Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Smoky Mountains Christmas from Your Smokies


After seeking large growth trees for weeks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I was moved by this tiny evergreen so weighed down by what was barely a finger nail size clump of snow I found on the top of Mount Le Conte in and area predominantly dominated by pine trees.

May we all remember the small tender one born on this day and those who celebrate him.

Merry Christmas,

Chris Hibbard
Your Smokies

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Horseback riding stable in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park still open

People who want to ride a horse in the Great Smoky Mountains National park can still do so at the Smoky Mountain Stables located on 321 west of the city of Gatlinburg even though all the stables are normally closed this late in the season.

Until the end of the month for only $20 horseback riders can take advantage of the 1 hour guided horse back rides in the Great Smoky Mountains national park from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm 7 days a week. Excessive snow, ice or extreme cold can keep the stables from opening on a given day.

To find out more about renting a horse in the Smoky Mountains National Park check out the National Park horseback riding stables page and if the weather is questionable be sure to call (865) 436-5634 to confirm that the Smoky Mountain Stables will be open.

Monday, December 17, 2007

441 Newfound Gap road between Cherokee NC and Gatlinburg remains open.

Newfound Gap Road (441) which runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park connecting Cherokee North Carolina with Gatlinburg Tennessee remains open despite the light dusting of snow and ice in upper elevations of the national park.

The national park service is keeping a close eye on road conditions and is warning drivers of potential ice on Newfound Gap road.

Though most of the park will warm to the lower and mid 40s today, upper elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains will remain at or below freezing and plummeting temperatures tonight will freeze any melting snow and ice and drives should use extreme caution in the late afternoon and evening hours.

Although The weather in the Smoky Mountains National Park will remains seasonably cold and areas of the park such as Cades Cove, Elkmont and what is open in Roaring Fork near Gatlinburg should be safe to drive in and traffic in these areas is expected to be light so enjoy the beauty of winter in the Smokies!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cades Cove Loop in the Great Smoky Mountains national park to be closed to traffic

It is that time of the year again where the National Park service closes Cades Cove to vehicles while they spray the hemlock trees close enough to the road which can be reached in order to fight the invasive exotic pest the hemlock woolly adelgid. While the Cades Cove loop was closed in late November of 2006, this year the closures will be in the first week of December.

As long as the weather is conducive to spraying the hemlock trees in Cades Cove which are infested with the woolly adelgid, the whole 11 mile Cades Cove loop will be closed this Wednesday December 5th. If you wish to hike the Cades Cove loop you can do so but cars and bicycles are forbidden to be on the road.

If all goes as planned on Thursday December 6th only the far section of the Cades Cove Loop past Hyatt Lane will be closed to motorist and bicyclists. Hikers can access the entire loop on the second day of spraying.

Spraying is one of three methods that the Great Smoky Mountains National park has been successfully using to fight the woolly adelgid from destroying all of the hemlock tees in the park.

The spaying with national park service trucks will only be done as long as a heavy rain or freezing temperatures are not expected during or immediately after the spraying is to be done.

To check on the status of the Cades Cove road closure you may call the national park service general information number at (865)436-1200.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Great Smoky Mountains national park winter closures

As the days become shorter in the Great Smoky Mountains national park as winter closes is so does you list of choices of where to take an auto tour, where to go horseback riding, where to go site seeing and where to go camping in the GSM national park.

The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National park Clingmans Dome and the road leading up to it closes until weather permits in March. This steep winding road is dangerous enough without snow and ice so deep winter driving on this high altitude road is out of the question.

Elkmont backcountry campsite 20 still has an active black bear warning posted

One of the nicest and most popular frontcountry developed campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains national park is located in Elkmont Tennessee and it closes until spring at noon December 1st. A quick check today revealed less than a handful of campers in the Elkmont Tennessee campgrounds today.

Backcountry campsites in Elkmont Tennessee will remain open throughout the winter. Note that Elkmont backcountry campsite 20 still has an active black bear warning posted but the site still remains open.

The Roaring Fork Motor trail located in the Roaring Fork area of the park located adjacent to Gatlinburg Tennessee is also closed as of December 1st. This one way winding motor trail offers splendid wooded views, historic residences, mountain vistas and some popular trailheads.

Only the motor trail is closed in the Roaring Fork area so to get to Grotto Falls, Baskin Creek trail, the Baskin Creek Waterfall, Grapeyard Ridge, and the Trillium Gap trail you need to park your vehicle in one of the Rainbow Falls parking areas and then walk to the trailhead.

Last but not least the last of the horseback riding stables in the Great Smoky Mountains national park that was open; the Smoky Mountain Riding Stables has just closed for the winter.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Great Smoky Mountains National Parks New Twin Creeks Science and Education Center Open house

The new Twin Creek Science and educational faculty in the Roaring Fork area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg Tennessee will have an open house December 1st.

Last week Senator Lamar Alexander was a keynote speaker when the environmentally friendly 15,000 square foot facility was officially dedicated and now the public can tour the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center located on Cherokee Orchard Road from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm this Saturday.

Great Smoky Mountains National Parks New Twin Creeks Science and Education Center

Not only is the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center an attractive building featuring a beautiful architectural design that fits perfectly into the landscape of the Smoky Mountains National park, this building features energy and water saving features that should be incorporated into all new commercial and residential buildings.

Water conservation in the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center is accomplished through the use of low-flow plumbing fixtures, waterless urinals and recovering storm water runoff from the building into rock lined holding ponds.

Energy savings are accomplished through building alignment and large strategically placed windows which optimize natural daylight, high-efficiency automatic lighting and the use of both recycled and natural building materials.

It has been proven that incorporating such intelligence into building designs greatly improves the heath and well being as well as the efficiency and productivity of those working within such a facility.

Economically advanced environmentally friendly buildings generally only cost 5% more than their less efficient counterparts and the additional costs are usually recouped in less than 6 years.

The purpose of the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center is to allow the national parks resource mangers and even visiting guest scientists to have an effect place for their continuing studies into the biological inventory of the park under the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory program, a climate-control storage area for the approximately 50,000 plant and insect specimens, and work spaces in order to study the water and air quality for the national park.

The scientific data collected by the park and the subsequent research will be shared with teachers and students in a guest classroom within the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center allowing neighboring communities to share in the findings and to better understand the scientific process.

Twin Creeks Science and Education Center dedication

In a press release the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson stated "We are pleased to offer our neighbors a chance to see first hand this unique building and the distinctive elements that make this a showcase for the Park and surrounding communities" and he went on to say "Resource managers will be available to discuss the different office and work stations and our education staff will have hands-on activities highlighting the Parks as Classrooms program for children to participate. The public can also view a variety of exhibits that were prepared to outline the Park's different science initiatives and wildlife and vegetation management programs, as well as explore the chemical lab and natural history specimen collection. Part of the preserved collection includes the extinct passenger pigeon which will be on display,"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Newfound Gap (441) Road Reopens for happy drivers

Newfound Gap Road was safe enough for traffic today so the Great Smoky Mountains National Park service without warning reopened the stretch of 441 running from Gatlinburg to Cherokee.

Drivers were relived to be able to take the shortcut through the park and save the time it would have taken to go around the park via I40.

One of the park visitors we encountered from Georgia told us she was relived as she and her family came into Gatlinburg late Tuesday night through the park and missed seeing the fall colors on the trees in the mountains and the kids wanted a chance to play in the snow. When she came into the park earlier in the day she was surprised that the road was closed.

441 Newfound Gap Road in Great Smokies Mountains National Park closed due to icy conditions

Newfound Gap Road was closed due to snow and ice shutting off the major artery that runs through the Great Smoky mountains national park connecting Cherokee North Carolina with Gatlinburg Tennessee.

Drivers last night were surprised to see this major road in the GSMNP closed as in the lower elevations there was no snow or ice - nor even flurries. Temperatures around midnight were still in the upper 30s at Oconaluftee and the Sugarlands but at the higher elevations at Newfound Gap which is typically far cooler, slippery dangerous conditions prompted the parks department to close the icy road and kept it closed through out the night.

With temperatures expected to climb above freezing Newfound Gap could possibly be opened again later today, but real warming is not expected until Sunday which could make for a lot of very unhappy post thanksgiving drivers if they would have to take an alternate route most likely being I-40 to get over the mountains.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Smoky Mountains maintains better Real Estate values and new home sales then national average.

Look anywhere in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee and you will see plenty of cabins for sale, new developments being built and land for sale. While many who own property which is "for sale by owner and real estate agents and brokers are complaining about how soft the real estate market in the Smokies Mountains is, the national market is by far worse.

Lower taxes, temperate weather, affordable insurance and the beauty of the Smokies attract many new residents and keep existing residents in the North Carolina and Tennessee Smoky Mountains.

One of the issues that are affecting the real estate market here is the massive real estate downturn elsewhere and what affects the local real estate market here directly impacts construction companies in the Smoky Mountains as well.

An example of how much more resilient this real estate market is that for the first 3 quarters of 2007 sales when compared to 2006 sales 10 counties surrounding the city of Asheville North Carolina are only down slightly less than 2.5% while nationwide sales are down as much as 25%. For the month of October Construction of single family homes across the nation is at the lowest level for the past 16 years.

There are plenty of existing homes and residential rentals already in inventory and as a result new construction is effected but the construction on the higher end custom homes appears to be holding its own.

Two of the biggest problems real estate agents, builders and For Sale By Owners in the Smoky Mountains are finding is that prospective home buyers have credit and liquidity issues. People looking to move into the Smokies are unable to unload residences in other regions of the country or feel as though the offers they are getting are too low to accept. Often a home buyer's equity in their existing home is drying up with lowered house real estate values.

Banks and mortgage brokers were stumbling over themselves for years trying to give credit whenever and wherever possible - often in cases where any downturn in the market would make mortgagees unable to meet their obligations.

So what is one to do when it comes to buying or selling real estate in the Smoky Mountains?

Right now it is still a buyers market in the Smokies and elsewhere in the nation. If you have the capital and can obtain credit you won't see prices much lower if at all. If you wait for prices to come down, you may run into and issue with even more stringent credit approval requirements in the future.

For anyone looking to sell real estate in the Smoky Mountains, you are in better shape than most areas of the country but you still have your work cut out for you. While many choose to go it their own with the For Sale By Owner route get professional advice at what your home or property for sale is really worth in today's market and be realistic.

Road to Little Greenbrier School in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed because of black bear activity

The hiking trail starting at the Little Greenbrier School to the main Little Greenbrier hiking trail connecting Wears Cove with the Laurel Falls in the great Smoky Mountains National Park has been closed for nearly 3 weeks now due to excessive black bear activity which posses a serious risk to anyone entering the area. The park Service has recently closed the unimproved road from Wear Gap Road to the Little Greenbrier School with no opening date.

Road to Little Greenbrier School closed because of black bear activity

This road was closed with no public announcements and no clear answer from park staff and volunteers so the assumption offered to Your Smokies News is that some visitors to the national park were acting foolishly and even though the trail was closed people ignored the national park service posted warnings. Since park visitation is still high for leaf season and the bear in the national park are still active this road may remain closed for a while.

We will keep checking the road and will announce as soon as we see that the road to the Little Greenbrier School is open. We hope that it will open as soon as this road is slated to be closed New Years for the winter season.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Newfound Gap Road (441) connecting Gatlinburg TN to Cherokee NC reopened

Newfound gap road (441) reopened later this afternoon as repeated sanding efforts by the Great Smoky Mountains national park and warmer temperatures reduced the ice and snow by enough to make it safe again to drive.

From what I saw as the sun was setting in Newfound Gap, the puddles of water and wet roads were starting to freeze again, but since there was plenty of sandy grit on the ice due to the park services effort to keep the road open, drivers who are cautious should be OK. The picture below is one of the sheets of ice forming on the North Carolina side on Newfound Gap Road.

snow and ice on Newfound Gap road

Even though Newfound Gap Road was reopened, the road up to the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingmans Dome still remains closed due to snow and ice.

It looks as though the warming trend expected for this weekend will be able to melt the snow and ice on Clingmans Dome Road so it to may reopen before Monday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

First snow of the 2007 winter had too much accumulation and ice for the National Park Service and cars on Newfound Gap Road.

Snow started falling in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains national park with some accumulation making a challenge for both motorists and the park service to keep the roads safe and clear so Newfound Gap Road 441 from Gatlinburg TN to Cherokee NC is closed.

The National park service has been trying all day to keep the area near Newfound Gap clear but the dropping temperatures in the past hour has locked some sections of Newfound Gap Road into virtual sheets of ice.

Newfound Gap road closed due to snow and ice

While driving up one of the crests about 1/2 mile underneath Newfound Gap on the Tennessee side I experienced the conditions first hand as I felt my car slipping backwards downhill while I was stopped.

I then watched in dismay at cars getting stranded as they started to lose control and veer off of the road while they tried to turn around and get off the mountain top and head back to the Sugarlands Gatlinburg area which was free ice and accumulated snow.

I was luckily able to turn around in my front wheel drive car and slowly creep and slide my way back downhill until I reached a point where the conditions were safe to drive. Only 2 other cars where able to turn around and follow me, the rest remained stranded.

On my way back down Newfound Gap Road towards the Sugarlands I observed at least a dozen or so cars driving up towards Newfound Gap. I thought they would also get stuck behind other cars which were already stranded in the ice and I could only hope they would be able to be safely rescued.

As I passed the parking area for the Chimneys Trailhead I saw a sander truck on its way up the mountain. After the sander truck no further traffic headed up the mountain.

At the Sugarlands intersection the gate was down closing the road with a park rangers car blocking the road from any further traffic heading towards North Carolina.

The revised weather report is calling for anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of snow during the night so the park service announced that the Newfound Gap Road (441) will be closed until at least late in the morning tomorrow when the road can be evaluated for safety.

Earlier today the road leading up to Clingmans Dome was also closed due to snow and ice and may open after Newfound Gap is opened as long as the road conditions on this steep winding road are safe enough for all vehicles.

4 wheel drive or not - Newfound Gap Road is not the place to be tonight!

Newfound Gap Road 441 closed in the Smoky Mountains National Park

Snow and ice has the national park service closing Newfound Gap Road and sending up sander trucks to help stranded cars.

More to follow...

2007 Smoky Mountains leaf color change season peak

Leaf color changes thought the Smokies have just passed their peak but there will be plenty of color in the leaves of the trees and the mountainsides for weeks to come in Tennessee as well as in North Carolina.

In the Tennessee Smoky Mountains there are still plenty of trees still in the green phase but most have turned into light green, yellows, oranges and flaming reds giving a nice contrast to the tans and browns of leaves that changed colors sooner.

Last weeks cooler temperatures helped move things along in Tennessee’s leaf season and driving down Newfound Gap Road (441) from the North Carolina side by the 7 mile marker the riot of color in the leaves really show off. Of course now day by day this will work its way down to the lower elevations.

I have still found tons of great color in all of the hikes I have done in Cades Cove, Elkmont, Tremont, Greenbrier, Sugarlands and even Crosby this week and see that the oaks and the maples have at least another 2 weeks more color left in them.

Just as in real estate the key word is location. Some of the road sides are now past peak but once you wander in to the valleys or look up the side of the mountains you can see the yellows, green, reds and browns that make the Smokies a great place to see autumn colors.

While the peak has passed sooner in North Carolina there are still tremendous pockets of fall colors with hardwood trees now showing their flashy colors. Trees in some of the higher elevations have lost most of their leaves and the last few days’ rain has knocked off any of the leaves that were about to fall.

Hiking along ridge lines yesterday in North Carolina as well as driving along the Blueridge parkway I still found eye-popping colors and spectacular views everywhere.

Today may see some snow flurries in the upper elevations with little or no accumulations making for some spectacular pictures. No more snow is predicted for the next week.

If you are planning on coming to the Smokies in the next week or 2 you won’t miss out on the spectacular fall colors – just most of the traffic!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dangerous Fog on Newfound Gap Road (441) and Blue Ridge Highway

Newfound Gap Road (441) from Cherokee NC to Gatlinburg TN is experiencing heavy fog especially in higher elevations on the North Carolina side south of Newfound gap parking area and Clingmans Dome road.

Driving is also extremely dangerous on the Blue Ridge Parkways with some areas having visibility of less than 30 feet.

fog on newfound gap road 441

Leaves on the roads and slick roads from this morning's rain and fog made for some very slow traffic and the high potential for accidents.

While colder temperatures are expected again tonight with a potential for ice, drivers should be extremely cautious when driving.

Friday, November 09, 2007

More closures in the Great Smoky Mountains national park started today.

The national park service has closed the 2 unimproved motor trails in the Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the winter.

Both the Rich Mountain Road and the newly opened Parsons Branch Road are now both closed until late spring to vehicles but still offer beautiful hiking.

The last part of the Roundbottom - Straight Fork Road off of Big Cove road in Cherokee North Carolina will be closing on November 12th. Though there are no faculties in this section of the park open now other than the Roundbottom horse camp which is also closing on the 12th, this is a wonderful place to get away from it all for the next few days.

Black Bear activity keeps Little Greenbrier hiking trails closed

A week after we reported that the Little Greenbrier hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National park was closed due to aggressive bear activity the popular hiking trail still remains closed.

While I have been unable to confirm the extent of the threat black bears in the area have made to visitors I can confirm numerous bear including mothers with cubs have been reported making the area an extremely unsafe for anyone to hike or venture in.

Black Bear activity keeps Little Greenbrier hiking trails closed

If you wish to see a black bear up close, go take the Cades Cove motor tour or take a ride in the Roaring Fork area where you can see bear from your car and where if you follow simple rules to keep you safe from a black bear attack you can take a picture of a lifetime.

There are only a few more weeks left of heavy black bear activity and being in backcountry areas where there are excessive or aggressive black bear is a bad idea.

More construction for I-40 in the Pigeon River Gorge in NC to TN state line

Construction on I-40 will start this spring repaving about 15 miles of the interstate from Fines Creek to the Tennessee - North Carolina border line. Some preliminary work will actually start this month but the major push will have to wait until the warmer weather in the spring of 2008.

Besides repaving the interstate, improved drainage via pavement will be installed and some signs that have seen better days will be replaced. Construction work is expected to close more than 1 lane in each direction and to be completed in June of 2009.

The construction work on I-40 can be a real potential mess for commuters and tourists to the areas as even though roads won't be allowed to close during major holidays, weekends and peak travel times during the 2008 leaf season, since there are virtually no detours drivers can take, the potential for huge bottlenecks and delays are enormous.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Construction Work to begin on Gatlinburg - Pigeon Forge Spur (441) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced that starting November 5th construction will begin on the section of U.S. 441 know as the Spur which connects Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Spur sees plenty of use - an estimated 11 million vehicles a year and since the construction project on the Spur is scheduled to be completed by March 3, 2009 at a cost of $6.3 million, many will be impacted the during this major thoroughfare in the Smokies improvement.

spur construction signs

In order to reduce the impact of those who use the spur in their day to day driving or those visiting the area, the national park service has mandated that lane closures will be avoided during peak periods and in order to accelerate work during January through May the construction being performed by Charles Blalock and Sons will be running 24/7 and lane closures will be permitted around the clock.

Motorists will also be happy to know that the national park service will not allow construction work to be permitted on the Spur during national holidays other than the tunnels repair work and slope stabilization on Norton Creek.

Northbound tunnel

The first phase of construction work to be done on the Spur will take place from November 5th through December of this year and will cause single lane closures on both the northbound and southbound lanes. None of these lane closures will be allowed during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

In order for the engineers to evaluate the Northbound tunnel on the Spurs lighting system, one of the lanes will be closed on November 7th reducing traffic headed towards Pigeon forge to a single lane. Other work slated to be done to the tunnel is to repair the drainage systems which will start early in 2008.

Huskey Grove overpass

Phase 2 of the construction project on the Spur will take place from January 3rd to May 24th, 2008. The construction projects to be done to the Spur in this phase are:

  • Lighting repair/replacement to the Northbound Tunnel
  • Drainage repair to Northbound Tunnel
  • Repairing the Slope on the west side of the Spur at Norton Creek where there was a previous landslide
  • Increase the clearance height at the Huskey Grove overpass
  • Improvements to the culverts and drainage of the Spur
Slope on the west side of the Spur at Norton Creek

While this work is ongoing, if the weather cooperates the repaving of the Spurs surface will commence in March 2008.

Phase 3 of the Spurs construction which will run during peak visitation times in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from May 25th until December 2008 which is when the Spur sees the most traffic.

During this phase of construction the roads paving operations will continue but there will be no lane closures on weekends. Weekends according to the National park service are defined as beginning at noon on Friday and end at sunrise on Monday morning.

During Phase 3 of the Spurs construction work will not be permitted on legal holidays, the entire month of October and the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

The last phase which runs from January 2009 until March of 2009 should be last minute clean up as the contractor and the park service expect the majority of the work to be completed by phase 3.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson released a press statement explaining that the reason for such a long construction schedule "is due to the numerous restrictions placed on the work schedule to avoid lane closures during peak periods and to lessen disruptions to motorists," and that "In addition, during the design development of this project, a high priority was given to institute stringent safety measures to help avoid accidents on this heavily traveled roadway.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Little Greenbrier School hiking trail closed due to aggressive black bear behavior in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yesterday along the Wears Cove Gap to Laurel Falls Trail I found the trail branching off to Little Greenbrier School closed by the national park service rangers due to aggressive bear behavior.

While it is not unusual to find warnings posted about black bear activity, especially in this time of year where black bears are extremely active, finding a hiking trail closed is.

Little Greenbrier School hiking trail closed due to aggressive black bear Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Often backcountry campgrounds have warnings and sometimes even closures if there is excessive black bear activity because you are having people with food enter and stay in a black bears territory which can spell trouble for the people and ultimately the bear.

Hiking trails are only closed when bear exhibit threatening behavior, not just for just the mere fact that there is black bear activity in an area.

As the weather gets colder in the Smokies, expect the black bear activity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to wane and for the Little Greenbrier School hiking trail to be reopened by the rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Winter Schedule Starts Today

The leaves are still on most of the trees in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and you can still hike in the park in a short sleeved shirt, but as of today the winter schedule starts for campgrounds, picnic areas, horse camps, visitor centers, and some roads in the GSMNP.

The winter closing schedule for the park phases in during the month of November with final closures such as Clingmans Dome taking place December 1st. Some of the visitor centers hours of operation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will change monthly and at Your Smokies we will keep you up to date.

  • Cades Cove Parsons Branch Road to Route 129 closed for the winter on November 9th
  • Cades Cove Rich Mountain Road to Townsend Tennessee closed for the winter on November 9th
  • Cades Cove Campground becomes self-registration with a reduced number of available campsites for winter on November 1st
  • Cades Cove Campground Store closed for the winter on November 1st
  • Cades Cove Riding Stables is closed for winter on November 5th
  • Cades Cove picnic areas will remain open through the winter
  • Cades Cove Visitor Center November hours 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

  • Anthony Creek Horse Camp closed for the winter on November 12th

  • Abrams Creek Campgrounds closed for winter on November 1st

  • Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Roads is closed for winter on November 1st
  • Balsam Mountain campgrounds closed for the winter

  • Big Creek Horse Camp closed for the winter on November 12th
  • Big Creek Campgrounds closed for winter on November 1st
  • Big Creek picnic areas will remain open through the winter

  • Cataloochee Campgrounds closed for winter on November 1st
  • Cataloochee Horse Camp closed for the winter on November 12th

  • Chimney Tops picnic areas will remain open through the winter

  • The road to Clingmans Dome is closed for the winter on December 1st

  • Cosby Campgrounds closed for winter on November 1st
  • Cosby picnic areas will remain open through the winter

  • Deep Creek Campgrounds closed for winter on November 1st
  • Deep Creek picnic areas will remain open through the winter

  • Elkmont Campground is closed for the winter on December 1st

  • Greenbrier picnic areas will remain open through the winter

  • Look Rock Campgrounds closed for winter on November 1st

  • Metcalf picnic areas will remain open through the winter

  • Le Conte Lodge closed for the winter on November 20th

  • Oconaluftee Visitor Center hours from November to April 8:30 am - 4:30 pm

  • The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed for the winter on December 1st

  • Round Bottom Horse Camp closed for the winter on November 12th
  • Roundbottom/Straight Fork Road is closed for winter on November 12th

  • Smokemont Campground becomes self-registration with a reduced number of available campsites for winter on November 1st
  • Smokemont Riding Stable is closed for winter

  • Smoky Mountain Riding Stables is closed for winter on November 25th

  • Sugarland's Horseback Riding Stables is closed for winter on November 1st

  • Sugarlands Visitor Center November hours 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

  • Tow String Horse Camp closed for the winter on November 12th

Roads in the national park other then those listed as closed above will stay open all winter long unless closed due to the weather causing unsafe conditions such as ice, excessive snow, extreme winds or downed trees.

If you are unsure if a road is open during or just after bad weather you should contact the national park service in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tennessee cities Alcoa and Maryville temporarily lifted mandatory water restrictions

Finally streams and even the Little River in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains are flowing at more normal levels since the rain from the past few days allowing the cities of Maryville and Alcoa TN to have temporarily lifted mandatory water restrictions.

By no means does this mean that we are out of the woods with the most extreme drought that the Smokies have seen in more than 100 years. Other areas in the Smokies especially in North Carolina are still in deep trouble with their water with no emanate solution to the water issues many municipalities are having.

Monday officials are going to check the level of flow in the Little River to see if they need to put the water restrictions back into effect. Regardless of the results of Monday's river flow evaluation, the city of Alcoa is determined to have an emergency source of water and is already running water lines into the Rockford area.

Due to the exceptional conservation job residents have done, the water conservation goals were not only meet but exceeded and Kenny Wiggins who is the director of Alcoa Public Works and Engineering stated "We appreciate the cooperation and support of our residents and businesses during this extremely dry weather".

Thursday, October 25, 2007

2007 Fall Leaf Season Peak in the Smoky Mountains to start this weekend

The Smoky Mountains leaves has been changing from dark greens to yellows and reds for the past month ushering in the peak leaf season and bringing in hundreds of thousands of leaf watchers a week to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Peak leaf season in the Smokies should last for weeks deep into November and the colors worth the trip.

I have watched the all the leaves of a tree that were dark green turn into the same bright yellow color in the past 3 days. I have logged in almost 1,000 miles in the past week traveling all throughout the Smokies to observe the changes and watch the fall colors spread across and down the Smoky Mountains. What were only isolated patches of colored autumn leaves is now bursting forth as riots of colored leaves in the trees and bushes all throughout the Smokies.

This year's unusual weather in the Smokies has fall leaf aficionados scratching their heads. Some trees turned colors very early and are some cases such as poplars and a few maple trees the leaves had little vibrant colors other than tans, dark yellows and browns. Now it seems someone has turned up the volume as colors are bursting for the everywhere!

Dogwoods and some bushes in the mountains and valleys of the Smoky Mountains have show flame reds as early as the first week in September and are still hanging on in most of the Smokies.

What is clear is that the peak season won't just be for a week or 2 with one short burst of colored leaves, but with colors maybe not as brilliant as some years but with busts lasting weeks.

fall colors in the Smoky Mountains

This picture was taken a week ago in the Roaring Fork section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg Tennessee on the hiking trail leading up to Rainbow Falls. This was the first example of vibrant colors that started to show in maple tree leaves. Now the maple trees are starting the heavier pinks, reds and yellows and the best is yet to come!

Fall colors in the oak trees are just starting to kick in as well. Normally every leaf on the tree will change colors in one heavy burst of color but this year it seems more drawn out with deeply colored leaves and green leaves on the same tree.

What I love right now is that you can see great fall colors right now and still get to have that green feeling with plenty of fully green leafed trees further enhancing the colors of the leaved that are putting on their annual fall show of color.

Plenty of color can be found in the high altitudes around Clingmans Dome and all through out the Newfound Gap Road (441) from North Carolina all the way through to Tennessee.

Make use of the pullouts along the side of Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to photograph the colors and the clouds coming up through the trees that give the Smoky Mountains their name. The colored leaves mixed in with the green leaves makes for a great color contrast in any landscape pictures you take in the next few weeks.

Areas such as Cades Cove TN are great for taking a leisurely ride or pictures with rolling fields with deer scampering around ending in a wooded tree line and surrounded by the Smoky Mountains with splashes of color everywhere. Early morning from 8:00 - 9:30 or afternoons from 6:00 pm on is best for observing animals and the lighting is great for pictures.

Plenty of animals and birds can be seen throughout the park but be advised that this is bear season with the black bear in the Smoky Mountains being very active. Just follow the black bear safety rules and you will be fine - and maybe get the picture of a lifetime!

While it is more crowded in the Smoky Mountains during leaf season than most other times, it is not unbearable. Although traffic can move slowly in hot areas such as Cades Cove Tennessee, the Pigeon Forge Parkway or at the Biltmore in Asheville North Carolina, it is worth every moment that you spend here in the Smoky Mountains during the best of the fall colors.

Here is a great way to see what is happening with the colors in the trees throughout the Smokies, take a look at our Smoky Mountains Web Cam page!

Smoky Mountains leaf season as a must see for anyone who enjoys the colors of autumn and there are still cabins available for rent in the Smokies and hotel and motel rooms to be had so what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rain brings little relief to the Smoky Mountains.

Although it has been raining in much of the North Carolina and Tennessee Smokies from last evening until this morning it is too little to late to make much of a difference.

High winds and warmer temperatures throughout the Smoky Mountains yesterday morning turning into scattered light rain in the afternoon and the moderate rain into and throughout the night.

Since rainfall in the Smokies has been dramatically light this year as a result of the drought the Smoky Mountains region is suffering, branches and leaves that would have normally fallen throughout the course of stormy weather the past few months all seem to have fallen in the past 2 days.

branches in road

Since so many branches and leaves have fallen throughout the night drivers, hikers and horseback riders must pay extra attention. Some of the tourist to the Smokies who normally don't have to deal with wet leaf litter on the road may not realize how slippery and dangerous leaves on the road can be - especially on mountain roads.

Hikers must also pay attention when hiking on trails as there is lots of fresh leaf litter on hard packed earth. Mix in exposed tree roots, slippery rocks and wet leaves on a trail and hiking can be like walking on a sheet of glass and the stepping onto a banana which can spell disaster - especially on steep trails.

People riding horses may also have to contend with downed branches across horse trails that can block a trail off and the leaves can make for slippery footing even for the most sure footed horse.

Experts in Western North Carolina claim that even though a few showers in the past week may have dampened the ground and made many small streams and rivers flow again, it is not enough precipitation to properly percolate into the ground. At the current rate of water usage imbalance, hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina can expect severe water issues or an interruption of water services if there are no interventions within the next 100 days.

According to the report sent to the North Carolina State Water Infrastructure Commission conservation and any normal rainfall which can be counted on may not be enough. Communities in North Carolina are already examining if they need to buy water from neighboring towns and cities, start even more severe conservation and restriction programs and maybe starting to use water from the last of the unused reservoirs.

The water shortage problem may be further complicated by the predicted light and dry weather meteorologists are predicting for the Smoky Mountains this winter.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Black bears are very active in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Although there have been no recent attacks by black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains Nations Park (GSMNP), some visitors are pushing their luck given how active the black bear are in this the most active bear season of the year.

The best way to handle yourself when you see a black bear is to stay as far away as possible and never let the bear think that you are a threat to the bear or its cubs which may be close by and out of your sight. You should however act as a threat of you can not get away and are about to be attacked by a bear.

Black bear in a tree

Fall season in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is usually a very active bear season which is a treat to the Millions of visitors who come to visit the park and hopefully get a glimpse or even get to take a picture or shoot video of the symbolic icon animal of the Smoky Mountains.

In the fall, the black bear in the park are in a race against time trying to gather as much food as possible before they slow down and become inactive for the winter. Black bear in the national park don't hibernate in caves during the winter as for all practical purposes there are no caves in the national park other than a sealed off cave in Cades Cove and 2 caves in the White Oak Sinks area of the park between Tremont and Cades Cove.

Black Bear in the GSMNP instead nest in hollows of trees or in a hollow tree. Bears can most often be seen high up in trees rather than on the ground. The tree in the National Park most favored by the black bear are oak trees both for the acorns they provide as food and for the shelter the older large oak trees provide to the bear.

The black bear in the fall typically eat as many nuts, berries, grasses and forbs and insects and other animals including carrion it can in an attempt to fatten up and can put on as much as 4 - 5 pounds of winter weight a day.

black bear warning sign

The female black bears will winter pregnant and the size of a litter is often dependent to the volume and quality of food the black bear acquires during the fall active season. Black bears typically have 2 or 3 cubs in a good year and just 1 or no cubs at all after a year with a limited or harder harvest.

This year's drought which has heavily affected the Smoky Mountains and the natural food stock of the black bear so the resident bears are very active in order to find the food that they need. Just don't get between a hungry bear and its food!

One of the most common questions visitors to the National park ask me is "Where can I find the most black bear in the park?" Traveling extensively through the backcountry and developed areas in both the North Carolina and Tennessee sections of the National Park I have found that the best areas of the national park to find a black bear are: The Roaring Fork section of the park by Gatlinburg Tennessee, Cades Cove typically between Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane in the edge of the woods, backcountry areas between Cosby TN a Big Creek NC, and along the Gatlinburg Bypass on the way to Pigeon Forge. This bypass referred to as the spur will often have bear walking right across the road.

This week I have already counted 22 black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

  • 8 along the road leading into the Roaring Fork Area before the Ogle Cabin
  • 1 on the old Sugarland Trail between Roaring Fork and the Sugarlands
  • 2 in the Greenbrier section on trail along the way to campground 32
  • 2 in Big Cataloochee NC on the Boogerman trail near the stone walls
  • 1 in Big Cataloochee NC in the back field near the old cemetery on the hill.
  • 1 in Deep Creek NC Parking area
  • 3 in Cades Cove area on the Scott Mountain Trail
  • 2 in Cades Cove area on the Gregory Bald longer trail
  • 1 in Cades Cove in woods off Hyatt Lane
  • 1 in Cosby TN on the Hens Wallow Falls trail at the second fork

Although I am only counting 8 bear on Roaring Fork, the same bear I have seen 9 or 10 times I only counted as 1. I can almost guarantee that if you go to Roaring Fork in the next few days early in the morning or before sunset you will see at least 3 or 4 bear.

black bear photographers

Unfortunately many people who are watching or photographing the black bear are not acting wisely chasing the bear up the side of the hill, whistling to get the bears attention or just stopping their car and parking in the middle of the road. All of these are forbidden behavior and illegal and can result in death or serious injury.

ranger for black bears

Bear jams are so common right now in the Roaring Fork area that often there are now up to 2 officers trying to keep park visitors under control so no one gets attacked by a black bear or hit by a driver paying attention to the bear and not the road.

camera phone fool chases black bear

My favorite is the foolish man pictured here who kept climbing the hill chasing a mother bear with her cubs and taking pictures with a camera phone. He lucky left without being attacked by the momma black bear that had her 2 cubs along for the feast of acorns on the ground and before the National Park enforcement officer arrived. Imagine risking death, dismemberment or arrest to take a poor quality picture with his cellphone that he will probably erase or lose within a year or so. Was it worth it?

The bear are fun to watch but please pay attention to the national park black bear regulations and safety rules!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Severe Drought Effects Entire Smoky Mountain Region including GSMNP

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the driest it has been in more than 100 years and it doesn't look like that will change soon. The severe drought is affecting springs, creeks, streams, rivers and reservoirs and the plants and animals that depend on the precious water they provide.

Surrounding towns and cities are imposing water restrictions and conservation measures but these alone may not be enough. Day by day as this drought continues private wells are drying up or going bad and more homes and businesses are having deeper wells being drilled in an effort to find enough water to sustain the household or business.

North Carolina Fontana Lake low water levelTennessee Douglas Lake low water level

Pictured above on the left is the Fontana Lake area in Fontana North Carolina which is at the south end of the National Park and on the right is Douglas Lake that is just north of the park in Sevierville and Dandridge Tennessee. Not only do these lakes provide water but their dams generate hydroelectric power which serves the Smoky Mountain Region.

While these lakes are normally lowered in the wintertime by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) by purposely letting water through the spillways of the dams, there is obviously no need to do so this year.

North Carolina and Tennessee areas affected by this year's drought

As seen by the chart above, not only are the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee affected by this year's drought, but large sections of the continental US are as well. Clicking on the map above will open a map of the drought effects as well as those regions not effect in the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii.

Businesses as far north as Vermont are complaining the this years 2007 fall leaf season is coming late and is not as showy as normal with many trees turning brown before reaching the vibrant read, pinks and peach colors of most years.

Experts blame the lack of moisture on the phenomena and show the clear correlation in the past few years' weather warmer dryer weather and the decline in some of the forests natural food stock production for wild animals and farmed crops.

A direct effect of the drought is clearly seen in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where normally vibrant lush creek and stream beds have been dry for months. Fishermen are working hard to find fish and obviously so are the National Parks inhabitants such as Black Bear, raccoons, birds, predatory fish and a host of other animals that depending on aquatic creatures to sustain them.

Groups such as Friends of the Smokies worked hard with a Brook Trout restoration project and between the loss of Eastern Hemlock Trees that normally shade streams to keep them cooler and help maintain moisture in the important breeding areas for fish due to an invasive pest called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and the current drought some of their intense well meaning effort may be for naught.

Further evidence of the drought in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the fact that there is a 23 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail (AT) where there is virtually no water for backpackers and campers between the Derrick Knob Shelter and the Fontana Dam.

There are also backcountry campsites and shelters in the national park that are dry: sites 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, 21, 26, 35, 42, 113, and the hikers shelters: Double Spring Gap, Mollies Ridge, Russell Field Silers Bald and Spence Field.

As the drought continues more campsites and shelters may run dry and even with sites that have water a quart sized bottle may take 5 or more minutes to fill.

Fruits, nuts and vegetation are also sparser than normal which can lead to a difficult winter for animals that depend on these natural food stocks. Black Bears in the GSMNP are normally active in the autumn season gathering up and eating as much food stocks as possible so that they may make it through the winter where traditionally they are not active and may or may not hibernate through the winter.

While tourists love the blue skies and nice warm, dry weather we are experiencing in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, we locals are praying for a break with some sustained moderate volume rain. Heavy rainfall will just run off causing erosion and flooding but if the rain volume is relatively light and lasts for a while it can percolate better into the aquifers.

This year's drought in the Smokies won't be forgotten by locals residents and anyone visiting the region.

Backcountry campfire ban issued by National Park Service for GSMNP

Effective immediately the National Park Service has issued a ban on all backcountry campfires in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) due to and extremely high fire danger throughout the park and surrounding areas.

This year's drought has had a tremendous impact on the GSMNP and now that the fall fire season has kicked in due to the fall leaf litter on the ground and desiccated leaves on the trees the fire danger has reached a level where a ban on back country fires in backcountry campgrounds and shelters is necessary to protect the park against wildfires.

fall leaf litter on the ground

The picture above was taken this morning on the Baskins Creek Trail in the Roaring Fork section of the National Park bordering Gatlinburg Tennessee and clearly shows that the leaves are browner and dryer than normal for this time of year and I feel that the extensive damage to the Eastern Hemlocks throughout the GSMNP caused by the invasive pest called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid have further added to the fire danger.

Campers are still allowed to make campfires in any of the developed campgrounds found throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as designated picnic areas as long as caution is used and fires are only made in designated fire rings and grills.

According to the GSMNP Superintendent Dale Ditmanson "The burn restriction is being placed to reduce the potential for human-caused uncontrolled wild land fires to occur within the Park's backcountry during this period of extreme fire danger and drought conditions. This is the second fire ban that has been imposed this year, which is quite unusual. Also extremely unusual is the number of free-running springs that are dry in the backcountry and along the Appalachian Trail."

High fire risk can further be reduced by visitors to the park not parking cars on any piles of leaves that may form in parking areas and on road sides as hot mufflers and tailpipes can cause the leaves to ignite. If you must smoke within the National Park boundaries make sure smoking material is completely extinguished prior to appropriate disposal. Appropriate disposal does not mean out of your car window or on a trail!

Fires in grills and fire rings in developed campgrounds must be extinguished by heavily soaking embers and ash in water to be sure that smoldering embers do not flare up.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Celebrate the On Cosby Festival in the Moonshine Capital of the world

Lots of food, fun and music, local crafts, face painting, games for the kids and more can be found in Cocke county Tennessee this weekend at the 10th annual On Cosby Festival in the Moonshine Capital of the world - Cosby Tennessee!

Picture loads of fun and being surrounded by fall colors and the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains all for the price of parking - $2 - which goes to the local fire department.

   

Stick the around On Cosby Festival and you will get to see a dog show, a beauty pageant, listen to brave souls try their hands at Karaoke. At dusk on both Friday and Saturday catch the Drama at dusk!

Not only is there a car show at the On Cosby Festival, there is a display of working tractors and even a few antique running engines some of which will be grinding corn which is for sale by the bag.

   

Today was kids' day at the On Cosby Festival and obviously school let out early as kids were having fun everywhere - face painting and colored hair spray for the girls and the boys were running around with rubber band guns and sling shots and a few kids were in a scavenger hunt of which at some point I was the victim of some of the days tomfoolery!

   

Pan for gold, eat funnel cake, buy a rubber band gun or some knick knacks for your cabin or to bring back home. Great prices - good fun and beautiful fall weather - the On Cosby Festival is loads of fun and the best buy in town.

The festival runs from October 19th to the 21st and is held at the at the Cosby Welcome Center on Highway 321 - minutes from the Cosby entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

NC Chimney Rock State Park to have land added from Rumbling Bald Mountain

Public access to the Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina will now be easier thanks to a 1.3 million purchase of 46 acres of land by the Nature Conservancy conservation group whose goal is to sell it the state of North Carolina so it may be added to the new Chimney Rock State Park.

Currently Chimney Rock State Park is comprised of almost 1,000 acres located in Rutherford County which was purchased for $24 million. North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation spokesman Charles Peek is working with conservation groups in the area in order to purchase as much as 1,500 more acres to what was formerly known as Hickory Nut Gorge State Park.

Currently some areas of the park such as the popular section of the mountain called Cereal Wall which may draw as many as 100 climbers and outdoor enthusiasts on peak weekends is only assessable through private land.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tennessee public smoking ban offers health, environmental and productivity advantages.

Smokers in Tennessee are now finding it harder to light up in public since the TN smoking ban kicked off this month.

Tennessee Non-Smokers Protection Act

The state of Tennessee is far behind other states that have banned smoking in public places such as restaurants, offices, hotels, retails stores and child day care centers in an attempt to make the workplace safer for employees as well as customers and to reduce the annoyance of second hand smoke.

State Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper has stated that right now education of the Tennessee Non-Smokers Protection Act is being stressed and that the enforcement of the Tennessee Non-Smokers Protection Act will begin by early next year.

Individuals who smoke in areas where smoking is prohibited will be subject to a $50 civil fine while businesses who allow smoking on prohibited can be fined as much as $500 after 3 violations in the same year.

If you wish to report smoking in public places you can in a complaint toll free (800)-293-8228 or fill out Tennessee department of Health Non-Smoking Complaint Form.

It is surprising and upsetting to many where smoking in Tennessee was previously allowed, but most of the obvious places where smokers could enjoy a cigarette that would annoy or affect those around them have now been included in the ban.

A partial list of where smoking is now prohibited in TN is:

I can tell you that when hiking any of the numerous trails in the Smoky Mountains national park the most common litter I pick up when hiking the trails of the national park is cigarette and cigar butts. How many centuries do you think they will last if I don't pick them up?

Still desperate to still light up that cigarette and smoke in public while you are in Tennessee? There are some places that are exempt such as:

  • Bars, retail tobacco stores or other establishments that do not allow any persons under the age of 21
  • Any private club
  • Your own home or any other private residence or private motor vehicle that is not being used to commercially transport passengers to a child or adult care facility.
  • Driving a commercial vehicle and there are no passengers.
  • A business consisting of 3 or less employees as long as the smokers smoke stays in an enclosed room and does not infiltrate where customers, the general pubic or other employees would be.
  • Any open outdoor non enclosed area in a public place as long as for example you are in a tent that the sides are open, decks and open patios as long as the smoke does not infiltrate into any area where smoking under the new law is prohibited.
  • Businesses primary in the tobacco industry such as tobacco manufacturers, importers and wholesalers
  • And now for the kicker: you can smoke in long-term care facilities and nursing homes if they allow it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cades Cove Motor Trail Parsons Branch Road Opening

Most of the almost 10 million people a year who visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park never leave their cars, trucks or vans while visiting the park. While that might be a shame to some, it does keep the amount of people on the hiking trails and in campsites at a manageable level.

Some people who stay in their cars may be doing so not by choice but because of physical limitations which would not let them make use of the more than 800 miles of hiking trails in the GSMNP. Others may be fearful of what may be waiting for them in the wilds of the Smokies.

All of the roads in the national park allow motorists to not only see the splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains and the beautiful views and vistas year round, but also the chance to see deer, black bear, coyote, wild turkey and a host of other animals who make the national park their home.

I especially love driving or hiking on the unimproved road from the Big Creek Section of the park in Tennessee to the Chattahoochee area near Maggie Valley in North Carolina and Rich Mountain Road which takes you from Cades Cove into Townsend Tennessee.

Another road on my favorite list of motoring trails is the Parsons Branch Road in the far end of Cades Cove which has been closed for more than 4 years but has just been reopened after repairs and much needed improvements.

When the road reopened last Friday I was expecting there to be a big celebration possibly attended by the upper echelon of the park. Instead the road closed sign was simply removed and we drove onto this wonderful historic motor trail.

newly opened Parsons Branch Road

To keep the trail from washing out, the park service has done a wonderful job raising the road and reinforcing the road near stream crossings and placing gray rock in the drainage areas around the road to prevent erosion. Some of the reinforcement can be seen in the photograph above.

Since the road was closed for so many years and it runs through some dense forest the park service also had to cut back plenty of braches and small trees that have tried to reclaim the Parsons Branch Road. Falling tress from the last few years winter wind storms have also been removed from the roadway.

Being 3rd in line to drive on the newly opened Parsons Branch Road (obligations earlier in the day prevented me from being the first) I was surprised how little dust was kicked up by the 2 cars in front of me and how incredibly smooth the ride was compared to even the paved area of the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop.

The Parsons Branch Road runs through some mostly lower elevations with about a dozen stream crossings. On the left you will see virtual walls of rhododendrons running up hillsides that will be spectacular when they bloom in the early summer.

While much of what you will drive by on Parsons Branch Road is second growth forest - areas that have been previously harvested for lumber that are still some fantastic old growth trees. These trees are huge and in many cases larger than most trees you can ever see from a road in the park. One of these old growth trees is pictured below next to one of the Your Smokies cars so that you can really see how huge these trees are.

fantastic old growth trees in the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You will also find along the motor trail a trailhead that will take you up to Gregory Bald as well as Sheep Pen Gap. There is a small parking area here and plenty of pull offs along the way where you can take a short break and look around.

My only disappointment when driving the Parsons Branch Road Motor Trail was to find litter on the side of the road I feel that should have been picked up while the road was being worked on. I should explain that it was one RC Cola can circa 1978 and in immaculate condition just yards from the road. I just don't get how this was missed. While you are not allowed to removed artifacts, plant or animals from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you may remove trash as I often do.

RC Cola can circa 1978

Near the end of the Parsons Branch Road Motor Trail you will see a picturesque low flat falls in the stream bed. This is a great place to have a picnic or snap a few shots.

The road finally ends up on the Tennessee side of the infamous Tail of the Dragon and unfortunately some of the constant whine and growl of motorcycles racing close by...But that's another subject.

Motorcycle on Tail of the Dragon

If you have the time to take the Parsons Branch Road Motor Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park do so - especially in spring, summer and early fall.

The Smoky Mountains leaf season to run early and short for 2007

One of the busiest tourist seasons for the Smoky Mountains is leaf season when people come to see the fall colors as they sweep through the Smoky Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since there are no less than 108 species of trees represented in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you are sure to see wild pallets of colors as each species of tree will change into a different color at a different time. Add in elevation changes of more than almost 5,000 feet in the park alone and you have a leaf season that is more spectacular and varied and last longer than most other regions in the Unites States.

Smoky Mountains fall colors

Unfortunately the weather in the Smoky Mountains has not been very cooperative for a long leaf season this year due to extremely light rainfall. Sure it was great that you could hike in the Smokies and drive with less rain and mud, but higher moisture content in the leaves means brighter colors and longer life expectancy for each individual leaf.

In the past 3 weeks I can clearly see the lightening of dark green foliage and random burst of red, yellow and orange in the trees already. At the present it feels as though the leaves are about a week or so ahead of schedule and the weather in the Smokies is fabulous.

Smoky Mountains fall colors

Above you see a picture I took yesterday on my property in Sevierville Tennessee of the colors already changing and it looks to me that by mid October we will all be experiencing a riot of colors here.

The peak of the leaf season in the Smoky Mountains varies by attitude and moisture content of the leaves. Higher elevations in North Carolina will be the first to see the color changes and peak leaf season with lower elevations in North Carolina and Tennessee to follow.

For years I have told everyone who asked about the best time to come to be sure to catch the most color in the leaves and my answer is October to early November but if you are disappointed in the leaves colors right in front of you, you are only a short drive to another section of the Smokies where the leaves colors may be more to your liking.

If you are too early to catch the peak of the leaf season, enjoy the beautiful greens and light yellows and splashes of red. If you are to late for the peak of the leaf colors you end up missing the crowds and will usually get a cheaper rate on your hotel or cabin rental in the Smoky Mountains.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Drought conditions still affect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Water is scarce in some parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) and the Appalachian Trail which can spell serious trouble for hikers and campers who plan on normally abundant water sources.

We have seen our river and lake levels at extremely low levels this year due to an extended drought for this entire year. Springtime in the Smokies saw excessive wildfires in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding state parks and forests.

Now to compound the water problems in the Smokies large areas of the park are "dry" where most or all of the free running springs won't allow any relief to parched hikers - or local animals.

In particular on the Appalachian Trail between Shuckstack Mountain north of Fontana Dam to Spence Field there is approximately a 16 mile stretch that is dry as well as the Russell Field Shelter and Mollies Ridge Shelter and backcountry sites 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, 26, 42, 113.

Smokies plant life

Today's gentle rain falling in parts of the Tennessee Smoky Mountains might have brought some mild relief from the warmth of the afternoon but other than making the leaves on the ground a little less crunchy while hiking and making for some nice raindrops on a leaf pictures (see above) it was not enough to elevate the issues with drying up streams, lakes and wells in both Tennessee and North Carolina.

Smoky Mountains National Park Lifts Ban on Backcountry Fires

The National Park Service has announced that the ban on backcountry fires for campers and hikers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been lifted.

The fire danger due to extremely dry conditions in the GSMNP caused great concern to the park service causing them to issue a ban on backcountry fires in late August.

Fortunately due to some welcome rainfall and lower temperatures in and around the park, campers and hikers may make fires in the in any of the more than 100 backcountry sites and shelters if they practice safe campfire management.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Popular road in Cades Cove section of the GSMNP Reopens

The most popular section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Cades Cove area and today finally after more than 4 years the Parsons Branch Road will be reopened to motorists and hikers.

The Parson Branch Road

The National Park Service has worked hard to reopen the Parson branch road a one way 8 mile gravel road which takes you from the far end of Cades Cove to US 129 right into the famous Tail of the Dragon a favorite road for motorcycle riders and performance car enthusiasts.

Flooding in May of 2003 damaged the road which meandered through old growth and second growth forest and like the Rich Mountain Road also in Cades Cove, offers a motorist the closest experience to actually hiking the trails in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson explained "When we planned and carried out the repairs we engineered in some changes to the drainage channels and stream crossings that would make it less susceptible to being washed out again, but I think visitors will find that its primitive character and its sense of solitude are still unimpaired."

The Parson Branch Road is scheduled to reopen today at noon. Keep your eye open for representatives of Your Smokies!

Friday, May 04, 2007

8K run for GSMNP will tie up Pigeon Forge Parkway Saturday Morning

The parkway in downtown Pigeon Forge will be partially closed to let the runners from the run for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which will start at Tanger outlet mall in Pigeon Forge and then ends back at Tanger Five Oaks around noon.

The weather doesn't look like it will cooperate since there is a 90 percent chance of rain, but the event will be held rain or shine.

Expect traffic delays for this good cause - better yet come down and cheer on the runners!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pisgah National Forest Hiking death from fall

If only a 21 year old from Alabama who was hiking with a friend in the North Carolina Pisgah National Forest read the Your Smokies News last month where we warned hikers of the danger of hiking off hiking trials especially near waterfalls.

While trying to navigate a stream crossing above the Moore Cove Falls area just north of Looking Glass Falls he fell 50 feet to his death. He was not on a designated path or stream crossing but decided with his friend to blaze his own trail in the forest in order to get to the top of the falls.

Even though there are more than 250 waterfalls in North Carolinas Transylvania County known as the Land of Waterfalls, this is the first hiking fatality. Emergency workers in Transylvania County respond to at least 5 waterfall accidents a year even though visitors are warned to stay away from the danger zones.

Wet Rocks at Big Bradley Falls near Saluda in Polk County spelled disaster last June when a hiker fell 100 feet to his death. Waterfall related fatalities here are historically an annual occurrence.

In the Great Smoky Mountains national park there have been plenty of hiking deaths as a result of accidents around waterfalls. The 2 most dangerous waterfalls that come to mind are Laurel Falls and the Ramsey Cascades falls.

Laurel falls in easily assessable via a paved hiking path on a relatively short hike so it is extremely popular - especially with parents of younger children since many can hike to the falls without being carried. Unfortunately with slipper rocks and a steep drop off at the bottom of the falls, there have been numerous deaths.

The Ramsey Cascades falls with its trailhead located in the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is far more strenuous with a rougher trail, higher elevations and being an 8 mile round trip hike. You are very isolated when you get to the falls making getting help and well as any subsequent rescue far more tedious and time consuming. Sadly many deaths have occurred at Ramsey Cascades falls which is one of the nicest waterfalls in the Smokies.

Hike with caution, don't blaze new trails and don't forget moss and ice covered rocks can be far more slippery than you may expect. We want you to be able to come back to the Great Smoky Mountains national park and the surrounding forests time and time again so please be careful.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Great Smoky Mountains National Park International Bird Conservation

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be holding 2 days of events highlighting International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) and this years International Migratory Bird Day theme "Birds in a Changing Climate" examining age old practices of bird observation and being able to foretell future weather patterns.

Long before computer models and advanced weather forecasting techniques, farmers based crop planting decisions upon the movement and arrival of migratory birds. Observing the migration of birds is allowing scientists today see the how the current changes in weather patterns is affecting the birds and animal and plant species that are connected to the migration of birds.

Both International Migratory Bird Day demonstrations start at 8:00 am and will be held at the North Carolina National Park Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee this Saturday May 5th and at the Tennessee National Park Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg on Monday, May 7th.

There will be demonstrations led by Park Biologist Paul Super as well as guided bird walks. In order to show visitors how birds are caught, examined, banded and eventually released without being harmed, Paul Super will set up delicate mist nets and demonstrate how they work.

A special visitor the Costa Rican coordinator of the Partners in Flight international bird conservation initiative Pablo Elizondo will be participating in this event. He will also be working with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park researchers into the summer in a cooperative venture allowing Pablo Elizondo to share his knowledge with park researches as well as learn some of their techniques as well.

Pablo Elizondo will be giving presentations to the pubic on bird conservation and the efforts that Costa Rica is making on conservation. For years Cost Rica has been actively protecting its natural assets acknowledging the value of their resources to its citizens as well as value of ecotourism.

Many of the resident birds of Smoky Mountains are intimately connected with Costa Rica and other Central American and Caribbean countries many thousands of miles away since they spend the winter months in more temperate climates. Clearly conservation efforts to protect migratory species need to far reaching since migratory birds pass through and inhabit many countries.

Thankfully there are international efforts working to protect migratory bird species and their unique habitats in the national parks in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The National Park Service's cooperative Park Flight Migratory Program is part of this valuable international conservation effort.