Diversity on Rainbow Falls Trail

Family at Bridal Veil Falls
Family at Rainbow Falls

I keep saying that parks aren’t crowded, certainly not the trails.

A couple of days ago, I walked up to Rainbow Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was beautiful May day. The parking lot was crowded when I arrived about 9:45 am.

Black snake on tree
Black snake on tree

But where were the hikers?

What were all these people doing, if they weren’t on the trail? Yes, they could have chosen to walk to Grotto Falls, but still…

It took me 90 minutes to get to the falls, hardly a speed record, but I’m no speeder, just a plodder who talks to everyone. I  even stopped to look up to see a black snake on a tree. I think it was a black snake?

Rainbow Falls Trail is rocky and could be considered steep. Many folks were obviously not going to get to their destination. They were slow and stopped every ten steps.

With all the concerns about diversity in the national parks, I must mention that I saw a good cross-section of the US population. Hikers of every age and ethnic group were represented.

A group of Mennonite teenager girls with two middle-age female chaperones came down from the falls. They were wearing the traditional long, plain dresses, with good sneakers and high socks. I talked to them at length but didn’t take any photos. You can be sure that they reached the falls.

Two families with small children gave me great hope. Look at the picture of the family above. Their two-year old was carried by the dad in a sturdy, structured backpack. The mother carried the three-month old in a front pack and had a daypack with their equipment on her back. They were prepared.

Bridal Veil Falls
Rainbow Falls

But I saw a lot of diversity I could have done without. These hikers were going up as I came down the trail, so I don’t know if they made it to the top.

Lots of millenials with nothing – no water, pack, snacks, nothing but a phone in their hands.

I learned that a  group of young teens had been told by their leaders to leave their water bottles behind. “They were just going to forget them and litter”. What!@#$@

Several women wearing flip-flops on their manicured feet.

A couple with a large dog on a leash. When I pointed out that dogs aren’t allowed on the trail, they claimed that they didn’t see the sign and ignored me.

Rainbow Falls itself was thin and narrow. Not much rain this last couple of weeks, so a lot of the rock was dry.

But reaching the destination was great–and not crowded at all.

Trail Guides Available for the MST

MST guide example
MST guide example

The MST is finished.

Just because some of the trail is on small roads doesn’t mean that you can’t complete the whole thing. Think the Camino de Santiago, which is probably mostly on roads.

Now, Friends of the MST has just published a set of guidebooks that literally describes every twist and turn along the 1,100-mile route from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. I wrote the section which covers from Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“These guides will make the MST more user-friendly, whether you’re hiking an hour, or for weeks,” said Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST.

In addition to east and westbound directions, the guides have information about locations for parking, camping, water, places to eat and resupply. A general description of the route ahead and unique natural features and historic sites along the way are highlighted. So for example,

In the Outer Banks
In the Outer Banks

“Follow steps down to right to cross creek using large boulders. In the next 0.2 mile you climb up and down hills, with a series of cascades in creek on left, followed by 3 sets of wooden steps,” is typical for the thousands of directional entries in the 20-volume guides.

Soon, you’ll be able to buy printed versions of the twenty booklets. Right now, the guides are available online in a printer friendly format at ncmst.org/TrailGuide.

Each year thousands of hikers use the trail. To date, 58 people have completed the MST, and the number grows every year. So get out there!

Wilderness Wildlife Week – Are you coming?

Little River Trail
Little River Trail

I’m preparing for my first Wilderness Wildlife Week (WWW) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to be held from May 18 to 22.

Yes, Pigeon Forge is the home of Dollywood but it’s still close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All the activities are based at the LeConte Center 2986 Teaster Lane in Pigeon Forge.

Though it’s the 26th year of  WWW, it’s the first time they’ve held it in May. Before, it was always held in January, to attract people to East Tennessee in the winter, I assume. But I’m so glad they moved it to spring time. I’ll be giving a talk on Wednesday evening, May 18. and leading a hike and history walk in Elkmont the next day.

WWW is a series of talks, classes and hikes related to the outdoors and the Smokies. I am one of maybe ten speakers in Wednesday evening. Can I compete with a program on moonshine, Civil War surgery and a native American flute concert?  And that’s before the Keynote speaker, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt repriser, i.e. someone playing FDR. The 32nd president dedicated Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940. It took him six years to find the park but he came to Newfound Gap and spoke to an overflowing audience.

It’s all free

In Elkmont
In Elkmont

Did that get your attention?

The whole WWW is free – the talks, hikes and everything else. Of course, you need to get your own lodging. So it brings a lot of people into the area.

How do you sign up for a hike? The procedure is like how you registered for your classes in college before the age of computers. You need to be in the right room on the evening before the hike.

So for the Thursday hikes, you need to be at Greenbrier Hall A at 6:30 pm and get a ticket. Once your ticket is randomly selected, you get to pick out a hike for the next day. There are lots of other provisos but that’s the gist. You can’t sign up for a hike beforehand. It saves the staff a lot of time.

WWW offers a mandatory shuttle to all hikes. Hikers can’t meet the group at the trailhead. That’s the best news a hike leader can get. No explaining to hikers where to meet. No trying to get folks into car pools. No worries about hikers leaving early. Thank you, WWW.

I can’t seem to find their detailed schedule. So just show up and I’m sure you’ll find some great hikes and talks.