Classic Hike along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail

By Anna Lee Zanetti

The October Classic Hike along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail in Cataloochee Valley was the first hike canceled in the history of this program. Friends of the Smokies typically hike rain or shine but not in flash floods or tornado warnings, therefore, we rescheduled the hike for the following Tuesday and it was a wonderful day to be outside.

The smalOctober in the Smokies l group of 11 hikers gathered at the trailhead and nearby we spotted a large bull in the woods, foraging for food. We circled up for a brief introduction and off we went following our fearless hike leader Danny Bernstein along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail. The air was crisp and cool and the gentle breeze floated the leaves from the branches down to our feet, we were submerged in the colorful tree canopy. The small group hiked along carrying conversations and gaining elevation with every step.

After our short snack break we encountered a group called the American Conservation Experience (ACE) and AmeriCorps members volunteering their time to help protect the Hemlocks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ACE was a couple of miles in on the trail and they were mixing chemicals into the soil for the Hemlocks to absorCreek Crossing b through their roots in order to protect them from the Hemlock woolly adelgid. The adelgid feeds by sucking sap from hemlock and spruce trees and has rapidly led to the decline of the Hemlock population in the Smokies. We all thanked ACE and the AmeriCorps members for their service and continued hiking.

This hike did not have any big overlooks or vistas; it was an easy to moderate hike that simply followed Palmer Creek. We crossed the creek three times till we came to the point in the trail for lunch. During our break Danny stood up and spoke about her time as an Elk Bugle Corps Volunteer for the park and information she gained during this experience. For instance she discussed where the elk came from, the plan to reintroduce them and what exactly the volunteers do for the park.

Lunch was over and it wasRobert Seay time to turn around and head back to our cars. At this point a couple hikers decided to push on and hike up to the gap and Mount Sterling while another couple rushed back to their cars to collect their fishing poles and tackle boxes to fish a few spots they saw along the trail. The rest of us hiked back chatting about all sorts of stuff like Thanksgiving meals and pumpkin pie! Toward the end of any hike it is hard not to think about food.

We reached the end of the trail and walked over to the old schoolimage (5) house where Danny gave all of us a short history lesson about Big and Little Cataloochee. We hopped in our cars and then drove to Palmer Chapel where we talked about the Cataloochee reunions for the families and descendants that originated in the area.

We were wrapping up the day and the elk were making their way from the forest to the field and folks were preparing their tailgates. All of the hikers including myself ended the day with a big smile on our faces because we were all so happy to be outside in a beautiful and magical place like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Anna Lee & Danny

Please join us on our next Classic Hike of the Smokies on November 14th to Deep Creek Circular.

Elk viewing in Smokies — follow safety tips

by Julie Dodd

Bull elk, Jon Phillips

A bull elk bugles to challenge other males and to attract females. Photo by Jon Phillips

Now is the best time of the year for viewing elk in the Smokies. September and early October is mating season for elk, which brings elk into open meadows.

The bull elk will bugle to challenge other males and to attract females. The males may lock antlers in combat for dominance. The dominant males will pursue female elk.

Elk are the largest animal in the Smokies. Male elk weigh between 600 and 800 pounds. Female elk weigh between 400 and 600 pounds. Adult elk are between 7 to 10 feet long and can be five feet at the shoulder.

These are big powerful animals and can be unpredictable during mating season, so following these tips can help you have a safe viewing experience.

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Volunteer for Trails Forever crew — last opportunity to work on Chimney Tops Trail

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by Julie Dodd

You still have an opportunity to volunteer with the Friends of the Smokies Trails Forever crew that is working on the Chimney Tops Trail.

The Trails Forever crew works on the trail Mondays through Thursdays, with volunteers joining the crew on Wednesdays.

The last day to volunteer for this season is Wednesday, Oct. 8. To volunteer, you need to contact Jamie Sanders —

You must return the application form a week prior (which would be Oct. 1), so the crew knows in advance and can plan the work assignments.

From working with the crew one Wednesday in August, I can tell you that as a volunteer you’ll have an active and inspiring day. Crew leader Josh Shapiro (in the yellow helmet in two of the photos) provides training and guidance for volunteers.

‘Making STEM Easy’ workshop for teachers at Knoxville Zoo, supported by Alcoa Foundation and Friends of the Smokies

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by Julie Dodd

Middle school and high school teachers in the Knoxville area can attend a free teacher workshop “Making STEM Easy” on Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Knoxville Zoo.

The workshop is part of Friends of the Smokies program “Educating Teachers in Science and Technology.” The program is designed to offer training for teachers and to promote teachers bringing their students on a field trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The “Making STEM Easy” workshop focuses on concepts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that will help middle school and high school teachers be more effective in their teaching.

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Gran Fondo Asheville 2014

Last Sunday, September 7th was the first ever Gran Fondo Asheville and it was a huge success, raising over $30,000 for Friends of the Smokies!

A “gran fondo” is an exciting mix between a leisurely group bike ride and a hardcore cycling race, all with a party atmosphere. There are three routes offered, 110-, 60- and 30-miles, so cyclists of any skill level can join. On the 110-mile route, the fastest combined time across 4 timed sections is the overall winner. The Gran Fondo Asheville started and finished in Pack Square Park in the heart of downtown, right alongside the 13th Annual OrganicFest.

After months of preparation, the morning of the race finally arrived. Staff and volunteers were up before dawn, coffee in hand, already hard at work preparing the course start to finish. Volunteers made their way to their aid stations and timing sections around the course and the riders lined up at the start. After a quick safety briefing and a ten-second countdown over the loudspeaker, they were off!


The morning fog quickly burned off and gave way to a beautiful blue sky for the duration of the race. Temperatures and humidity climbed and so did the race course, over 11,000 feet of elevation gain. Racers stopped at aid stations along the route to refuel with PB&Js, bananas, and drinks chock full of much-needed electrolytes and then hit the road again, headed for the next timed section.

Riders began to return a little before noon and there was a steady stream throughout the day. Even after completing what many had called the most challenging course in the Gran Fondo National Championship series, there were nothing but smiles all around!


As the last handful of riders were coming into Pack Square Park, Mother Nature decided she had had enough waiting and the skies quickly darkened and the bottom fell out of a typical summer afternoon thunderstorm. We wouldn’t let a little rain spoil our fun though, so we huddled under a tent to hand out the rest of the medals and prizes for group winners.


We owe a special thanks to the wonderful volunteers staffing the timing points, aid stations, and start/finish line for all their help, along with the GFNCS and race timing staff. I also want to thank our partners and sponsors that helped make this event possible:

And of course, this all would have been for nothing without our rock stars on two wheels. Congratulations to our winners and thank you so much to all the riders who participated in the first ever Gran Fondo Asheville!

To see more photos from Sunday’s race, checkout our photo album on Facebook. You can find the race results here.

Hike to Charlies Bunion provides challenge and range of weather for Friends of the Smokies hikers

by Julie Dodd

hikers in rain at Newfound Gap

Anna Lee Zanetti (on right) provided safety tips about hiking in the rain before we started the hike to Charlies Bunion. Photo by Julie Dodd

The hike to Charlies Bunion – the August Classic Hike of the Smokies — started with a vote.

Were we going to do the hike or not, hike leader Anna Lee Zanetti asked us.

We were gathered under trees on the Appalachian Trail at the edge of the Newfound Gap parking lot. We were wearing ponchos, rain jackets, hats and gaiters – and it was steadily raining, even pouring at times.

A few people decided not to do the hike and returned to their cars. The rest of us agreed either to do the whole 8-mile hike or at least hike as long as possible.

group of hikers in rain en route to Charlies Bunion

By our first break, the rain was just a drizzle versus the downpour at the start of the hike. Photo by Julie Dodd

After giving tips on safe hiking in storm conditions, Anna Lee took the lead, and 21 of us followed her. Anna Lee was leading the hike because Classic Hike leader Danny Bernstein was ill. This was Anna Lee’s third day on the job as FOTS Outreach and Development Associate.

On the tree-covered trail, the rain was still with us but not as heavy as when we started the hike. We hiked quietly, in part because it was hard to hear conversation when your head is covered by the hood of a poncho or rain jacket.

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2014 Friends Across the Mountains Telethon

Thank you again for your outpouring of support for our 20th Annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon. Because of your generosity, we raised over $200,000 in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Here are just a few behind-the-scenes photos of our amazing volunteers and wonderful crew — enjoy!

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And a special thanks to our 2014 Friends Across the Mountains sponsors:

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If you missed the telethon and would still like to donate, you can make a contribution at any time on our website.