Thursday, December 24, 2009

Newfound Gap Road and most GSMNP roads open.

Beside all of the snow and ice on the roads, tree limbs laden with snow, broke, uprooted or just bent under the weight creating road blockages and hazards in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Hikers may encounter obstructions related to this storm in backcountry for months.

Newfound Gap Road, Laurel Creek Road, Little River Road and Cades Cove Loop Road all remain open however Old State Road 284, the Foothills Parkway East, the Cataloochee Entrance Road as well as Lake View Drive all remain closed to due ice, snow and some other storm related cleanup needed.

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Newfound Gap Road Remains Open, Elkmont Too.

The Smokies are still digging themselves out from underneath a major snowstorm and more roads in the Great Smoky Mountains national park remain open including the Elkmont Campgrounds entrance road and Newfound Gap Road between Cherokee and Gatlinburg.

Additional good news for drivers is that the predicted snow for this week has been called off. With this warming trend roadways will continue to open.

Black ice has been forming so drivers need to be even more cautious at when temperatures drop at night especially along bridges and sooner in higher elevations.

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Newfound Gap Road Now Open to Cars

Great Smoky Mountains national parks main through road Newfound Gap Road, has finally been opened back up by the park service. Drivers are cautioned that there is still ice and snow on the roadway and to drive with extreme caution.

Because the road surface is less than optimal, buses have been asked to stay off Newfound Gap Road at this time. Plunging temperatures tonight will refreeze and snow melt which may closes again if road conditions deteriorate any further.

Refreezing snow melt is particularly problem some on the Tennessee side above the Alum Cave Hiking Trail parking area in the last 1-1/2 below the gap which is more shaded and steep.

No other major roads in the park have reopened at this time but some are expected to open tomorrow.

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cades Cove Loop Road is now open but many Great Smoky Mountains National Park roads remain closed

Drivers can take Little River Road from the intersection of Newfound Gap Road by Gatlinburg all the way to the Townsend Wye and then take Laurel Creek Road all the way to Cades Cove, which is now open to motorists.

Old State Road 284 remains closed and will so for days as crews intensify their efforts on Newfound Gap Road US 411 that remains closed at this time.

Drivers between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg can use both the Spur section of the Foothills Parkway as well as the Gatlinburg bypass, which has stunning views right now looking over the city of Gatlinburg with Mount Le Conte in the distance.

Both the Foothills Parkways East by Cosby and I-40 and the Foothills Parkway West starting at 321 in Walland remain closed at this time.

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Road Conditions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Open and Closed Roads in the GSMNP

With more than 30 inches of snow recorded in some areas of the Great Smoky Mountains national park it will take some time before all the roads in the GSMNP will be open. Power outages and stranded motorists have strained local emergency services, which held up well to this record-breaking snowstorm in the Smokies.

While the Smokies can get snow often in the winter, it is often gone within hours or a most a few days. While local and backcountry roads can use salt to melt ice and snow, the national park service can only use sand. Runoff from salt would disturb the delicate chemical balance in the waterways of the Great Smoky Mountains national park so salting roads in the park is forbidden.

The main priority is to open Newfound Gap Road back up which with I-40 closed at the NC TN border due to a landslide, is even more urgent. It will take days before people can go directory from Gatlinburg To Cherokee NC without huge detours.

Open Roads in the in the Great Smoky Mountains national park:

  • Little River Road TN

  • Gatlinburg Bypass TN

  • The Spur between Gatlinburg TN and Pigeon Forge TN

  • Laurel Creek Road TN

  • Cades Cove Loop Road TN

  • Tremont Road is open to Upper Tremont Road

  • Greenbrier Road is open to Ranger station

  • Wears Cove Road TN

  • Cherokee Orchard Road TN is open to the Twin Creeks Science Center

Closed Roads due snow and ice in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

  • US 441 Newfound Gap Road between Cherokee NC + Gatlinburg TN

  • Cataloochee Entrance Road NC

  • Toms Branch Road NC

  • Lake View Drive NC

  • Foothills Parkway East TN

  • Foothills Parkway West TN

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Friday, December 18, 2009

All roads in the Great Smoky Mountains national park other than 1 Closed on Tennessee Side

Snow is still falling and it is just too much for the snowplows and sanders in the Great Smoky Mountains national park prompting the national park service to close all but one of the roads in the GSMNP due to snow and ice.

The only road, which has so far eluded closure, is Tremont Road, which is off Laurel Creek Road between the Townsend Wye and the entrance to Cades Cove. The section of Laurel Creek Road past Tremont Road has been already been closed for much of the day limiting all access Cades Cove and Cades Cove Loop Road, Sparks Lane, Hyatt Lane and Forge Creek Road. Rich Mountain Road and Parson Branch Road are both closed for the winter season.

This weekend is the beginning of the Christmas Holiday peak tourist season and with Newfound Gap Road now closed along with both a section of I-40 by border between North Carolina and Tennessee closed and Old State Road 284 between Big Creek and Cataloochee, getting around in the Smoky Mountains is going to be very difficult. As a result, retailers will most likely see sales suffer at a time when they are needed the most.

More often, it is best to stay put in weather conditions such as this. Driving on Smoky Mountain Roads is just better left to emergency vehicles only. Hopefully if you are visiting the Smokies this weekend you have a cabin with provisions so you can hunker down and enjoy the beauty of the Smokies in winter.

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cades Cove closes due to winter storm in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

First Newfound Gap Road (US 441) in the Great Smoky Mountains national park closed, now Laurel Creek Road is closed just past Tremont shutting off all access to Cades Cove, which may remain closed for much of the weekend.

Cherokee Orchard Road by the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail just outside the city of Gatlinburg has been closed below the Noah Bud Ogle cabin at the gate by the Twin Creek Science Center.

Continuing accumulation may close the rest of the parks through roads such as Little River Road and the 2 Foothills Parkways.

Current Road Closures and Openings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Snow blankets Smokies causing road closures in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

A huge winter storm system is dusting the Smokies with snow, which has reached as much as 4 inches of accumulation in Newfound Gap prompting road closures in the Great Smoky Mountains national park early this morning with many more expected in the next 3 days.

At least another 2 to 6 inches of snow is called for today with the heaviest snowfall predicted in elevations of 3,500 feet or more. By tomorrow, snowfall accumulations in the Smoky Mountains area expected are to be from 6 - 12 inches and Sunday calls for more snow and potential rain with plummeting temps at night n the low teens.

Expect most if not all major roads in the GSMNP to close and some such as Newfound Gap Road, may remain closed for the entire weekend or even longer.

The following roads in the Great Smoky Mountains national park are closed due to snow and Ice:

Great Smoky Mountains national park closures last updated 3:04 pm 12/18

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Additional Road Closings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Due to Snow and Ice.

Old 284 which connect Big Creek with Cataloochee in the Great Smoky Mountains national park has just been added to the growing list of road closures from today's storm which is expect to dump snow until around 1 pm today.

The following GSMNP roads are now closed:

  • Cataloochee Entrance Road by Maggie Valley NC

  • Cherokee Orchard Road in the Roaring Fork Gatlinburg TN area

  • Foothills Parkway East Cosby TN to I-40

  • Little River Road from Gatlinburg TN to Townsend TN

  • Old 284 Between Big Creek NC and Cataloochee NC

  • Newfound Gap Road Gatlinburg TN to Cherokee NC (US 441)

  • Wears Gap Road between Wears Valley TN and Metcalf Bottoms

Temperatures expected to remain at or below freezing for the remainder of the day and into the teens tonight so the snow and ice will stick around until at least tomorrow.

Little River Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Closed Due Winter Storm

Little River Road connecting the Sugarlands area just outside Gatlinburg Tennessee with the Townsend / Cades Cove area is closed along with Cherokee Orchard Road and the Foothills Parkway East due the snow and ice. Snow is still falling with another few more inches expected today.

Other roads such as the Laurel Creek Road are rapidly covering over with Crib Gap being the biggest issue and at this rate sanding and plowing may not be enough.

Newfound Gap Road connecting Cherokee with Gatlinburg has been closed now for hours and may not reopen today.

Newfound Gap US 441 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Closed Due to Ice and Snow

Newfound Gap Road (US 441) the Great Smoky Mountains national parks main road connecting Gatlinburg Tennessee with Cherokee North Carolina has just been closed due to ice and snow. Snow falling right now will probably make driving on Newfound Gap Road too treacherous for at least the balance of the day.

There has already been a report of a car sliding off the roadway that will need to be recovered. The driver of this car was able to make 2 cell phone calls to the Swain Counties Sheriff's office and is believed to be OK.

At least one other car is stranded because of snow and ice which was backing up the last of the traffic on the Tennessee side.

To make matters worse, a crucial section of I-40 near the Tennessee North Carolina border still remains closed because of a landslide and old 284 which will most likely close, cannot be plowed.

Those looking to go around the park will need to make very large detours on more treacherous roads that also may close so the best advice is to stay put.

The Spur section of the Foothills Parkway between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Tennessee is still open, is being sanded right now, and should be able to remain open.

In weather such as this, the best thing to do is remain safe at home if possible. If you do go out, you must have enough clothes in your vehicle to be able to withstand the weather so that you can leave your car if needed. You also need proper shoes for walking in snow and ice - sneakers are not adequate!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

High Sustained Winds in the Smokies of 60 mph and More are Predicted Until Past Midnight Tonight

The Great Smoky Mountains are still getting hammered with high winds knocking down more trees / branches and damaging roofs.

Lower elevation should expect winds of about 30 mph with much higher sustained wind speeds exceeding 60 mph in elevations of 3,000 feet and above.

Utility companies have been busy restoring power and so far no large scale power outages have been reported although with at least another 10 hours of more high winds expected, we may not remain so lucky.

Due to the high danger of downed lines, persons should not be walking around in the dark or in any standing water such as puddles because of the risk of electrocution.

Most tree damage and blockages in roadways within the Great Smoky Mountains national park has been cleaned up with the exception of the Cherokee Orchard / Roaring Fork section which is now closed.

Huge Wind Event Blasts Through the Tennessee Smoky Mountains Leaving a Path of Destruction.

With virtually no warning a huge wind storm blasted through Sevier County, Blount County, Coche County, and the Great Smoky Mountains national park leaving a path of minor destruction in its wake. There are still 30 plus mph winds still blowing through sections of the GSM national park.

Numerous reports of downed trees blocking roadways, downed power and phone lines and property damage from fallen trees such as cars and roofs are keeping emergency personnel and utility workers busy directing traffic, clearing roadways and restoring services.

The national park service had recorded sustained wind speeds of 70 mile per hour with gusts exceeding 90 mph on Cove Mountain in the Gatlinburg - Wears Valley area.

The park is still cleaning roadways up in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and numerous hiking trails will have blow downs making passage difficult if not impossible for those on horseback.

Traffic is still heavily impacted on Little River Road just west of the Sinks where a large blow down will require heavy equipment for safe passage of both lanes.

The left hand lane North Bound Spur Road just before King Branch has a large limb blocking the roadway make drivers swerve and more weakened limbs may fall especially of the winds pick up as well.

The Gatlinburg Bypass between Newfound Gap Road and the Spur also has reports of tree limbs down by the Campbell Lead Bypass.

Several trees are also down on state road 32 in Blount County.

Limbs are also being reported down on the Foothills Parkway West / 129 area which will take longer for crews to get to and clean up.

Wind Storm Damage Updates:

  • Limbs along the North Bound Spur near King Branch have been cleaned up.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Great Smoky Mountains national park seasonal construction road closures and conditions for hiking

Late fall and winter in the Great Smoky Mountains national park means that it's time for seasonal closing of roads, campgrounds and park facilities. Though there is a cold snap in the air, black bear will still be active for a few more weeks so backcountry campsites, shelters and hiking trails have warnings or are still closed.

This year will be changeling for many who want to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the winter and early spring as some of the federal stimulus money is being spent repairing Clingmans Dome Road, the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and finishing off the Foothills Parkway between Wears Valley Road in and Walland.

Though Clingmans Dome Road is a popular road when it is closed for winter for hikers and skiers, it will be closing for all use as this winter it is going to be repaved and new handicapped assessable vault toilets (non flushing outhouse style) will be installed instead of using the historical building now being used as a restroom. This building is going to be converted into a small visitor center and Great Smoky Mountains Association store.

The present toilets in the 60 year old building are not in compliance with current environmental standards nor are they handicapped accessible. I commend what the park is doing to replace the current restrooms at Clingmans Dome as well as turning this historic structure into something which will be very useful to visitors.

Finally what will be the most advantageous project being undergone for visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains national park will certainly cause the most grief: The repaving of the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop Road from March to sometime in May.

Long overdue, the repaving project will completely shut this road down to cars, bikers and hikers as well as access to Rich Mountain Road, Parson Branch Road, Forge Creek Road, Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane as well as the amphitheater in between the Cades Cove Picnic and Campgrounds.

There was no effectively way to partially close the area during construction and visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains national park as well as local businesses will be adversely affected during the construction. Te repaving of Cades Cove will be paid for from monies that have already been put aside for the project and do not involve any federal stimulus money.

Sadly the other roadways close by that hikers also use: the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and Clingmans Dome Road will also be closed to pedestrians during construction. The best places left to visit in the GSMNP via car during construction will be Tremont and the Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina.

Roads Closed in the Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed for repaving to all traffic, hikers and bikers starting sometime in March 2010 until at least late May 2010
  • Balsam Mountain Road is now closed for winter until May 8th 2010.
  • Clingmans Dome Road is now closed to vehicles traffic until May 2010 and will be closed to all hikers, bikers and skiers due to repaving starting February 2010.
  • Fontana Dam Access Road to the AT is closed to vehicles (Hikers Allowed) until January 31st, 2010.
  • Heintooga Ridge Road is now closed for winter until May 8th 2010.
  • Little Greenbrier Road is closed for winter from December 31st 2009 until March 13th 2010.
  • Parson Branch Road is closed for the winter and will open in late in April 2010.
  • Rich Mountain Road is now closed for winter until March 13th 2010.
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in now closed to vehicles and will be closed in December to all hikers and bikers starting sometime in February 2010 until May 2010.
  • Roundbottom/Straight Fork is now closed for winter until March 13th 2010.
  • The Sinks Parking Area on Little River Road will be closed due to construction from sometime in December 2009 through May 2010.

Road Construction in the Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Newfound Gap Road (US 441) will have an ongoing paving starting March 16th and expected to be done by September 1st 2010 on the North Carolina side from the Collins Creek Picnic area to the National Park Boundary at Cherokee NC. Expect periodic lane changes

Blue Ride Parkway Road Conditions and Construction

  • North Carolina: Milepost 393.6 to 405.5 Closed due to a high risk of landslides until further notice.
  • Virginia to North Carolina: Milepost 0 to 356 Guardrail replacements will cause traffic to be reduced to 1 lane as work is done through 2010.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hiking Trail Conditions

Closed GSMNP Hiking Trails

  • Trailhead access from roads within Cosby Campground to Lower Mount Cammerer Trail, Snake Den Ridge Trail, and Low Gap Trail have a detour as long as the campground paving takes place until spring 2010. Use parking areas access by picnic grounds for these trails.
  • Foothills Parkway off Wears Valley Road (US 321) is now open for now to hikers, bikers and horseback riding

Hiking Trail Bear Warnings

  • Abrams Falls Hiking Trail
  • Crooked Arm Ridge Trail mostly on the lower portion
  • Gabes Mountain Trail
  • Laurel Falls Hiking Trail
  • Little River Hiking Trail
  • Trillium Gap Trail from the parking area up to Grotto Falls

GSMNP Hiking Trails Condition Warnings

  • Forney Creek Trail by backcountry Campsite #70 washed out bridge requiring potentially deep stream crossing at Forney Creek
  • Hazel Creek pick up area for boat shuttles near Backcountry campsite #86 has been rerouted to Olie Cove (not on regular trail maps but on some more detailed maps). Ask boat shuttle for further information.
  • Rabbit Creek Trail footbridge has washed out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Holiday Snowfall Does Not Affect Smokies But The Weather Can Still Be Treacherous For Hikers.

Luckily most of the snowfall, what little there was, did not severely impact the Smokies other than closing Clingmans Dome Road, cause a few fender benders and create a light build up of snow and ice on Newfound Gap Road US 441 which has not hampered traffic.

Though the light dusting of snow makes for pretty pictures at the highest elevations, the high winds and plummeting temperatures for the next few days should have hikers and campers in backcountry concerned and making sure that they are properly equipped so they will not have issues with exposure.

Presently there are 30 mph sustained winds in some areas with much higher gusts. The wind-chill factor in places such as Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome and Mt Le Conte will be at -2 degrees Fahrenheit or even lower and when temperatures plunge tonight, could prove dangerous for those not prepared.

Hikers and campers should wear plenty of layers that can put on and take off easily so as to not overheat and later be chilled with sweat soaked clothing. It is best to not wear cotton which can hold moisture close to the skin.

Hikers and campers in the Smokies must also remember it starts getting dark in the park now at around 5:00 pm.

Weather in and around the Great Smoky Mountains.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Memorial Fund Set Up For Slain Bull Elk #21 to Support the Elk Bugle Corps Volunteer Program

Last week's tragic poaching of the Great Smoky Mountains national parks Bull Elk #21 in the Cataloochee Valley outraged many people. Nature lovers, photographers and responsible hunters come from far and wide to enjoy the elk and the natural beauty of Cataloochee Valley.

The National Park has recognized how instrumental the all volunteer Elk Bugle Corp is in protecting our Elk, educating visitors about the elk and responsible wildlife viewing.

The Friends of the Smokies - a nonprofit fund-raising organization which raises funds for projects such as the Elk Restoration Program in the Great Smoky Mountains national park has set up a memorial fund for bull Elk #21 to fund the Cataloochee Valley Elk Bugle Corps and Your Smokies has just made the first donation to get this fund started.

While I would love to see other large donations to this very good cause, the Elk Bugle Corp would be glad to receive donations of any size made to the memory of Bull Elk #21. Donations will fund the Elk Bugle Corps most pressing needs and every little bit helps so please give what you can to the Bull Elk #21 Memorial Fund.

Memorial Fund Set Up For Slain Bull Elk #21 to Support the Elk Bugle Corps Volunteer Program

To Donate Click Here

Default Donation is $10 but you can increase or decrease the amount

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All donations are tax-deductible as allowable by law.

Every dollar collected helps protect the parks precious resources and allows Elk Bugle Corp members to show you the beauty and share the historic significance of the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Related Elk in the GSMNP Stories

Monday, November 16, 2009

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Elk Poaching Suspect Confesses and Arrest will be made

This Friday bull elk #21 was shot and killed in the Cataloochee section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park near Maggie Valley NC by what turned out to be a man from Granville County.

Bull elk #21 was 13 years old and one of the first elk moved in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains national park in an experimental North American Elk reintroduction program that was to last 4 years but ended up concluding 8 years later.

Bull Elk #21 was born in Elk Island, Canada and spent some time in Land between the Lakes Kentucky before he was released along with 24 other elk in the Cataloochee Valley in 2001.

Elk Poaching Suspect in GSMNP Confesses and Arrest is Emanate

Bull #21 was a fixture in the valley and always stayed closed by the original field he was released from in contrast to some of the elk which have ended up as far away as Newport Tennessee or Asheville North Carolina.

Often Bull elk #21 would graze in a pasture right by the rangers station with 3 other bull elk buddies we nicknamed the bachelors. This gave our visitors an up close view of a full mature bull elk before they even entered the main fields within the Cataloochee Valley.

During the rut the bachelors would go their separate ways but as of last week since the rut is winding down he was hanging out with his buddies again.

Bull 21 was one of the most dominate bulls in the Cataloochee Valley and his impressive size and huge antlers delighted visitors for years and impressed many of the female elk (called cows) which he collected into a harem and bred.

Even though bull elk #21 was already a grandfather, he was still active during the rut and put on a good show during this years breeding season before he was gunned down.

The picture below was taken October 5th of this year and it shows Bull Elk 21 with his harem in the field by the Beech Gap School in the Cataloochee valley of the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

bull elk #21 with his harem in Field by the Beech Gap School

The shooting took place at close range while he was most likely feeding or just watching the coward who shot him.

Bull elk #21 was found lying down in the field by a park ranger who works in the valley. He collected evidence and worked with the park to transport bull elk #21s body to the UT College of Veterinary Medicine for a necropsy which has yet to come back.

A joint investigation to find the poacher who shot the elk in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was started utilizing Park Rangers, a National Park Service (NPS) Special Agent, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

The suspected poachers truck description lead the Elk poaching investigation to Granville County. Here the special NPS agent received a confession and additional evidence was gathered.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the Great Smoky Mountains national park are working together to develop the case so that an arrest can be made at which time the suspects name will be released.

The poacher will face a fine of up to $5,000 and 6 months in jail for the actual poaching and will face losing his truck as well as the weapon he used to commit this crime. It is possible he may face other charges as well for example possession of a loaded weapon inside the National Park which is still illegal until February of 2010.

Park Visitors, National Park employees and Volunteers are all outraged at this heinous crime. Fortunately there are still enough bulls in and around the valley capable of breeding so that the Elk reintroduction program in the Great Smoky Mountains national park will not fail as a result of the loss of bull 21.

Acting Chief Ranger, Steve Kloster stated "The suspect was quickly identified and a strong case developed because of the willingness of members of the community to come forward and talk to Rangers and state wildlife officers."

He went on the say "The many visitors and volunteers who come to Cataloochee expressly to watch the elk constitute a very effective surveillance network which has undoubtedly prevented elk poaching from occurring earlier."

I am proud to be an Elk Bugle Corp Volunteer and when the call is made next spring for more volunteers I hope that we can get even more people who are dedicated and who love nature and the park to come join us and help protect the remainder of the herd.

I would like to thank all of those involved in the investigation for the fine job they had done and thank Park Ranger Mark LaShell, our Parks Elk Specialist: Biologist Joe Yarkovich and the other Bugle Corp members for the outstanding work they do in the valley every day for our Elk Program.

Related Elk in the GSMNP Stories

Friday, November 13, 2009

Elk poaching takes place in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know how near and dear the Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains national park are to me and of course the tens of thousands of other park visitors a year who come to the Cataloochee Valley just to see our elk.

Elk poaching takes place in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Unfortunately this morning someone well within the national park boundaries in the Cataloochee Valley decided to poach one of our beloved Elk which was one of the first elk released in the park, 13 year old Bull #21 pictured above.

This person who committed this cowardly act not only took this animals life away but took from all of us a magnificent beast. Elk are now able to roam the Great Smoky Mountains which have not heard the bugle of a wild elk for more than 100 years due to over hunting and habitat destruction because of a great investment and time and money from private sources given graciously to the park.

For those of us who love the Great Smoky Mountains national park the elk have become intimately intertwined with this beautiful place since their experiment introduction in 2001 and the herd has grown from 52 head to an estimated 105. The long term prospects for this experimental reintroduction of elk in the Smokies looks fantastic.

Poaching of natural and cultural artifacts is a serious problem in all of our national parks. Poaching in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and the adjoining Blue Ridge Parkway is most commonly to plants such as ramps, ginseng, and wildflowers such as lady slippers as well as wildlife most commonly black bear and deer.

More than 80 park volunteers who love the elk and I work in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a program called the Elk Bugle Corp offering educational information to visitors about the elk and the GSMNP, help with traffic management and work to maintain a safe distance between visitors and our beloved elk and black bear.

So that some good use comes out of this cowardly crime, it would be great if this animal was mounted for display in the new Oconaluftee visitor center being built or the Sugarlands visitor center museum rather than just dump the animal's body after the forensic evidence is gathered to prosecute this criminal. At least people can then see up close one of these magnificent animals we have so much invested in.

I urge anyone who has any information about this or any wildlife crime in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to call the GSMNP Main Number at park headquarters (865)436-1200.

Related Elk in the GSMNP Stories

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cades Cove Loop Road and Greenbrier Road are closed. Other local roads flood due to high water

Cades Cove Loop Road and Greenbrier Road have both been closed today due to high water on numerous places from the past 30 hours of rain. Since close to 3 inches of rain has fallen in some areas creeks streams and rivers are spilling over their banks creating a mess for many on the Smoky Mountains.

There have been numerous traffic accidents in the Gatlinburg - Pigeon Forge - Sevierville area and a flood watch is in effect in Newport until 7 pm as the Pigeon River is expected to create flooding issues.

To make matters worse there is a wind advisory in effect today until 4 pm tomorrow so expect that trees will fall because of the saturated ground and high winds creating more power outages and telephone and internet service interruptions.

The Great Smoky Mountains national park is faring better than expected as other roads in the park have not been closed yet and though all the branches, creeks, streams and rivers are flooding they are yet to create any property or safety issues other than for those who will kayak or attempt to cross them in the dangerous state.

While it is possible that Cades Cove Loop Road may reopen today if the high waters recede, it is doubtful that Hyatt Lane, Sparks Lane, Forge Creek Road and Parsons Branch Road will open right away as vehicles driving over these gravel roads when they are saturated do serious damage to the roadway.

Greenbrier Road is closed right now and may reopen today, but the section of roadway to the Ramsey Cascades parking area will take at least a day before the water recedes enough for it to reopen.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Closed section of Foothills Parkway West will see some construction traffic for 6 weeks.

One of hidden secrets of the Great Smoky Mountains national park are the 2 incomplete sections of the Foothills Parkway off 321 which has some stunning vistas and hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders and even leased dogs are allowed.

Both of these long "trails" offer visitors a chance to explore nature for long distances with a gradual grade which is very accessible for those how may have problems with conventional hiking trails, want to avoid crowds or who are higher functioning persons with disabilities.

Unopened Section of Foothills Parkway

From November 12th through December 22nd on the far eastern side of the 9 mile section of the Foothills Parkway by Walland core drilling will be taking places so hiker and bikers need to be aware that this normally traffic free area will see some construction vehicles driving to and from the drilling sites.

I would suggest that anyone especially those who live in the area who has not hiked the incomplete sections of the Foothills Parkway does so before it is finished and open to vehicular traffic.

Related Smokies News Stories

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Controlled burns to take place in Cades Cove section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Cades Cove in the north western section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park will be ground zero for 3 planned controlled burns this week performed by national park service firefighters as a cost effective method to keep the historic fields in the valley from becoming a forest.

Prescribed burns in Cades Cove generally take place in March but due to the Cades Cove Loop Road repaving next year which will close the road, prescribed burns will take place if weather conditions permit today through Friday.

Today the park plans on burning several tracts of land in the Cades Cove Valley west of Hyatt Lane close to where prescribed burns took place this spring. Before setting the larger blaze containment areas have been set by mowing the grass around where the burn is to take place.

If all goes well tomorrow through Friday the next set of controlled wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains national park will take place in fields between Parks and Hyatt Lane.

While these burns should not effect traffic along the Cades Cove Loop Road it is possible to road will be closed for safety reasons. It is also possible either Hyatt Lane or Sparks Lane will be also closed in the next 3 days but more than likely the only effect the prescribed wild fire will have on visitors in Cades Cove is the sight and smell of smoke.

The Great Smoky Mountains national park has about 950 acres of fields in the Cove visible from Cades Cove Loop Road mowed a year and another 1,000 acres that are less visible are kept from being claimed by forest burned or mowed on a 3 year rotation.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Landslide in Great Smoky Mountains national park cleared but clearing I-40 will take many months.

This has been some leaf season in the Smokies! Multiple rock and landslides within weeks create traffic nightmares for many, but fortunately yesterday's landslide in the Great Smoky Mountains national park took the park and Blalock Construction less than 24 hours to clear but the I-40 landslide only 3 miles from the Tennessee and North Carolina border will take until March 2010 or longer.

This summer we saw 2 rock slides occur along Little River Road which took days to clean up so that the road could be reopened so it was a very pleasant surprise to see how fast the main East West road in the Great Smoky Mountains national park reopened however those who wish to take I-40 from North Carolina will have to wait far longer before they can avoid detours. The real disaster for drivers will be when Newfound Gap Road (US 441) closes due to ice and snow in bad weather which is a very common occurrence.

There was another closure due to at potential landslide this moth along the Blue Ridge Parkway which has also cause drivers to have to deal with lengthy detours right when the fall season colors were at their peak along the parkway.

Related Landslide and Rockslides in the Smokies Stories:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Newfound Gap road reopens in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

As the weather improves over the Great Smoky Mountains national park so do the traffic conditions because the Great Smoky Mountains national park has just opened back up Newfound Gap Road the main thoroughfare between Gatlinburg and Cherokee.

It is possible that with this evenings cold conditions will close the road as it refreezes.

Snow Closes Roads In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A light dusting of snow in the upper elevations yesterday afternoon which fell through some of the evening first closed Clingmans Dome Road and then Newfound Gap Road US 441 which runs through the Great Smoky Mountains national park connecting Cherokee North Carolina with Gatlinburg Tennessee.

Other road such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Old 284 and Cove Creek Road running to Cataloochee all saw accumulation and slushy icy conditions. Last evening a truck needed assistance to make it up and out of Cataloochee but not without fishtailing a few times and cosmetically damaging its tailgate.

Wet conditions made for numerous accidents in and around the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Drivers are reminded to obey speed limit and if conditions require, to drive even slower. During leaf season especially when there is the added beauty of snow in the mountains drivers may become distracted or even slow down and stop in the roadways to take pictures which is prohibited.

This is the first day of the season that snow has been sticking and ice has been forming on roadways as pictured below on Cove Creel Road yesterday at around 3 pm.

Right now the snow and ices is melting quite well and crews are right now sanding the Newfound Gap Road which may open up before 11:00 am. As temperatures cool down later in the day and the melting snow and ice refreezes, it may have to close again.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

12 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway in Mount Pisgah - Asheville Area Closed Due to Landslide Danger

Weeks of rain has taken its toll on the Blue Ridge Parkway at what is the worst possible time for a closure of a stretch of roadway in the Mount Pisgah Asheville area as peak leaf season is coloring the slopes and valleys of North Carolina.

Crews are working right now to erect temporary barriers in hopes that the most of the roadway will be opened back up Friday for the 2nd weekend of peak leaf season on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The area that will remain closed would be the Ferrin Knob Tunnel Number 1.

The slope that is causing all this grief has been closely monitored by the park service since it first failed in 2002 and had been repaired and according to Bambi Teague, the Blue Ridge Parkway's chief of resource management "It has been slipping and sliding since then, but in the past three weeks, it has been moving way more than anyone expected it would" which prompted the closure.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina fall color has painted the slopes and valleys in reds, yellows and oranges.

The picture above was taken 2 days ago on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and shows how fall color has already painted the slopes and valleys in reds, yellows and oranges between US 441 and US 19. This stretch is unaffected by the closure and leaf peepers traveling from Asheville should use US 276 near Brevard or NC 151 from Candler.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Greenbrier section still closed but Cades Cove reopens as Great Smoky Mountains National park cleans up from flooding and storm damage

While the storm that drenched the Smoky Mountains was not packing much of a punch dropping from 2 to just less than 3 inches of rain in the past 24 hours in areas of the park, the saturated ground and rain swollen rivers could not handle any more and minor flooding was widespread in areas in and around the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

The Little Pigeon River created the most damage in the Great Smoky Mountains national park as it washed out an area of roadway along Greenbrier Road near the bridge to Ramsey Cascades where Middle Prong runs into the Little Pigeon River.

The video below shows the Little Pigeon River following over its bank and it effects were felt far downstream in the residential areas some of which had minor evacuations.

The Little River which flows out of Elkmont was rising quickly promoting an evacuation of the Elkmont Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and further downstream created problems for campgrounds outside the park and resident in Townsend and Walland. The Campground has been deemed safe and was just reopened.

In Cades Cove Sparks Lane which notoriously gets flooded was closed first followed by Hyatt Land and then the entire 11 miles of the Cades Cove Loop were closed as water stared building up in the back end. Cades Cove Loop has just reopened but Sparks Lane, Hyatt lane and Rich Mountain Road will remain closed until they dry out so that passing vehicles will not damage the road surface.

The Chimneys Picnic Area was also closed last night as rising waters from the Little Pigeon River started to flow over the banks.

Crews will be working today in the park surveying and cleaning what appears to be minor damage. Hikers should report any large downed trees or washout in back country but expect to have to climb over under or around obstructions in the trails for at least a few days.

Based upon the extent of the damage on Greenbrier Road reported to me by eyewitness yesterday don't expect Greenbrier to be open past the Ranger station for at least a day or 2. Hopefully while they have dump trucks in the area they will fix some of the preexisting immense holes in the road surface right now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Last Chance to Hike or Bike Cades Cove without Traffic until Repaving is finished in 2010

I love hiking and driving in Cades Cove. Problem is millions have as well for the past 39 years leading to the complete degradation of the Cades Cove Loop Road which will be broken up and repaved next year so this Wednesday is your last chance to hike the road without traffic until at least late May.

Cades Cove Loop road is closed to automobile traffic until 10 am on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from spring until late September so that pedestrians and bicyclists can enjoy this spectacular place without the noise and annoyance of car and motorcycle traffic.

Starting on March of 2010 Cades Cove loop Road will be closed to all traffic - cars, bikes and all pedestrians - in order for the roadway to be broken up and pulverized, new concrete poured and then the road will be surfaces with asphalt. While the Great Smoky Mountains national park is hopeful that the job will be completed by Memorial Day although weather will determine how fast this job can be completed.

The new Cades Cove Loop Road will not be widened and a total of 12 pull offs were proposed by the park. Rumors are floating around that the road will be made harder to park alongside of except at designated pull offs.

Hiking or biking in Cades Cove in the morning is just such a magical time. Expect cool comfortably temperatures, a hint of mist in the year, easy wildlife sighting of turkey, deer, bear and maybe even a coyote and the magical lighting that photographers refer to as "the golden hour".

I particularity like walking the 11 miles of the Cades Cove Loop road rather than riding a bike. It is just so much more intimate to be walking quietly along this road as the beauty of the cove and its inhabitants unfolds before you at every twist and turn of this historic road.

From wide vistas of meadows framed by mountains to walking through tunnels of trees that envelop you and block out the sun, every footstep is in another chance for you to intimately experience adventure and beauty.

Hiking and Biking the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop road

Sunrise will be at 7:31 am tomorrow morning and it takes around 3-1/2 hours to hike the loop quickly so I count on 4 to 4-1/2 hours to take my time and take photographs and "smell the roses" along the way.

Cars are allowed to drive into the Cades Cove Loop at 10 am and won't reach the back end of the loop until around 10:30 - 10:45. Hiker and bikers need to park at the orientation shelter at the beginning of the Cades Cove Loop until the parking area fills at which time you will be directed to park near the Cades Cove Riding Stables.

I will be leaving at 6:45 - 7 am from the orientation shelter to I will be already be past the John Oliver cabin past sunrise. Anyone looking to join me is welcome and should comment here or twitter me their intentions.

Related Smokies News Stories:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mountain Life Festival at the Mountain Farm Museum in Oconaluftee Area of Great Smoky Mountains national park

In the upper elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains national park there is a touch of color and the heat has broken and even in the valleys the heat of summer has been broken so the annual Mountain Life Festival at the Mountain Farm Museum in Oconaluftee is right around the corner.

Come to the farm museum on Saturday September 19th from 10 am to 4 pm and learn why leather britches are not pants, what carding means when it has nothing to do with ID and what it's like to make your own soap while listening to great Appalachian style music - all for free!

While I am sad to see what for me signals for me the end of summer, this is one annual event in the Great Smoky Mountains national park I have not missed for years.

The location of the Farm Museum is perfect in beautiful green valley alongside the Oconaluftee River surrounded by low mountains that will only have a hint of color just a minute inside the park boundary at Cherokee.

hands on demonstration of home life in the 1800s

Expect the hands of time turn back more than a hundred years and see interesting live demonstrations by park staff and volunteers such as lye soap making, hearth cooking, food preservation, broom making, quilting, blacksmithing, chair bottoming, along with apple butter and apple cider making. You will get to sample warm cider too!

A special edition this year to help celebrate the parks 75th anniversary is a showcase Appalachian folkways along with historic artifacts and photographs from the national park's collection will also be on display to help pay tribute to the former resident who lived where the park now stands.

hands of time turn back more than a hundred years and see interesting live demonstrations by park staff and volunteers

Corn husk dolls, hominy making, old time toys and other interesting demonstrations about what home life was 100 years ago in the Great Smoky Mountains will be going on around the farm museum.

You can also learn about the more than 40 types of apple tress the Cherokee and the early settlers grew from Ron and Suzanne Joyner from Big Horse Creek Farm in Ashe County, NC. When I interviewed them in the past they were a wealth of knowledge and they presently have a nursery with more than 300 varieties of custom-grafted heirloom apple trees.

In the farm itself, you can watch an almost 40 year old tradition of the Great Smoky Mountains national park: the making of sorghum syrup. The Appalachian early settlers did not have table sugar and they grew their own sorghum and with a horse-powered cane mill and wood-fired cooker made this important food stable.

40 year old tradition of the Great Smoky Mountains national park: the making of sorghum syrup

Students, staff, and volunteers from Swain County High School through a cooperative agreement with Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains Association will be feeding the press which is pictured above and making the sorghum syrup.

Through all the celebrating at the Mountain Farm Museum in Oconaluftee, don't miss the musical entertainment by Marshall Crowe and the Bluegrass Singers.

Bedsides the event, take some time to stroll down the Oconaluftee River hiking trail which is one of the 2 trails in the park that allows well behaved leashed dogs and stroll around the farm with its historic buildings and picturesque landscape.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Bear Spray: Now Legal to Carry and Use in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Though I was waiting for months for the official announcement that bear spray would be legal in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, it was a sharp reader of this web site that brought to my attention the fact that the National Park web site now states bear spray is allowed in the GSMNP.

Months ago I started and became the center of a huge controversy about bear spray when it was brought to my attention that Bear Spray was illegal in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Questions about misleading, conflicting and confusing visitor information as well as selective enforcement made matters worse.

Bear spray is far more effective that firearms are in a bear attack which by that way, even though there are more than 2 bear per square mile is extremely rare in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Since bear spray is far more effective than guns and the chances of collateral damage is far lower, it made perfect since to legalize bear spray since firearms will be allowed in national parks in February 2010.

While I was advised by park officials in late spring that the bear pepper spray law was going to change, I waited until the official announcement from the park to advise my readers about the change in the bear spray law as I did not know exactly when it would become legal.

No news of the change in the bear spray law was ever released publicly; instead a paragraph about bear spray and its legality and use in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was inserted in the GSMNPs hiking page.

Bear Spray (pepper spray formulated for bears) should be only used in an emergency against an attacking bear and not used to keep bear away from campsites or other place you wish to keep bear away from. Spraying an area with bear spray may even attract bears them rather then repel them as they will want to examine what the strange scent is and where it is coming from.

Bear Pepper Spray is only allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains national park for "the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife". It must also contain between 1% to 2% of the active ingredients capsaicin and related capsaicinoids and be commercially manufactured and labeled as "Bear Pepper Spray".

I stumbled into something that made some people working in the park and some locals who refused to comply with the law all along unhappy. While my tenacity about getting to the bottom of this matter may have angered some, they do know my love for the park and how resource protection and public safety are for more important to me than not making waves. I hope that those who I may have aggravated understand my good attentions.

Though I plan to never use it, bear spray will now be part of my hiking gear. I hope that people who will purchase bear spray will learn about it, try it and only use it when absolutely necessary (which in the GSMNP should be almost never).

Just because you are allowed to have a can of bear pepper spray when hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains national park does not mean that you can ignore food storage rules, comply with staying away 50 yards away from bear or using common sense around wild animals.

Just as bear spray is now legal in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, if abused the park may take this right away just as they had to remove chain link fences from shelters as people abused the fences and would throw food out for bears. Be responsible!

Related Stores about Bear Spray and Black Bear

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Great Smoky Mountains National Parks 75th Anniversary Rededication and Newfound Gap: Great Memories for a Lifetime

I have been waiting for this day when the Great Smoky Mountains National parks would have a rededication ceremony and the Roosevelt Monument at Newfound Gap in celebration do the parks 75th Anniversary for years, and with all my expectations I can't believe I was not let down.

This dedication ceremony was to be a modern day interpretation of the 1940 dedication event in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which was attended by president FDR, was the grand finale of the major events the GSM national park was hosting for the 75th anniversary of the formation of this park.

modern day interpretation of the 1940 dedication event in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which was attended by president FDR

Almost 2,000 people attended the Rededication Ceremony held at the Roosevelt Monument which straddles the Tennessee and the North Carolina border in the Newfound Gap parking area of the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Many of those who attended this historic event have deep roots in the Smoky Mountains and most of them where either born in what was to become the Great Smoky Mountains national park or are descendants of those who lived here.

Almost 2,000 people attended the Dedication at the Roosevelt Monument in the Newfound Gap parking area of the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Some of those very hardy men who built the Great Smoky Mountains national parks trails, bridges and roads who were members of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) attended this event.

By now these men have become old familiar faces to me as they have been guests of honor numerous here in the past year such as at the CCC dedication ceremony at the Sugarlands Visitor Center where a plaque honoring the Civilian Conservation Corp was unveiled and at the groundbreaking for the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

As with all the other ceremonies, CCC corpsman Clarence Allison, the 3rd man down in the picture below wore his original uniform and hat.

Among the honored guests at the dedication ceremony were these men who worked for the CCC

Today some of those who were here for that historic occasion 75 years ago proudly wore ribbons as well as those who lived in what is now the park and those who built the roads, bridges and more than 800 miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park.

Lots of changes have occurred in the Great Smoky Mountains the past 75 years since the men on the CCC help turned it into the land stunning place it now is and most have them have been for the good of the national park.

Technology allowed us to make cell phone calls, check our email, update our Twitter accounts or transmit a signal via satellites so that people outside the park could see what was going on. Just think at the 1st dedication in 1940 wire was run in trees and across bushes and up the mountains in order to transmit this historic occasion.

100 old Gudger Palmer had his roots in Big Cataloochee in North Carolina before he was forced to move out of the park at 25.

75 years ago when 100 old Gudger Palmer (pictured above) was only 25 and lived in Cataloochee North Carolina, there used to be barely any black bear, wild turkey and white deer inhabiting the area which just became the Great Smoky Mountains national park. These and many other animals now flourish and even the casual observer in the park should see them most of the year.

Then there are the animals that have been wiped out of existence in what was once more than 6,000 private tracts of lands. Today the park service has brought the river otter, peregrine falcon and my favorite: the North American elk back into this area and they are all now thriving in this beautiful biosphere.

While this was a day for historic speeches made by politicians promising to make things better and of course the thrill of seeing Dolly Parton perform live, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself was the star of the day.

Dolly Parton receives a bouquet of flowers from Dale Ditmanson superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains national park while Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ken Salazar and NC Governor Bev Perdue look on

As our bus pulled up past the rain clouds up to the Newfound Gap Parking area, a lone tree just below the road displayed red and yellow tinges on some of its leaves - a gentle sign of fall color that would soon grace the Smoky Mountains.

As we disembarked from the shuttle the cooler air laced with the smell of fir washed over us moved the 3 American flags and the North Carolina and Tennessee state flags on top of the Roosevelt Monument wave in the wind. The only other decorations were 7 white and blue banners draped over the monument which also came alive as the wind came across the gap.

Governor Bev Perdue said North Carolina working the crowd and Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains

Sure the 75th anniversary of the original dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains national park was a great opportunity for politicians to press flesh with constituents and get to work in some impressive sound bites, nothing could beat the parks performance as the weather cleared up just as the program began and deteriorated with clouds moving in as Dolly Parton closed the event with her last song.

I had been waiting for this event for years all the while reflecting how wonderful this park is and I was not disappointed. I guess I must now look forward to the 100th anniversary dedication and hope that I will still be hiking as I do now in my 70s and reveling in the Great Smoky Mountain national parks beauty.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rescue of a Lost and Stranded Hiker in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Concludes

Lost and then stranded experienced 70 year old hiker Albert Morgan Briggs who was stuck atop Porters Mountain for almost a week deep in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was rescued early this morning by a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter and taken to the Little River Ranger station where he was debriefed by park rangers about his ordeal and later picked up by his family and taken home.

What happened the past week to Albert Morgan Briggs who is a park volunteer and presently works in the parks backcountry permit office and prior to this was a ridge runner on the Appalachian Trail helping maintain the trails and guiding hikers, is both a tale of what hikers should and should not do.

Fortunately even though Morgan had what was a physically trying and well as emotionally draining week, other than a light sunburn and filthy clothes he was wearing from bushwhacking in the deep rhododendron thickets and climbing his way up about 1,200 feet to ridgeline below the Peak of Porters Mountain which is barely a few feet wide, he was in great shape and spirits.

When I was interviewing the crew of the helicopter that rescued Mr. Morgan, they all expressed concern about the conditions and the ruggedness of the backcountry he was stranded in. The crew also described that they could not believe how narrow the ridge was where Moran Briggs tent was precariously perched and how exposed he was.

If the helicopter could not have hoisted off the ridge on Porters Mountains, there would have been no room to put the bird down and the only way they would have had left to rescue him would have been for the ground crew to climb 1,200 feet practically straight up to retrieve him. The park service suggested that chainsaws would have probably been needed than in order to cut through the thickets.

Amazingly one of the teams of rangers on the search and rescue mission this week was less than 50 yards from Morgan Briggs and they did not realize the missing hiker was so close to them.

This distance was confirmed by checking the data of the ground crews GPS unit and according to North District Head Ranger Steven Kloster, the Porter Mountain ridgeline was already in today's search plan even if Morgan had not been spotted by observers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and their sighting confirmed by a helicopter yesterday.

While I was able to gather information for this story from many firsthand sources, Morgan would not speak to any of us at the press conference but he did promise to give us the chance to interview him at a future date so at least we will have a more detailed picture of what initially happened and well as his state of mind during the week long ordeal.

I was in a rush to report all details of this story upon his rescue, but I held off as more and more questions and thoughts came to mind and more details have come to light about his ordeal. Many sources I have seen reporting this story had wrong information such as elevation gains and distances, made wrong conclusions and left out important facts.

Morgan's Planed 4 Day Hike in the GSMNP

Day 1: Hike from the Trailhead in Greenbrier where he was dropped off just 3.5 miles on the Porters Creek maintained hiking trail to backcountry campsite #31 where he would spend the night.

Day 2: Hike his way through brush on an unmaintained unofficial trail referred to as a "manway" where he would have to work his way through drainages making crossings in rain swollen creeks and streams, around fallen trees and through tough brush including rhododendron thickets and thorny briers that you would not normally encounter on a maintained official park trail.

Morgan would work his way up a gain of 2,000 feet and eventually end up along the Appalachian Trail which runs across most of the Great Smoky Mountains national parks highest points along the Tennessee North Carolina border for about a mile to a lean to along the AT named the Icewater Springs Shelter.

Day 3: Hike the 6 miles from the Icewater Springs Shelter along the AT and the Boulevard Hiking Trail to Mount LeConte where he would spend the night at the Mount LeConte Shelter.

Day 4: Hike down Mt LeConte to hitch a ride to Gatlinburg and take the trolley home to Pigeon Forge. No one other than Morgan is sure which trail he wished to take back but it is believed his choices were Alum Cave Trail (about 5 miles), Rainbow Falls (about 6.5 miles) or the Bull Head (about 6.5 miles) hiking trails.

Morgan's Planed Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

What happened on the hike:

Day 1: Morgan hiked in and spent the first night as planned in campsite 31.

Day 2: He was last seen by other hikers this day at the campsite where after waking and packing his gear, he started the off trail portion of his hike he made a wrong turn and got disorientated and lost.

Rather than following the stream out to the road about 3 miles to the north he decided to climb up a little over 1,000 feet to the top of Porters Mountain where he pitched his tent and remained the next 6 days until he was rescued by helicopter.

So what went wrong and what went right in Morgan Briggs preparation, hike and subsequent rescue in the GSMNP?

What went right:

1) Though this story concluded with the safe return of a hiker who was lost and then stranded for a week with limited food and water and no way to communicate with the outside world, the timing of this hike more than likely made the difference between life and death.

If this fateful hike in the Great Smoky Mountains national park was a few weeks from now when the cold weather sets in, the risk of exposure would have been enormously increased - or if it was a few weeks earlier when it was very hot, humid and there was no rainfall Morgan could have suffered from severe dehydration or could have had a heat stroke and died.

The fact that he was so exposed on a high ridgeline, during any thunderstorm a bolt of lightning could have dealt him a lethal blow.

The weather also cooperated on the day of his rescue as the fog just lifted and visibility and wind speed just turned conducive for an extraction by chopper rather than a more prolonged and dangerous extraction by climbers.

2) Morgan Briggs told people where he was going and when he was due back. He filled out the necessary permits so he could be tracked.

Once he was overdue on Tuesday his family was concerned and eventually contacted the park service and the search for Albert Morgan Briggs began on Wednesday (Day 5).

3) When Morgan was lost on day 2 of the hike, he had worked his way to higher ground where he stayed put.

His highly visible yellow tent/tarp was seen by searches on the ground about a mile away on the AT because he was so visible and out of the cover of the forest canopy.

Had his tent/tarp been a color such as green or with camouflage pattern such as I often use, he may never have been spotted by the ground crew or the helicopter that eventually dropped him supplies.

4) When Morgan knew he was lost he started to ration his food which consisted of Spam and canned peaches.

Unfortunately both foods would increase his dehydration and subsequent thirst since the Spam is loaded with sodium and the peaches are in sugary syrup.

5) Though Morgan was working his way through mud and streams, where he ultimately ended up stranded there was no source of water so he ran dry.

Using tent flaps and a tarp he collected rain water from the daily rain we had last week in the Smokies.

While he was lost and stranded in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, dehydration was the largest danger he faced that could have proved fatal.

What went wrong:

1) Hiking on manways is not prohibited but is strongly advised against by GSM park officials.

Some manways such Pinnacles Manway in Greenbrier is in a similar condition to many maintained trails other than a few blow downs and is very clearly defined.

The manways that Morgan was hiking on are not clearly defined, in poor condition and have elevation gains that are unsafe given the condition of the trail.

This is not a manway that should ever be hiked solo and if you would do so, it is better to do it in the winter when the lack of most of the forest canopy makes following the trail and navigation with a GPS much easier.

This particular manway I have described numerous times as the only major manway in the Great Smoky Mountains national parks I have never hiked on because of the inherent dangers.

Hiking manways or off trail requiring bushwhacking does significant ecological damage to potentially endangered or rare plants, fragile habitats and their inhabitants.

Responsible off trail hiking should be done in the late fall, winter and early spring when the ground-cover and the understory is dormant so you are reducing your environment impact and it's also easier to read the terrain.

2) Morgan did not bring along any communications and navigation electronics.

A cell phone with Verizon service may have actually worked in his location, a GPS may have worked well enough to keep him from getting lost, a walkie talkie may have allowed him to communicate with another hiker in range on the AT and if all else fails he could have used a personal safety beacon as soon as he was stranded and he would have been rescued in hours rather than on day 8.

I tell everyone to never count on electronics for your survival when hiking and honesty hiking on marked and maintained trails you should not even need them, however when you hike solo on a dangerous unmarked trail it is ill advised to not have what is basic electronic safety equipment.

Any serious hiker going solo into a situation like this should never go hiking without a personal locator beacon.

ACR ResQLink 406 MHz Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon

ACR ResQLink 406 MHz Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon

Rigorously tested in Alaska, the ACR ResQLink+ 406 MHz Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon provides a safety net in case things take a turn for the worse at sea. Three levels of integrated signal technology-GPS positioning, a powerful 406 MHz signal, and 121.5 MHz homing capability-combine to relay your position to a worldwide network of search and rescue satellites. Small enough to carry in a pocket, clip to a backpack, or store inside an inflatable life jacket.Features include waterproof construction and a built-in strobe light that provides visibility during night rescues. Runs up to 30 hours. Even in extreme conditions, the ResQLink+ activates easily. Just deploy the antenna and press the ON button.

3) A low tech visual signal method could have been used to call attention to him and his location: Fire and its subsequent smoke.

Though it is illegal to make a fire when in the national park outside of a fire ring or BBQ in a picnic area or campgrounds, in an emergency, fresh leaves burning would have brought attention to his position much faster.

Since he was camping and planning to be in shelters for days one would assume here would have brought along what it took to make a fire each night such as a lighter, matches or flint.

A camp fire with damp leaves would have made a smell and visual indicators of light and smoke which could have easily been seen or smelled by his rescuers.

Another low tech signaling device would be a mirror or anything reflective could have also been used to gain attention such as a used Spam can and lid or the can from his peaches.

4) Morgan did not have or use a signal whistle or air horn.

I swear by my trusty Storm Safety Whistle which can be heard for a half a mile or more in the conditions Morgan was in. It's a cheap low tech gadget that any hiker should have at all times - short hike or overnight trip.

A Storm Safety Whistle is louder than any other whistle and it even works underwater. Best investment under $10 you can make in saving your life and maybe even chasing an aggressive bear away.

Spend less than $12 and get a decent whistle, a signal mirror and a float, all of which take up almost no room in your pack (or pocket).

ACR Hot Shot Signal Mirror

ACR Hot Shot Signal Mirror

The ACR Hot Shot Signal Mirror is designed to provide optimum sighting spot and comes with a float and whistle. The second surface mirror is telescope quality for a bright, focused image. The buoyant float is bright yellow for easy location and the whistle meets USCG standards for audible alerting in low visibility conditions.

Air horns that use compressed gas come in small canister and are cheap and can also be heard for great distances. When the canister runs out of compressed gas you can put the horn in your mouth and blow.

Using a whistle or horn takes no energy as yelling does. Blowing a horn, whistle or shining a light in a "Short-Short-Short Long-Long-Long Short-Short-Short" SOS pattern is a universal cry for help in Morse Code.

Remember - searchers were as close as 50 yards away from him and he did not know they were there and they did not know he was there! Even a cheap whistle from Wal-Mart could have been heard at that distance.

Fortunately one of the search and rescue teams along the AT saw Morgan's yellow tent and were able to guide a helicopter to his location.

The helicopter returned with an extra sleeping bag, Gatorade, food and a park service radio so they were able to finally communicate with Mr. Briggs and prepare him for the rescue planed for the next day.

I would love to know that last night what Morgan was thinking that last night in his tent and when he finally woke up the next morning. We do know that pork chops were on his mind at some point because after leaving the national park with his brother along with his son and his family he wanted to stop by the supermarket for some to make for his first meal safe and sound back home.

Missing hiker Albert Morgan Briggs leaves the Little River ranger Station in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

This picture shows Morgan with his younger brother leaving the Little River ranger station along with all his hiking and camping gear which was also extracted from the top of Porter Mountain. Morgan looked well as he spoke quickly to park officials on the way to car.

His years of service were brought up by park officials including Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson and how important the 2,000 plus park volunteers are to the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Morgan Briggs has helped countless other visitors to the park over the many years he has served the park and it was his turn to be helped.

Besides volunteers, there were 40 people who worked from the Great Smoky Mountains national park in the search and rescue teams. This did not include the 2 helicopter crews in 3 flights that were used to first find, then supply and finally to rescue Albert Morgan Briggs.

This was a well coordinated and expensive undertaking on the part of the national park service. Fortunately for the NPS and not the Tennessee tax payers, the cost of the helicopter retrieval off the mountain by a helicopter owned and flown by the Tennessee Highway Department, was paid for by the State of Tennessee.

As with any incident - especially one of this magnitude, there are lessons to be earned. While I travel with high visibility orange covers for my backpacks and 3 foil thermal blankets which would make a great signaling device, I am replacing my tent to one with a much higher visibility color based upon this incident.

While you need to careful anytime you hike in the wilderness, regardless of your hiking experience, my hope is that some of you will learn as I have and minimize the chance you can get lost and stranded in the Great Smoky Mountains and if you do survive until your swift rescue.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Missing Hiker in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Alive and Well but Not Out of the Woods - Yet

Tonight formally missing 70 year old hiker Albert Morgan Briggs is making his home in a tent perched about 4,800 feet up on Porters Mountain drinking Gatorade and eating food dropped down to him by helicopter this afternoon which also dropped a 2 way radio which he has now turned off to conserve battery life.

Though the weather was shaky all morning long and early in the afternoon, it finally cleared up enough that a helicopter was able to assist on the search for Mr. Albert Morgan Briggs who was backpacking and not been seen or heard from since Sunday morning.

It was just plain old perseverance which found Mr. Briggs as a search and rescue crew up on the Appalachian Trail (AT) noticed a yellow tent about a mile due north of Charles Bunion purchased on a rock outcropping which he was unable to move from due to the extreme terrain in the area (See Map Below).

Missing Hiker in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Alive and Well but Not Out of the Woods  - Yet

A helicopter was sent to his approximate location with the help of the spotters on the AT. Upon the helicopters arrival at about 4:15 Morgan signaled to it by waving his arms and with a red handkerchief that had with him.

Since there is no location near him the helicopter could set down, it flew back to the park headquarters where they loaded a pack with food, drink, a sleeping bag and a 2 way walkie talkie which was dropped to him as it was getting too dark for the crew on the ground to try to reach him in safety.

The rescue coordinators had a brief conversation on the radio with Mr. Albert Morgan Briggs to confirm that he was not injured and safe in his current location and that a rescue operation will take place to extract him from the ridge-line on Porters Mountain tomorrow.

Morgan's son has been contacted by the park service and advised of his status and the park services rescue plans.

Two concurrent rescue plans to extract Mr. Briggs are being put into action early tomorrow morning. The first rescue operation calls for 2 separate 4 man teams to be sent out to climb up to the peak of Porters Mountain to extract Mr. Briggs.

The second rescue operation which would be the preferred way to extract him but is dependent on the weather involves a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter which if it can fly will attempt to extract Morgan by hoist, pull him aboard and then land in the Sugarlands parking area by mid-morning.

I will be at vantage point on the top of mountain that looks directly out at the Porters Peak and may be able to capture the rescue if it is done by air. I will be twittering updates from my position at the peak of Shields Mountain in Sevierville.

Luckily though he put himself in a terrible position high atop an inaccessible ridge, at least he had enough experience to not try to get down and injure himself or be in a location in which he could not be spotted. Warm though wet weather has also keep the chance of exposure to a minimum and with the help of the additional sleeping bag he should be quite comfortable though anxious tonight.

Mr. Albert Morgan Briggs knows the park well as he was one of the national parks first ridge runners working along the Appalachian Trail and now works in the backcountry permit office in the Sugarlands visitor center just outside of Gatlinburg Tennessee.

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