The Year That Fall Never Arrived – A Photo Essay

Like a child anticipating Christmas, this year has had us waiting… waiting… waiting for the leaf peeping season to begin. Combine a very wet summer with a September where the warmth never ended, and it’s like the year that fall never arrived. This day, October 12, 2018, was the first day all autumn where the overnight temperature dropped into the...

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New Mountains-to-Sea Trail segment completes path from Clingmans Dome to Stone Mountain

Leadership from state and national parks, volunteers, local officials, and trail enthusiasts gathered at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Oct. 3, 2018 to celebrate the completion of a 300-mile connection on North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea State Trail (MST). State trails staff, members of the Carolina Mountain Club and other volunteers and supporters...

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These folks pick up a truck load of trash every single week along Wilson Creek

A Clean Wilson Creek is a small army of folks committed to protecting this National Wild and Scenic River in Western North Carolina in it’s natural state for future generations. Wilson Creek begins as a small stream on the side of Grandfather Mountain and forms into an incredible national treasure over the next 23 miles. A Clean Wilson Creek provides funding for...

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North Carolina’s New Headwaters State Forest to open Sept. 6, 2018

After years of work, state and federal officials finally get to cut the ribbon on the Headwaters State Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina next week. A ceremony will be held Sept. 6, 2018 to mark the opening of the new state forest, the Conservation Fund and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced. Located near the border with South...

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Hike Will Bridge Age Gap on Grandparents Day

Looking for a way to bridge the age gap on National Grandparents Day September 9? Take a hike on the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail. (MST) “We have trail sections for all skills and ages from the Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks and in between,” said Jerry Barker, organizer of the MST Birthday Hike, which will be held that same weekend. He added, “Love of the outdoors is...

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A Day with the Azaleas at Andrews Bald – A Photo Essay

Andrews Bald is the highest bald in the Smokies, standing just under 6,000 feet. Every year in the month of June, the flame azalea and rhododendron show arrives for all those willing to hike a couple miles to see. You start at Clingmans Dome and take the Forney Ridge Trail to reach Andrews Bald. Here is a complete trail report that describes the hike. In addition to the...

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Red wolf status grim, review says

  A five-year red wolf status review, released April 24, 2018 showed that only about 40 red wolves are left in the wild with only three known breeding pairs remaining. The review, released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, recommends no change in the red wolf’s status as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS is expected to release a new...

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May Day Flowering at Pisgah National Forest – A Photo Essay

What better way to spend May Day than wildflower hunting on Pisgah National Forest? We always think of the national park in the Smokies as being the go-to destination for Spring wildflowers in Western North Carolina. However, Pisgah National Forest is right up there. As you will see from the gallery below, there is quite the wide variety. I picked two destinations in the...

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Bradley Fork and Cabin Flats Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is one of my new favorite Spring wildflower hikes in the Smokies. The flowers are brilliant along both the Bradley Fork and Cabin Flats Trails. The Smokemont region of the Smokies is one of the most convenient, located just a short few miles northwest of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center off Hwy 441. It is four miles up Bradley Fork to Cabin Flats Trail, then another...

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Dam removal projects restore WNC waterways

Nonprofits, community groups and government agencies throughout Western North Carolina are now working to remove a legacy of outdated dams. Although challenging, the process offers benefits for the wildlife, safety and recreation potential of the area’s waterways. Ecology provides the primary impetus for most dam removal projects. At the most basic level, eliminating...

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‘Friends’ groups provide vital support for public lands

We all need friends, and public lands in Western North Carolina increasingly receive care in the form of “Friends” nonprofit groups. In an era of shrinking federal budgets for parks and forests, these organizations are stepping up to preserve and maintain public spaces. “Friends groups used to be the margin of excellence; now they’re the margin of survival,” Sally...

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Southern pine beetle on the rise across the South

Smaller than a grain of rice, the southern pine beetle (SPB) is considered “the most destructive forest pest in the South”. This menacing label appropriately reflects the devastation it can cause, with outbreaks capable of costing millions of dollars between lost timber and management costs. Fortunately, SPB outbreaks are cyclical, typically occurring every 10-15 years....

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Conserved land along Blue Ridge Parkway to protect water quality, hiking

The blue mountain views from Deer Lick Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway have never been sweeter. The scenic spot in northern McDowell County looking out over a sweeping mountain forest known as Wildacres will now look wild forever. On Dec. 20, 2017, in a years-long collaboration, the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Conservation Trust for North Carolina and...

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Jewels of Appalachia

The forests of western North Carolina have long been recognized for providing exceptional quality of life, offering world-class outdoor experiences and supporting vibrant local economies. They are even acknowledged as the birthplace of America’s forest management: When George Vanderbilt sought refuge from city life in the late 1800s, he chose a picturesque valley in...

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Mountains to Sea Trail News Briefs

SIGNS Allen Poole, North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail volunteer Task Force Leader on the Outer Banks, has been hard at work adding signs and blazes along the route there. On this stretch, it is challenging to know which beach access to use to come on and off the beach, so his work will be a big help to MST hikers. Meanwhile, the Trail Resource Manager Jim...

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Playing in the Snow at Roan – A Photo Essay

There was a major snowstorm over the Great Smoky Mountains on December 8-9, 2017, particularly on the Western North Carolina side. Seeing Roan Highlands covered in a blanket of snow has always been a goal of mine ever since the first time I walked the Appalachian Trail across Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge balds. With that in mind, I set out for the Highlands on the...

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Learn more about this Asheville museum’s annual hiking series

Hikers can make a New Year’s resolution for adventure when the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s annual hiking series resumes in 2018. The museum offers two hiking programs, the challenging Swannanoa Rim Hike Series and the more moderate Valley History Explorer Series. The Rim Hike Series explores the peaks of the Swannanoa Valley, while the Valley History Explorer Series...

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Air quality improves in North Carolina

North Carolina set a record low for number of unhealthy ozone days with the close of the 2017 season Oct. 31. Since March 1, the state has recorded just four unhealthy ozone days with concentrations higher than the 70 parts per billion ozone standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015, the best outcome since the previous record low of five unhealthy ozone...

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Rich Mountain Loop at Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This was the first trail I hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was back in 2008 or so, well before I started this website. So I thought it must be time, nearly 10 years later, to do it again and tell you about it. Rich Mountain Loop is a combination of three trails: Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Indian Grave Gap Trail, and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Most people...

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Western NC’s Fire Towers Provide Panoramic Mountain Views

At the summit, they found a good excuse to set down their packs and stretch their toes: There, a tall, rusty Tinkertoy of a fire tower, known simply as Shuckstack, cast a portentous shadow. Another hiker, having just descended steps that didn’t seem nearly sturdy enough to hold him, brushed past Peter and Brad, declaring, “I might be the last one to climb that tower...

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Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) Program – Air Drops Over Western North Carolina

Beginning in the late 1970s, a strain of rabies virus associated with raccoons rapidly spread along the east coast of the United States northward from Florida and southward from West Virginia. As the virus invaded new areas, there was an explosive increase in rabid raccoons, with many states reporting over 500 cases in a year. Compounding the problem, raccoon-variant...

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It’s Almost Time for Mountains to Sea Trail In a Day

There will be boots and boats on all 1,175 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on September 9, 2017, from Clingmans Dome atop the Smokies to Jockeys Ridge on the coast. What a great way to celebrate the day 40 years ago when Howard Lee, N.C. Secretary of Natural Resources at the time, first proposed the idea of a statewide trail. As time neared filling all 300 legs of...

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SAHC Protects 310 Acres in Weaverville, NC Watershed

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy recently worked with the Town of Weaverville, NC to place a conservation easement on 310 acres of the Weaverville Watershed. The easement protects important headwaters of Reems Creek as well as forested habitat and scenic views from Reems Creek Valley. “This property provided drinking water to the Town of Weaverville for 80...

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Jennifer Pharr Davis to start Mountains to Sea Trail Trek August 15, 2017

Follow the adventures of Jennifer Pharr Davis on her three-month, 1,175-mile hike of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Although Jennifer is most famous for setting hiking speed records, her goal this time is different. She is undertaking this journey on the MST’s 40th anniversary to “encourage a love of the outdoors and help people experience...

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The Land Between Two Wildernesses – A Photo Essay

I like to do most of my summertime hiking in the high country to avoid the heat, and the bugs. It’s like getting extra, added months of spring. So when the first week of summer rolled around, I thought of that section of Pisgah National Forest that lies between Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hwy 215, and Black...

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An American Legend – Horace Kephart – His Life and Legacy

Horace Sowers Kephart (September 8, 1862 – April 2, 1931) was an American travel writer and librarian, best known as the author of Our Southern Highlanders about his life in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina and the classic outdoors guide Camping and Woodcraft. Kephart’s vision helped to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His life as...

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Just Another Day at Stunning Roan Highlands – A Photo Essay

Ho. Hum. Just another day at Roan Highlands. Now, obviously I’m being facetious. Roan Highlands is probably my favorite place to go in all of Western North Carolina, especially in mid-June when it is catawba rhododendron and flame azalea time. It’s exciting to hike on the iconic Appalachian Trail, the views of Tennessee and North Carolina on either side of...

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Sugar Creek Gap, Nantahala National Forest

Remote. This little slice of Nantahala National Forest is truly far from anything. Once you are a mile into the woods from the trailhead, there is next to no evidence of human activity. It’s hard to know how many folks come here to hike, but there aren’t many boot prints in the mud. There are, however, plenty of deer tracks… and wildflowers. Wow, are...

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Baxter Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Baxter Creek Trail has a well-earned reputation as one of the hardest hikes in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Starting at the Big Creek picnic area near Waterville, NC it climbs more than 4,000 feet over 6.2 miles, roughly 700 feet/mile. That will get your attention. Look for stunning forest scenes, waterways that keep the forest green, seasonal wildflowers,...

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Scanning the Horizon from the Black Balsam High Country – A Photo Essay

When looking for some WNC high country scenery and perhaps refreshing cool air on a warm day, one of the first destinations I think of is the Black Balsam area at milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are half a dozen mountains here that stand above 6,000 feet, with encompassing 360° views from their treeless summits. This land that lies between the Shining...

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The Green, Green, Greening of Spring – A Photo Essay

Pisgah National Forest comes alive in early May. It seems as though the greening happens almost overnight. Daniel Ridge Loop Trail is an amazing place to experience the changing of the forest from its sleepy, drab brown hues to the vibrant verdant that fills the senses. The creek along the pathway is the most picturesque in Pisgah Ranger District in my opinion, and the...

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Reported Snake Bites Nearly Quadruple in North Carolina

The Carolinas Poison Center, which offers assistance to venomous snake bite victims and the doctors who treat them, has reported a near quadrupling in North Carolina snake bite incidents compared to this time last year. According to a report filed by WLOS, the center received 71 calls throughout the month of April 2017. Compare that to the 19 calls the center received in...

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