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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This Week at Friends of the Smokies

Black Bear, photo by Chris Norcutt

It’s been a busy week here at Friends of the Smokies! Time to find a nice branch, up high out of the snow, sit back and catch up on this week’s news.

Cassius Cash

Help us welcome the new Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cassius Cash! Cash, a Memphis native, is currently superintendent for Boston National Historical Park and Boston African American National Historic Site and will assume his new post in February.

“I wholeheartedly look forward to rolling up my sleeves and working with and learning from a group of dedicated employees at the park who have the privilege of and responsibility for preserving and protecting some of the most precious natural and cultural resources in the country,” Cash said. “I also look forward to working with local communities, friends groups, and tribal communities on how the National Park Service can build on innovative ideas to create the next generation of stewards and supporters for this park. The timing for this is excellent because the park service will enter its second century of service to the nation when it observes its Centennial in 2016.”

We are glad to have you on the team, Cassius!



Thank you so much for your help this #GivingTuesday. It was an incredible day of fundraising in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and we couldn’t have done it without you.

Tuesday morning, we set a goal to raise $4,500 for America’s most-visited national park. With our matching funds from Dalen Products, Inc. and DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, Inc., that would have made for a successful day in itself, but you really dug deep.

That afternoon, an anonymous donor offered additional matching funds and raised our goal to $7,000 and you rose to the challenge again.

We are overjoyed to share that between the matching funds from our partners and your outpouring of support, Friends of the Smokies raised more than $18,000 on #GivingTuesday!

You far exceeded our expectations and we cannot thank you enough for your faithful generosity. If you missed #GivingTuesday and would like to donate in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, click here. And as always, your donations help support the important park programs you know and love.




Tuesday we were also thrilled to learn that Friends of the Smokies has been selected as a Top 50 finalist for the Sugarlands Distilling Co. MoonShare grant!

You can vote for us on Sugarlands Distilling Co.’s Facebook from January 1 – January 31 as we compete against other nonprofit organizations from around the country. We’ll need your votes, so look for more information at the end of the year.



Winter's Blessing by Sugarland Cellars

This Saturday, stop by the Robert A. Tino Gallery in Sevierville for the special release of Winter’s Blessing. Sales of this limited edition spiced cherry port by Sugarland Cellars benefits Friends of the Smokies! More details here.

Winter Hike

And just around the corner is our final Classic Hike of the Smokies in 2014! Join us on Tuesday, December 12 for a short 4-mile hike on Kephart Prong Trail. For more information and to register for this hike, click here. Thanks to HomeTrust Bank for sponsoring this month’s Classic Hike.

Donate to FOTS on #GivingTuesday and extend your gift with matching funds from Dalen Products, Inc. & DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, Inc.


by Brent McDaniel

Help Friends of the Smokies raise $4,500 on #GivingTuesday and your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by our generous friends at Dalen Products, Inc.DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, Inc.

By becoming a FOTS member, making a donation in a loved one’s honor, or supporting a priority project, your gift on #Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2, 2014) will go even farther to support Friends of the Smokies projects.

FOTS projects include supporting the elk herd , providing education for teachers and students, and restoring hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains you know and love.

Click this link to contribute to FOTS for #GivingTuesday.

Dalen Products, Inc. DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, Inc.

Chris and Allyson Virden’s 12 seasons as LeConte Lodge site managers

by Julie Dodd

Allyson and Chris Virden

Allyson and Chris Virden made their last hike as crew members to Mt. LeConte on Nov. 9. They are completing their 12th season as site managers for LeConte Lodge.

If you’ve hiked to Mt. LeConte and stopped at LeConte Lodge, you’ve probably talked with Chris or Allyson Virden, the site managers of LeConte Lodge.

As LeConte Lodge site managers, Chris and Allyson have been Smokies ambassadors for 12 seasons. They are stepping out of that role at the end of the LeConte Lodge season, in late November.

In their 12 years, about 12,000 guests each season have stayed at LeConte Lodge (or about 144,000 total in 12 years). In addition, hundreds  of day hikers have stopped at LeConte Lodge each week –getting water from the pump outside the lodge, having their photo taken on the stone steps outside the dining hall, or purchasing a special LeConte T-shirt.

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‘Exploring Curriculum Connections’ workshop provides hands-on activities for teachers

by Julie Dodd

Teachers can join Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers for “Exploring Curriculum Connections,” a free workshop for high school and middle school teachers on Saturday, Dec. 6.

teacher attending NPS STEM workshop

Hands-on activities provide teachers with the opportunity to learn teaching methods to apply in their classroom. NPS photo

The workshop will be held in the Park from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Teachers will be involved in hands-on activities that can be used in the classroom and for park field trips. The workshop is interdisciplinary, focusing on STEM, ESL, technology and Common Core activities.

Teachers will receive free resources and learn methods to incorporate park resources and local cultures into the curriculum. Lunch is included and door prizes will be awarded.

Flexible in-service hours can be earned, based on having those hours pre-approved by the teacher’s school system.

“Exploring Curriculum Connections” is a partnership with Seeking Paths in Nature, sponsored by the Alcoa Foundation through Friends of the Smokies.

Space is limited. Registration closes on Monday, Dec. 1.

For more information and to register for the workshop, contact Emily Guss — 865-436-1713 or or 865-436-1713.

If you know teachers who might be interested in attending the workshop, please relay this information to them.

Park Projects Great and Small

Each year we get a funding request from the park with a list of programs and projects for the upcoming year which helps shape our fundraising goals. You have probably seen the Needs List before on our website and in our newsletter.

Items on the Needs List run the gamut from Parks as Classrooms to elk management to the Artist-in-Residence program and can range anywhere from $500 for a Leave No Trace training to nearly $250,000 for trail rehabilitation. There are so many exciting things that Friends of the Smokies raises money to support, we never seem to run out of big programs to talk about. However, there are a handful of items from the Needs List that don’t usually make it onto the brochure. Some programs just aren’t as heart-warming as children discovering their love for the outdoors or as cute and fuzzy as a bear cub tumbling around the woods.

Seriously, just look at that face.

Seriously, just look at that face.

Here are a few park projects that may be a little lesser known, but no less important.

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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.