Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Clingmans Dome Tower Rehabilitation Project Suspended for Winter

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower has been reopened to the public. The rehabilitation work has been suspended for the winter and is expected to resume this Spring. The remaining work is expected to take approximately two weeks and will necessitate another short-term closure to complete.

Visitors can enjoy views from the tower throughout the winter, however, the Clingmans Dome Road will be inaccessible to motorists from December 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018 due to normal seasonal closures. The road, tower, and entire Clingmans Dome area remain accessible to hikers throughout the winter.

Much of the needed rehabilitation work was completed this Fall, but the final surface overlay still needs to be completed. Deteriorated areas on the concrete columns and walls have been repaired, support walls have been stabilized at the base of the ramp, and stone masonry has been repaired.

The work has been made possible through funding received from a Partners in Preservation (PIP) grant. The $250,000 grant was awarded last summer to the Friends of the Smokies on behalf of the park after being one of the top nine, most voted for parks in the Partners in Preservation: National Parks Campaign in 2016.

Straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee state line at 6,643 feet, the tower is a prominent landmark and destination as the highest point in the park. The observation tower is a precedent-setting design of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 program, which transformed park planning, management, and architecture and fundamentally altered the visitor experience in national parks. Since 1959, millions of visitors have climbed the tower, where they can see distances of up to 100 miles over the surrounding mountains and valleys. Some minimal preservation work today on the tower will ensure that visitors continue to experience this unique structure spiraling up from the highest point in the park.

For more information about the Clingmans Dome Tower, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/clingmansdome.htm.



Jeff
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Smokies Invites the Public to #OptOutside after Thanksgiving Day

Great Smoky Mountains National Park invites visitors to join a park ranger for a guided hike on Friday, November 24 or a service opportunity on Saturday, November 25. Hikes will be offered near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground, providing an outstanding opportunity for people of all ages to #OptOutside and enjoy the park.

Rangers and park volunteers will help visitors discover special cultural and natural resources along the hikes. Visitors may also choose to hike on their own and can come to any of the park’s visitor centers throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to receive information about hiking options including several short nature trails that are perfect for children.

“The park offers incredible places to enjoy a hike or a scenic drive with friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We encourage you to join us in exploring the park and creating new memories over the holiday.”

The park has over 800 miles of trails to explore throughout the year with every season offering its own special rewards. During late fall and winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas revealing stone walls, chimneys, and foundations. These reminders of past communities allow hikers to discover a glimpse of history along park trails.

Friday, November 24 at 10:00 a.m. – Mingus Creek Cemetery Hike
The 4.2-mile roundtrip hike on the Mingus Creek Trail is rated moderate but does have several steeps section near the cemeteries. The trail parallels Mingus Creek with several log foot bridges along the way. The ranger leading the hike will share some of the burial traditions and customs represented in the cemeteries of the Smokies to discover the beliefs and values that defined this southern Appalachian community as we visit two historic cemeteries. The guided portion of the hike will end after 2.1 miles at the Mingus Creek Cemetery. Participants can return to their cars at their own pace, further explore the area, or enjoy a picnic lunch near the cemetery. Meet in the Mingus Mill parking area, less than a mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, along Newfound Gap Road. For more information, call the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 828-497-1904.

Friday, November 24 at 9:00 a.m. – Cucumber Gap near Elkmont
This easy, 4.8-mile roundtrip hike follows the Little River through a beautiful, cove hardwood forest. Participants will learn about the rich history of the area including the logging operations of the Little River Lumber Company. Expect 3-4 hours total for the hike. One river crossing will be required. Meet at the Little River trailhead at 9:00 a.m., 7 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center in Elkmont. For more information, call Sugarlands Visitor Center at 865-436-1291.

Saturday, November 25 at 9:00 a.m. – #OptOutside with Service
Help clean fire pits and perform other maintenance tasks around the Elkmont Campground to help care for one of the park’s busiest campgrounds. It is particularly important that we keep the area free of trash and food scraps to help us protect wildlife! Expect 3 hours total for the service project and then join us for an optional hike to Huskey Branch Falls! Bring a sack lunch and we’ll take a hike along the nearby Little River Trail to the falls and enjoy the beautiful scenery as we eat! The hike is a moderate 4.3 miles roundtrip and is expected to take 3 hours. Meet at the Elkmont Campground Office at 9:00 a.m., 7 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center in Elkmont. For more information, call the Volunteer Office at 865-436-12665.

What to bring: Weather in the Smoky Mountains can be unpredictable, especially in the fall. Rangers recommend participants dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and bring rain gear. Participants should also bring a bag lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.



Jeff
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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Smokies Celebrates Bridging the Foothills Parkway ‘Missing Link’

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials hosted a celebration for the bridging of the Foothills Parkway’s ‘Missing Link.’ Lane Construction Company of Charlotte, NC recently completed a seven-year project to design and build five bridges at a cost of $48.5 million. This marks the first time that vehicles can travel the entire 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway extending from Walland to Wears Valley, TN.

“We are excited to mark another milestone in the completion of this spectacular section of the Foothills Parkway,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “With the missing link now bridged, we look forward to finishing the final paving and then opening the roadway to the public by the end of next year.”

Construction of this 16-mile section began in 1966. Most of the roadway was completed by 1989 when the project came to a halt due to slope failures and erosion during construction of the last 1.65 miles – known as the ‘Missing Link.’ The engineering solution included the construction of nine bridges to connect the roadway in an environmentally sustainable manner. These last five bridges mark an important milestone by completing the ‘Missing Link.’ Since 1966, $178 million has been invested in this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway spanning parts of Blount and Sevier Counties.

“The Lane Construction Corporation is proud to have completed this complex signature project safely with significant support from the local community,” said Lane Construction Corporation District Manager Tom Meador. Since 2010, approximately 250 Lane Construction Corporation and subcontract team members have worked on the project.

Federal Highway Administration’s Eastern Federal Lands Division Engineer Melisa Ridenour and Lane Construction Corporation District Manager Tom Meador joined National Park Service representatives to commemorate this monumental achievement.



Jeff
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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sunny Point Café Provides Matching Opportunity to Keep National Park Safe

Friends of the Smokies and Sunny Point Café in Asheville are joining forces this November to raise money for radio and emergency communications improvements in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Donation envelopes will be available on tables at the restaurant throughout the month, and all gifts made by patrons will be matched up to $1,000 by Sunny Point Café.

Donations made to Friends of the Smokies at Sunny Point Café for a new radio system will keep national park visitors, volunteers, and rangers safe by allowing the park to communicate with police, fire, and emergency services in neighboring communities. It will also improve the internal communication system of the national park’s law enforcement rangers, search and rescue, wildland fire, and emergency dispatch officers.

“Our mission is to preserve, protect and provide for our park so keeping our visitor safe by implementing a new radio system is a top priority for us,” said Anna Zanetti, North Carolina Director of Friends of the Smokies. “We are thankful to Sunny Point Café for providing this generous matching gift opportunity.”

Sunny Point Café is located at 626 Haywood Road, Asheville and is open daily.



Jeff
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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Delayed Opening of Cades Cove for Loop Lope Event on Sunday

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind park visitors that access to Cades Cove will be delayed on Sunday, November 5 until 10:30 a.m. for the Cades Cove Loop Lope. The event has been planned to minimize disturbance to visitors for this once-a-year opportunity for pre-registered participants to run a choice of a 10-mile or 3.1-mile loop course.

The park granted approval for the park’s philanthropic partner, Friends of the Smokies, to host this unique event to support the park. The Friends announced the event in April and then accepted registration for 500 participants on August 1. The event sold out quickly for both run courses.

“We appreciate the support of the Friends and participants in supporting this event, along with those visitors who alter their plans Sunday morning to explore other areas of the park during the delayed opening,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan.

To accommodate parking for the event, park rangers will limit access to the area at the Townsend Wye until 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, which is traditionally a period of lower visitation to the area. Registered Cades Cove campers, Tremont program participants, and event participants with a parking pass must show registration documents for access beyond this point. The Cades Cove store will be open, but will not begin renting bikes until 11:00 a.m. The Cades Cove riding stables will begin offering horse rides at 11:00 a.m.

For more information regarding temporary road closures, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm.



Jeff
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

National Park Service Proposes Targeted Fee Increases at Parks to Address Maintenance Backlog

As part of its commitment to improve the visitor experience and ensure America’s national parks are protected in perpetuity, the National Park Service (NPS) is considering increases to fees at highly visited national parks during peak visitor seasons. Proposed peak season entrance fees and revised fees for road-based commercial tours would generate badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks. This includes roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms, and other visitor services.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting. We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids' grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today. Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that.”

Under the proposal, peak-season entrance fees would be established at 17 national parks. The peak season for each park would be defined as its busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation.

The proposed new fee structure would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

A public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal will be open from October 24, 2017 to November 23, 2017, on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website https://parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates. Written comments can be sent to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

If implemented, estimates suggest that the peak-season price structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year. That is a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80% of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected. The other 20% is spent on projects in other national parks.

During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.

The cost of the annual America the Beautiful- The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which provides entrance to all federal lands, including parks for a one-year period, would remain $80. Entrance fees are not charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes. The majority of national parks will remain free to enter; only 118 of 417 park sites charge an entrance fee, and the current proposal only raises fees at 17 fee-charging parks

The National Park Service is also proposing entry and permit fee adjustments for commercial tour operators. The proposal would increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization (CUA) requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees. All CUA fees stay within the collecting park and would fund rehabilitation projects for buildings, facilities, parking lots, roads, and wayside exhibits that would enhance the visitor experience. The fees will also cover the administrative costs of receiving, reviewing, and processing CUA applications and required reports.

In addition, the proposal would include a peak-season commercial entry fee structure for the 17 national parks referenced above. All proposed fee adjustments for commercial operators would go into effect following an 18-month implementation window.

Information and a forum for public comments regarding commercial permit requirements and fees is available October 24, 2017 to November 23, 2017 on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commercialtourrequirements. Written comments can be sent to National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.



Jeff
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Storm Causes Washout on Blue Ridge Parkway

Several storm related closures are still in effect along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Parkway officials are asking for cooperation in particular at the closure from Milepost 402.7 to Milepost 408.4, where a significant washout was discovered along the road shoulder at the Little Pisgah Ridge Tunnel (Milepost 407). Park engineers are assessing the site for any additional undercutting of the road and needed repairs.

The Pisgah Inn and campground at Milepost 408.8 are accessible via US Route 276 which crosses the Parkway at Milepost 411.8.

Until repaired, this is a hazardous area and is closed to ALL traffic, including cyclists and hikers. Visitors behind closed gates will be asked to turn around. The public’s cooperation with this closure is important to personal safety as well as the protection of Parkway’s resources.

Updates regarding all closure areas will be posted on the Parkway’s online Real Time Road Map; other updates will also be posted regularly on the Parkway’s social media platforms, found using @BlueRidgeNPS.



Jeff
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