Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tragic death of kayaker in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

The body of a 27 year kayaker Isaac Ludwig was found this morning in the Great Smoky Mountains national park about 1,000 feet downstream from the confluence of the Road Prong and the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

Isaac Ludwig of Hartford, Tennessee and 2 other kayakers 23 year old Jared Seiler of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania and 24 year old James Donahue of Nashville Tennessee entered the Road Prong River near the Chimney Tops Trailhead and planed to kayak the rain swollen body of water and rapids on the lower section of the Road Prong and take their kayaks out of the water before they reached the West Prong.

Kayaking in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Once in the water Jared and James very rapidly assessed that the water was running too swift and pulled their kayaks out but Isaac tragically pushed on downstream.

Isaac Ludwig was an experienced kayaker who worked for Rafting in the Smokies and did in fact have the appropriate safety gear of a life vest and helmet on while he was in his yellow Liquid Logic whitewater kayak.

Amazingly another kayaker who was unrelated to this accident lost a similar boat of the same color which was found wrapped around a tree near the Chimney Tops Picnic Area.

Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers and Gatlinburg Fire Department's Swift Water Rescue Team were involved in a search effort but the body of Isaac was found above the water line entangled in vegetation by 2 other kayakers who were running on the river which had dropped about 2 feet since yesterday.

The recovery of Isaacs body in now ongoing and is quite difficult given the surrounding terrain and the fact that there are no hiking trails near where the body is located.

While working at scout camp Isaac was taught to roll a kayak by his father at age 16 and had a driving passion for the sport. He owned at least 5 boats and by his own admission was not a stranger to having to repair damage to his boats from smashing into rocks.

Isaac had an interest in clean water environmental issues and in his free time wrote for a magazine called Sidetracked which promotes adventure sports. He was also involved in environmentally friendly kayaking products.

After car accidents, accidental drowning is one of the most common causes of serious injury or death to visitors of the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Commonly after large rainfall many kayakers take on the streams and rivers of the Great Smoky Mountains national park. While many put in along the roadside of Little River, some will hike deep into areas to put in. For examples some as much as 5 miles or more in Deep Creek NC to brave the rapids where a swift rescue is virtually impossible.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

R-A-I-N Spells Relief for the Great Smoky Mountains.

For the second year in a row the Great Smoky Mountains has been experiencing drought conditions not seen for more than 100 years, but finally the Smokies are getting much needed rain.

Hiking around the Smokies one can see how low water levels are and how much dryer and browner the plant life is even in higher elevation of the Great Smoky Mountains national park which can see as much as 85 inches of rain a year qualifying it as a temperate rain forest.

drought stressed leaf in the Great Smoky Mountains

Rhododendron plants leaves curl when stressed due to extreme cold or lack of water and the photo here was taken last week which clearly shows a drought stressed bush that is along the Noland Divide Trail at an elevation of more than 3,500 feet.

2 years of back to back droughts in 2007 and 2008 is taking its toll on weakened plants and may further hasten the demise of our beloved hemlocks which are waging what appears to be a losing war against the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid infestation plaguing the park and surrounding areas.

Businesses have been hit hard by 2 years worth of droughts and locals are having to deal with an unprecedented 20% hike in electric power costs from the TVA of which a large portion of is due to the lack of enough cheaper and environmentally friendly hydroelectric power.

The last thing we need to do in the Smokies is have to buy more dirty power produced by coal which is already acidifying our creeks, streams and rivers seriously effecting the higher altitude aquatic environments and choking our air with life and plant damaging ozone. Global Warming? Oh yea that too!

Add to all of this the pressure of municipalities and homeowners to maintain enough drinking and household water and you can see why were are all singing in the rain these past few days even though our beloved tourists may not be so happy as to spend more time indoors as they wanted.

A week or so of rain is not going to get us out of the woods with our drought but it sure will help.

Mouse Falls in Big Creek

The plus side is now with a nice cool snap we can have some stunning fall colors and since we are getting some much needed moisture the colors may last a little longer rather than a quick flame out. We are hoping that the 2008 fall leaf season peak will run from mid October to mid November and we are already starting to get sporadic changes in mid elevations of around 2,000 feet.

Another nice bonus to the rain is our waterfalls will be at their best instead of the measly trickles we have seen the last few weeks. Rainbow Falls in North Carolina was almost dry and even Mouse Falls in Big Creek pictured on the right was running lighter than normal when this photo was taken last week.

Temporary closure of Sparks Lane in Cades Cove will not affect Cades Cove Loop traffic.

The Cades Cove 11 mile Loop Road that circles the valley floor of Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains national park sees more than a million drivers a year who get to enjoy beautiful vistas, numerous wildlife and historic buildings with peak traffic occurring in the months of September, October and November.

The 11 mile Cades Cove Loop Road is a single lane paved road which only allows 1 way traffic, but has 2 gravel roads bisecting the loop: Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane one of which Spark Lane which will be closed on September 2nd and if all goes well reopened on October 8th. During the time the road is closed to construction, hikers and bikers are prohibited from entering the road.

Temporary closure of Sparks Lane in Cades Cove will not affect Cades Cove Loop traffic.

The road is being closed to allowed replacement of existing concrete enclosed steel culverts to larger capacity concrete box culverts to carry the flow of both Rowans Branch and Cooper Branch underneath Sparks Lane.

The larger capacity culverts being installed in Spark Lanes will reduce washouts from large rainstorms and runoffs as well as allowing fish in both the Cooper Branch and Rowans Branch to more easily move up and down the creeks.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given a $50,000 grant toward the $194,400 project since this construction project in the Great Smoky Mountains national park will benefit the habit of the fish located in Cades Cove.

Sparks Lane commonly sees only a few dozen cars an hour during peak times using to road to either cut their trip around the Cades Cove Loop shorter or to double back to do the back end of the Cades Cove Loop again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Park Service denies reports that an aggressive black bear was shot near Cades Cove

Although 3 separate hikers claimed that they were told by a ranger that an aggressive black bear was shot and killed near Great Smoky Mountains national park backcountry campsite 10, officials from the national park service deny the hikers accounts.

According to the park service they are still looking for a bear that caused damage to the Mt. Collins shelter but as of yet have been unsuccessful in their quest to find the problem black bear.

Backcountry campsite 10 is on the Russell Field Trail has been closed for extended time due to aggressive bear behavior. The Russell Field Trails major trailhead Anthony Creek Trail starts less than 1-1/2 miles downhill in the back end of the Cades Cove Picnic Area near the Cades Cove Campgrounds.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reports of another Aggressive Bear Shot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Unconfirmed reports came in of a black bear that was shot and killed by a national park service ranger after it acted aggressively near backcountry campsite 10 on Russell Field Trail.

3 separate hikers along the Appalachian Trail made identical claims that a National Park Service Ranger told them that a black bear started acting aggressively toward the ranger who shot and killed the bear near the backcountry campsite which has been closed for a few weeks.

If correct, this occurrence of yet another aggressive black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park took place less than 2 miles from where I was personally stalked by a medium sized black bear.

While the wild boars have been more brazen than ever before in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, it unfortunately seems as though the black bear might be as well.

Even with the latest incidents people planning on coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must understand that is and extremely safe place to recreate and most serious injuries or deaths are a result of car accidents and drowning.

Reports of another Aggressive Bear Shot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tick bites and yellow jacket stings should be for more of a concern for backcountry hikers and campers than an attack by a wild animal. By following basic camping and hiking safety rules you will protect the environment, the wildlife that inhabits the park and everyone in your group.

Further information and confirmation to follow.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Park rangers shot and killed the right bear in the GSMNP

National Park rangers shot and killed a black bear that was suspected of attacking a small child in the Roaring Fork section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park outside Gatlinburg Tennessee which was in fact the right bear based upon the necropsy performed at the University Of Tennessee College Of Veterinary Medicine.

Inside the bears stomach content part of the kids' sneaker who was attacked was found conforming the identity of the black bear. Before park officials shot the bear they had a description of the black bear by size and when they observed the bear, it exhibited unusually aggressive behavior towards them.

Black bear attacks are rare in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and are normally related to food incidents or when instigated intentionally or not by park visitors. In this case the black bear was unprovoked and there was no food present.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Peak tourist season in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

It's fantastic here in the Great Smoky Mountains, everything is green and lush, the days are long and warm, and the nights are cool and filled with the sounds of critters of all types and amazing as it may seem, the crowds are not here. What a great time to take a vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains!

Dropping gas prices have helped the tourism industry pick up a little here in the North Carolina and Tennessee Smoky Mountains but there are still many places you can take a break from the crowds and breath in peace and quiet and just feel the world slow down a little and life get just a little bit better.

I am fortunate that I get to spend so much time in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains national park - on average 7 days a week. With all that time checking the peaks and valleys of the national park section by section I know the park well and from what I see, it has never been a better time to pack your bags and spend sometime in my favorite biosphere.

Frontcountry campgrounds in Smoky Mountains and backcountry sites in the Great Smoky Mountains national park are virtually empty, even shelters have plenty of room. The only issues with camping right now is the difficulty in finding water at some campsites and shelters because of this years drought and some bear activity has closed some backcountry campsites.

Hiking trails in some sections of the park are deserted and even in the more popular areas in the GSM national park where people hike such as along the Appalachian Trails (AT) I can go for 5 or more hours without seeing a single person.

Because it is so quiet here, I am seeing more wildlife than ever before in the same places as I have been hiking for years. Wild blueberries and blackberries are ripe and a ready for picking and even along trails you just need to reach on out for a quick snack while taking in the beauty of the park.

Drive down the parkway in Pigeon Forge Tennesseeor in the heart of Asheville NC and you will see the crowds and line are small and the parking is easy. If any summer was the time to come to the Smoky Mountains, this is the summer!

While this year's drought is causing real hardship for locals in the Smokies especially in Western North Carolina and there doesn't appear to be a break in sight, it does mean great weather in the Smokies for those looking to enjoy the great outdoors.

A further bonus of this year's wet spring and now dry cool summer is that the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains which start in September and run through October and end around late November are predicted by experts to be better than normal. A quick cool snap in the next few weeks will push them over the top.

Local businesses are looking to make up for a slow start to the tourist season - so can you say "bargain"?

What are you waiting for? What aren't you here? If you see me on the trails be sure to say hi!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Close encounters of the Black Bear kind in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Being attacked by a black bear while hiking or camping in the Great Smoky Mountains national park has never been a fear that I have had even though I spend on an average day more than 8 hours deep in the Backcountry of the GSMNP with no one else around.

Monday's black bear attack on a small child in the Great Smoky Mountains national park did have me thinking while I was hiking from Lead Cove near Cades Cove up to the Appalachian Trail and down Eagle Creek Trail and back a 20 plus mile hiking trip. Besides a group of 5 teenagers near the AT I saw only one other person in the whole 10-1/2 hours I was in the woods.

Blackberries and blueberries are ripe for picking in the higher altitudes and made for an excellent snack after lunch and late in the afternoon. Blackberries and blueberries are both sought out and eaten by black bear so I was alert to their potential presence as well as the potential for snakes in the higher brush. I did in fact find a snake hiding in the brush near the Spence Field Shelter but there were no black bear to be seen.

On the final stretch back to my car on the last quarter of the Lead Cove Trail a little adventure was thrown my way. Being tired form hiking so long and working my way down hill with the aid of my walking sticks as dusk was setting in I had no interest in photographing an more birds, flowers and insects, I just wanted to get home.

While I normally am very quiet when walking in the woods I must have sounded like a herd of buffalo. I was paying more attention to the trail so I would not trip over any rocks than what was high in the trees - a mistake.

While rounding a blind curve I could see that the trail was clear but missed the fact that less than 40 feet from me a mother and her 2 cubs were up in a tree to my right. A loud grunt and the sight and sound of the 2 of them scrambling down the tree and into the ravine startled me and woke me up to the fact I had better pay more attention.

2 turns on the trail later I saw and heard a black bear in the distance to the right of me. He looked large but not full grown and ran further down the trail ahead and crossed in front of me and went up a hill to the left of me.

As I continued downhill his movement matched mine about 200 feet away from me. When I stopped he (or she) did as well and when I turned to walk back up the trail the was a black bear on the trail 50 or 60 feet away from me who got startled and ran into the brush. I turned around and headed back down the trail even though the bear to my left keep following me crashing through the brush.

Another 200 yards down the trail the bar decided to come towards me crossing the stream and towards the trail. At this point I put my emergency whistle in my mouth had pulled my tripod out of my large pack which I decided to leave on and extended it to be a defensive weapon and picked up some large rocks and started banging them together as he came up the creek bed onto the trail. The bear turned to me look startled and fled to my right climbing the hill and watching me behind brush. As I continued downhill I keep looking behind myself to watch the bear which finally lost interest and stayed up in the brush.

While I was not scared, I was concerned and followed the black bear safety rules understanding I could not outrun or outclimb and attacking black bear. If the other bear was not behind me, I would have not gone downhill towards the bear that was tracking me but would have exited the trail taking the Finely Cane Trail back to my car.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Black Bear attacks Child and injures father in Great Smoky Mountains national park

A black bear attacked and injured a child in the Roaring Fork area of the Great Smoky Mountains national park just outside the city of Gatlinburg Tennessee yesterday evening.

Evan Pala the 8 year old child who was attacked by the black bear is from Boca Raton Florida was about 1,000 feet north of playing along Le Conte Creek where it has been reported the child was attacked twice by what was probably a 55 pound yearling male black bear.

Evan Pala sustained puncture wounds along with non-life-threatening cuts and scratches and the boys father John Pala also sustained some minor injuries himself while he was driving the Black bear away from his child with sticks and rocks.

The injured child and his father were both transported to Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center in Sevierville TN by a Gatlinburg Ambulance for treatment.

Great Smoky Mountain national park rangers found a bear that matched the father's description that was acting aggressively toward them so they shot and killed the black bear which has been transported to the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center where it can be determined if this is the bear that attacked the child.

Black bear attacks in the Great Smoky Mountain National park are extremely rare although black bear encounters happen every day on the park. Though I travel extensively on the front country and backcountry of the park, other than on the Cades Cove Loop I seem to have the most bear encounters on average in the Roaring Fork Area.

To reduce your chance for an unpleasant bear encounter or attack by a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains national park it is a good idea to follow black bear safety rules.

Recent Bear attacks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Little River Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Closed

A head on collision between a van and a car has closed the Little River Road in both directions just west of the Elkmont campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

head on collision between a van and a car has closed the Little River Road in both directions just west of the Elkmont campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Expect that Little River Road will be closed until at least 11:00 am and use 321 as an alternate road.

Person being treated by Gatlinburg EMT
At least 1 person was treated at the accident scene by Gatlinburg EMT.