Group hikes and hiking workshop provide support for Smokies hiking

by Julie Dodd

Now is a great time of year for hiking in the Smokies.

If you are new to hiking or new to the area, you may not be sure if you’re ready to hike. Do I have the right gear? What would be the best hikes for me? Can I find others to hike with?

Friends of the Smokies and FOTS partners can help you solve those issues and enable you to get on the trail.

Hiking 101 – Tennessee

Hiking 101 at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports

Participants in Hiking 101 will be able to see a demonstration of hiking clothing and gear and will be able to try it out.

Blue Ridge Mountain Sports is hosting Hiking 101 with Friends of the Smokies on Thursday, March 26, at the Farragut location, 11537 Kingston Pike.

This free workshop is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and light refreshments will be served.

The workshop focuses on day hiking basics and will include layering techniques (why certain fabrics work and others don’t), essential gear, how to pack your pack, local hiking groups and local hikes.

After the presentation, participants will be able to try out gear. A 10 percent discount will be given to Friends of the Smokies members who show their membership cards. The discount may not apply to all purchases.

Sarah Weeks, Friends of the Smokies Development Director, will be attending the workshop and will be available to answer questions about Friends of the Smokies and to talk about hiking options that Friends of the Smokies support, including the Classic Hikes of the Smokies and Get on the Trail with Friends & Missy. You can purchase a Friends of the Smokies membership for $35.

Registration is not required but suggested. RSVP to or 865-675-3010 or Sarah Weeks at or 800-845-5665.

Hiking 101 – North Carolina

For our Friends in North Carolina, REI Asheville will be hosting Hiking 101 with Friends of the Smokies on Thursday, April 9.

This free workshop is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. and is expected to fill up, so please register in advance. REI is located in the Biltmore Park Town Square shopping center at 31 Schenck Parkway, Asheville, NC 28803.

Group Hiking Opportunities

Missy Kane Hikes Spring 2015Get on the Trail with Friends & Missy is a group hiking opportunity with Missy Kane, U.S Olympian and health promotions coordinator at Covenant Health who leads a variety of fitness programs. She will lead five different hikes in April:

  • April 1 – Twin Creeks Trail to Bud Ogle Cabin – easy, 4 miles
  • April 8 – Little Brier Gap Trail to Little Greenbrier Trail – easy, 4.5 mile loop
  • April 15 – Porters Creek Trail to Campsite #7 – moderate, 7 miles
  • April 22 – Appalachian Trail to Sweat Heifer to Kephart prong Trail – Moderate, 7.4 miles
  • April 29 – Big Creek Trail to Campsite #37 – moderate to difficult due to distance, 10.2 miles

The cost of each hike is $20 per person, with the proceeds going to Friends of the Smokies. A complimentary Friends membership is provided with registration for the entire series. To register, call Covenant Health Call Center at (865) 541-4500. For more information, contact Sarah Weeks – or 800-845-5665.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies 2015Classic Hikes of the Smokies is a group hike guided by author, blogger and hiking enthusiast Danny Bernstein. Her hikes are the second Tuesday of the month:

  • April 14 – Caldwell Fork – 9.4 miles
  • May 12 – Lake Shore Trail – 9.4 miles
  • June 9 – Hemphill Bald – 8.8 miles
  • July 20-21 – Overnight at Mt. Le Conte – Boulevard Trail – 8 miles, Trillium Gap Trail – 6.5 miles
  • August 11 – Big Creek – 10 miles or 4 miles
  • Sept. 8 – Boogerman – 7.2 miles
  • Oct. 13 – Purchase Knob – 7.5 miles
  • Nov. 10 – Chimney Tops & Elkmont – 4 miles
  • Dec. 8 – Noland Creek – 4 miles

Donations for the guided hikes support FOTS Trails Forever program. The cost is $35 per hike, which includes a complimentary membership to Friends or the Smokies or $10 for current members. Members who bring a friend hike for free. To register for any of the hikes, contact Anna Lee Zanetti – or 828-452-0720.

Both of the group hike programs have a limited number of spaces, so you must register in advance to secure a place in the group.

If you’d like to learn more about these hikes or other hikes in the Smokies, Hiking Trails of the Smokies is a helpful resource.

800,010 reasons to get a Friends license plate

by Brent McDaniel

In North Carolina and Tennessee, you see specialty license plates all the time while driving down the highway — there are plates for universities, military veterans, clubs, square dancing, your favorite NASCAR driver, you name it.

Among the 100+ plates to choose from, what’s so special about a Friends of the Smokies plate? Why bother? Well, I’ll give you 800,010 reasons why:

800,000Friends of the Smokies North Carolina Plate

That’s roughly the amount of money Friends of the Smokies’ license plates bring in from Tennessee and North Carolina each and every year. In North Carolina, $20 of your $30 specialty plate fee comes back to Friends of the Smokies, and in Tennessee, $30.75 of the $35 you pay comes back to support the park.

Depending on where you live, your county may have combined a Wheel Tax or other local fees with your license plate renewal or registration, but don’t let the sticker shock dissuade you. The specialty license plate fee has stayed the same since the program started, and that’s the money that is going to support your Great Smoky Mountains.

$35 each year is only about $0.10 a day, roughly the cost of … well, nothing. Nothing is that cheap anymore. You spend way more on your daily cup of coffee and more than that going out to dinner just once. And while the cost of a specialty license plate is relatively small for you, it really adds up for Friends of the Smokies. Money brought in by our specialty plates has helped fund a wide variety of programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park like:

  • SCA Parks as Classrooms National Park ServiceThe Parks As Classrooms program annually reaching thousands of schoolchildren with environmental education
  • Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners helping maintain the 71 miles of AT in the Smokies
  • Artists-in-Residence producing original works of art in the park
  • Funding Student Conservation Association positions and seasonal internships for high school students and recent graduates
  • Marking native ginseng roots to prevent poaching
  • The Volunteers-in-Parks program supporting the amazing people who give their time and talent to improve your visitor experience
  • Construction of the new NPS Collections Preservation Center in Townsend
  • Sam Hobbs Caldwell House at CataloocheeMonitoring water quality in rivers and streams throughout the park
  • Preservation of historic structures like the Hiram Caldwell House in Cataloochee Valley and historic churches in Cades Cove
  • Programs like Teacher-Ranger-Teacher at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob

and that was just in the last year. These needs and many others would not be possible if it were not for the support of license plate funds. Since our plate program began in 1997, it has raised $11.9 million and counting.

10Friends of the Smokies Tennessee Plate

That’s about how many minutes it took me to get my own Friends of the Smokies plate a few weeks ago. No, seriously.

I went to my local county clerk’s office, filled out the paperwork, paid my fee, and walked out with my license plate in hand in about 10 minutes. I was amazed at how quickly the process went. I even brought with me a book to read while I waited, but I barely had time to sit down in the waiting area before they called my number and I was back out the door. The staff was courteous, service was fast, and they couldn’t have made it simpler.

It’s so easy to get your own Friends of the Smokies specialty license plate. You don’t even have to wait until your tag expires — you can get a Friends plate any time. In Tennessee, just go to your county clerk’s office and in North Carolina, visit your local tag office or get your plate online.

Getting a Friends of the Smokies license plate makes a huge difference for America’s most-visited national park and that is reason enough.

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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