Friday, February 23, 2018

Public Invited to Learn About 2018 Blue Ridge Parkway Happenings

The National Park Service invites the public to attend the 2018 Blue Ridge Parkway Season Preview, a showcase of upcoming Parkway activities and projects. The event takes place on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Folk Art Center, Milepost 382, on the Parkway. Parkway staff will provide a “behind the scenes” look into projects and operations to promote awareness and understanding among Parkway communities, neighbors and visitors of the National Park Service’s stewardship mission.

The event will highlight over 20 initiatives organized into information stations. Park staff will be available at each station to answer questions and discuss projects such as restoration of historic facilities including Manor House and Bluffs Coffee Shop, upcoming pavement preservation projects, vista management, resource education initiatives, and more.

“We’re excited to welcome park neighbors, visitors, and all those who love this place, to spend time learning about how our management decisions today translate into projects that protect our resources and enhance visitor experiences for years to come,” said J.D. Lee, incoming Parkway Superintendent. “This is the first event of its kind for us, and we see it as an important outreach opportunity and model for building meaningful relationships with park stewards.”

Representatives from Parkway partner groups including the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway and other non-profits who support the Parkway will also be on hand to discuss the roles each group plays and how to get involved in this work.

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s mission, as one of over 400 units of the National Park Service, is to protect a vast array of natural and cultural resources across the park while at the same time providing opportunities for education, enjoyment and inspiration for this and future generations. In order to maintain and manage these resources, numerous projects are identified and implemented each year across the 469-mile Parkway. The February 28 event invites the public to share in this stewardship mission.

2018 Blue Ridge Parkway Season Preview
When: 4-7 p.m., Wednesday, February 28
Where: Folk Art Center, Milepost 382 – Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville



Jeff
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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Landslide Leads to Emergency Closure of Big Creek River Access and Picnic Area in Big South Fork

Effective immediately, a landslide caused by recent heavy rains has resulted in an emergency closure of the access route to Big Creek boat launch and picnic area to all public and unauthorized traffic.

This closure is conducted in the interest of public safety and to ensure park staff are able to concentrate completely on making necessary repairs.

The closure to the area is temporary and expected to reopen for public use Saturday, February 24, 2018.



Jeff
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Appalachian Trail Landscape Conservation Boosted by $3 Million Grant

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has received a significant donation from The Volgenau Foundation to work with communities toward the protection of lands, waters and unique cultural features of the most important landscape east of the Mississippi, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) and its surrounding lands.

“The Volgenau Foundation has established leadership in recognizing the vital and timely need to make certain that the Appalachian Trail, one of America’s great icons, and surrounding lands are preserved for generations to come,” said Suzanne Dixon, president and CEO of the ATC.

The Foundation's investment will support the A.T. Landscape Partnership, a dedicated coalition of local, state and federal partners led by the ATC and the National Park Service. This coalition works to educate and engage Appalachian communities to protect a high quality of life and to support recreation-based rural economies.

Noted for being one of the longest footpaths in the world, the A.T. extends 2,191 miles along the crest of the Appalachian Mountain Range through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. The natural, historic and cultural resources of the Trail corridor and adjacent lands are essential to millions of residents in the eastern United States. These landscapes are important for sustaining clean water and air, maintaining wildlife migration patterns and preserving our country’s cultural and historic resources.

More than half of America’s population resides within a day’s drive of some part of the A.T. and visitors travel from around the world to experience a hike through the Appalachian Mountains. Hundreds of communities along the Trail benefit from strong and healthy recreation-driven travel, with more than 3 million people visiting the A.T. every year.

The Volgenau Foundation was launched in 1994 to pursue greater protection for natural resources, better education opportunities for children and greater exposure to the arts.



Jeff
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Monday, February 19, 2018

USDA Secretary Announces Infrastructure Improvements for Forest System Trails

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the selection of 15 priority areas to help address the more than $300 million trail maintenance backlog on national forests and grasslands.

Focused trail work in these areas, bolstered by partners and volunteers, is expected to help address needed infrastructure work so that trails managed by USDA Forest Service can be accessed and safely enjoyed by a wide variety of trails enthusiasts. About 25 percent of agency trails fit those standards while the condition of other trails lag behind.

“Our nation’s trails are a vital part of the American landscape and rural economies, and these priority areas are a major first step in USDA’s on-the-ground responsibility to make trails better and safer,” Secretary Perdue said. “The trail maintenance backlog was years in the making with a combination of factors contributing to the problem, including an outdated funding mechanism that routinely borrows money from programs, such as trails, to combat ongoing wildfires.

“This borrowing from within the agency interferes with other vital work, including ensuring that our more than 158,000 miles of well-loved trails provide access to public lands, do not harm natural resources, and, most importantly, provide safe passage for our users.”

This year the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Systems Act which established America’s system of national scenic, historic, and recreation trails. A year focused on trails presents a pivotal opportunity for the Forest Service and partners to lead a shift toward a system of sustainable trails that are maintained through even broader shared stewardship.

The priority areas focus on trails that meet the requirements of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016, which calls for the designation of up to 15 high priority areas where a lack of maintenance has led to reduced access to public land; increased risk of harm to natural resources; public safety hazards; impassable trails; or increased future trail maintenance costs. The act also requires the Forest Service to “significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance” and to aim to double trail maintenance accomplished by volunteers and partners.

Shared stewardship to achieve on-the-ground results has long been core to Forest Service’s approach to trail maintenance, as demonstrated by partner groups such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Each year, more than 84 million people get outside to explore, exercise and play on trails across national forests and grasslands and visits to these places help to generate 143,000 jobs annually through the recreation economy and more than $9 million in visitor spending.

The 15 national trail maintenance priority areas encompass large areas of land and each have committed partners to help get the work accomplished. The areas are:

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and Adjacent Lands, Montana: The area includes the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness Areas and most of the Hungry Horse, Glacier View, and Swan Lake Ranger Districts on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana on both sides of the Continental Divide. There are more than 3,200 miles of trails within the area, including about 1,700 wilderness miles.

• Methow Valley Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington: Methow Valley is a rural recreation-based community surrounded by more than 1.3 million acres of managed by the Forest Service. The area includes trails through the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Areas and more than 130 miles of National Pacific Crest and Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trails.

• Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Eagle Cap Wilderness, Idaho and Oregon: This area includes more than 1,200 miles of trail and the deepest river canyon in North America as well as the remote alpine terrain of the Seven Devil’s mountain range. The area also has 350,000 acres in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the largest in Oregon.

• Central Idaho Wilderness Complex, Idaho and Montana: The area includes about 9,600 miles of trails through the Frank Church River of No Return; Gospel Hump; most of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas; portions of the Payette, Salmon-Challis, Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests; and most of the surrounding lands. The trails inside and outside of wilderness form a network of routes that give access into some of the most remote country in the Lower 48.

• Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico: The trail’s 3,100 continuous miles follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, including more than 1,900 miles of trails across 20 national forests. The trail runs a diverse route with some sections in designated wilderness areas and others running through towns, providing those communities with the opportunity to boost the local economy with tourism dollars.

• Wyoming Forest Gateway Communities: Nearly 1,000 miles of trail stretch across the almost 10 million acres of agency-managed lands in Wyoming, which include six national forests and one national grassland. The contribution to the state’s outdoor recreation economy is therefore extremely important in the state.

• Northern California Wilderness, Marble Mountain and Trinity Alps: There are more than 700 miles of trails through these wilderness areas, which are characterized by very steep mountain terrain in fire-dependent ecosystems that are subject to heavy winter rainfall and/or snow. As such, they are subject to threat from flooding, washout, landslide and other erosion type events which, combined with wildfires, wash out trails and obstruct passage.

• Angeles National Forest, California: The area, which includes nearly 1,000 miles of trails, is immediately adjacent to the greater Los Angeles area where 15 million people live within 90 minutes and more than 3 million visit. Many of those visitors are young people from disadvantaged communities without local parks.

• Greater Prescott Trail System, Arizona: This 300-mile system of trails is a demonstration of work between the Forest Service and multiple partners. The system is integrated with all public lands at the federal, state and local level to generate a community-based trail system.

• Sedona Red Rock Ranger District Trail System, Coconino National Forest, Arizona: About 400 miles of trail provide a wide diversity of experiences with year-round trail opportunities, including world-class mountain biking in cooler months and streamside hiking in the heat of the summer.

Colorado Fourteeners: Each year, hundreds of thousands of hikers trek along over 200 miles of trail to access Colorado’s mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet. The Forest Service manages 48 of the 54 fourteeners, as they are commonly called.

• Superior National Forest, Minnesota: The more than 2,300 miles of trail on this forest have faced many catastrophic events, including large fires and a major wind storm downed millions of trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 1999. A similar storm in 2016 reached winds up to 85 mph and toppled trees on several thousand acres and made the western 13 miles of Kekekabic Trail impassible.

• White Mountain National Forest Partner Complex, Maine and New Hampshire: Approximately 600 miles of non-motorized trails are maintained by partners. Another 600 miles of motorized snowmobile trails are adopted and maintained by several clubs. Much of that work centers on providing safe public access to the mountain and valleys of New Hampshire and Maine.

• Southern Appalachians Capacity Enhancement Model, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia: The more than 6,300 miles of trails in this sub region include some of the most heavily used trails in the country yet only 28 percent meet or exceed agency standards. The work required to bring these trails to standard will require every tool available from partner and volunteer skills to contracts with professional trail builders.

• Iditarod National Historic Trail Southern Trek, Alaska: In southcentral Alaska, the Southern Trek is in close proximity to more than half the state’s population and connects with one of the most heavily traveled highways in the state. The Chugach National Forest and partners are restoring and developing more than 180 miles of the trail system, connecting the communities of Seward, Moose Pass, Whittier, and Girdwood.



Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com
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Sunday, February 18, 2018

15th Annual Evergreen Ball raises thousands for Great Smoky Mountains

Friends of the Smokies gathered for the 15th annual Evergreen Ball at Cherokee Country Club on Saturday, January 27th to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in grand style. This year’s black-tie gala has raised more than $700,000 for the park’s annual needs.

The fundraiser featured a silent auction, wine auction, and live auction with more than 500 items, including one-of-a-kind experiences and vacation packages to HGTV’s Dream Home in Gig Harbor, Washington and the Grand Canyon. The evening’s program was emceed by WBIR anchors Abby Ham and John Becker, and included welcome messages by board chairman Rev. Dr. Dan Matthews and GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash. The evening also featured live music from The Music City Toppers.

Money raised from the event will also help to support education, conservation, historic preservation and wildlife protection programs in GSMNP. This special event also kicked off celebrations of Friends of the Smokies’ 25th anniversary. The organization has raised more than $60 million in support of GSMNP since it was founded in 1993.

“We are so thankful to the many people who have helped support the Friends of the Smokes over the last 25 years with gifts of donations, time, and service,” added GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We know we can count on their generous support to protect this park for generations to come.”

A portion of the proceeds raised at the 2018 Evergreen Ball will go towards Friends of the Smokies’ 25th anniversary signature project – a campaign to replace the Park’s emergency radio system. The fundraising goal of $1.25 million will be matched by federal funding and grants for a total of $2.5 million needed to replace the aging communication system.

“We are humbled again by the tremendous support we receive from our friends in East Tennessee and beyond,” added Friends of the Smokies president Jim Hart. “Many of the important projects being done in the Smokies would not be possible without this overwhelming generosity, so we give heartfelt thanks to our guests and sponsors.”

The 2018 Evergreen Ball was presented by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Travel Channel and was sponsored by Boyd’s Jig & Reel, The Charlie and Moll Anderson Family Foundation, Citizens National Bank, Clayton Homes, Haslam Family Foundation, Jim and Natalie Haslam, Home Federal Bank, Pilot Travel Centers, SmartBank, Toyota of Knoxville, Charles Blalock & Sons, Inc., Pete & Cindi DeBusk, Dollywood, LeConte Lodge, Martin & Company, Nisus Corporation, Paine Bickers LLP, The William B. Stokely, Jr. Foundation, Regal Entertainment Group, with special underwriting from Connor Concepts, Shafer Insurance, Pugh CPAs, All Occasions Party Rentals, Stowers Machinery Corporation, EST8TE, Ullrich Printing, Mortgage Investors Group, The Trust Company, Beverage Control, Inc., Harper Auto Square, and Sugarland Cellars



Jeff
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

President Trump’s proposed $2.7 Billion Budget for NPS includes legislation to address $11.6 Billion in deferred maintenance

President Donald J. Trump has proposed a $2.7 billion budget for the National Park Service (NPS) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which includes legislation to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would help address the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The fund would take new revenue from federal energy leasing and development and provide up to $18 billion to help pay for repairs and improvements in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education funded schools.

"President Trump is absolutely right to call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks, refuges, and Indian schools, and I look forward to helping him deliver on that historic mission," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. "Our Parks and Refuges are being loved to death, but the real heart break is the condition of the schools in Indian Country. We can and must do better for these young scholars. This is not a republican or democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I are ready to work with absolutely anyone in Congress who is willing to get the work done."

"This budget reflects President Trump’s call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks and public lands to ensure they may be enjoyed by future generations of Americans,” said National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith. “Focusing on addressing the maintenance backlog now is critical to our core mission of preserving our parks and the world-class experience our visitors expect. The infrastructure proposals included in this budget offer innovative solutions to restoring our parks while fulfilling our duty to curb spending and in some cases make tough but necessary decisions to save tax dollars on other programs.”

Infrastructure – The National Park Service estimates that in FY 2017 there was more than $11.6 billion in backlogged maintenance and repair needs for the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that service national park visitors. In 2017 330 million people visited the 417 NPS sites across the country. The NPS retired over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in FY 2017, but aging facilities, increased visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

In addition to the proposed Public Lands Infrastructure Fund proposal, the President’s budget provides $241 million to fund construction projects, equipment replacement, project planning and management, and special projects. This includes $157 million for specific line-item construction projects like reconstructing an unsafe cave trail at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and replacing the roof of the Eielson Visitor Center at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

The budget provides $99 million for repair and rehabilitation projects to address the deferred maintenance backlog as well as $113 million for cyclical maintenance projects to ensure maintenance is done in a timely manner and does not become “deferred” in the first place.

These discretionary fund sources are critical to help address the deferred maintenance backlog in the National Park System. Additionally, the recreation fee program allows the NPS to collect recreation fees at selected parks to improve visitor services and enhance the visitor experience. In 2017, NPS leveraged $107 million in recreation fees to address priority maintenance projects to improve the visitor experience. The budget includes a legislative proposal to permanently authorize the recreation fee program.

Park Operations – The FY 2019 NPS budget requests $2.4 billion for park operations, which includes $900,000 for NPS’s role in the Department of the Interior’s reorganization to common regional boundaries to improve service and efficiency.

State Assistance – The budget proposes a continued shift from discretionary funding to mandatory funding from oil and gas leases for state conservation grants. These grants provide funding to states to acquire open spaces and natural areas for outdoor recreation and access purposes, and develop outdoor recreation facilities. Permanent funding for these grants in 2019 is estimated to be $89 million.

NPS's FY 2019 Budget Justification is available here, and additional details on the President's FY 2019 Budget proposal are available on the Department of the Interior’s website.



Jeff
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Smokies Recruits ‘Adopt-a-Plot’ Volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are recruiting volunteers to adopt a monitoring plot in areas throughout the park. In an effort to track nature’s calendar, or phenology, volunteers will collect information as part of an important research project tracking seasonal biological data such as plant flowering dates and the presence of migratory birds.

Previous experience is not necessary but an interest in science and love for nature are characteristics of a successful volunteer. A 3-hour training workshop is provided and will include topics like tree identification techniques, stages of tree change throughout the year, fruit and flower identification, and phenology data collection protocols. Volunteers must attend one of these training opportunities which will be held at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, TN on Saturday, February 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC on Saturday, March 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Plots are available for adoption near parking areas at several locations in the park. Volunteers will monitor their adopted plot at least two times per month from the first leaf bud in spring to the final leaf drop in fall. The Adopt-a-Plot project helps us better understand how changing weather patterns affect our diverse ecosystem and the seasonal timing of wildflower blooms and fall color.

If you are interested in this exciting volunteer opportunity, please contact Jessica Stump at jessica_stump@partner.nps.gov or 828-497-1945 to register for the training. For more information about phenology research efforts across the country visit the National Phenology Network at https://www.usanpn.org/.



Jeff
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