Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Oconaluftee Visitor Center in GSMNP will have No Significant Environmental Impact

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has reported that the Environmental Assessment of the potential impacts of constructing the planned new Oconaluftee Visitor Center and has been able to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).

The proposed new visitor center by the Cherokee North Carolina entrance will replace the functions of the existing 1,110 square foot built in the 1930s that is serious undersized, inefficient and is not handicapped accessible.

New Oconaluftee Visitor Center in GSMNP will have No Significant Environmental Impact

The new 6,000-7,000-square-foot Oconaluftee visitor center facility that is planed will be far more environmentally friendly, more comprehensive in displayed materials and hopefully as handicapped accessible as the new facility on the Blue Ridge Parkway and not as deficient as the Twin Creek Science Center recently built in the Roaring Fork area off Cherokee Orchard Road.

The proposed new Oconaluftee Visitor center in the GSMNP will also have an information kiosk, a new parking area to replace the seriously under sized parking facility and the current traffic pattern will have a much smoother safer merging design bring traffic onto Newfound Gap Road (US 441).

I am also thrilled to report that the new Oconaluftee Visitor center will have a far more expansive cultural history display area including information on the Native Americans who inhabited the area prior to the parks formation. Right the park service has virtually no Native America Displays or interpretive information other than a few small signs along the Oconaluftee River Hiking Trail.

Surprisingly federal funding will not be needed to build or equip this new visitor center as 2 organizations which we strongly support will be providing the funding.

The Great Smoky Mountains Association has committed to providing $2.5 million for the visitor centers construction and the Friends of the Smokies are providing the $500,000 needed to design and create all the exhibits.

The new visitor center will be certified as an environmentally friendly building under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

Proposed environmental feature the national park service is looking into include: passive solar, a rain water cistern collecting water to flush toilets, water saving fixtures including waterless urinals and water saving water faucets and toilets, and native plants in the landscaping that require minimal water.

The roofing materials, cabinets, siding, and structural supports of the new building will all be made of recycled materials.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Smoky Mountains camping club forming in Asheville

Camping in the Smoky Mountains can't be beaten and The Good Sam Club is looking to form a new chapter in Asheville area in Western North Carolina to start camping as a group in April with places and times yet to be determined.

Join the Good Sam Club and you can be part of the great fun they will have camping in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina!

FREE Camping -Join the Good Sam Club today!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last call for volunteers to help the GSMNP remove non native plants.

Non native plant removal will take place this Saturday in the Big Creek section of the Great Smoky Mountains national park and Your Smokies officially declares that for this weekend Tennessee and North Carolina are both to be called "The Volunteer State".

OK maybe my official declaration doesn't mean much, but your help removing non native plants that have invaded the Great Smoky Mountains for a few hours would really help the national park!

We are looking for a few good hands willing to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the GSMNP while helping by pulling out 2 plants that are disturbing the ecology of the park.

Bring nothing but yourself (and maybe a few friends); a great attitude, water, lunch and a pair of gloves wouldn't hurt. Meet us before 10:00 am in the picnic area and expect to be done by 2:00 pm.

Further details about the Non-Native Plant Control in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hiking on manways and off trail in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

If you read any of the Your Smokies web sites or the SmokiesHiker Twitter posts you will see that I have been speeding more time hiking off of designated hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

I have fielded many inquiries when I am in the GSMNP, emails and phone calls about off trail hiking and hiking on manways along with asking for recommendations, so here they are.

Never hike off trail without know what you are getting yourself in for. It is very easy to get lost off trail and you may never have another hiker pass by and guide you in the right direction. As I have posted before NEVER COUNT ON A GPS - especially on the GSMNP.

Besides getting disorientated and lost when hiking off trail in the Great Smoky Mountains national park another danger to hikers is the fact that the trail may not be safe due to hanging trees and limbs that may fall.

There may also be heavily eroded trails that can give way, unstable rocks and vegetation that can also fall upon unsuspecting hikers or collapse when someone is climbing upon them and holes that may be covered by leaves and vegetation trapping or injuring unsuspecting hikers.

Beside theses potential dangers to hikers, hiking off the beaten path will also expose you to a far greater chance of an encounter with one of the 2 venomous snakes in the GSMNP or one of the greatest annoyances to hikers: Yellow jackets and hornets that can have nests in rotting logs that you may step on making for a very miserable experience in the Smokies.

You may also have to climb over fallen trees and loose rocks that you would normally not encounter on a hiking trail maintained by the national park service.

Other hazards that can injure hikers off trail include broken glass, rusty barb wire hidden in vegetation and plenty of rusty metal objects left by the original inhabitants of the park and the Civilian conservation Corp (CCC).

Off trail the vegetation itself can also be a hazard to hikers. There are bushes with thorns and brier patches, stinging nettles and poison ivy which you should normally not encounter on a maintained hiking trail.

If all of this is not enough to keep you from hiking off trail and on unmaintained hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, there is also a great risk of damage to the park that can be done hikers.

Off trail hikers in the GSMNP who are not careful can damage fragile plants some of which are quite rare if not endangered or destroy groundcover which can ultimately create a serious erosion problem.

To reduce the impact to plants, and lower the risk of rattlesnake, copperhead yellow jackets and hornets encounter, you should only off trail hike when they are all dormant in the winter. Unfortunately this is when you are at the greatest risk of hypothermia.

So with all these hazards to both yourself and the park, why hike off trail? Well a responsible, very well experienced hiker who goes out and hikes off trail in the winter when his or her impact to the environment is lessened, you can find solitude, historical artifacts and observe wildlife with fewer interruptions by other park visitors.

While you are "Walking softly while carrying your hiking stick" you can be going into places where no human has been for decades if not longer. Some of the areas deep inside the park may have never felt the footsteps of humans.

No matter how tempting, it is illegal to camp anywhere other than in designated campsites and campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and other than in cases of extreme emergency you should never make a fire anywhere other than in a designated campsite or in a BBQ grill in the picnic areas.

With off trail hiking comes great responsibility. The responsibility to hike in a manor to not impact the park by protecting the plants and historical artifacts by not disturbing them and the responsibility to only hike off trail only when you are well enough trained and equipped so you will not get injured or lost and have to be rescued.

Want to know where the most endangered plants and animals are, where the caves that are not locked up are and where the most historical artifacts are just lying around in the Great Smoky Mountains national park? In order to protect the park my lips are sealed.

Looking for great panoramic views, huge stunning waterfalls, the best swimming holes, beautifully preserved historic buildings and the most impressive groves of trees in the Great Smoky Mountains national park? Stay on the designated GSMNP hiking trails!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Flowers blooming now in the Great Smoky Mountains national park? You Betcha!

Last weekend while I was hiking in Cades Cove off of the roadways and trails I noticed in a few places especially on warmer southern exposures that daffodils shoots were poking up through the ground by as much as 2 inches and 2 days ago in the Sugarlands bud formations were evident in a field of daffodils at an abandoned CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) site off trail.

Yesterday I hit the jackpot in Cades Cove - the legendary daffodils planted by the CCC at the CCC campsite on the right just after the Missionary Baptist Church are already blooming!

Some of these daffodils (what the natives here call "buttercups") were planted to spell out the CCC company name and number and the blooming plants and their distinctive green round stalks spell out "Co. 5427".

While only a few of the daffodils/ buttercups are blooming right now in Cades Cove, they will keep increasing in intensity and beauty of the next few weeks.

Some of the brown dormant grasses and weeds in the fields of Cades Cove and the rest of the Great Smoky Mountains national park are already starting to green in a little with all of the unseasonably warm weather we have had in the Smokies.

I have to correct myself. As long as the plants in any part of the park are native and not exotic plants as a naturalist I know there is no such thing as weeds in a national park or Biosphere such as the GSMNP.

These pretty little yellow daffodils that are blooming on Cades Cove right now have both a yellow cup with slight frilling and outer flower pedal in the same shade of yellow and are actually scientifically called Narcissus.

While they are not native wildflowers, at this point since they can be found at various home sites and old CCC campsites they should be listed in the "Wildflowers of the Smokies" pocket filed identification handbook as well as other flowering plants such a yucca.

While these flowers are pretty to look at, you are not allowed to pick the flowers or remove the plants. You should also take care to try to not walk on or sit on these pretty little plants so they can be enjoyed by others - and oh yes - you will be obeying a federal law.

Want to help protect the native plants on the Great Smoky Mountains national park? Join me next Saturday February 21 in Deep Creek North Carolina for Non Native plant eradication - we need more volunteers!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Join me for a guided hike in Cades Cove

Today is a perfect 10 here in the Great Smoky Mountains national Park so I will be hiking in Cades Cove starting at 2:00 pm today so met me at the shelter.

We should be able to see plenty of deer and some wild turkey and in some of the warmer areas we may be seeing the grass turning green already.

Join me for a guided hike in Cades Cove

I will have a historical map of old home site in Cades Cove we can explore.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Help Volunteer for a day of Non-Native Plant Control in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Exotic plants in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - sounds real nice and pretty doesn't it? Well it's not. Non-native plants in the Smokies are a big problem and the Great Smoky Mountains national park needs your help riding this protected biosphere of these monstrous botanical nightmares!

At one time these plants were brought into what is now the Great Smoky Mountains national park by both settlers and later on the Civilian Conservation Corp in a an effort to beautify and control erosion.

Now these unwanted pests such as kudzu, garlic mustard and Japanese Honeysuckle are near the top of the Park's 'Most Wanted List.' They outgrow native species of plants and change the habitat for other plants and animals in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Join us in removing these exotic plants on Saturday, February 21 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm as part of the 10th annual Tennessee Invasive Weed Awareness Week which is organized by the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council.

Help Volunteer for a day of Non-Native Plant Control in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

Here you will be taught how to identify two of these exotic plant species that are taking over large areas of the GSM National Park. One you know what you are looking for, you will be sent out to remove these non native plants.

Our target pests on this outing will be the Honeysuckle vine which grows rapidly forming a dense blanket over native shrubs and small trees and the Garlic mustard which is a ground cover that quickly takes over the shady areas choking out native wildflowers and grasses.

It's something to love the park as many of do but there is a very special feeling in getting your hands dirty and giving back to a place that offers you a lifetime of peace, serenity, educational opportunities and fun. We need your help!

Meet us at the Big Creek picnic area before 10 am on Saturday the 21st. Bring suitable clothes, your lunch and work gloves to make the work and cleanup easier on your hands. For more information you can contact Kristine Johnson at (865) 436-1707 or email her at Kristine_Johnson@nps.gov.

Help us here in the Great Smoky Mountains national park and you will have a day to remember and we will be eternally grateful.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fire closes Old Time Pottery in the Belz outlet mall in Pigeon Forge

Fire Sprinklers saved the day at Old Time Pottery at the Belz Factory outlet in Pigeon Forge when fire broke out today.

The fire started outside the store in gardening but was contained before there was any significant damage to the interior which still suffered some water and smoke damage.

Fire closes Old Time Pottery in the Belz outlet mall in Pigeon Forge

Everyone was evacuated safely with no reported injuries and Mall management shut down the entire Belz outlet mall as a precaution.

The Mall should be reopened by Monday but Old Time Pottery will need extensive water and smoke remediation before it reopens.

Friday, February 06, 2009

All but 2 roads now open in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Today's fantastic weather has melted most of the snow and ice on the roads in the Great Smoky Mountains national park so all but 2 roads that were previously closed due to winter conditions are now open.

The only closed roads due to ice and snow are Old 284 in North Carolina and the Cataloochee entrance road.

Newfound Gap US 441 is now open but ice and snow are still hazards in the GSMNP

Even though the Great Smoky Mountains national park opened Newfound Gap Road (US 441) between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, Laurel Creek Road, Little River Road and Wears Cove Road, some major roads in the park remain closed due to dangerous ice and snow.

The remaining major roads that are closed in the GSMNP are the Foothills Parkway East, Old 284, Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg, the Cataloochee entrance road, Cosby entrance road, and the Greenbrier Road past the rangers station.

Stream crossings whether they are footbridges or rocks can be iced and extremely dangerous so hiker must use caution.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Snow, ice and more closures in the GSMNP

Snow and more ice prompted the Great Smoky Mountains national park to close even more roadways deemed unsafe because of winter conditions:

  • Gatlinburg bypass section of the Foothills Parkway
  • GSMNP entrance road in Cosby Tennessee
  • GSMNP entrance road in Greenbrier Tennessee

Besides some trails accessible and the visitor center in the Sugarlands and the trails in the lower part of Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg or the parking area at the Townsend Wye, there is now no access to any part of the Great Smoky Mountains national park in Tennessee.

Anyone venturing into the park be prepaid for brutally cold weather with high's below freezing and in upper elevations below zero or at most single digits.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Brutal record breaking cold weather at Mount LeConte recorded in the GSMNP

We knew the weather has been unusually cold here in the Smoky mountains and driving has been treacherous, but a report from the winter caretaker at Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Mount LeConte Lodge reported a low last night of -22 degrees - the coldest recorded temperature since 1886.

Lower elevations that the 6,593' high Mount Le Conte were also recording brutally cold weather. The NPS weather station at Cove Mountain in the Pigeon Forge - Wears Valley area of Sevier County recorded 45 MPH wind gusts last night creating a wind chill of 60 below - cold enough to cause frost bite in 4 minutes to exposed flesh.

Brutal record breaking cold weather at Mount LeConte recorded in the GSMNP

The coldest recorded temperature in the park was Jan 21, 1985 at an incredible -32 degrees! Unfortunately there are no wind speeds that were recorded with this temperature so there is no data as to the wind chill factor.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

2 more roads close in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Snow and ice closes 2 more roads in the Great Smoky Mountains national park: Laurel Creek Road from the Townsend Wye to the Cades Cove entrance and the Cataloochee Entrance Road.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Most roads closed in the Great Smoky Mountains national park due to ice and snow.

Snow, Ice and fog created treacherous driving conditions through most the Great Smoky Mountains national park prompting the closing of most of the through roads within the GSMNP.

The following roads are closed:
  • Newfound Gap US 441 between Cherokee NC and Gatlinburg TN

  • Foothills Parkway East

  • Foothills Parkway West

  • Old 284 between Big Creek and Cataloochee

  • Cherokee Orchard Road after the Twin Creek Science Center in Gatlinburg

  • Little River Road from the Sugarlands visitor center to the Townsend Wye

  • Wears Cove Road

None of these roads are not expected to reopen today even though the snowfall has slowed down or stopped throughout much of the park.

Driving is expected to be far worse tomorrow as the freezing temperatures tonight will lock whatever has melted into sheets of ice and as much as another 4 inches of snow may fall on the Smoky Mountains.

Lost Hiker emerges from Pisgah National Forest unharmed

Lost 22 year old hiker Lindsey Pfundstein emerged from near the trailhead where she parked her car close to NC 280 near the border between Transylvania and Henderson counties while more than 50 persons where feverishly searching for her.

Luckily Lindsey realized she was lost before sunset yesterday and was able to navigate her way to the Buckhorn Gap shelter with the help of a map she had brought along. She did bring along a small backpack with three liters of water and managed to stuff leaves in a hammock to stay warm.

She ultimately ended up being 10 miles away last night from where she intended to be on the return portion of her loop. If she did not think clearly and had acted appropriately, the story of the missing 22 year old female hiker missing in the Pisgah National Forest would have ended tragically.

Other than being under equipped I would suggest in the future to Lindsey that she should have brought her cell phone along on the hiking trail which she left on the car. Even if she was out of range, a cell phone could have been zeroed in on by search and rescue teams.

Good job Lindsey Pfundstein!

22-year-old female Hiker missing in Pisgah National Forest in the Smoky Mountains.

A 22 year old woman who was hiking in Pisgah National Forest in the North Carolina area of the Great Smoky Mountains was reported missing when she did not return from her hike at 6:00 pm last night.

A command post for the search and rescue operations was set up on Turkey Pen Gap Trail off Asheville Highway while the main hiking trails and woods close by were being thoroughly searched by members of the N Transylvania County Fire Department and the Mills River Fire and Rescue until 3 am this morning when the search for the missing hiker was called off. Early this morning the search for the hiker recommenced.

The lost female hiker is presumed to be hiking alone and thankfully last night was not as cold as it has been for previous weeks although she could easily have succumbed to hypothermia if she was not properly equipped.

When hiking in the Smoky Mountains during the winter it is crucial that you are equipped and trained on how to survive the night when temperature can easily go below freezing.

It's easy for even a hiker who knows an area well to be slowed down or detoured by an animal encounter, injury, unexpected trail blockage, or dangerous stream crossing where you may have to spend the night.

Hikers need to understand that even in the summer, night time temperatures in the higher elevations of the Smoky Mountains can pose a serious risk to unprepared or inexperienced hikers and campers.