The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: great smoky mountains

GATLINBURG Laurel Creek, Cherokee Orchard, Greenbrier and Upper Tremont roads and some sections of Foothills Parkway remained closed early Wednesday after a Tuesday storm packing 85 mph winds downed trees and damaged vehicles and structures across Great Smoky Mountains National Park. No injuries were reported.

The closures were still in effect as of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to park officials. Newfound Gap Road is open. Current road closures are listed on the park website.

A National Weather Service wind advisory and high wind warning remained in effect until 2 p.m. Tuesday. Wind gusts peaked at 85 mph in the park between 2 and 3 a.m, according to the park service.

Sugarlands and Oconaluftee visitor centers are open. Visitors coming to the park today are encouraged to stop in a visitor center for updates on current conditions.

Published in Feedbag

GSMNP.jpeg

GATLINBURG — Due to dry conditions and the increased risk for wildfires, the National Park Service (NPS) is temporarily banning backcountry campfires in Great Smoky Mountains National Park effective immediately. The fire restriction will be in effect until further notice. 

“We are experiencing dry conditions throughout the park, in both North Carolina and Tennessee,” said Deputy Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. “With dry conditions persisting over the next week, it is imperative that we reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.” 

The fire restriction only applies to campers using the park’s 100 backcountry sites and shelters. It does not affect campers at the park’s front country (developed) campgrounds or picnickers using fire grills at picnic areas. Fires in developed areas must always be confined to designated fire rings and grills. The NPS asks front country campers to reduce the risk of wildfires by extinguishing fires completely until ashes are cool to the touch. Backpackers may use stoves with compressed gas canisters.   

The NPS is working with multiple area agencies in response to current and predicted weather and fuel conditions. Visitors should use extra caution recreating on public lands including national parks and national forests in North Carolina and Tennessee when fire danger is increased.

Published in Feedbag
Thursday, 02 November 2023 04:17

Little River Run 5K November 18, 2023

Little River Run 5K - Townsend Tennessee logo 

Join Keep Blount Beautiful (KBB) and Little River Watershed Association (LRWA) for a run (or walk!) by the Little River in view of the Great Smoky Mountains for the 5th Annual Little River Run 5K at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 at the Townsend Abbey. This race is a great way to support a clean, green and beautiful Blount County. The Little River Run encourages participants to engage with their community, enjoy the beauty of Blount County and help spread the message of environmental stewardship. All proceeds will support the many free events, programs and educational initiatives including litter pickups, stream cleanups, invasive removals, recycling events and educational programs.

In-person and virtual options for the race: This will be a chip-timed event. Participants of all ages are welcome. Race tickets will be $30 beginning, Sept. 5. Race registration increases to $35 starting Nov. 13. Children 12 and under can register for a rate of $15 at any time. Registration will also be available on race day. Virtual race runners are not chip-timed and are at a flat rate of $30.

Published in Event Archive

Walker Sisters fireplace The fireplace at Walker Sisters Cabin is among many historical features refurbished by the National Park Service.  Courtesy National Park Service

GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the Walker Sisters Cabin is once again open to the public. The park closed the two-story cabin in late 2021 while the park’s Forever Places crew addressed safety concerns and completed renovations. The crew, a team of skilled carpenters and masons, replaced the roof and portions of the wall timbers, stabilized the foundation, added new floorboards, and restored the fireplace.

“We are proud of the expert work our dedicated Forever Places team did to restore the cabin,” said Deputy Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. “And we are grateful to the Friends of the Smokies for their generous support to help us preserve such an iconic piece of Smokies history.”

The Friends of the Smokies, the park’s philanthropic partner, provided funding for this critical work as part of the Forever Places campaign. Forever Places protects and preserves the historical resources in the park by hiring skilled preservation crew members and supplying materials and tools.
Visitors may reach the Walker Sisters Cabin by hiking about 1.5 miles along the Little Brier Gap Trail located near the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. The cabin dates to the 1800s and the Walker sisters lived there until 1964.

National Park Service

Published in Feedbag

GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials unveiled two new waysides at Mingus Mill on May 23 as part of the larger African American Experiences in the Smokies project.  

“The new signs and the African American Experiences in the Smokies project are so important to tell the untold stories of Black people in the region,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.

Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and poet Eric Mingus performed a new piece of music that speaks to and of Mingus Mill, its location, and the people who lived there, including his ancestors. A Santa Fe-based musician, Eric has recently re-connected with his family’s story that is rooted in the park through the African American Experiences in the Smokies project. Eric is descended from Daniel Mingus, a formerly enslaved carpenter, and Clarinda Mingus, the daughter of Daniel’s enslaver. 

Hellbender Press previously reported on the Smokies project.

One of the new waysides tells the story of the nearby Enloe Slave Cemetery, where several African Americans are interred. The other wayside tells the story of Eric’s father, legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus Jr., and his family.  

The African American Experiences in the Smokies project is supported by the Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association, which help fund research of the historic presence and influence of African Americans in the southern Appalachian Mountains from the 1540s through today.

— National Park Service

Published in Feedbag
Wednesday, 07 December 2022 11:47

Park releases Smokies air-tour plan

Commercial air tour routes over Great Smoky Mountains National ParkCommercial air tour routes over Great Smoky Mountains National Park

GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other federal officials completed a management plan to formally regulate aircraft tours over the park.

Don’t expect much to change in the skies over the park: The plan allows 946 air tours a year by select helicopter operators, unchanged from the average number of annual flights recorded from 2017 to 2019. Flights may only operate from two hours after daybreak to two hours before sundown.

“The plan establishes measures to protect park resources including natural and cultural resources, preservation of wilderness character, and visitor experience,” according to Smokies officials. Flights will be restricted to six routes over the park, and must maintain an elevation above 2,700 feet of the highest terrain. Cades Cove is off limits, as are several historical sites, including the Walker Sisters Cabin.

Air tours, often to the dismay of many hikers and others, have occurred over the park for most of its history, but no formal flight guidelines were in place.

“We appreciate the tireless work that went into the development of the Smokies air tour management plan,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The plan incorporates several improvements that allow continued air tour activity, while at the same time better protectingthe wilderness character of the backcountry, wildlife populations, natural soundscapes, and the visitor experience in historic areas like Cades Cove.”

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian members provided notable input into the development of the plan, which will go into effect in 90 days from Dec.3.

Hellbender Press previously reported on development of the Smokies aircraft management plan.

Published in Feedbag

IMG 6088You might have to pay to park at some of these trailheads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park starting next year. These old trail badges are displayed in Fontana Village on the south side of the Smokies. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Smokies parking fees will generate $7 million in revenue for park infrastructure

GATLINBURG — Getting outside just got more expensive.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced Monday the park would proceed with plans for a $5/per day parking pass required of all cars staying in one spot for more than 15 minutes.

Weekly passes will be $15, and annual passes will be available for $40, according to a release from the park service. Fees will also increase $3 for backcountry and campground permits, meaning campers and backpackers will have to fork over $8 a night.

Published in News

CADES COVE — Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Thursday plans to officially reopen Parson Branch Road, first cut through the ridges around Cades Cove 180 years ago.

The narrow, 8-mile one-way mountain road out of Cades Cove to U.S. 129 has been closed since 2016 following washouts that were compounded by a steady diet of collapsing diseased and dead hemlocks. A ceremony is set for Thursday morning at the beginning of the road in Caves Cove.

The road was closed because of the tree hazards and damage to the road surface. The hemlocks succumbed to the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect that has wreaked havoc on hemlock stands and their accompanying ecosystems.

Published in Earth

iiif service gmd gmd390 g3902 g3902g np000243 full pct 12.5 0 defaultMany climate-change related issues have appeared since publication of this vintage map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Library of Congress

Invasive insects are among the vanguard of noticeable climate changes in America’s most-visited national park

GATLINBURG — Ants scurry beneath the carpet of last year’s leaves in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The native ants are busy spreading the seeds of violets and bloodroot, preparing a new carpet of spring wildflowers to draw thousands of visitors.

But the local insects aren’t alone under there. They have become prey to venomous Asian needle ants that also prowl the leaf litter.

These invaders dine on termites, other ants and insects, while stealing habitat from them. Unlike invasive fire ants, needle ants can live in pristine forests and build large colonies with hundreds of queens. But like fire ants, needle ants have a painful sting that can trigger an allergic reaction. 

Climate change is expected to make it easier for invasive species like needle ants to upset the delicate balance of this temperate rainforest full of rare plants and animals. That’s just one example.

Published in News

Photograph overlooking a progression of denseley wooded riges becoming increasingly more shrouded in bluis haze. Low-hanging clouds look like layers of cotton filling the proximate valley bottoms of this vast, undisturbed laandscape.

The western end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park as seen from Foothills Parkway.  Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press 

Four visitors have disappeared without a trace from the Great Smoky Mountains in the last 50 years. Where did they go?

In a lateral move from late-night doom-scrolling, I’ve grown obsessed with reading about people who have gone missing in national parks. The National Park Service website currently lists ​28 “cold cases” ranging from unsolved murders and suspected suicides to just ... gone. No body, nary a footprint or broken branch, no lingering scent for search dogs. Just ​poof​. The silhouette of a life vanishing into mist.

I lie awake at 2, 3, 4 o’clock, hypnotized by the white glow of my phone, trawling abandoned blogs and conspiratorial subreddits for clues. I turn their disappearances over and over in my mind like a piece of quartz, glassy yet opaque, a fogged-up window I can’t quite see through.

Eight of these cold cases are from Yosemite, five are from the Grand Canyon, two are from Shenandoah Valley, and there’s one apiece from Mesa Verde, Crater Lake, Hawai’i Volcanoes, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain and Chiricahua National Monument. Another four are from the Great Smoky Mountains, the wild and tangled backdrop of my east Tennessee home.

I’ve ventured furthest down the rabbit holes of the ones gone missing from the Smokies. Having spent a lot of time in the Park I’m familiar with the trails from which they disappeared. I’ve hiked them myself, one in an oblivious single-file search party of so many other Park visitors. It’s a strange feeling to know that you’ve literally walked along a path which, for someone else, led to … where did it lead?

 
MP Martin
 
Dennis Martin (1969):​6-year-old boy, dark brown eyes and hair, gone missing on Father’s Day weekend. He was playing with other children while on a family outing at the Spence Field area of the Appalachian Trail. Dennis hid behind a bush, planning a sneak attack on the parents, and was never seen again. Search efforts spanning 56 square miles, a grid combed by 1,400 volunteers — the largest search in the history of the Smokies — revealed no answers, although one sock and shoe were found. Several years afterward, an illegal ginseng hunter came forward, claiming he had found the skull and other remains of a small boy in the vicinity.
 
MP Gibson
 
Teresa “Trenny” Gibson (1976): ​16-year-old female, 5'3 and 115 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes, last seen wearing a brown plaid jacket, blue jeans and Adidas shoes. She was on a field trip from Bearden High School, with 40 other students and one teacher chaperone, to hike Clingmans Dome to Andrew’s Bald. Students last reported seeing her in the distance, bending over and taking a right turn off the trail. When the group reconvened in the parking lot to go home, Trenny was missing. A can of beer and three cigarette butts were found near the spot where she stepped off the trail, causing speculation that she was abducted in nearly plain view.
 
MP Melton
 
Pauline “Polly” Melton (1981): ​58-year-old female, tall and matronly with glasses and a poof of graying hair, last seen wearing a pink and white blouse, tan slacks and glasses. She and her husband, Bob, wintered in Florida and spent the warmer months in their airstream at Deep Creek Campground with a group of friends. One afternoon Polly set some spaghetti sauce to simmer for dinner and went for a walk on an easy, well-marked trail with two friends, Red and Trula, as she did most days. About an hour in, Polly suddenly picked up the pace and left the women behind. When they called out to her, they said she looked back, laughed and kept going. She never arrived back at the campground.
 
MP Lueking
 
Derek Lueking (2012)​: 24-year-old male with a ½-inch beard and a tattoo of Japanese characters translating to “life” on his chest. He was a fan of survivalist TV shows and bought a bunch of supplies before heading to the Park — maps, a Gerber ax, a military survival manual, a knife sharpener, a Coleman combination compass and thermometer, 100 feet of paracute cord, a headlamp, a pocket knife, granola bars, an iPod pouch, and a Bear Grylls survival tool pack including a small flashlight, a fire starter and a multi-tool. His white Ford Escape was found at Newfound Gap, but he’d left much of the supplies in the car, including his tent and sleeping bag. Also a note that read, “Don’t follow me.” Derek’s family maintains a Facebook page dedicated to finding him, last updated in November 2020: “As you slip farther and farther away, we miss you still.”
 
Published in Voices

456915 10150749976200572 259742799 oA view of some of the land preserved by Foothills Land Conservancy on the Cumberland Plateau.   Courtesy Foothills Land Conservancy

Foothills Land Conservancy preserves land and multiple habitats across seven states

Foothills Land Conservancy rang in the new year with the preservation of 250 undeveloped acres along the Little Pigeon River in a rapidly growing area of Sevier County in East Tennessee.

The deal was finalized in late 2020 — a fitting end to the Blount County conservancy’s 35th year.

Foothills Land Conservancy has protected about 135,000 acres in seven states, including 95,000 acres in East Tennessee, since its inception in 1985. For comparison’s sake, that’s nearly a third of the protected land that encompass the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of that land has been acquired since 2006, when former state Sen. Bill Clabough became executive director.

“We’ve been really growing and expanding,” Clabough said late last year from the conservancy headquarters on the century-old Harris family farm in Rockford. 

The farm itself is under a conservation easement, one of several ways the conservancy preserves and protects natural and agricultural lands.

“When you do good work you don’t have to do a lot of advertising,” said Clabough, 69, a likable former country store owner and Wildwood native whose political public service came to an end in 2005 when the moderate Republican incumbent was defeated by a firebrand conservative in the Senate GOP primary. 

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Clabough said of his primary defeat.

Published in Earth