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Archive for GSM National Park – Page 2

Thick Smoke In Sylva

NC-Forest-LogoWRGC received numerous phone calls on Tuesday from citizens expressing concerns over the thickening smoke settling over Sylva and surrounding area. According to North Carolina Forest Service Spokesman Ron Hollifield, there were several sources of smoke including a controlled burn in the Big Laurel area of Swain County. Additionally, there were loose fires on the Qualla Boundary along with Controlled and Uncontrolled fires in Upstate South Carolina which fed additional smoke into our area. The Forest Service reminds everyone to exercise caution due to the rapidly drying conditions even after the rain.

Great Smokies Bridge Closure

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the temporary closure of Ramsey Cascades Trail due to a damaged footbridge that has created an unsafe river crossing. Park trail crews expect to complete needed repairs by late April.  During recent high winds, a large hemlock tree fell and damaged the 60-foot long footbridge that crosses Ramsey Prong. The fallen tree destroyed the handrail that is necessary for safe crossing over the footbridge which lies approximately 12 feet above the river. The bridge was also cracked and separated from the foundation.

Collections Preservation Center Construction

Secretary Jewell and Senator Alexander

Secretary Jewell and Senator Alexander

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials were joined by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Senator Lamar Alexander on Monday, March 3, to celebrate the contributions that public-private partnerships have made to the national park to help honor and preserve America’s cultural heritage. Secretary Jewell announced a timeline for the construction of a 13,000 square-foot Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, TN with the solicitation process beginning immediately and construction expected to begin this summer. The new facility is expected to be completed in the fall 2015. Through the completion of this new regional center, the National Park Service (NPS) will be able to properly care for over 144,000 artifacts, 220,000 archival records, and 275 linear feet of library materials documenting the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee including Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and Obed Wild and Scenic River. Consolidating the collections materials will both ensure the protection for the heirlooms entrusted to the National Park Service and also allow for a single Museum Curator to oversee all the collections. “We are delighted to be a part of this incredible opportunity that now allows us to properly care and preserve these pieces of our past enabling us to continue to tell the stories of the Smokies,” said Acting Smokies Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “This opportunity would not have been possible without the generosity of our partners, Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies, and the individuals that offered their support.” Nearly half of the estimated $ 4.3 million cost of the facility has been provided by our park partners along with the donation of the 1.6 acre parcel of land provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. “The Friends of the Smokies is privileged to partner with the Great Smoky Mountain Association to assist the NPS in the creation of such a lasting and meaningful resource for our area,” said President Jim Hart. The new facility centralizes irreplaceable materials in a conveniently located, secure, climate-controlled space in which they will be preserved, as well as office and lab space where they can be studied by NPS staff and visiting researchers. In addition to providing construction funds, our partner Great Smoky Mountains Association is also providing support for a librarian to help catalog and care for the items as well as assist park descendants, researchers, and visitors access materials for study. “Great Smoky Mountains Association is honored to be a part of this landmark project that pays tribute to the people who gave up their homes and communities for the creation of this national park. Of all the park projects GSMA has supported over the last 61 years, this is one of the very most important,” said Executive Director Terry Maddox. The historic artifacts include pre-historic projectile points, logging-era equipment, vintage weapons, clothing, farm implements, tools and other possessions that would have been found on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days such as everyday items including hair combs, butter churns, beds, looms, and spinning wheels, all handmade and all one-of-a-kind. The collection also includes documentary history through oral histories of Southern Appalachian speech, folklore, official documents, photographs and stories. Having these artifacts more accessible will also allow more opportunities for the NPS to share items with approved public museums for temporary display including the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Park officials are honored by the dedication and perseverance of Senator Alexander and Department of Interior leaders who provided continued support leading to the construction of this facility which likewise honors the families whose legacy will be well preserved. As a part of the media event, leaders also had the unique opportunity to hear the stories of several descendants of families who gave their lands for the creation of the national park as we honor the contributions of their ancestors through this preservation effort.

New Numbers For National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 9,685,829 visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 spent $741 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 10,959 jobs in the local area. “Great Smoky Mountains National Park is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides for visitors. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.” National park tourism is a critical economic driver for gateway communities across the nation. Researchers estimate that for every $1 invested by American taxpayers, the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy. The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber along with Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion. According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and B&Bs (27 percent), and other amusement and recreation (20 percent). To download the report visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

 

Prescribed Burns

NC-Forest-LogoThe U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a series of prescribed burns over the next 3 – 6 weeks on a total of about 3,500 acres of the Nantahala Ranger District in the Nantahala National Forest.

The prescribed burn will take place in the following areas:

  • Slip Off area, 190 acres, Swain County
  • Rattlesnake Knob area, 248 acres, Macon County
  • Alarka Laurel area, 697 acres, Swain County
  • Dirty John area, 830 acres, Macon County
  • Steeltrap Knob area, 872 acres, Macon County
  • Pine Mtn. area, 704 acres, Macon County

The dates for each burn will be announced as they are decided and weather permitting. The prescribed burns will reduce the amount of fuel on the forest floor, preventing catastrophic wildfire and reducing risks to nearby communities. Prescribed burning also helps improve forest health and wildlife habitat. Public safety is the highest priority during a prescribed burn.

Click here to learn more about restoring fire to the mountains.

Arson Suspected in Cherokee Fire

Cherokee Reservation Fire

Cherokee Reservation Fire

Arson is blamed for a wildfire that burned more than 120 acres in Swain County. The fire started yesterday on the Cherokee Reservation and made its way into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Bureau of Indian Affairs says it was clear that it was arson early on because the fire was actually set in four different locations. You could see the the fire from Downtown Cherokee. The fire was first reported just after noon and the wind pushed it quickly through tinder-dry woods. Flames came close to some homes on the secluded mountainside. Some of the firefighters were left to stand-watch at homes that had been threatened, making sure there were no flare-ups. Crews from both the reservation and national park sides coordinated efforts to surround the flames. That strategy paid-off. 100 percent containment has been achieved Tuesday night and no structures were damaged. No arrests have been made at this time.

More Deer For Cherokee

white-tailed-deer-great-smoky-mountainsA new tribal program is to thank for more deer roaming the Cherokee Reservation. Wildlife officals are moving deer from the Morrow Mountain State Park to the Reservation. The deer have spent a month in a protected habitat but were released into the wild on Monday. Chief Michell Hicks says “It definitely makes you feel proud to know that we are helping to improve the environment that we live in. Our goal is to monitor and hopefully watch them blossom.” Each deer has a tag and collar for radio tracking. The deer will be monitored closely. Cheif Hicks hopes that more deer will be released on the reservation in the near future.

 

Temporary Lane Closures

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have approved a request from Sevier County Electric System (SCES) to replace six electric poles along the southbound Spur beginning Monday, February 24 through Thursday, March 6. The work will require weekday one-lane closures, Monday through Thursday, for short sections between Norton Creek and the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. Crews will replace the poles along the shoulder of the Spur and adjacent side roads. The temporary lane closures are necessary to provide for the safety of both workers and motorists. The one-lane closures will be in effect Monday through Thursday from 7:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. as needed. No lane closures will be allowed over the weekends to accommodate weekend traffic.   For more information about road conditions, please visit the Park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm and or call the Park’s Road and Weather Information Line at 865-436-1200.

Volunteers Needed

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is recruiting volunteers to staff the Information Center at Clingmans Dome, from April 1 through November 30, 2014.  The center sits at an elevation of 6,300 feet and is a source of information for the national park.  Volunteers are needed to provide educational, recreational and trip planning information. Other helpful services provided include the ability to purchase guides, maps, outdoor apparel, and other products sold by the Great Smoky Mountain s Association. GSMA is a primary park partner and is involved in a number of projects to improve the visitors’ experience. Volunteers will be working alongside GSMA employees and each volunteer is asked to work at least one four-hour shift per week, either 9:30 am until 1:30 pm or 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm.  Volunteers are needed to fill all days of the week, but especially Friday through Sunday.  Interested persons will be provided orientation and training before their tour of duty.  To sign up for this volunteer program or for more information, please call 828-497-1906 Monday through Friday.

Ginsing Poachers Get Jail Time

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell sentenced Charles R. Nash, of Whittier, N.C. to serve 10 days in jail for the illegal possession or harvesting of American ginseng from the Nantahala National Forest, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina and Kristin Bail, Forest Supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina. According to the January 30, 2014 sentencing hearing and other documents, on October 12, 2013, Nash admitted to illegally possessing 24 American ginseng roots he had dug from the Mosses Creek and Wayehutta Off-Road Vehicle areas in Jackson County. He pleaded guilty to the poaching charge. Staff of the Forest Service replanted the recovered viable roots. American ginseng is on the list of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species. The U.S. Attorney’s Office reminds the public that gathering ginseng on the Nantahala National Forest without a permit is illegal. U.S. Forest Service lands have been severely impacted by ginseng poachers in western North Carolina. American ginseng was formerly abundant throughout the eastern mountains, but due to repeated poaching, populations have been reduced to a point that they can barely reproduce. The roots poached in this park are usually young, between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and have not yet reached their full reproductive capacity. In time, the plant’s populations could recover if poaching ceased. The Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the regulatory agency that evaluates the biological and management status of wild American ginseng throughout its native range. The Division issues an annual or biennial report detailing if any harvest conditions need to be modified to ensure the sustainable harvest of wild native ginseng. Permits to collect ginseng root in National Forests are issued through the U.S. Forest Service in early September. Permits are not available in National Park lands such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where even the possession of American Ginseng is prohibited.
The investigation of the case was handled by the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville handled the prosecution.
To report illegal harvesting activities of American ginseng, please call 828-257-4200.

“Play On” Moving Forward

The new chairperson of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, Robert Jumper reported to the Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday that a trio of marketing firms including Pineapple Public Relations and Marketing firm has been retained to help the TBA move forward with the next phase of the tourism marketing plan for Jackson County. Jumper explained how some local citizens did not favorably view the “Play On” marketing theme adopted by the County.  Jumper stated that the terminology had tested well in the market research centered on the desired tourist population. One of the firms selected is Pineapple Marketing and Public Relations firm has plenty of tourism centered marketing experience in western North Carolina and north Georgia. While increasing the number of tourists coming to Jackson County is important Jumper further emphasized the importance of having the infrastructure in place to accommodate those coming to spend their vacations in the area. The infrastructure must not only include places to stay, but access to the rivers and lakes, and the means to enjoy all the resources including trails, hiking and the natural resources. Jumper was in agreement with comments made by Business and Industry Director Richard Price that all the messages coming out of Jackson County in recruiting tourism traffic need to be coordinated and consistent.

Park Plans Burn in Cataloochee

Fire management officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are planning two 200-acre prescribed burns in the Canadian Top unit adjacent to Cataloochee Valley. Weather permitting, burn operations could begin as early as Monday, and may continue at different times through early November. The two burn sites are located on Bald Top adjacent to Mathews Branch near the Cataloochee Ranger Station. The units are part of the larger Canadian Top multi-year prescribed fire project where fire managers have been conducting a series of low-intensity, controlled burns to restore the composition and open structure of the oak woodlands that occur on upper slopes and ridges within the site. “One of the goals of the prescribed burn is to improve elk forage and habitat,” said Great Smoky Mountain Wildland Fire Module Leader Shane Paxton. “This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs while increasing the regeneration of oak and yellow pines along with increasing the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers. Over time, this increase in herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor will improve forage for elk which graze the nearby meadows.” Roads and trails will remain open to the public throughout the burn operations, although Little Cataloochee Trail may be temporarily closed if fire activity warrants. Visitors should expect to see smoke in the area. The burn operations will be conducted by park staff and are being funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. For more information on the use of prescribed burns in Great Smoky Mountains NP, visit the website www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/fire-regime.htm.

Public Perception of Park Closing Could Hurt Local Economy

Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Department at WCU is predicting that this fall season could be one of the best for hotels and other local businesses in the mountains due to several factors such as: favorable travel conditions and a drop in hotel and gas prices . October is traditionally the most busy tourist season for “leaf lookers” here in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dr. Morse, as well as many business owners here in the mountains do fear that not enough people know that while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with its trails and facilities are currently closed due to the government shut down, highway 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee still remains open.

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