Appalachian Trail Alternative

October 7, 2007

The New York Times’s “Escapes” section had an interesting article on a new 290-mile alternative to the Appalachian Trail (AT) from the southern terminus of the AT entirely through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Benton MacKaye Trail was given the name of the man who originally proposed the AT in a paper he presented in 1921.

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Source of map: Benton MacKaye Trail Association

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State saves Norris Lake State Park from development

August 22, 2007

The Knoxville News Sentinel brings the good news that the state of Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation has rejected plans for a $14 million Lighthouse Lodge and Convention Center within Norris Lake State Park.

Tennessee state parks have long contained restaurants and inns, such as the one at Fall Creek Falls State Park pictured below, but the Lighthouse effort would have dwarfed such facilities with, as the article described it, ” a restaurant, a hotel, a convention center, a 70-foot lighthouse, an observation deck, an ice skating rink and a tram system linking them together.”

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Changing visitors spell uncertain future for National Parks

August 1, 2007

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has an interesting piece on changes in the demographics of visitors to National Parks and what this means for the future of those parks. Writer Angie Herrington talked to Shawn Benge, the superintendent of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. and Bob Miller, spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Benge notes that white males come to Civil War parks to learn about the battles and “who shot who” and may be following the footsteps of their ancestors. This is not the case with minority visitors, who Benge speculates might be more interested in the reasons the war was fought.

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Blade Runner and Gatlinburg

May 8, 2007

Lord, Lord, you just can’t make this stuff up. On the same day that I learn that the Library of America has issued a volume of four novels by Phillip K. Dick, the Wall Street Journal brings the news that the latest Gatlinburg resort would fit perfectly into Blade Runner.

Seems that a company called Westgate Resorts–anyone remember Westworld?–has come up with the perfect solution for families with little time who want to visit a national park: don’t go to the park at all. Have fun instead in a climate-controlled building. Since March, Westgate has been running Gatlinburg’s Wild Bear Falls, “a giant water-spewing treehouse and a 300-foot tube slide . . . climate-controlled by an air-conditioning unit the size of a semi truck,” according to the Journal.

The building has a retractable roof, the better to “let in more light and fresh air, but still allow the space to be climate-controlled.”

“It feels like you’re outside, but not in the sun,” says Mr. Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer of Westgate.

Indeed.

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Hiking in the Smokies–what to carry

April 29, 2007

Morgan Simmons of the Knoxville News Sentinel has an interesting article today on George Minnigh, who served as a ranger for Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 30 years, and what he carries with him as he dayhikes the Smokies.

The usual items are there–first aid kit, extra food, and warm clothing plus rain gear. Visitors to the Smokies often get fooled by the balmy weather in Gatlinburg and asssume that they will be as warm at 4,000 feet as they are at G-burg’s 1,586 feet. They go up, get wet, get cold, and sometimes die.

Minnigh carries two items that I would not have thought of: a signal mirror and a 10-by-20-inch foam pad. The former can be used to signal a rescue helicopter in the event you need one. Unless hikers are on a bald on a mountain peak or along a ridge, they are almost impossible to see from a moving aircraft. The pad allows a hiker to sit down on wet or cold ground–very frequent conditions in the Smokies–and still stay warm.

Simmons’ piece has some interesting stats about the back country in the Smokies: “Backcountry camping in the Smokies has been declining gradually since 1997. Park visitors spend about 30,000 backcountry nights in the backcountry each year. About 35 percent of these annual backcountry visits are spent at 12 locations along the Appalachian Trail.”

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


No endangered rivers in Tennessee

April 18, 2007

As regular readers of this blog know, I focus on various lists to see how Tennessee gets ranked in various categories–many of them not so favorably, alas. Today, however, I am happy to report that when American Rivers, an advocacy group for clean water, released its 2007 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, no Tennessee waterway was on that list.

This is good news. The last time a Tennessee river appeared on the list was 2004, when the Tennessee River was listed as the fourth most endangered river in the country. The report from that year gave some interesting facts about the river that shares its names with the state:

“The Tennessee River watershed is one of the most biologically diverse river systems in North America. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Tennessee River and its tributaries are home to 125 species of freshwater mussels, 96 species of snails, and an astonishing 319 species of fish — including the legendary snail darter.”

The photo below is of the Holston River flowing past my grandparent’s farm in Kingsport

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Outside Magazine reveals Smokies ‘secrets’

April 17, 2007

I’m a great fan of the outdoors, most recently spending a week camping in Utah, and I subscribe to all manner of outdoor magazines. Every month, these periodicals almost always have some sort of collection of short articles on parks or towns across the United States. The May issue of Outside Magazine has a headline across the cover that reads “National Park Secrets–22 New Hideouts. Zero Crowds.”

So, hope springing eternal, I turn to the section on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the “secret.” The first part is some good advice from guidebook writer Johnny Molloy, who knows his stuff. He suggests crossing Fontana Lake and approaching the Appalachian Trail from the Eagle Creek arm of the lake via Lost Cove. Sounds good to me, and certainly counts as a secret.

The rest of the article is a joke. The unnamed writer, under the heading “Crash Pad,” suggests staying at LeConte Lodge and gives the contact information. What he or she doesn’t tell readers is that LeConte Lodge is the singlemost difficult hostelry in Tennessee for which to secure reservations–an entire season gets snapped up just days after reservations are opened up for the year. There’s no “crashing” there–you have to plan months in advance.

Uh, thanks for the insider information there, ace.

The writer also makes the very common mistake of confusing the number of visits to the Park with the number of visitors. The Park Service reports that 9.3 million visits were made to the Smokies in 2006. Visits are not the same as visitors–the actual number of which is a mere fraction of 9.3 million. If that many people actually came to the Park in one year, the roads would be gridlocked beyond imagination.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


More Cumberland Plateau land saved

April 8, 2007

Tennessee continues to make wonderful progress in saving Cumberland Plateau land from development. An article in today’s Knoxville News Sentinel describes the largest conservation effort undertaken by the state.

The article states “As proposed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, the project would protect almost 124,000 acres of forestland valued at nearly $150 million in the Cumberland Mountains of Scott, Campbell, Anderson and Morgan counties.” The deal does not lock away land as wilderness, which would be the most desirable, but by securing timber rights, the state ensures that the clear-cutting that has marred so much of the plateau will be avoided.

Once again, the Nature Conservancy has poured money into securing Tennessee land. The non-profit organization will spend $11 million on this project, which has been named the North Cumberland Conservation Plan.

As one Big South Fork ranger put it, “This is where people who work in the Smokies come for their vacations.”

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Alligator found in East Tennessee lake

March 14, 2007

According to this story in the Knoxville News Sentinel, a five-foot long alligator was found in Watts Bar Lake near Spring City. The gator was sunning itself on a log when dispatched by a Rhea County wildlife officer. Non-native critters have been moving into Tennessee for some time–fire ants and armadilloes are prime examples–but an alligator is something else. As with pythons in Florida swamps, the alligator was probably brought to Tennessee by some person who, when the reptile grew too large for the trailer, loosed it in the lake. (The photo below is not the one found in Tennessee.)

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One Whooping Crane survives storm

February 5, 2007

In one of the sadder wildlife stories of the new year, a flock of whooping cranes that passed through Tennessee en route to wintering grounds in Florida were all but wiped out in a fierce storm. Only one of 18 birds on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge survived.

Details and updates can be found at Operation Migration.