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Dale Ditmanson Plans Retirement from Park Service

Dale Ditmanson

Dale Ditmanson

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent, Dale Ditmanson, announced plans to retire on January 3, 2014 after 36 years with the National Park Service (NPS). He has served in the Smokies as Superintendent since May of 2004 and has been recognized for his exceptional leadership as the 2009 Southeast Region’s Superintendent of the Year and the 2013 Association of Public Lands’ Agency Partner of the Year which he shared with recently retired Deputy Superintendent Kevin FitzGerald. Ditmanson is also a recipient of the Department of Interior’s Honor Award for Meritorious Service. “Dale Ditmanson exemplifies the best of the National Park Service career employees: dedicated to the mission, driven to excellence and willing to fight to protect our National Parks. I appreciate all he has done for the American people throughout his NPS career and wish him well in retirement,” said NPS Director Jon Jarvis.

Among his many accomplishments, Ditmanson provided the vision and leadership, working closely with a tremendous management team and park partners, leading to the construction of facilities that will serve the public well into the future. Ditmanson also worked tirelessly with gateway communities, partner groups, congressional staff, NPS staff, and Park neighbors to secure approval of a Memorandum of Agreement for the future of the Elkmont Historic District, accomplished a resolution leading to the North Shore Road settlement decision with Swain County, and developed the Trails Forever partnership between Friends of the Smokies and the Park. Ditmanson has also championed the protection of natural and cultural resources while serving in the Smokies working closely with Resource Management and Science Staff to support the reintroduction of Elk, pushing for improved air and water quality standards, and helping to secure needed funds for the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid suppression efforts.

More information will follow regarding a farewell celebration for Ditmanson in early January. For more information, please contact Park’s Public Information Office at 865-436-1207 or 865-436-1203.

Record Rainfall May Dampen Fall Color Show

mfec4S8 In the yearly tradition that is the Western Carolina University foliage forecast, given by Kathy Mathews, this years forecast has been delivered. Abundant rainfall during one of the wettest summers in Western North Carolina history may portend a dampening of the intensity of the fall color show this year unless autumn brings vastly drier conditions, predicts Kathy Mathews, Western Carolina University’s fall foliage forecaster. Mathews went on to explain; “With record rainfall during July, the trees in the mountains look healthy and green at the moment, and that’s a good thing for the trees. But leaf-lookers need to keep their fingers crossed for some drier weather in the next couple of months in order for us to see the development of vibrant fall leaf color.” Leaf looking tourists may be in for some disappointment this year, which will possibly affect the local businesses in our area. “There always will be plenty of color in the yellow and orange hues,” Mathews said. “However, if the days remain cloudy throughout September, there won’t be as much of a pop of bright reds on the leaves.” The red pigments called “anthocyanins”, are manufactured by leaves mainly in the fall in response to cooling temperatures and excess sugar production caused by lots of sun, Mathews said. “Dryness also causes production of more red pigment,” she said. “Studies have shown that trees stressed out by dry soils and nutrient deficiency produce more red pigment in the fall. Ample sunshine and dry weather is the combination necessary for brilliant fall foliage.” Another factor in the annual fall color show is temperature. “Cool nights in September, with temperatures dropping into the low 40s, release the yellow, orange and red colors because chlorophyll degrades faster at lower temperatures,” Mathews said. “Temperature may work in our favor this year, as we have seen relatively cool summer months. If this trend continues, colors may be more vivid despite the rainfall.” And there is an upside to all the rainfall, even if it means less-vibrant fall colors, the leaves should hang around longer, “With healthy, well-watered trees, we should not see much early leaf drop,” Mathews said. The color change should begin at the higher mountain elevations in late September and continue through mid-November in the lower levels of WNC. Regardless of when the peak is and how intense the hues are, visitors always can find good fall color somewhere in the WNC mountains, with more than 100 tree species in the Southern Appalachians. That means not only many different colors of leaves in the fall, but also a lengthy fall color season, Mathews said.

New Park Deputy Superintendent Announced

New Park Deputy Superintendent Patty Wissinger

New Park Deputy Superintendent Patty Wissinger

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson announced that Patricia M. Wissinger has been selected as the next Deputy Superintendent. She replaces Kevin Fitzgerald, who retired earlier this year. Wissinger is currently the superintendent of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Atlanta, one of the busiest recreation areas in the United States. She is scheduled to report to her new assignment in mid-September.

“Patty brings a broad base of park operational knowledge and experience to the Smokies having served as a Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Division Chief, and in the Regional Office,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “Patty has been recognized for her leadership with partners as well as employees and I look forward to having her on our team.”

Wissinger has extensive experience in building partnerships, major museum design and construction, land acquisition planning, viewshed management, road and bridge construction projects, exhibit design, educational outreach, general management planning and managing large national park visitor services. She was recognized with numerous awards including Southeast Region Superintendent’s Award for Science and Resource Management Excellence and, under her leadership, Chattahoochee River NRA was recognized for Excellence in Interpretation and Education.

“ Words cannot express how excited I am to join the staff, partners, volunteers and the communities of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the crown jewels in our nation,” Wissinger said. “I feel like the most blessed person in the National Park Service right now. This park is unsurpassed by its natural beauty, diversity of resources, and cultural heritage. In my opinion, it is absolutely the most beautiful place on earth. I am so proud to join the committed cadre of citizens who together will protect this incredibly special place as we also connect it to a new generation of Americans to preserve and enjoy.”

 

Fatal Car Wreck in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

James Edward Bigmeat Jr.

James Edward Bigmeat Jr.

A fatal car accident claimed the life of a Cherokee man on Friday, August 9th in the Great Smoky Mountains Park close to Park Headquarters near Gatlinburg. According to officials with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 44-year-old James Bigmeat Jr. of Cherokee, North Carolina was traveling north on U.S. 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road, when he ran off the roadway and collided into a tree. Also with him in the vehicle was his wife Angela Murphy, who is also from Cherokee. Angela Murphy, age 34, sustained injuries and was transported by Gatlinburg Emergency Medical Services to the University of Tennessee Medical Center according to a news release from the national park, where she was listed as being in stable condition as of Sunday morning. The cause of the collision is under investigation, but Park Rangers believe excessive speed was a contributing factor.

Fontana Lake filled to the Brim

This weekend marked the second time in 13 years, both of which have occurred this calendar year, that the sluice tube was opened to lower the level of the lake due to excessive inflow from the feeder rivers to the lake.  Between the operation of the generators and the opening of the sluice tube 128,000 cubic gallons per minutes of water were passing through the dam. The spectacle of the millions of gallons of water flooding from the sluice tubes was a major spectacle for visitors over the weekend, one twice seen this year. Fontana Dam was constructed in the 1940′s for two reasons, one was to generate electricity for the making of the first atomic bomb, the second was part of the flood control on the Tennessee River flood plain.

National Park Enjoys Record High Visitation

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has recently released its visitation records for the month of April. For the first one third of the year, between January and April of 2013 the park saw 1,620,000 visitors. The number, while impressive, is actually down 360,000 visitors from the same time last year. That is 11.6% below the five year average of the January to April time period. Park officials attribute the drop in visitors to the extended closure of Newfound Gap Road on U.S route 441. The road was reopened to the public a month ahead of schedule on April 15, as previously reported by WRGC. The closing of Newfound Gap Road hurt Park attendance during the first third of the year. However, after the Newfound Gap Road reopening the park has enjoyed record high visitor attendance. In one day alone the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sugarlands Visitors center has seen 6,000 visitors, setting a new twenty year record. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson is quoted as saying, “We are once again the most visited national park in the country, almost nine and a half million last year which is the highest number in over a decade”. With Newfound Gap Road reopened park officials are already seeing a return to those historic visitation numbers. Early signs are promising that the millions of park tourists and the dollars that they bring are returning to our area.

A Decrease In Tourism For The Smokies

Great SmokiesThe Great Smoky Mountains National Park has released tourism statistics. Total visitation for March of 2013 was down 23.8% as compared with March 2012. During March 2013 a total of 465,594 visitors came into the Park as compared with 611,326 in 2012, a decrease of 145,732 visitors. Visitation for January through March 2013 was 983,664 visitors which, is 250,334 less than in 2012, and 47.4% below the five year average. It has been the lowest visitation for January through March in over 5 years. The sharp decrease is likely due to the closure of a section Newfound Gap (Hwy 441) between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC due to a January 16 landslide. The landslide cut off direct road access between the northern and southern sections of the park. The road work was completed on Monday, April 15 and is now open to all traffic.

Visitation for Entrances:
Gatlinburg:                 158,953
Townsend:                 90,299
Oconaluftee:              46,717
Outlying Areas:          169,625

Newfound Gap Road Reopens

From left to right: Chief Hicks, Park Superintendent Ditmanson, and Congressman Meadows

From left to right: Chief Hicks, Park Superintendent Ditmanson, and Congressman Meadows

Today, park officials and local politicians, held a press conference to announce the reopening of US 441/Newfound Gap Road, the main thoroughfare that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and connects Eastern Tennessee to Western North Carolina. On January 16, 2013, a major landslide due to heavy rainfall, destroyed a large section of the road leaving it closed for months. Local contractors Phillips & Jordan were awarded a $3.9 million contract to begin the rebuilding process on February 20, 2013. In that contract, officials agreed to a daily incentive of an additional $18,000 dollars, up to $500,000, for early completion before the May 15 deadline. With today’s reopening announced, Phillips & Jordan completed the project 30 days early and will be awarded the full $500,000 as agreed. Local politicians Congressman Mike Meadows, and Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian were at the press conference to add their words of praise to Phillips & Jordan’s efforts. When asked about the $250,000 of the $500,000 early completion award that the tribe contributed, Chief Hicks said, “It was money well spent.”

The newly constructed stretch of Newfound Gap Road

The newly constructed stretch of Newfound Gap Road