NPS Collections Preservation Center’s construction underway in Townsend, TN

by Julie Dodd

NPS Collections Preservation Center groundbreaking

The groundbreaking ceremony for the NPS Collections Preservation Center was held last November. FOTS President Jim Hart is second from right. The center is scheduled to open in January 2016. GSMNP photos and illustrations

Work is underway on the new NPS Collections Preservation Center, a facility to preserve more than 400,000 artifacts and 1.3 million archival records documenting the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee. The 14,000 square-foot facility is being built in Townsend, TN on land adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and is scheduled to open January 2016.

Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association combined to donate $1.9 million for the construction of the building. The total cost of the facility will be $4.1 million, which is being funded through public-private partnerships, with both federal funds and public donations. The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center donated the 1.6-acre parcel of land to the Park.

Groundbreaking for Center

FOTS President Jim Hart was part of the groundbreaking crew for the ceremony last November. Hart joined GSMNP Acting Superintendent Clayton Jordan, Great Smoky Mountains Association Executive Director Terry Maddox, and other officials.

“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,” Hart said.

NPS Collections Preservation Center blueprint

NPS Collections Preservation Center blueprint. The center will be adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

The other four NPS areas that are included are Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, and Obed Wild and Scenic River.

Center to house historic artifacts and documentary materials

The historic artifacts that will be housed in the Collections Preservation Center include items that would have been part of the lives of those who lived in the areas in the pre-park days, including farming implements, logging-era equipment, vintage weapons, butter churns and spinning wheels.

The collections also will include archaeological artifacts collected in the park that represent time periods up to 10,000 years ago, including projectile points, pottery sherds and trade beads. The collections also include documentary history — photographs, official documents, stories and oral histories.

The facility will provide a climate-controlled space for the items to be preserved and also will include office and lab space where the collection can be studied by NPS staff and visiting researchers.

Secretary Jewell In Smokies

United States Senator Lamar Alexander with Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and GSMNP Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos at the ceremony in March 2014 to announce the construction schedule for the Collections Preservation Center. Photo by Jack Williams

Having the artifacts in a more accessible facility will enable the NPS to provide more opportunities for items to be shared for temporary display with approved public museums, including the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

Work on the facility began in November and has included installing power lines, clearing and grading the area for the building, and installing erosion control, according to Imelda Wegwerth, GSMNP landscape architect. Construction has been slowed down somewhat by the winter weather, but the contractor has worked some Saturdays and holidays to make up the time.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Park officials recognized the efforts of Senate Lamar Alexander, Senator Bob Corker, Representative John Duncan, and Department of the Interior leaders who had supported the effort to building the facility. Department of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the Park in March 2014 to meet with officials and to announce the construction schedule for the Collections Preservation Center.

To support projects like this and more in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, make a donation to Friends of the Smokies today.

2015 Evergreen Ball

January 31st was the 12th Annual Evergreen Ball to benefit Friends of the Smokies and it was a huge success! Thanks to our generous bidders, we raised more than $525,000 in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including $29,000 for the Parks As Classrooms education program. It was a truly incredible evening and we are humbled and grateful for your loyal support.


SEE MORE PHOTOS on our Facebook Page

Thank you to Travel Channel and all our amazing sponsors, our special guests, and our generous Friends for their support.

Trailcams capture Chimney Tops Trail restoration work

by Julie Dodd

Trailcam camera on Chimney Tops Trail

A trailcam camera was installed on the Chimney Tops Trail to record restoration work with time-lapse photography. Photo by Julie Dodd

Thanks to the photo planning and editing skills of Tobias Miller, Smokies Trail Crew Supervisor, you can watch three sections of the Chimney Tops Trail be restored right in front of your eyes.

Trailcams were installed on trees along the trail and, with time-lapse photography, captured the evolution of the trail work. Each of these three videos shows the creation of a staircase on the trail. When you next hike the Chimney Tops Trail, you’ll have to see if you can identify the staircases.

You’ll see the Trails Forever Crew, the American Experience Trail Crew (wearing white helmets), and some trail work volunteers.

Chimney Tops Trail 2012 – 3:25 minutes

First staircase of 2012 season
May 1 – May 13, 2012 – 1 hour time lapse

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Rich Mountain Loop in Cades Cove Is Great Winter Smokies Hike

John Oliver Cabin

By Holly Jones, Director of Community Outreach and Strategy

The wildly popular mountain valley of Cades Cove inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great winter hiking launch point because fewer park visitors and locals choose to motor around the famous eleven mile, one-way road even on the weekends. Perhaps this is because odds are less that folks will catch a glimpse of black bears since they are enjoying their seasonal snoozes; viewing and photographing wildlife is one of the primary reasons that people choose Cades Cove as a destination when visiting the Smokies.

At a round trip distance of 8.5 miles, the Rich Mountain Loop is a moderately challenging dayhike. For our trip, my husband and I allotted 4 hours for the actual hiking, an hour’s drive each way from Sevierville to Cades Cove, and about 30 minutes for lunch. We know that we average 2 miles of trail per hour.

Trail distance and hours of daylight are always factors to consider with winter hiking, so it never hurts to pad the schedule a bit for the unexpected. Getting a jump on the day can be a good idea, but makes for a chilly start. I tend to dress in too many layers and end up carrying what I shed in my pack for the majority of the trip.

We parked our car close to the orientation shelter near the start of the Cades Cove Loop Road and walked about 75 feet to where the trail begins, just off the right side of the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. (I wish we’d taken a picture of that; actually I wish we’d taken more pictures in general!)

With no leaves on the trees, even in the understory, at the beginning of our hike we could see cars pulled over on the Loop Road, so we knew wildlife was present in the first big meadow we passed on our left. There were deer out grazing on a “double date”- two large bucks each with a doe.

Rich Mountain Loop Trail sign

This sign sits at the intersection of Rich Mountain Loop Trail and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. The top of the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail sign is visible at lower right.

Quickly we reached the intersection of Crooked Arm Ridge Trail, and we had a choice to make.

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Making It Clear: Understanding Water Quality Research

Friends of the Smokies has already contributed more than $600,000 to support water quality monitoring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with another $85,000 for the monitoring program on the park’s Needs List for 2015. But is it really worth all that money to study water?


Read the full report below from Matt Kulp, the park’s Supervisory Fishery Biologist, to learn just how important water quality is to the total health of America’s most-visited national park and the whole Southern Appalachian region.

2013-2014 Water Quality Monitoring Report

by Matt Kulp, Supervisory Fishery Biologist, GSMNP

"Autumn  in Tremont" by Nicholas Ryan Powell

“Autumn in Tremont” by Nicholas Ryan Powell

What Is the Issue?  When you think about it, water is one resource that effects every living and non-living organism within our parks ecosystem.  Whether it’s the rain that falls on the forests and eventually makes its way to the soils and streams, or simply falls on a historic structure or your car while visiting, water and water quality can impact all of these things in both the long and short term.  The acid rain (pH 4.0-5.0) and acid fog (pH 2.0-4.0) not only fade our car exteriors and damage buildings over time, the low pH waters also stress forests, soils, streams and the plants and animals that live in each of these environments.  In fact, acid stress has eliminated 6 headwater brook trout populations in the last 30 years and has also stressed high elevation forests to the point that they are much more susceptible to exotic insects and diseases.  Stream acidification is primarily caused by air-borne acid pollutants generated from coal-burning power plants and vehicular traffic.  In 2006, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) designated twelve streams in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) as “impaired” (303(d) listed) based on monitored stream chemistry pH that is too low to sustain healthy aquatic life.  If nothing is done, stream conditions will continue to worsen.  Scientists estimate that if pollution levels remain the same, in 30 years all streams above 1800 feet elevation will experience declines in pH to below 6.0, and by the year 2068 nearly all of the park’s streams will have a pH of 5.0 or less (100 times more acidic than neutral water).

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Restoring trails and supporting wildlife — FOTS highlights in 2014

by Julie Dodd

This post shares highlights of some of the Friends of the Smokies projects for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during 2014. You can click on the links to read more about each project.

Elk herd continued success for GSMNP and FOTS

Bull elk, Jon Phillips

The elk herd was reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 13 years ago. Viewing the elk is one of the exciting nature opportunities in the Smokies and has been made possible by funding from FOTS, grants and thousands of hours of volunteer support.

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Chimney Tops Trail re-opens Dec. 12, 2014

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by Julie Dodd

Crew moving stone steps on Chimney Tops Trail

Stone in the trail area was used in building the stairs. (All photos provided by NPS)

The Chimney Tops Trail is officially re-opening on Dec. 12, 2014, after three years of trail restoration. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the trail will be held in April, but for now we can celebrate the completion of the trail work.

The Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with often hundreds of hikers on the 2-mile trail every day. The trail was selected by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Friends of the Smokies for restoration through funding by the FOTS Trails Forever program.

Chimney Top Trail - positioning steps

Each stair was checked with a level and secured into place.

The restoration required three years, beginning in 2012.

“After three work seasons of hard work, the Park has finished rehabilitating the entire two miles of Chimney Tops Trail,” said Tobias Miller, Supervisory Facility Operations Specialist for Trails. “It has been one of the most ambitious trail projects I have ever been involved with, and I am very proud of what the trail crew has been able to accomplish with the generous support of Park management and our partner organization Friends of the Smokies.”

Chimney Tops Trail - after

The hundreds of installed stairs will help prevent erosion and provide safer hiking.

Through the Trails Forever Endowment, which has now grown to $5 million thanks to your donations, FOTS funded a special Trails Forever crew for the project as well as equipment and materials. Over the course of the Chimney Tops project, FOTS contributed:

  • 2012 – $121,000
  • 2013 – $151,300
  • 2014 – $150,000

The result is truly spectacular with hundreds of stairs replacing steep and often slippery dirt sections of the trail.

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