Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains National Park needs more volunteers at Clingmans Dome Information Center

If you would like to help park visitors at the Clingmans Dome Information Center which at 6,300 feet and is often in or above the clouds, here is your chance as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in need of about a dozen volunteers to help out.

The volunteers will be needed from May through November 30th to help provide park information to visitors and assist in trip planning including giving directions in the Clingmans Dome Information Center which also has a bookstore area managed by the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA).

The Volunteers needed would be working alongside GSMA employees and will need to be able to work at least one 4 hour shift per week, 11 am to 3 pm. Park Volunteers are most needed for shifts from Friday through Sunday, but help is needed during Monday - Thursday as well.

The information center is relatively new opening in 2010. The building itself was originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and before it was turned into the Clingmans Dome Information Center and bookstore, it was a comfort station.

Water quality issues required that the national park switch to vault toilets so that rather than the waste be treated high atop the mountain, it could be pumped out and treated elsewhere where there would be less environmental impact.

While the vault toilets where installed in the parking, the original bathrooms were completely overhauled and turned into the useful building that you see now in its place.

"In the past, visitors to this popular destination did not have a chance to obtain information on their high elevation visit or have questions answered," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "Now with the help of volunteers staffing the center, visitors can inquire and learn about the spruce fir ecosystem and the impacts of invasive insects, such as the balsam woolly adelgid, and air quality."

While Clingmans Dome does not see the amount of visitation that the Sugarlands Visitor Center or Oconaluftee does, it is vitally important to park visitors and through hikers along the Appalachian Trail.

Training for Volunteers will be held from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm on Friday, May 17th. To sign up for training or for more information, contact Florie Takaki Monday - Fridays at (828)497-1906 or by email her at Florie_Takaki@nps.gov.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Where and When to see Synchronous Fireflies in the Smokies in 2013

Why do more than a thousand people a night walk around in the dark without lights in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park every June? For a very good reason...to see the worlds famous Smokies Synchronous Fireflies.

To see such a miracle of nature is simply amazing with the blinking of tens of thousands of lightning bugs that start randomly, then start flashing all at once or in patterns together, and then as fast is it starts, blackness envelops the area and the sounds of the night forest seems to skip a beat, and then, it all starts again.

The flashing of the fireflies which are actually beetles, vary in color, seasonal timing, duration and pattern from species to species, but the main purpose for all of them to flash or glow is to attract a mate.

The majority of the display that we see from the Synchronous Firefly Photinus carolinus which can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other wooded areas and fields close by is the males answer to the female's initial signal of light, which draws him ever closer to her.

While finding the place where the Synchronous Fireflies will flash is not that hard if you can go back to the same spot over and over again from May until July, it's highly impractical.

Virtually every spot the biologists have looked for the Synchronous Firefly in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they have found them, as long as the biologist timing was right.

Timing is everything when it comes to the fireflies as you only have about a 2 week window when they flash their best, before which they are underground and after which they have mated, laid their eggs and have died.

What you have to do to find the is Synchronous Lightning Bugs is understand when they are going to emerge from the soil as fully grown adults ready to mate. In lower elevations of the National Park at the 2,000 foot mark such as in Elkmont where some of the best firefly displays can be seen, that can be as early as the Early May to Mid June.

On average, low elevation peak synchronous firefly activity is the first into the second week of June; however, in 2012 it was the last week of May due to unseasonably warm weather. This year's seasonal emergence of plants and insects was about 3 weeks later than last year so we are right on target with the parks estimation at his point.

One of the best ways to see the fireflies is to take the shuttle buses running from June 6th through June 13th that takes you from the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area to the Little River Hiking Trail parking area in Elkmont.

Sadly, far more people want to go see the fireflies in the Smokies than the national park can accommodate, so for years the first come first served system of the firefly shuttle buses have been scrapped for a reservation system that leaves just as many people missing out on the show, but not waiting in long lines for no reason. Advance parking passes to buy tickets sold out in hours with the remaining half going to sell out fast on the day before each departure.

Another choice area for see in the Synchronous Lightning Bugs is the Great Smoky Mountains National park is in Tremont for the 3rd and last week in May as the elevation is about 800 or so feet less than in Elkmont and they do emerge and mature sooner. This road also sees very little traffic so the lights won't disturb the fireflies as much.

If you feel like walking, another great spot to the see the fireflies is to hike into Cades Cove which is allowed even as the road is closed to motor vehicle traffic. Here in Cades Cove, which is at an elevation between Tremont and Elkmont, choice areas are Hyatt Lane, by the Abrams Falls Trailhead or by Sparks Lane.

Not planning or arriving to the Smokies until the 2nd weekend in June or later and still want to see the synchronized fireflies in the GSMNP? Higher up is when you need to go. Try the Newfound Gap Parking Area, around Clingmans Dome, along the Foothills Parkway East or Foothills Parkway West.

Related Smokies Fireflies News Stories

Synchronized Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains