The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: great smoky mountains national park

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GATLINBURG — The director of the National Park Service is expected in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Saturday to celebrate National Public Lands Day.

Director Chuck Sams plans to make some remarks in appreciation for the volunteers who help backstop national park maintenance costs before citizens fan out for various tasks across the park. Sams is the first Native American to head the park service, and he will be joined by Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Richard G. Sneed.

Published in Earth

CITIZEN TIMES: Child killed by falling tree was a very rare twist of horrible fate

Karen Chavez of the Asheville Citizen Times wrote a great article on tree-related deaths in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and beyond following the death last week of a Georgia child killed by a falling tree as she was occupying a tent in Elkmont Campground.

She reports the death of the child was only the 11th tree-linked death in the national park’s history.

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Will West LongCherokee tribal council member, historian and ethnographer Will West Long holds a traditional Cherokee mask, which he often recreated. He was an active chronicler of Cherokee custom, heritage and tradition and died in 1947 on the Qualla Reservation in Swain County, North Carolina. WikiCommons

As plans gel for massive new developments, has the Eastern Band lost its ancient way?

SEVIERVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Transportation is eyeing a second interchange for exit 407 at Highway 66 along Interstate I-40 in Sevier County. 

Exit 407, already one of the most congested interchanges in Southern Appalachia, accesses the main highway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the nation. The park reported a record 14 million visitors in 2021.

The exit also serves crowds flocking to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

But the new interchange would primarily serve a 200-acre development to be called Exit 407: The Gateway to Adventure.   

Scheduled to open spring 2023, and fully operational in 2024, it’s expected to attract 6.7 million people annually. The first phase includes a theme park and a 74,000-square-foot convenience store with 120 gas pumps, making it the world’s largest such store.

Published in News

ky floodsHeavy flooding is seen in eastern Kentucky this weekend. State of Kentucky/Office of Gov. Andy Beshear

Another round of severe flooding hits the Southern Appalachian region

UPDATED: The death toll from last week’s unprecedented flooding in Kentucky reached at least 29, as some areas contended with additional flooding over the weekend. Fifteen of those, including four children, died in Knott County, which is about 100 miles north of Kingsport.

Water service to nearly 67,000 connections has been affected, as well as 17 wastewater-treatment systems in eastern Kentucky, according to Gov. Andy Beshear’s office. 

“We are currently experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history. The situation is dynamic and ongoing,” Beshear said in a statement.

“What we are going to see coming out of this is massive property damage and we expect loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes. And this will be yet another event that will take not months, but years, for our families to rebuild and recover from.”

Published in News
Wednesday, 27 July 2022 18:39

Falling tree kills child in Great Smokies

ELKMONT — A 9-year-old girl died early Wednesday after a tree fell on a tent she was occupying in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The unidentified child was among a group of people camping in Elkmont Campground when the red maple, 2 feet in diameter, fell shortly after midnight and crushed the girl in her tent, according to the National Park Service.

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7.13.22 Porters Creek Road washoutA washout is seen along Porters Creek Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park following torrential rain on July 12. National Park Service

Flooding causes Smokies damage, prompts water advisory for Sevierville 

SEVIERVILLE — Extremely heavy rain on July 12 in the Smoky Mountains caused a cascade of problems now just coming to light.

Sevierville and Sevier County issued a boil-water advisory early Thursday after debris flushed by Tuesday’s floodwaters clogged the city water utility’s main intake on the French Broad River, leading to pressure decreases that opened up lines to possible outside contamination.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Greenbrier campground was closed indefinitely after the swollen Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River wiped out roads, trails and bridges in the area.

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Clean Up PileVolunteers who helped with the Save our Smokies cleanup on April 23 are shown here among their booty. Anna Lawrence/Hellbender Press

Amid the booze bottles and toilet paper, it’s ‘incredible what we found here’

Cleanup crews cleared garbage Earth Day weekend across Great Smoky Mountains National Park from mountain crests to the shores of Fontana Lake.

Save Our Smokies, which organized the April 23 event, called it the largest single cleanup ever attempted in the park. Volunteers wrangled some 5,000 pounds of garbage.

Save our Smokies Vice President Benny Braden said the organization removed 10,133 pounds of trash in all of 2021.

“Litter is a big problem. We can clean up a location and two months later we have to be back there because it’s worse than when we started,” Braden said in an interview Saturday morning at the Tremont section of the national park. “What gives us hope is our volunteers showing up,” he said, citing their tireless dedication.

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GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash hosted a dgital meeting April 14 urging the implementation of a $5 daily parking fee for Smokies visitors to raise money for park maintenance, law enforcement and visitor services.

The meeting included an overview presentation introducing the rate changes and a question and answer session. 

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Indiana batThe endangered Indiana bat is among threatened and endangered species in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Southern Appalachians show red as a warning on new detailed biodiversity maps 

This story was originally published by the Sylva Herald.

SYLVA — Great Smoky Mountains National Park has long been known for its abundance of different species of flora and fauna.

Credit old mountains in a warm, sunny and wet region with varying types of climate, soil and stone for that large number.

“The park is almost certainly the most biodiverse national park in North America,” said Paul Super, national park science coordinator. “And certainly the most studied of any national park.”

A group of environmental organizations recently put together a series of maps illustrating the regions with the biggest threats to their biodiversity, and the area around Jackson County and the national park showed up in the red, showing risk. One such map, based on NatureServe data, is among the most detailed maps of endangered and threatened species ever produced.

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Parson Branch RoadDead hemlocks are seen along Parson Branch Road near Cades Cove. National Park Service

CADES COVE — Great Smoky Mountains National Park contractors began removing at least 800 dead hemlock trees along Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile primitive backcountry road that connects Cades Cove with U.S. 129 on the western edge of the park.

The road has been closed since 2016 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.

The road passes several trailheads, and is used by emergency vehicles as needed. The park initially identified some 1,700 trees that posed a hazard to the adjacent roadway, but that number has naturally declined by about half over the past six years.

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park provided $100,000 for the hazard-mitigation project. That was matched with $50,000 from the federal government.

Once the dead trees are removed, work will begin to rehabilitate the roadway and ensure its safety. 

The roadway could reopen this summer, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

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Celithemis elisa femaleThe calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) is among 77 new species discovered in Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the last decade. Wikipedia Commons

Apps and public research help uncover new layers of life in Southern Appalachia

This article was originally published by Smoky Mountain News.

Visitors armed only with a free app and love of nature have documented more than 4,000 species in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 2011, according to the nonprofit Discover Life in America, including 77 not previously documented in the park by anyone else. 

DLiA, which manages the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory project that aims to catalogue all species residing in the extremely diverse park, recently analyzed more than 71,000 records from the app, iNaturalist, to discover the impact these casual observations have made on the project. 

Published in News
Friday, 25 February 2022 15:22

Kayaker drowns in Smokies near Smokemont

An Ohio woman drowned Thursday while kayaking the Oconaluftee River near Smokemont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was the first fatality of the year in the park.

Rangers said Megan Thompson, 34, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio was trapped underwater “between a fallen tree and the riverbank” after floating through a rapid. It was not immediately clear whether she was out of her boat.

Her fellow boaters alerted rangers at 2:18 p.m. and her body was recovered at 2:57 p.m., according to a release from the park service.

Drowning is the third-leading cause of death in the Smokies, after vehicle and aircraft accidents.

This story will be updated.

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Appalachian Voices

Citizen Times: Smokies forester bids adieu to her arboreal home

Good read here from the Asheville newspaper about the retirement of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Supervisory Forester Kristine Johnson.

In her three decades at the Smokies, she has tackled issues ranging from exotic and invasive plants to the slow and disastrous demise of the park’s hemlocks due to the hemlock wooly adelgid.

“‘The work we do includes forest health in all aspects,’ said Johnson, who is retiring this month after more than 30 years in the Smokies,” Frances Ligart reported. “Her career has been devoted to reducing the introduction into the park of exotic plants, insects, and diseases.”

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Park sets visitation record with 14.1 million visits in 2021 

Some 14 million people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year, as Americans and foreign tourists continued their flight to nature in the face of the Covid pandemic.

Here’s the news release from the National Park Service: 

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced the busiest year on record with 14,137,812 visits. Visitation exceeded the 2019 record by 1.5 million visits and 2020 visitation by more than 2 million visits. The park has increasingly become a year-round destination with eight monthly visitation records set during winter and spring months in 2021.”

Published in News
Thursday, 23 December 2021 16:57

Walker Sisters off-limits for now

Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed the Walker Sisters Cabin because of safety concerns including a shifting chimney.

The cabin is now inaccessible, but visitors can still explore the homestead and outbuildings as work proceeds to analyze and fix the landmark Smokies dwelling.

Restoration work will be funded by Friends of the Smokies.

Per the National Park Service:

“The cabin dates back to the 1800s and was occupied by the Walker Sisters until 1964. Park crews are concerned about recent movement around the chimney in the two-story cabin. Noticeable cracks and buckling around the stone masonry need to be repaired and stabilized to prevent further movement. The cabin is now closed to all use. 

“Cabin renovations, including roof replacement, are planned for the 2022 field season. The Friends of the Smokies have provided funding for this critical work as part of the Forever Places campaign to protect and preserve the park’s historical resources. The historic farmstead, including additional outbuildings, will remain accessible during the cabin closure. Visitors may reach the area by hiking approximately 1.4 miles along the Little Brier Gap Trail located near the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.”  

For more information about the Walker Sisters, please visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/historyculture/walker-sisters.htm

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News Sentinel: Forest life blossoms five years after devastating Smokies wildfires

Researchers are tallying recovering species and noting some surprises five years after deadly wildfires tore through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent communities, according to News Sentinel science writer Vincent Gabrielle.

Fire-dependent species such as the table mountain pine are seizing new land as a result of the wildfires, and some scientists have been surprised by the proliferation of chestnut saplings. Those saplings are the progeny of remaining chestnut root systems, though few if any survive to maturity. The chestnut was largely eliminated from the American landscape more than 100 years ago by a blight that eliminated one of the most productive mast species in the Southern Appalachians.

Scientists are also intrigued by the reappearance of certain fungi decimated by the 2016 fires, which originated near the Chimneys and ultimately spread up Bullhead and then down into Twin Creeks and the surrounding developed communities. Fifteen people were killed and thousands of structures destroyed.

A lot of Smokies habitat is fire dependent, but few wildfires have been allowed to burn in the backcountry over the history of the park. The fire and its aftermath provide researchers a unique opportunity to determine the effects the fire had on the natural landscape and accompanying plants, fungi, trees and animals.

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Superintendent Cassius Cash 2021

Clemson University awarded Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash the Walter T. Cox Award for conservation excellence for his dedication to preserving the natural resources of the most visited national park in the United States.

The Clemson University Institute for Parks, in conjunction with the George B. Hartsog Awards Progran, bestows the annual honor “to recognize individuals who demonstrate exemplary leadership in the field of conservation,” according to a news release from the park service.

“The Walter T. Cox Award recognizes park administrators who exemplify Dr. Cox’s distinguished career in education and public service. Superintendent Cash was one of five individuals recognized this year alongside other national and state park leaders.” 

The institute said it gave Cash the award because of his “sustained achievement, public service and leadership in conserving and managing public lands. including the most biodiverse and most visited national park in the U.S.”

In acceptance of the award, Cash acknowledged the difficulties faced by managers of wild lands and other public conservation resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Leading staff in providing high-quality services and protecting resources during the pandemic, coupled with an extreme rise in visitation, has been challenging,” Cash said in the release.

“I’ve been inspired by our staff, partners, and communities as we work together to care for the park and to continue to welcome people to this space for rejuvenation and healing. It is an honor to be recognized for this work.” 

Visit Clemson Institute for Parks for more information about the award and a full list of honorees.

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UPDATED: Opponents of Pellissippi Parkway Extension hammer bureaucrats, unelected economic development officials at public meeting

(This story has been updated with this link to the Tennessee Department of Transportation recording of the Sept. 21 public hearing on the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension project).

Raw emotions spilled over at a Tennessee Department of Transportation public meeting to collect citizen input on a nearly 5-mile, four-lane highway that would carve through creeks, forests, farms and homes in rural Blount County in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The meeting was held Tuesday evening at Heritage High School, not far from where the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension (which would originate at the terminus of the current parkway near Rockford) would abruptly bisect East Lamar Alexander Parkway, just to the west of Walland Gap and the Little River Gorge.

As Hellbender Press has reported on the Pellissippi extension, many people aren’t happy with the proposition of spending at least $100 million on a 4.5-mile stretch of highway, and people are uncomfortable with both the use of eminent domain to force them from their homes or seize portions of their property and the unavoidable and long-lasting environmental and cultural impact such a project would have on the rural areas of Blount County. The projected cost of the project has vacillated by millions of dollars.

East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. 321) terminates in Townsend; along the way are turnoffs to many valuable pieces of real estate and immensely successful high-end hospitality venues, such as Blackberry Farm. Hellbender Press reached out to Blackberry Farm through its Nashville-based public relations team about the nearby highway project and was simply told “we have no comment.”

People who did not attend last night’s meeting have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the TDOT website.
 
The comment period is open through Oct. 12.
 
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Red TrilliumA red trillium is seen in the Southern Appalachians. It is often the target of poachers who aspire to place it in an ill-suited domestic ornamental garden. Courtesy Wiki Commons

Forest service withholds ginseng permits to protect native Southern Appalachian plants as overall poaching persists

Paul Super has a message for people who take plants and animals from Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

It’s stealing.

“We’re trying to protect the park as a complete ecosystem and as a place that people can enjoy the wildlife and everything that lives here … but they have to do it in a sustainable way, and poaching doesn’t fit,” said Super, the park’s resource coordinator.

“Be a good citizen. Enjoy the park without damaging it.”

Super said the novel coronavirus pandemic led to the second-highest visitation to the park in 2020, just over 12 million, even with the park being closed briefly.

“This year will likely have the highest visitation ever,” he said, adding that the park is, in terms of the pandemic, a “relatively safe place for family and friends.”

Super said this higher visitation rate may lead to more poaching but it may also lead to more people who “appreciate something that a poacher would take away from them.

“Besides being illegal, that’s just selfish and rude,” Super said regarding plants and animals, and even cultural artifacts that are taken from the park.

Super is the park’s research coordinator, and is in charge of recruiting researchers to help better understand the nuances and full ramifications of stealing public natural resources. He said his researchers don’t enforce the laws, but they do alert law enforcement rangers to poaching incidents and suspicions. 

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Abrams Falls

Two people died while on outings in the Smokies area.

One man drowned at the base of Abrams Creek Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the other was killed when his motorcycle veered off Foothills Parkway into a drainage ditch, according to the National Park Service.

In Friday's incident, Stephen Musser, 73, of Roswell, Georgia, was pushed under while swimming beneath the falls at about 2:15 p.m. His body, which was entrapped in debris under the surface, was recovered about seven hours later by divers from the Blount Special Operations Rescue Team. 

Park officials warned visitors about the risks involved in entering park waters, noting unexpectedly strong currents and sieve-like debris common in streams and rivers.

Sixty people have drowned within the national park over its 85-year history; 10 of those have perished near Abrams Falls, according to the park service.

Rangers also responded at about 11:35 a.m. Saturday to a fatal motorcycle crash on Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley.

Park officials said David Birdsong, 57, was heading south at mile marker 24 when he lost control of his motorcycle and left the roadway. He was pronounced dead while en route to a hospital.

Rangers said speed appeared to be a factor in the crash.

Birdsong was the fourth motorcyclist to die on the parkway or in the national park this year.

Car crashes account for 40 percent of fatalities along the parkway or in the national park. Twenty percent of those fatalities involve motorcycles, national park officials said.

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