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Cassius Cash Named Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park Service Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin named Cassius Cash, a native of Memphis, Tenn., as the new superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cash, currently superintendent for Boston National Historical Park and Boston African American National Historic Site, will assume his new post in February.

“We are excited to have Cassius joining our Southeast Region leadership team,” Austin said. “He has a great reputation as a leader and has proven his ability to effectively work with partners, stakeholders and local communities. We know that he will be an excellent steward of the Smokies, one of the crown jewels of the Southeast Region.”

“Cash is an outstanding addition to the senior executive leadership at the National Park Service,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “He brings a depth of land management experience with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, and his commitment to engaging local communities will support the great work that is happening at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

“I wholeheartedly look forward to rolling up my sleeves and working with and learning from a group of dedicated employees at the park who have the privilege of and responsibility for preserving and protecting some of the most precious natural and cultural resources in the country,” Cash said. “I also look forward to working with local communities, friends groups, and tribal communities on how the National Park Service can build on innovative ideas to create the next generation of stewards and supporters for this park. The timing for this is excellent because the park service will enter its second century of service to the nation when it observes its Centennial in 2016.”

Cash has served as superintendent at the Boston parks since 2010. While there, he worked with the City of Boston to open a new visitor center in historic Faneuil Hall. That facility now welcomes more than 5 million visitors a year. Cash also worked with several park partners to secure $4 million to reopen the African Meeting House, the oldest black church still in its original location in the country.

Cash began his federal career in 1991with the U.S. Forest Service as a wildlife biologist at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State. He went on to work with that agency for 18 years in various leadership positions.

He served as an administrative officer in Nebraska, district ranger in Georgia, and a civil rights officer in Mississippi. Cash was the deputy forest supervisor at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon before transferring to Boston. Earlier this year, Cash served as the deputy regional director and chief of staff in the Northeast Regional Office.

Cash holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and later attended Oregon State University to study wildlife management.

Cash, his wife, Vonda and their youngest daughter plan to reside in the Gatlinburg area. Their oldest daughter is attending school in Colorado.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected land areas east of the Rocky Mountains, with more than 500,000 acres of forests and more than 2,000 miles of streams. It spans eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina along the high peaks of the Appalachian Mountains. It is the nation’s most visited national park, with more than nine million visitors a year.

Local Fishing Chapter Supports National Park’s Brook Trout

Front Row: Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan, TU President Mike Bryant, Sheila Bolinger, and Fisheries Biologist Matt Kulp Back Row: Chuck James, Gary Verholek, Bill Bolinger, Davy Ezell, and retired Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore

Front Row: Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan, TU President Mike Bryant, Sheila Bolinger, and Fisheries Biologist Matt Kulp
Back Row: Chuck James, Gary Verholek, Bill Bolinger, Davy Ezell, and retired Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan was presented with a $20,000 gift from the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited as part of their continuing efforts to support the park’s fisheries program. The donation includes $10,000 raised by the Little River Chapter at the 2014 Troutfest Banquet and $10,000 given by the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited through the conservation license plate fund.

The donated funds will support brook trout restoration efforts and brook trout genetic studies. Since 1987, the park has actively worked to restore native brook trout populations to their native range. Brook trout, the only trout species native to the Smokies, lost up to 75 percent of their historic range in the early 1900s due to destructive logging practices and competition from non-native rainbow and brown trout. Working with cooperators and volunteers, the park has restored over 14 miles of streams to brook trout habitat.

“Trout Unlimited continues to be a champion of brook trout restoration in the Smokies,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We are grateful not only for this generous donation, but also for the countless hours of hands-on volunteer labor served in the park.”

The Little River Chapter is also supporting an additional brook trout genetic study through a $5,000 ‘Embrace-a-Stream’ Trout’ program grant and a $5,000 youth education program through the Steve Moore Youth Education Fund. This education fund was established in 2014 to recognize retired National Park Service Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore for his efforts in creating future conservation leaders. The funds are being used this year to establish the Trout-in-the-Classroom program in three east Tennessee schools.

“The Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited is pleased to make these donations in our continual efforts to support our national treasure – the Great Smoky Mountain National Park,” said Mike Bryant, President of the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “We believe these donations will make a difference protecting and preserving the park for generations to come. The Little River Chapter has had a special relationship with the Park Service for over twenty years. As a non-profit organization, our mission is to protect and restore cold water resources and watersheds in and around the GSMNP. We continue to do this through our monetary donations as well as with our volunteer efforts.”

National Park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years

IMG_0591Great Smoky Mountains National Park recorded the highest October visitation in 27 years with 1,261,104 people visiting the park. October is traditionally the second busiest month of the year for the national park, driven by visitors coming to see the park’s fall foliage. This year, visitors continued to come to the park despite record rainfall at the beginning of the month, a strong wind event, and a major snow storm on the last day of the month.

Although visitation through the park’s major entrances at Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Cherokee was up, outlying areas led the way in making this month the fourth highest October on record. Visitation at the outlying areas of the park in October was 73% above the 20-year average. Outlying areas include places like Foothills Parkway, Cosby, Big Creek, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, Cataloochee, and Abrams Creek.

Visitation has been up nearly every month this year with over eight million people visiting the park so far. The highest annual visitation on record was set in 1999 when 10,283,598 people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Parkway closes at Milepost 422 for tunnel repair

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announce the closure of a small section of motor road between existing gates at Milepost 420.3 near US Forest Service Road 816 (Black Balsam Road) and Milepost 423.3 at NC Highway 215. Both lanes of the motor road in that section will be closed to all visitors beginning Nov. 3, 2014 through May 2015.

During this closure, Devil’s Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4 will be accessible from the south by foot, bicycle or skis at NC Highway 215. The Art Loeb Trail crossing at Milepost 421.2 will be accessible from the north at Black Balsam Road. Visitors inside the closure are encouraged to use extreme caution and watch for construction related traffic also in the area.

Devil’s Courthouse Tunnel was originally constructed in 1941. This project will make repairs to the aging drainage system and concrete lining inside the tunnel. The work requires that portions of the overhead concrete lining be removed, creating potentially hazardous conditions for visitors that require a full road closure. The tunnel will be sealed and inaccessible to any traffic during this project.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized internationally as an example of landscape design achievement and Parkway tunnels are a significant design feature along the historic route.

Twenty-five of the twenty-six tunnels along the Parkway are in North Carolina, with all Parkway tunnels representing 36 percent of the entire National Park Service tunnel inventory. Tunnels along the Parkway were often constructed to reduce excessive scarring that open cuts would entail, enabling the Parkway to cross through ridges in the interest of maintaining the most desirable route location.

The distinctive stone masonry portals on most Parkway tunnels were generally not part of the original construction, added later in the 1950s and 1960s.

For regular Parkway updates on this and other projects follow the Blue Ridge Parkway on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BlueRidgeNPS; or for real-time road closure information visit maps.nps.gov/blri/road-closures/.

Park Plans Prescribed Burn in Cataloochee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire management officials are planning prescribed burns in the Canadian Top Knob, Mathews Branch, and Noland Mountain areas adjacent to Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina. Weather permitting, burn operations could begin as early as Monday, October 20, and may continue intermittently through mid-November.

The burn units this year are part of the larger Canadian Top multi-year prescribed fire project in which 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. These fire and drought-tolerant natural communities are in decline throughout the Southern Appalachian region.

“The prescribed burns in Cataloochee are critical for the health of oak and pine woodlands. The restoration of this habitat will help to sustain populations of elk and numerous other plants and animals native to Cataloochee Valley,” said National Park Service Fire Ecologist Rob Klein.

This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs, increase the regeneration of fire-tolerant oak and yellow pines, and increase 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. The burn operations will be conducted by park staff and are partially funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

“It is exciting when two resource management organizations’ missions are able to be joined in partnership for mutually beneficial results,” said Wildland Fire Unit Leader Shane Paxton.

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.

Prescribed Burns Begin in Nantahala, Pisgah Forests

The U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina plans to conduct prescribed burns in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests later this month and into November if weather conditions are favorable.

The agency will conduct burns on approximately 4,000 acres in the two national forests.

Prescribed burns reduce woody debris and hazardous fuels that could contribute to high-severity fires. These burns also produce healthier, more diverse and more resilient forests, according to the agency.

Tunnel Repair Begins on Newfound Gap

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced upcoming tunnel repair work inside the Morton Mountain Tunnel from September 2 through September 27. A full-time, single-lane closure will be in effect throughout the duration of the project. The tunnel is located 12 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road.

 A leak in the tunnel ceiling and walls caused significant damage on the north end of the tunnel. Last winter, the leak formed very large icicles and an ice mound on the road surface causing roadway hazards for drivers that had to be cleared before the road could be opened for safe travel. During the repair, the tunnel will have one lane closed to allow workers to cut channels for the installation of drainage pipes in the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. Debris curtains will be set up to shield vehicles from construction activities in the closed lane.

 Visitors should expect delays through the 0.25-mile, single-lane closure area. Bluegrass Contracting Corporation of Lexington, KY was awarded the contract and will maintain traffic flow through the area using a temporary traffic signal. On weekends, flaggers will direct traffic through the area from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on both Saturdays and Sundays.

Graveyard Fields Reopens

A popular spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway has reopened. Graveyard Fields is ready for visitors after being closed for about three months. The popular site was closed to expand parking and add restrooms back in April, there are now 40 parking spots. Officials encourage visitors to use new parking spaces, and if those are full park at overlooks just to north or south and walk down to access trails. Improvements were also made to trails including installing boardwalks and improving drainage.

Smokies Deputy Superintendent Mourned

Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff are mourning the loss of Deputy Superintendent Patty Wissinger, age 55, who passed away Friday night of cancer. Wissinger was recently selected as the Smokies Deputy Superintendent last August.

Wissinger began her National Park Service career in 1980 as a seasonal campground ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway and moved up through the Park Service ranks. Before coming to the Smokies, she was the Superintendent of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. She also served at the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial, Vicksburg National Military Park, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

She is survived by her husband, Gordon Wissinger, three daughters, three grandchildren, and five siblings. A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at Central United Methodist Church in Asheville, NC

Normandy Invasion Veterans Planning To Visit Memorial

The members of American Legion Post 104 in Sylva were given an update at Monday’s meeting by Sylva Rotarian Lynn Lazar on the plans to take local Normandy Invasion veterans to Bedford, Virginia in June for the 60th anniversary of that event. The Rotary Clubs in western North Carolina were instrumental several years ago in raising the funds to send World War Two veterans to Washington to visit the World War Two Memorial in the National Mall.
Lazar will be working with Rotarians, veteran’s organizations, and civic clubs to locate Normandy Invasion veterans and send them, their spouse, and a caregiver to this special celebration. Five or six eligible veterans from Jackson County are expected to join about 40 other veterans from western North Carolina who have expressed an interest in participating in “Operation Overlord 2014” A couple of the local veterans told their story on the video being used to market the occasion. The number of veterans at the observance this year is expected to be in the thousands.
A weekend celebration of daily events at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., will span June 6-8, and include laying of wreaths by various D-Day units, a USO show, historians, veterans’ oral history stations and a parade. The weekend will culminate with a field chapel service on Sunday June 8th.
For the purposes of the “Operation Overlord 2014” project, a Normandy Invasion Campaign veteran is any American veteran able to describe his or her participation in “Operation Overlord” from June 6, 1944, to Aug. 31, 1944 — or has documented evidence of receiving an official Normandy Battle Campaign credit.

GSMA Receives 2.2 Million

Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Executive Director Terry Maddox with Great Smoky Mountains Association announced this past week that an anonymous donor has named the non-profit organization as the recipient of one of the largest cash donations given in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “I have unprecedented news to share with you,” Maddox wrote in an email to the GSMA board of directors. “I was approached recently by a long-time GSMA member who wished to make a designated gift to GSMA.  The total amount of the donation is $2,185,000.” According to a memorandum of understanding between GSMA and the donor, the funds are contingent on two stipulations.  First, the donation is to be applied to the existing Oconaluftee Visitor Center loan and a new loan secured by GSMA to assist in the construction of the Collections Preservation Center.  Secondly, Maddox said, the identity of the donor must not be disclosed to anyone other than GSMA’s executive director. “I agreed to these conditions without hesitation,” Maddox told board members.  The donation will be made in five annual installments between April 2014 and 2018. “GSMA can now dramatically accelerate the pay-down of our line of credit and begin building a previously-approved future projects fund,” he said. The motivation to make a charitable gift of any size is often rooted in the donor’s belief in and love of a cause or place with which he or she feels an emotional connection. That is certainly the case with this donor, Maddox said.“I am overwhelmed by gratitude to this selfless donor whose generosity reflects a deep and abiding love for the Great Smokies,” said William Hart, chairman of GSMA’s board of directors. “This donation will allow GSMA to redouble its efforts to carry out its mission and allow funds that would have formerly been directed to debt to be employed toward the broader aims of the organization. “In effect, this donor leaves a legacy that will positively benefit millions of future visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” he continued. Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies jointly provided the $3.7 million required to construct the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C., which opened to the public in April 2011.  The facility fulfilled the National Park Service wish to replace an old CCC structure that was intended only to be a ranger station and replace it with a state-of-the-art museum, visitor center and bookstore on the North Carolina side of the park. Just last month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that GSMA would once again be stepping up with Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to financially support construction of the new Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, Tenn., where the National Park Service will care for more than 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. “This donation not only speaks to the genuine care people have for their Smoky Mountains, but also the trust and confidence we all have in our partners at GSMA to continue a 60-year tradition of supporting the park in meaningful ways well into the future,” said Pedro Ramos, acting superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. GSMA experienced one of its most financially trying years ever in 2013, when a major road washout closed U.S. 441/Newfound Gap Road for three months early in the year and a government shutdown prevented it from opening its national park stores for 15 days in October.  Even with a record membership recruitment year, these two factors caused the non-profit more than its share of angst. This contribution qualifies as a game changer, according to Lisa Duff, GSMA’s marketing and membership director. “We have always valued the contributions of our members and shared in their enthusiasm for this national park,” Duff said.  “While this single gift illustrates the extraordinary generosity of one of our members in rather a large fashion, all who contribute time and money to this national park should count themselves among its greatest supporters.” Since its inception in 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has given more than $31.5 million to support the ongoing educational, scientific and preservation efforts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Support for the non-profit association is derived primarily from online and visitor center sales of educational products and membership dues. Those who wish to strengthen their Smokies experience are encouraged to join GSMA. For more information about GSMA, visit www.SmokiesInformation.org; or call toll-free 888.898.9102.

Brown Mountain Reopened

NC-Forest-LogoThe U.S. Forest Service has reopened the Brown Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area. The popular area was closed last week due to a wildfire located between the east side of the Brown Mountain OHV Area and Wilson Creek on the Pisgah National Forest, Grandfather Ranger District. The wildfire burned approximately 500 acres. No injuries were reported, and no structures were threated. A lightning strike started the fire last Thursday. The N.C. Forest Service and Collettsville Volunteer Fire Department assisted in reporting and locating the fire.

U.S. Forest Service Next Phase

NC-Forest-LogoKristin Bail, forest supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina, today announced that the agency has begun the next phase of revising the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan (the Forest Plan). “We’ve received a large number of comments from the public since the assessment for the Plan began in the fall of 2012, and we’re hoping that trend will continue as we move into the next phase of plan revision,” said Bail. “I encourage anyone interested in the two national forests to submit comments on the Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement by April 28, 2014.” The plan development phase officially began with publication of a Notice of Initiation, which was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 3, 2013. This next phase involves beginning the work on the Environmental Impact Statement that will accompany the development of the revised plan. The public has 45 days to comment on the Notice of Intent, the Preliminary Need for Change and the Proposed Action, which was published in the Federal Register on March 12, 2014. Comments or questions about plan revision can be sent by email to NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us. For those who prefer regular mail, written comments can be mailed to National Forests in North Carolina, Nantahala and Pisgah Plan Revision, 160 Zillicoa St. Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801. The Notice of Intent (NOI) states that the Forest Plan will be revised to address direction within the current management plan that is in need of change. The NOI includes a summary of these preliminarily identified needs for change; a more extensive Preliminary Need For Change document is available on the plan revision website. Comments submitted by the public over the past year helped the Forest Service identify these preliminary needs for change. Among many other topics, the Preliminary Need for Change recognizes the important role that the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests play in sustaining the forests of western North Carolina and supporting local economies. During this plan development phase, the Forest Service, with input from members of the public and representatives of other governmental and non-governmental organizations, will determine the management practices necessary to accomplish the desired goals, and the effects those practices may have on the land. The Forest Service will then draft the proposed revised Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement. “We have seen stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum come together over the past year-and-a-half to help with the assessment and identify what needs to be changed,” said Bail. “With the high level of involvement we’ve seen so far, I am optimistic that we will meet our goal of having a new Forest Plan in place by September 2016.” The Assessment Phase, the first phase of plan revision, began in Fall 2012. In 2013, the agency hosted 14 public meetings to solicit comments, opinions, data and ideas from members of the public as well as representatives of other governmental and non-governmental organizations. Approximately 800 people attended the meetings, and more than 1,000 written comments were received at these meetings, as well as by mail and email. Information gathered during the assessment phase is compiled in an Assessment Report and the need for change document. Once the Plan is completed, the monitoring phase will begin as the Plan is implemented and will continue until the next forest plan revision. Each national forest has a management plan that is updated about every 15 years. The 2012 Planning Rule guides the planning process. The rule includes protection for forests, water and wildlife, while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities. It requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions. The 2012 rule strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. More information about the plan revision process is available online at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/nprevision.

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.

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.

Dupont State Park Changes

drivingmapA new proposal for the Dupont State Park in Transylvania County may have visitors leaving before they want to. There are currently no posted hours for the park. The Forest supervisor says that may soon change. The reasons for the posted hours in all of NC State Parks is to deter illegal activities at night. Those who use the park for riding bikes at night say they aren’t happy with the proposed changes. Dupont State Park is the only state park in North Carolina without posted hours. Posting hours have been a forest rule since 2009, but have never been implemented in Dupont.

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.

Parkway Budget Cuts

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway says it could face new challenges if US Congress doesn’t increase appropriations. New reports were released today that backs those very claims. Budget cuts last fall caused the Parkway and other campgrounds and picnic areas to close. If the cuts this year are as severe they say the same thing could  happen. Many volunteers that help to maintain the Parkway say their already behind on maintenance crucial for day to day operations. The reports state that the government has cut $784,000 from the Parkway budget last year out of an operating cost of 14-million. Other parks across the nation are feeling the same financial strain as well.

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.

Commissioners Approve Contract For Dillsboro Landfield Improvements

Jackson County is responsible for maintenance of the Dillsboro Landfill on Haywood Road which closed in 1998 for at least 30 years. This year the landfill has experienced some significant slope failure, some suspect because of the higher amount of rainfall. However the county is not eligible for state or federal funds at the current time because the structure failure was not directly tied to the January situation of heavy rains which let to slope failure on US Highway 441 between Cherokee and Tennessee.  According to Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, should there be significant slope failure which exposed buried garbage the county would have no choice but act quickly and without little control over the costs. The County voted to enter into a contract with Lofquist and Associates to develop plans for drainage, structure stabilization, and drainage control.  With road construction taking place on Highway 107 a significant amount of free dirt is available which can be used to construct slopes with a lesser degree of slope which would stabilize the surface, allow for easier maintenance, and cost the county about half the cost otherwise. The contract is going to cost the county about $400,000 which will be taken from the reserve in the Solid Waste Fund. This is about half the cost if the repairs had to made under a full contract basis. The County will be responsible for contracting for the drainage, ground stabilization, and maintenance.