2014 Trails Forever Crew Members

Volunteer with Trails Forever Crew on Chimney Tops Trail

By Holly Scott Jones, former Marketing Director of Friends of the Smokies

 

Sam Hobbs Owl in Elkmont

A Brief Look Back at Smokies Trails Forever Beginnings

Throughout my eleven-year career with Friends of the Smokies, there were some definite highlights, and by that I mean some really important and impressive things that Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s leadership asked the organization to make happen with much-needed fundingGreat Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance Sign

The accomplishment which stands out in my mind as the single best example of what amazing things are possible when people join together to help Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Trails Forever program. It started in 2008 with a $2.3 million challenge grant from the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville and a desire to create a legacy project for the Park’s 75th anniversary celebration.

If Friends of the Smokies could galvanize enough support to match Aslan’s gift from people who love hiking in the Smokies, then an endowment to care for the Park’s 900+ miles of hiking trails could be established in perpetuity.

Remember 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011? The economy took a nosedive. But the campaign went on, and it succeeded. Today the endowment stands at $5 million.

Boots on the Ground

Friends of the Smokies raises money to help the Park. That’s what we do. Sometimes we are able to get out of the office and into the Park to see what our members and supporters are making possible. As Marketing Director, my job was to communicate the impact of our collective support to people through newsletters and electronic media using photos and words which often meant that I was in front of a computer rather than in the woods.

Forney Ridge Rock Work Before

Before rock work on a section of the Forney Ridge Trail

So for six years, I talked about and wrote about the Trails Forever program and the Trails Forever crew. I saw photos and PowerPoint presentations filled with statistics about #’s of miles of trail improved, #’s of pounds of rock used in trail construction, images of mules toting locust timbers, and volunteers and crew members breaking boulders with hand tools. I even hiked several of the trails and ooh’d and aaah’d about the improvements to iconic routes like Ramsey Cascades and Forney Ridge.

After Forney Ridge Trail Rock Work

The same section of trail on Forney Ridge, after improvements by the Trails Forever crew

Finally this year I decided to experience it for myself. The crew offers volunteer opportunities to work alongside them. On Wednesdays from June through October anyone can register at least one week ahead of time to work on the Chimney Tops Trail and help make a difference.

So, my friend Sam McGroom and I picked a Wednesday in early June, and we did it.

 Trails Forever Workday Warm Up

Sam McGroom at Chimney Tops

Sam stands in the Chimney Tops Trail- this section will be tackled for improvements later this year

Both of us had some previous trail maintenance experience, so we donned our work gloves and gaiters and met the crew members at 8:00 a.m. in the Chimney Tops Trailhead parking area. We jumped out of the car ready to work, but Josh Shapiro, the crew leader, slowed our roll for a safety talk and 15 minutes of stretching. We got hard hats, ear plugs, safety goggles and instructions about what to expect, then we set out on the 1.2 mile hike up to the work area, passing over sections of completed Trails Forever work. Immediately I realized that this was not the Chimney Tops Trail that I remembered. Gone were the roots and unwelcoming trail tread. The vertical gain remains daunting- it is still Chimney Tops after all- but the enjoyment of hiking it was exponentially multiplied by the crew’s efforts.

Revegetation Required on Chimney Tops Trail

At far right is old trail surface that needed to be covered with native plants

Trails Forever Rock Stars and the Stairway to Heaven

Our first assignment was to disguise a section of old, sloping eroded trail with vegetation; its replacement is a new durable trail surface built out of locust timbers. More than 133 box steps rise uphill for about 0.2 mile, which we declared to be the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Humans will avoid steps if at all possible, so rather than using the new staircase, hikers had been tackling the steep uphill section the way they had done in the past along the rooted and rocky old path. Josh instructed us in the fine art of collecting native plants such as umbrella leaf, rhododendron, and stinging nettle for replanting in the area of impact. Sam and I worked with another Trails Forever volunteer named Jim Rugh on the revegetation project for most of the morning, with continued instruction and assistance from Josh and Trails Forever crew member Trey Coyle.

 

Jim Rugh on Chimney Tops Trail

Jim in his green volunteer hard hat; the crew members’ hard hats are yellow

The day was warm, and the stinging nettle stung, but we worked hard. We landscaped the short section of trail with pride and enthusiasm. Sam made it her personal mission to find some nice young rhododendron saplings to root in the soil.

Trails Forever Rock Stars Margaret and Kelly

This photo looks hazy because my phone was actually misty with my own perspiration- YUK!

Trails Forever Crew Members Margaret and Kelly

Margaret and Kelly spent the morning drilling holes like the ones here for placement of feathers and wedges to aid in splitting rock

Uphill from us we could hear the action of Margaret Milikin and Kelly Grzasko as they used a rock drill to position feathers and wedges into giant slabs of granite with the goal of entertaining us after lunch with a rock-breaking demonstration. I actually captured ten minutes of video footage of Margaret and Kelly swinging sledgehammers to split these boulders into smaller pieces to be set into the trail as steps, but both young women asked me not to post it on the internet. I cannot imagine why they would not want the whole world to see how incredibly strong and capable they are. We deemed them the “Rock Stars”, and I was a little starstruck, I have to admit. I was absolutely in awe of their determination, and the fact that they do this kind of work four days a week, every week, from May through October.

Wrapping It Up

Trails Forever Rock Hammer

After lunch we headed back downhill and I got a lesson in making crush fill with a rock hammer which was something I had heard about but had no idea how it actually worked. Now this was fun! Taking dinner plate sized pieces of rock and whacking them into smaller bits to fill in the locust steps was an incredible stress reliever. Bang! Bang! Bang! I highly recommend this activity for anyone who is carrying around some tension.

Several yards away, master carpenters Eric Wood and Jeff Fraysier made miter cuts in a particularly tricky bit of step building, and as they used the chainsaw, we were thankful for our earplugs and safety glasses. We had been wearing our safety equipment all day. At first the goggles and hard hat made the work more awkward and sweaty, but by day’s end I forgot I had it on.

Eric Wood and Jeff Fraysier of Trails Forever

Eric, at left, and Jeff

The hike out was a treat as Sam and I had gained a more solid understanding of the time and intensity of the effort required to make a new log step or set a rock into the trail. It was like hiking with the CCC master craftsmen who built the trails in the Smokies back in the early part of the 20th century. Of course back then, none of them were young women in their twenties. That day I felt I was truly part of Trails Forever. I made a difference. I could see it from start to finish. It stands out as perhaps the most memorable day in my eleven year career with Friends of the Smokies.

If you have a free Wednesday coming up, and if you are physically capable of safely making the hike, and if you can then work alongside the crew for 8 hours, sign up to help. You will meet some of the most impressive people, and you will appreciate hiking in a whole new way.

2014 Trails Forever Crew Members

Front- Eric Wood and Josh Shapiro
Back- Jeff Fraysier, Margaret Milikin, Trey Coyle, and Kelly Grzasko

 

Hike to the Albright Grove offers rare Smoky Mountain quietude in nation’s busiest national park

By Julie Dodd + Holly Scott

Maddron Bald Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Maddron Bald Trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Photo by Julie Dodd

Hike to the Albright Grove via Maddron Bald Trail

Holly: The July 4th holiday is always a very busy time here in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so this seems like a good time to share a lesser-used trail for anyone who is looking to escape the peak visitation in Cades Cove and enjoy the beauty of our nation’s most visited national park with a hike in the Smokies. My pal Julie and I scouted this route in early June on a weekday.

Julie: When Holly suggested that we hike the Albright Grove Loop, I thought it was a great idea. I had heard of the Albright Grove Loop but had never done the hike. The loop is off the Maddron Bald Trail, which is about 15 miles east of Gatlinburg, so driving to the trailhead wouldn’t take too long.

Holly: To prepare for the hike, which I had done once before with family, I pulled out my trusty “little brown book” (Hiking Trails of the Smokies) to re-familiarize myself with the Maddron Bald Trail and what to expect. I wanted to be sure that the round-trip distance was realistic for the time that we had available. I noted on the elevation grid that the trail steadily climbed for 3.2 miles or so from the trailhead to the junction with the Albright Grove Loop; it gains about 1500′ over that distance, making for good exercise without interfering completely with plans to chat along the way.

The Maddron Bald Trail’s notoriety comes from the Albright Grove which is one of the rare remaining stands of old growth forest on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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Little Greenbrier School provides trip back in history and hiking opportunities

Little Greenbrier School

Visiting the Little Greenbrier School takes you on a trip back in history. Photo by Julie Dodd

by Julie Dodd

Little Greenbrier School interior

Little Greenbrier School was built in 1882 and used as a community school until 1936. Photo by Julie Dodd

Visiting the Little Greenbrier School in the Metcalf Bottoms area is a great way to step back in time – and an opportunity for some hiking, too.

Just sitting in the school gives you a perspective of the school experience in the early 1900s – with wooden desks and a real blackboard (boards painted black).

For a more complete school experience, attend one of Robin Goddard’s presentations at the school on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Goddard is at the school on Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the presentations and to answer questions.

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Friends of the Smokies supports efforts to save eastern hemlocks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

by Julie Dodd

Sprayer truck spraying hemlocks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Friends of the Smokies purchased the sprayer truck that is used to treat eastern hemlocks.

The eastern hemlock is one of the most common trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Called the “redwood of the east,” eastern hemlocks can grow to more than 150 feet, with trunks measuring six feet in diameter. Some of the hemlocks in the park are more than 500 years old.

Take a hike on many trails in the Smokies – especially hikes at lower elevations in the Cosby and Elkmont areas — and you’ll be hiking through hemlocks.

Not only do the hemlocks provide much of what you see in terms of forest canopy but they help keep the area cooler, regulating temperatures that support Brook Trout and some bird and animal species.

So the attack of the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a serious issue.

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Celebrate National Trails Day with Appalachian Trail Workday in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

22nd Annual National Trails Day® / 18th Annual Appalachian Trail Workday

Would you like to improve the hiking conditions on the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Make some “trail magic” on Saturday, June 7th by joining us for this all-volunteer workday.

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Here’s a breakdown of the day’s schedule – Continue reading

Volunteers needed for Smokies Trails Forever 2014 trail work

by Julie Dodd

Smokies Trails Forever work is beginning for 2014 on the Chimney Tops Trail.

What does trail work mean for hikers?

The Chimney Tops Trail will be closed Monday through Thursdays, from May 5 through October 16, while trail work is in progress.

Can I volunteer to help with Trails Forever trail work?

Trails Forever works crew - Chimney Tops Trail. Photo by Jack Williams

Volunteers are needed to work with the Trails Forever crew on the Chimney Tops Trail restoration. Volunteers receive training for their workday duties. Photo by Jack Williams

For those who would like to give back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can be a volunteer with the Trails Forever trail crew, working on the Chimney Tops Trail.

The volunteers work on Wednesdays only from May 21 through Oct. 8. You need to register in advance to volunteer. You  can’t just show up at the trail.

Click on this link to go to the Trails Forever volunteer page to download a form to volunteer and to get a handout of information for trail volunteers.

Here are the basics for volunteering:

Volunteer on Trails Forever workday - Chimney Tops Trail. Photo by Jack Wiliams

Volunteers work 10-hour days and hike to the worksite. Photo by Jack WilliamsHere are some of the basics:

  • Volunteers must sign up for a Wednesday workday ahead of time and fill out and return the necessary volunteer agreement prior to their workday. On standard Wednesday workdays, there is a limit of four volunteers.
  • You can click on this link to get the PDF (154K) of the form. You must open the form in the latest version of Adobe Reader, otherwise the form will not open – Trails Forever application form
  • The minimum age for volunteers on this project is 18 years old.
  • No previous training is required, just an interest to work and learn.
  • Volunteers must be physically able to hike to the work location (about 1.5 miles from the trailhead) and perform manual labor for a 10-hour day.
  • Volunteers must arrive at the trailhead at 8 a.m. to meet the crew. The crew works rain or shine.

To volunteer, contact Jamie Sanders – jamie_sanders@nsp.gov

Once you sign up and have a volunteer spot on a workday, you will receive more information from Jamie.

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Missy Kane Hikers

Friends of the Smokies Gives $2.4 Million to Fund Conservation, Preservation, and Protection in Great Smoky Mountains National Park So Far in 2014

By Holly Scott, Marketing Director

Missy Kane Hikers

Group hikes like these are a terrific way to meet fellow Friends of the Smokies

Who are Friends of the Smokies?

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park a.k.a. Friends of the Smokies is more than a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization with a staff of 8 and 15 wonderful board members. Every person who becomes a member (starting at $35 and including great Smoky Mountain discounts) is an official card-carrying Friend of the Smokies.

mokiesTennesseeLicensePlateends of the Smokies plate owners

Tennessee’s Friends of the Smokies plate is available from any County Clerk’s Office for an extra fee of $35 per year. Friends gets $30.75 of the fee to help preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We have many Friends in North Carolina and Tennessee who purchase our specialty license plates for their vehicles, but sometimes we don’t know who they are. The states of Tennessee and North Carolina keep our plate buyers’ information confidential. We invite our license plate owners to self-identify through this simple form and start enjoying the benefits of membership today.

FriendsOfTheSmokiesNorthCarolinaPlate

With more than 20,000 on the road, the Friends of the Smokies plate with the iconic black bear in front of vibrant green mountains is one of the most popular specialty license plates in North Carolina. Of the extra $30 annual fee for the specialty tag, $20 goes to support projects and programs in the North Carolina portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, bringing in over $400,000 annually. Plates may be purchased independently of a vehicle’s registration.

Then there are many generous corporate sponsors of our special events; foundations who make significant grants to support specific, important Park needs; and many, many people who join us on hikes or participate in other fun events; and also folks who contribute to our donation boxes in places like Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.

Friends of the Smokies donation box at Newfound Gap

Friends of the Smokies donation box at Newfound Gap

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