owned the land? How and why did it become a national park unit? We've all heard the joke about the visitor who asks the park ranger "how come so many battles were fought on national park sites?"
Most of the time, rangers fill in the gap between then and now when I engage them in a private conversation later. If there’s a long line of people who want to ask more questions of the rangers, they may not want to spend a lot of time with any one visitor. Websites are no help in explaining how the site became a national park. Sometimes, even the park’s founding date is difficult to find.
One of the major report findings was that history in the National Park Service is perceived as a “single and unchanging ‘accurate’ story with one true significance. Hey, were they talking to me? Rather narratives in history change as generations develop new questions and perspective.
More trained historians are needed. Now only 4% of employees in national battlefields are historians. National Historical Parks have the highest percentage of historians who work in the field, 10%. Most NPS historians are located in regional offices or in the Washington, DC office.
New technology always seems to be the answer. Yet, as one respondent argues, and I agree whole heartily, there is no substitute for a park ranger. Ask most people about a visit to a NPS site. Do they remember the electronic message at a stop? No, they remember talking to a ranger. A website will encourage visitors to come to the park, not replace the visit.
Engagement on the National Park Service Facebook page is limited to “liking” or commenting on issues raised by the Facebook administrator. You can’t start a new topic. When I looked at a random selection of individual national parks on Facebook, I found that some allowed original comments and others didn’t.
The report recommends that the National Park Service pay more attention to its own history and hopes that this will happen at the NPS centennial. The agency sees itself as a transparent interpreter of outside histories that happened before the area in question became a park. The report points out (pg. 98) that meaning resides both in the event and in the act of remembering it. That’s why historical narratives are always changing and there’s no one right immutable answer.
In Finding 10, the report argues that “history in many sites seems to be understood as having ended at the park’s creation and stopped at its boundaries.” But reinterpretation and competing perspectives are at the heart of the historical process. That’s tough for parks to accept as they practice “defensive history.” Countless interpretive materials are woefully out of date. Many were installed during the Mission 66 era (1950-1960s) or in the 1970s. The thinking might be “the past doesn’t change” but approaches to history does change.
They’re watching me; they’re watching you
The NPS is cautious in what they feel visitors can handle. So they tend to present generalized information and non-threatening information so not to upset or offend them. Other cultural institutions, such as museums, have created the field of visitor studies to develop ways of engaging the visitors. Yet, most NPS staff knew little about this new field of study. There is a NPS website on civic engagement but the report feels that it may be used to contain controversies.
Freeman Tilden, considered the father of historic interpretation in the national parks, said that provocation was the most important function of interpretation. But the NPS may not be comfortable with admitting errors or discussing controversy. For example, Civil War sites have focused so long on battles that they had trouble emphasizing the importance of slavery in the war. This is discussed in another report The Need for Intellectual Courage, the History Leadership Council, and the History Advisory Board by Timothy S. Good. My impression is that sometimes the controversy is all that visitors remember and retells when they get home.Conclusions
So what conclusions did I take away from the award-winning report, Imperiled Promise?
* The NPS needs more professional historians. Their work should be incorporated in interpretive materials offered to the visiting public.
* Provoking visitors is to be encouraged. They can handle it.
* Though the historical events can’t be changed, scholarly interpretation and studies of the event are dynamic. There’s no one right answer when it comes to interpreting National Park Service historic units.
While I was gone to the big city and didn't pay attention, look what happened. North Carolina's Land for Tomorrow is looking for our help to save our land.
Pat McCrory released his proposed budget Wednesday. It includes significant
cuts in spending for the state's land and water conservation trust funds.
The creation and consistent funding of North Carolina's conservation trust funds have been the result of bipartisan leadership over the past 25 years. These land protection successes have played a major role in the state's economy - boosting agriculture, the military, tourism, forestry, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
- Cuts the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to $6.75 million from $10.75 million, which is a 37 percent cut, and only provides funding for the first year of the biennium
- Reduces the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) to $15.5 million from $27.5 million, which is a projected 44 percent cut.
- It reduces the Natural Heritage Trust Fund (NHTF) to $4.23 million from $9.9 million, which is a projected 58 percent cut.
- Removes the dedicated source of funding for PARTF and NHTF over the state's next budget cycle and leaves the state with no reliable way to conserve treasured lands in the future.
- Maintains the current funding level of $1.7 million per year for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
The next step in the budget process is for the state Senate to begin writing its version of the budget.
This will happen around the same time as our Lobby Day, taking place on March 27th in Raleigh. I went to Lobby Day in 2011 and it was an eyeopener.
Considering this budget announcement, your participation is now more important than ever. Click here to register for Lobby Day on March 27th.
Yesterday, my whole day was centered around appearing on the NPR program, Charlotte Talks. Wait a minute, didn't I just lead a hike at Deep Creek? Yes and then I drove to Charlotte that evening.
I listen to the program whenever I head east from Asheville. After you roll down the Blue Ridge and lose our Asheville NPR station, you can pick up WFAE.
It wasn't easy to get on Charlotte Talks on WFAE, the local NPR station. Talk shows like these have lots of gate keepers; producers who get inundated by requests to come on the show. These producers have to make sure that the guest is interesting, the topic is interesting and that the show host will resonate to the person and topic.
Katie, the publicist at the History Press, tried and tried. She sent a formal proposal and I helped by explaining what we could talk about. Nothing. Then I sent out a Facebook message. Did anyone have any contacts with Charlotte Talks? Well, no, but it turned out that Sharon McCarthy, my MST hiking partner, knew someone who worked for WFAE. Lisa put the proposal and my book on the producer's desk. Things started moving.
Then I was asked to give questions all over again. Katie at the History Press, sent the producer yet another copy of the book. I was booked for this morning.
When I arrived at the studio, way, way too early, I met the other guest, the president of Old Salem in Winston-Salem. At 3 minutes before the hour, Mike Collins, the host, shows up and puts us both at ease. "It will be the easiest thing you will ever do," he says.
Mike was good. He had obviously read some of my book. He asked good questions, was funny and allowed me to be light and casual. While I was on, the show had a 90 second break. I asked him if I could read from the book. I wanted to read about backpacking Croatan National Forest.
"Put this in context," he said. "Where is it?" I explained that it was east of New Bern and read for two minutes. Two minutes is a long time. At the end, he asked "what trail will I do next." While I tried to explain, he had to wrap up the show.
I walked through the Charlotte city center, which some call uptown and some call downtown. I wandered into Poor Richard's Book Shoppe, a small independent bookstore on the second level. And you have to walk up.
Now I have to get ready for my talk at Jesse Brown Outdoors tonight (Thursday March 21) at 6:30 pm. Come on out.
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.
A few weeks ago, Carolina Mountain Club announced two new challenges to celebrate its 90th anniversary.
Walk the major trails that the club maintains: 130 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and/or walk 92 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Lenny who's on the Board of Appalachian Trail Conservancy wanted to walk the A.T. and we started yesterday.
I had this picture of walking the whole section: Davenport Gap to Spivey Gap in order, south to north. But it's not going to happen this way.
We want to go on CMC hikes whenever they're scheduled. Yesterday, we walked Allen Gap to Tanyard Gap, north to south. It was a steep 8.9 miles and 2,100 feet of ascent.
We placed half the cars at Tanyard Gap on US 70, east of Hot Springs. Then we drove north to Allen Gap on US 208 and started walking.
The first thru-hikers of the season appeared just as we started up. It's like seeing the first bloodroot or first robin. Spring is here. If these folks are north of the Smokies by this time (March 17), they are doing very well.
We had lunch at Spring Mountain Shelter, then passed two headstones close to Hurricane Gap Road.
When you see artifacts like this in the woods, you know you must be close to the road.
The highlight was climbing Rich Mountain Tower with its outstanding views.
This view above is toward the Smokies.
Why do this?
Lenny and I have walked the whole A.T. and finished in 1998. So why do this again? I am so involved in book events for my MST book that I really feel squeezed.
The most important reason to walk it again is to see the CMC A.T. section again in a different light. Though I've walked many A.T. miles with CMC over the 12 years I've been here, now I'll pay attention to the trail heads, artifacts and condition of the trail.
It is only by walking the trails, any trail, that you can protect them. Just talking about them or looking at pictures just doesn't cut it.
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.