STEM workshop for teachers

‘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.

Charlies Bunion View - photo by Julie Dodd

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.

Welcome our newest Friend, Anna Lee Zanetti

Friends of the Smokies is pleased to welcome another addition to its staff, Anna Lee Zanetti as the new Outreach & Development Associate. Welcome to the team, Anna Lee!

Anna Lee Zanetti

Anna Lee is a native of South Carolina and graduate of Appalachian State University where she studied Sustainable Development. After college, she worked with the Student Conservation Association in Montpelier, VT, and then served in AmeriCorps Project Conserve where she worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

As part of her new role, Anna Lee will be guiding our monthly Classic Hikes of the Smokies. As an avid hiker, she is no stranger to the great outdoors and also enjoys cooking and volunteering with Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville.

Anna Lee Zanetti

In her first week in the North Carolina office, Anna Lee has already hit the ground running, leading the August Classic Hike to Charlies Bunion and helping with the 20th Annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon which raised over $200,000.

We already know Anna Lee will be a great asset to the organization and we are so pleased to have her on staff!

A Special “Thank You” to Holly Scott

Hello Friends,

While we normally share scenic photos, hiking trails, and great stories from the park on our blog, I’d like to take a brief detour to introduce myself and thank a special Friend of the Smokies. My name is Brent McDaniel and I am the new Marketing Director for Friends of the Smokies.


Brent – tired and drenched, but happy on a rainy hike to Charlies Bunion

After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2011, I served in AmeriCorps for 3 years, most recently with Project Conserve, where I first found Friends of the Smokies. I am excited to have moved to our Tennessee office for my new position after one year as AmeriCorps Outreach Associate in our North Carolina office. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share more about the Smokies with you as we work to protect this amazing natural treasure.

No doubt you were familiar with the great work of my predecessor, Holly Scott, on this blog, our website, monthly email newsletters, and our many social media channels. After careful consideration, Holly decided to leave Friends of the Smokies to pursue another job opportunity in the area and her last day was July 3rd. Holly had been with Friends for 11 wonderful years, first as Special Projects Assistant before she became Marketing Director in 2006.

Holly Scott

Holly Scott

Holly worked diligently to pull together countless special events like our annual Friends Across the Mountain Telethon, coordinated board meetings, and served on volunteer days throughout the park, all while effortlessly handling her day-to-day job responsibilities as Marketing Director. Holly had a knack for keeping things running smoothly and after a few weeks on the job, I am already well aware I have some very large shoes to fill. Holly may have left the organization as a staff member, but once you are a Friend of the Smokies, you are always a Friend, and Holly will continue to spread her love for the park by sharing her time and talent with us. I hope you will join me and everyone at Friends of the Smokies in wishing her all the best in her new role and giving her our sincerest thanks for her years of hard work, dedication, passion, and service to our Smokies.

Be sure to check out Holly’s work with the Rocky Top Wine Trail as they continue to support Friends of the Smokies through Sugarland Cellars and other fundraising events.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Grotto Falls provides refreshing destination for day hike in Smokies

by Julie Dodd

The hike to Grotto Falls is a scenic and moderately challenging hike – and a particularly good hike in the summer.

After hiking about 1.5 miles on Trillium Gap Trail to reach Grotto Falls, you can take off your shoes and soak your feet in the cool water below the waterfall and enjoy the view.

This is a good hike for those getting into hiking and for families. Trillium Gap is not a paved trail, so is not for hiking groups with children in strollers. Pets and bicycles are not allowed. The 3-mile roundtrip hike to Grotto Falls takes about 2 to 3 hours. (For a shorter hike with a paved trail, check Laurel Falls Trail.)

If you want a scenic destination and are up to hiking three miles, Grotto Falls is a good choice. You can eat a picnic on the rocks below the waterfall and watch all the activity of nature and people. If you have children in your group, be sure to keep an eye on them, as the rocks are slippery.

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