NPS Celebration

NPS Centennial in the Smokies


August 25, 2016.

I’ve been waiting for years for this day. Though the National Park Service has been celebrating since June of last year, this past Thursday was the actual day – one hundred years ago – that President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service. It’s referred to as Founder’s Day.

Cash, Alexander and Roe
Cash, Alexander and Roe

Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated by inviting all its employees, volunteers and park partners to a picnic in front of the park headquarters.

Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan was the Masters of Ceremony. Both he and Superintendent Cassius Cash were in their hot, wool uniforms with their button-down jackets but they looked good.

“Over 312 million people visited our national park units,” Superintendent Cash said, “which is more than the number who watch the NBA, NFL, the NHL….” and other sports leagues I haven’t heard about.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was there. He had done a little walk with Cash and some children, adding to Cash’s total Smokies mileage. He’s working to get 100 miles. Before Alexander was a senator, he was governor of Tennessee.

Indian Creek Falls
Indian Creek Falls

I had heard of Alexander, way before I moved to Western North Carolina because he attracted national attention on two counts. He became governor, following a very corrupt governor, so corrupt that there was a movie made of his antics, Marie.

Secondly, after Alexander left the governor’s office, he took his family to Australia for six months. He wasn’t afraid that the political world would forget him.

Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee also spoke, as did Donald Norcross of New Jersey.  New Jersey?? You may say. Well, the Smokies is a National Park which transcends Tennessee and North Carolina. Besides, it turns out that Norcross’s family has roots in Appalachia.

Which makes me wonder… Where were the North Carolina senators and representatives on Founders Day? Were they in a national park unit? With eight national park unit spread across the state, they had plenty of opportunity to Find their Park.

Time for me to find out.


LeConte Lodge with Friends of the Smokies

image_preview7Staying at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on so many hikers’ bucket list. At 6,360 feet above sea level, it is the highest lodge in the East and a most luxurious place to stay. For the second year in a row, Friends of the Smokies organized a stay at LeConte Lodge.  Beyond the hike up and down, Anna and Marielle, the North Carolina FOTS staff, worked on some extra benefits.

Rainbow Falls Trail
Rainbow Falls Trail

Like many Friends of the Smokies hikers, I had gotten to Gatlinburg on Monday evening to get to the meeting point at 8 am the next morning. I spent a while in my motel room packing and repacking what I had packed at home. I discovered that I had been carrying three ballpoint pens and four extra pairs of shoe laces for a while. I took them out of the pack and lightened my load a bit.

We left our cars at the Alum Cave Trailhead and were shuttled by bus to Rainbow Falls, our starting point – first extra benefit. Jennifer Hale, an interpretive park ranger, joined us for the whole trip – second extra benefit. It’s so rare that visitors get to spend that much quality time with rangers in their native habitat.

But still we had to climb about 3,800 feet to LeConte Lodge. No one was going to help us with that.

Jennifer, Marielle and Anna
Jennifer, Marielle and Anna

Rainbow Falls was a great stopping point, where some of us had an early lunch and others just kept climbing. Not too many features beyond the falls –  just several wonderful display of turtleheads. So many turtleheads that we stopped photographing them after a while. Were we getting jaded?

We’re so focused on spring wildflowers that we sometimes forget summer and fall flowers. But not on this trip. We also saw yellow jewel weed, cone flowers, grass of parnassus with its green varicose veins, blue gentians and even tiny white Michaux’s saxifrage, stuck in the rocks.

Once at the Lodge, most hikers sat, talked, drank tea and rested. But I needed to check out the sunrise spot at Myrtle Point accompanied by Chuck and Pat- thank you. I didn’t want to stumble in the dark – literally – as we tried to find the sunrise aided only by our flashlights.

On the way, we passed the actual top of the mountain at 6,593 feet. You can’t miss it since there’s a pile of rocks trying to become higher than Clingmans Dome. Good luck with that.

But the weather, though warm and dry, didn’t cooperate. We couldn’t see a good sunset at Clifftops or any sunrise the next morning. Yes, the sun rose, but a solid wall of fog stood between us and the sun.

LeConte Lodge, 2016 by Marielle DeJong
LeConte Lodge, 2016 by Marielle DeJong

After breakfast and the obligatory group picture, we walked down Alum Cave Trail, with two Smokies trail gurus, Tobias Miller and Eric Wood. Alum Cave Trail? Isn’t it closed? Hah! Another benefit, which deserves a blog post of its own.

PS Never confuse the photographs with the experience! Twenty-six hikers had a wonderful stay at LeConte Lodge. But somehow I lost some of my pictures! I even pinched Marielle DeJong’s photograph (above) of the group.

PPS If you’re counting miles for your Smokies 100 –

6.7 miles for Rainbow Falls Trail
0.4 mile (roundtrip) on Cliff Tops
1.4 miles (roundtrip) for Myrtle Point
5.0 miles for Alum Cave Trail
for a total of 13.5 miles.

Painted trillium

Trail authority

Remember the slogan, “We answer to a higher authority”. This award-winning slogan for Hebrew National hot dogs was meant to be the standard for quality.

When it comes to trails, we can argue about names, distances, and exactly where a sidetrail takes off. So I ask. Which sources do you regard as the authority on trails in the Southeast? Here goes:

* Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy puts out trail guides, data books and other material meant to help you plan your journey. You may not want to carry them all but you should consult them.

MST road sign
MST road sign

* Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail now has trail guides for the whole trail. They were written by hikers who walked the trail for the exact purpose of writing these guides. Some are now available in print, but all are well-designed, well-edited PDFs. Check out the guides.

*Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains Association puts out many guides but the one you want is Hiking Trails of the Smokies.  It describes every trail in the park including distances, elevation, a little history and any challenges. I’ve used the guide to check out my GPS. It’s even more accurate than the trail signs.

image_mini13*Blue Ridge Parkway. Hiking and Traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway: The Only Guide You Will Ever Need, Including GPS, Maps, and More by Leonard Adkins is the book you want. There has been several editions of this comprehensive book but you should get the 2013 edition. Every trail no matter how small is described here.  And you know that Adkins has walked every trail probably several times. Here’s my review.

Now what about my hiking guides, you might ask? They’re authoritative but they’re meant to inspire you, inform you on trails, history, flora and fauna, but they’re not exhaustive. I don’t write about every hike in a park or forest. When I plan to hike a trail, I check the sources above.

I will create a page on my website to make this information easier to find.