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.