Friday, February 23, 2007

National Park Service will start a prescribed burn in Cataloochee North Carolina section of the National Park February 24th 2007

I would suggest if you are visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this weekend that you avoid the Cataloochee NC area because of the smoke, partial road closures, fire fighting equipment and fire personal needed to help restore both pine and Oak woodlands.

Fire can pose a huge danger to the parks inhabitants, historical building, neighboring farms and homes because an uncontrolled fire in the wild can spread like - well - wildfire. Because of this National Parks and state parks and forests have been suppressing forest fires for years.

Unfortunately a natural environment needs fires to maintain a healthy balance and the forests, valleys, fields and woodlands of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is no exception.

Fires can clear old vegetation, open tree canopies to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor allowing more bio diversity. Some plants such as some pine trees have seeds that won't germinate unless exposed to heat created by fire. Different species of trees and bushes have different flammability factors and thus a fast burning fire may burn and kill some plants while other plants which are more fire tolerant may not be affected.

Since natural and accidental forest fires have been suppressed for more than 60 years in the Smoky Mountains, some species of tress such as maple trees which have a low fire tolerance, have spread quickly, dominated habitats and have taken over what was traditionally a xeric oak forest community in the Smokies. Along with the black oak, scarlet oak, and chestnut oaks a fire tolerant xeric oak forest community also has hickory trees a staple wood of locally made Smoky Mountains furniture.

The national park service is planning to burn a 530 acre area in the forest of the Cataloochee Valley this weekend in an effort to help in the restoration of both pine and oak woodlands. Oak woodlands are crucial to the survival of black bears in the Smokies as their diet largely consists of acorns and bears commonly use oak trees in order to den. The new habitat and additional forage created by this prescribed burn will also benefit the Elk that have been introduced into the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Surprisingly this is not the first time that this area has been intentionally burned by the NPS. The same area had a prescribed burn treatment in April of 2004 and more treatments will be needed in order to completely restore the xeric oak forest habitat.

In order to help keep the fire under control that area where the prescribed burn is to take place is bordered an established fire control line, 2 wet drainages, a road, and grassy meadowland all of which borders the open meadows of Cataloochee at the western end of the Cataloochee Valley.

You will also find up to 25 Park firefighters and 2 fire engines will be in the area to keep the fire under control with some fire personnel helping to escort hikers to trails that remain open.

Still insist on going to Cataloochee NC this weekend?

The following areas will be closed:

  • The road from Shanty Branch to the Rough Fork Trailhead in Cataloochee Valley
  • The Hiram Caldwell Cemetery

The following will remain open:

  • Rough Fork Trail
  • Big Fork Ridge Trail
  • Dock Caldwell Cemetery (E of Shanty Branch)

My suggestion is stay away from this section of the GSMNP and let the National Park Service do their job. There is plenty to see and do in other sections of the park.

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