Conservation & Environment

The locked gate: Road closure decisions complex in the Smokies

Posted by on Feb 28, 2020 @ 7:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The locked gate: Road closure decisions complex in the Smokies

Lisa Hendy is an early riser, and when it comes to dealing with snow days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that’s a good thing.

As chief ranger, Hendy’s responsibilities are many — but one of them is deciding when, if and for how long to close the roads when the weather gets bad. “Really what it boils down to is a combination of the forecast and observations on the ground,” she said.

She rises each morning at 4 a.m., and when severe weather’s in the forecast, the early wakeup allows her to get a jump on the day’s planning. The park bases its closure decisions on forecasts from the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee, as well as on-the-ground observations from employees. By 5:30 a.m., she talks with Facility Management Division Chief Alan Sumeriski and Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan to discuss the situation.

In those early morning hours, rangers who live in the park, road crew staff and anyone else who has a firsthand look will text Sumeriski to let him know what they see. The more observations, the better — with its dramatic variation in topography and elevation, conditions can vary wildly within the park’s 816 square miles.

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The Great Smoky Mountains’ iconic clouds are helping to protect the region from climate change – for now

Posted by on Feb 19, 2020 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Great Smoky Mountains’ iconic clouds are helping to protect the region from climate change – for now

Long before the Great Smokies became a national park, its mountains peeked out among clouds of haze. The Cherokee called the mountains “Shaconage”: the place of the blue smoke.

The iconic clouds in the park – on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee – are as important to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as glaciers are to Glacier National Park and Joshua trees are to Joshua Tree National Park. The blanket of haze is part of the draw for the Smokies’ 12.5 million visitors in 2019, almost twice the number at the Grand Canyon.

The haze is more than a sight to see: High rainfall totals and summertime humidity foster plant growth, making the region a biodiversity hotspot. The Smokies are home to 30 species of salamanders, earning the park the title of salamander capital of the world.

Moisture from the haze may also be protecting the Smokies ecosystem from the changing climate. The mountains are generally most moist at the top because the highest elevations are immersed in low-hanging clouds – a cloud forest. But as the climate continues to warm, the nature of the Smokies’ cloud cover may change.

Ana Barros, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, said rising temperatures could, in theory, decrease cloud cover, threatening key habitats for creatures such as salamanders. And Jason Fridley, a biologist at Syracuse University, warned that if the region sees a decline in precipitation on mountain peaks, “that might be catastrophic.” So scientists are working to understand the park’s clouds before they change forever.

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Acadia National Park is introducing a timed reservation system for visitors

Posted by on Feb 17, 2020 @ 7:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Acadia National Park is introducing a timed reservation system for visitors

The only national park in all of New England, Acadia incorporates both coastline and mountains and has a remarkably diverse landscape. There are scenic lakes and ponds to discover too plus plenty of picnic spots. It’s the seventh most visited national park in the US with 3.5m visitors annually, and in order to cut down on traffic and reduce overcrowding, visitors will have to acquire permits from the summer of 2021 to visit certain popular areas of the park. In advance of this, the park’s management plans to trial the system for two to three weeks around October of this year.

When the new reservation system comes into effect, visitors will need to reserve permits during the summer for Ocean Drive road and the parking lots at James Pond and Cadillac Mountain. They will have a specific window between the hours of 7am and 5pm to enter the restricted areas, between the second Friday in June and the Sunday following Columbus Day. Cadillac Mountain’s reservations will start earlier and end later in the day. It is anticipated that these permits may cost $10 on top of the $30 park entrance fee.

The introduction of the new system is necessary, as the Acadia Advisory Commission was recently advised by superintendent Kevin Schneider that hundreds of cars are parked illegally and potentially in unsafe locations on a daily basis. There is a larger plan in place that includes constructing a new visitor center with expanded parking at Hulls Cove and encouraging visitors to explore from there using the Island Explorer shuttle system.



Proposed Budget Cuts Target National Parks

Posted by on Feb 15, 2020 @ 7:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Proposed Budget Cuts Target National Parks

The Trump Administration’s budget plan for 2021 proposes serious cuts to the National Park Service and other federal agencies that if enacted, would jeopardize the protection, maintenance and operation of our more than 400 national parks across the country.

The administration’s budget calls for a total cut of $587 million (17 percent) to the National Park Service. The budget also proposes a $2.4 billion (26 percent) cut to the EPA, the agency responsible for implementing and enforcing laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act so we can drink clean water and enjoy scenic national park vistas unmarred by air pollution.

Additionally, it nearly zeros out funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a critical conservation tool that supports local tourism and recreational economies and enhances opportunities for the American public to enjoy access to its public lands.

Cuts $60 million from the budget to operate national parks, funding critical to ensuring parks can meet their mission to protect park resources and ensure a quality visitor experience.

Cuts desperately needed deferred maintenance funding for our parks that are already faced with nearly $12 billion in backlogged repair needs.

See other cuts…


DuPont, Friends seek input on management of wildly popular forest

Posted by on Feb 13, 2020 @ 7:11 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

DuPont, Friends seek input on management of wildly popular forest

Horse safety and the need for trailer parking, overcrowded hiking trails, the desire for single-track mountain bike trails and more trail etiquette education at DuPont State Recreational Forest are just some of the issues swirling around the much loved, multi-use state forest, which is entering its 20th year.

The 12,000-acre state forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties, about an hour southwest of Asheville, NC, attracted nearly 1 million visitors from across the country and the world in 2019, leading to a quest by management and volunteers to seek input on the forest’s future.

The N.C. Forest Service is looking for public comment with an online survey as part of its in-the-works forest recreation plan, while Friends of DuPont Forest, a nonprofit that provides volunteers for education and trail work and raises funds, has just launched an online survey asking the public what it would like to see from the group.

“Out of the nearly 1 million visitors, 60-65% are estimated to be from out of town and a majority are going to the waterfalls. But our local folks are using the forest on a monthly, weekly basis,” said Sara Landry, Friends of DuPont executive director.

“We’re trying to gauge an idea of what our members would like from us, and a better idea of how people are using the forest.”

“It’s intense out there on the weekend. One of the things we’re campaigning for is a master trails plan. That has morphed into an overall recreational master plan. There’s no way that we thought 20 years ago that DuPont would be as popular as it is today,” she said.

Read full story and access to surveys…


USDA Forest Service announces challenge to increase focus on problems facing nation’s largest public trail system

Posted by on Feb 12, 2020 @ 6:51 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

USDA Forest Service announces challenge to increase focus on problems facing nation’s largest public trail system

USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen today emphasized the need to find innovative ideas to tackle the nearly $300 million maintenance backlog on the nation’s largest public trail system. Christiansen called on individuals and organizations to work with the agency to address trail maintenance and sustainability to improve access, keep people safe, and support local economies.

“In 2019, organizations and individuals contributed more than 1.5 million hours on the maintenance and repair of more than 28,000 miles of trail, and we are extremely grateful for their continued support and hard work,” Christiansen told trail advocates during a meeting at Forest Service Headquarters. “However, we must find more ways to erase the backlog. We still have much more work to do, and this is our call to organizations and individuals to share with us innovative ideas and boots-on-the-ground help.”

The agency hopes to expand its employee, grassroots, nonprofit and corporate support as part of a 10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge. Roughly 120,000 miles of the 159,000 miles of trails are in need of some form of maintenance or repair. Working within current appropriations, the agency has strategically focused its approach to trail maintenance, increasing trail miles improved from 48,800 miles in 2013 to 58,300 miles in 2019.

Christiansen shared the multi-layered challenge with agency partners visiting Washington, D.C., to attend the weeklong 23rd annual Hike the Hill, a joint effort between the Partnership for the National Trail System and the American Hiking Society. Hike the Hill helps to increase awareness and highlight other needs of the National Trails System. The National Trails System consists of 30 national scenic and historic trails, such as the Appalachian National Trail and the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, both of which pass through lands managed by the Forest Service.

The agency manages about 10,000 miles of national scenic and historic trails that cross forests and grasslands. More than 32,000 miles of trail are in wilderness areas. The remainder range from simple footpaths to those that allow horses, off-highway vehicles, cross-country skiing and other types of recreation.

The trail maintenance backlog limits access to public lands, causes environmental damage, and affects public safety in some places. Deferred maintenance also increases the costs of trail repair. When members of the public stop using trails, there could be a residual effect on the economics of nearby communities. Recreation activities on national forests and grasslands support 148,000 jobs annually and contribute more than $11 billion in annual visitor spending.

In addition to trails, the agency is working to address more than $5.2 billion in infrastructure repairs and maintenance on such things as forest roads, bridges, and other structures that are critical to the management of agency lands and that benefit visitors and communities. The backlog on forest roads and bridges alone is $3.4 billion.

For more information, email National organizations or corporations can get more information about becoming a Forest Service partner by contacting Marlee Ostheimer, National Forest Foundation Conservation Partnership Manager, at 406-542-2805 or


Emails Show DOI Falsified Fire Data for Political Ends

Posted by on Feb 11, 2020 @ 6:22 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Emails Show DOI Falsified Fire Data for Political Ends

Political appointees at the Interior Department have sought to play up climate pollution from California wildfires while downplaying emissions from fossil fuels as a way of promoting more logging in the nation’s forests, internal emails obtained by the Guardian reveal.

The messaging plan was crafted in support of Donald Trump’s pro-industry arguments for harvesting more timber in California, which he says would thin forests and prevent fires – a point experts refute.

The emails show officials seeking to estimate the carbon emissions from devastating 2018 fires in California so they could compare them to the carbon footprint of the state’s electricity sector and then publish statements encouraging cutting down trees.

The records offer a look behind the scenes at how Trump and his appointees have tried to craft a narrative that forest protection efforts are responsible for wildfires, including in California, even as science shows fires are becoming more intense largely because of climate change.

At the time, that Secretary was Ryan Zinke, who hadn’t yet resigned from the position over corruption allegations.

Read full story…


U.S. Forest Service releases draft Nantahala and Pisgah forest plan for public comment

Posted by on Feb 10, 2020 @ 7:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

U.S. Forest Service releases draft Nantahala and Pisgah forest plan for public comment

Drafts of the Nantahala and Pisgah forest plan and environmental impact statement (EIS) are now available. A formal 90-day public review and comment period is scheduled to begin on February 14,2020.

The proposed plan is built on significant public engagement and the best available science to guide forest management for the next 15 years. It recognizes the multiple uses of national forests including recreation, timber, water, wilderness, and wildlife habitat. The draft EIS considers the economic, environmental, and social impacts of forest management activities.

“We heard from a wide range of people and groups who use, depend on, and appreciate the forests as we developed the plan,” said Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina. “We’re sharing this proposed plan so the public can review it and provide additional information before the plan is finalized.”

The proposed plan describes how the Forest Service will increase forest restoration, generate more jobs and economic development in local communities, and promote sustainable use of the national forests. The draft EIS presents four alternative approaches to managing the forests that offer different ways to make progress towards multiple goals and be sensitive to special places.

“These drafts are significantly different from the early plan materials we shared in 2017 because we’ve incorporated public feedback received since then,” said Michelle Aldridge, team lead for the forest plan revision. “Using public input, we’ve re-written parts of the plan, changed management area boundaries, and added a new chapter about places and uses on each part of the forest. We built alternatives based upon what we heard were shared values to offer win-win solutions and minimize polarization,” Aldridge said.

The drafts are available online at The formal comment period ends May 14, 2020. Public comments are most helpful when they include detailed information about specific places and uses of the forest.

Public meetings will be held at the dates and locations below for participants to talk with planning team members. Additional public meetings are being scheduled across the forests. Check our website for updated information.

March 10, 5:30-8:30pm at the Foothills Conference Center, 2128 S. Sterling St., Morganton, NC.
March 16, 5:30-8:30pm at the Rogow Family Community Room, Brevard Library, 212 S Gaston St, Brevard, NC.
March 19, 5:30-8:30pm at the Brasstown Community Center, 255 Settawig Rd, Brasstown, NC.
March 24, 5:30-8:30pm at First Presbyterian Church’s Tartan Hall, 26 Church Street, Franklin NC.


Catawba conservation purchase to become part of new trail system

Posted by on Feb 9, 2020 @ 7:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Catawba conservation purchase to become part of new trail system

  A 68-acre conservation purchase in Catawba County, North Caroina is expected to become part of the planned Wilderness Gateway State Trail, which is intended to meander thorugh Catawba and Burke counties and along the Rutherford-McDowell county line.

The Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina bought the property from landowners Becky and Wayne Welch. It is made up of woodlands and former pasturelands near Finger Bridge along the Jacob Fork River.

The conservancy will transfer the property to N.C. State Parks, which will manage public river access for paddling and fishing. A canoe launch is planned as well. In addition to providing recreation, the purchase will protect the drinking supply for the town of Newton.

“We anticipate that this tract will become part of the new Wilderness Gateway State Trail,” said Dwayne Patterson, director of the Division of Natural and Cultural Resources. “We look forward to working with Foothills Conservancy on this exciting project that we expect will bring great things to Catawba County.”

This land acquisition is just one more step toward the protection of Newton’s downstream drinking water supply — and it marks Foothills Conservancy’s third property acquired in Catawba County, with another pending on the Henry Fork River.



These southern Utah sites were once off limits to development. Now, Trump will auction the right to drill and mine there.

Posted by on Feb 7, 2020 @ 6:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

These southern Utah sites were once off limits to development. Now, Trump will auction the right to drill and mine there.

The Trump administration has finalized plans to expand drilling, grazing and other forms of development across a broad area of southern Utah that used to be protected as two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The decision comes more than two years after Trump dramatically cut the size of both monuments and will likely intensify a legal battle with tribes and conservation groups who have sought to have the protected areas restored.

The expanses of windswept badlands, narrow slot canyons and towering rock formations are sacred to several Native American nations and prized by paleontologists and outdoor enthusiasts. Bears Ears contains tens of thousands of cultural artifacts and rare rock art; in the rock layers of Grand Staircase, scientists have unearthed 75 million-year-old dinosaur fossils.

The monuments were established under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which empowers a president to protect public lands of archaeological significance. Grand Staircase was first designated as a national monument by Bill Clinton in 1996; Bears Ears was established by Barack Obama twenty years later.

After Trump’s Interior Department redrew the monuments’ boundaries, Grand Staircase is half its former size and Bears Ears has shrunk by 85 percent.

A coalition of groups sued the administration immediately after Trump announced the monuments’ new boundaries. They argue that the act does not give a president the authority to revoke their predecessors’ national monument designations.



2020 Great Backyard Bird Count

Posted by on Feb 4, 2020 @ 7:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

2020 Great Backyard Bird Count

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

You are invited to participate. For at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 14-17, 2020, simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish.

There were 199 different species recorded in North Carolina in 2019. Here are the top 10 species reported for the country last year:

Northern Cardinal
Dark-eyed Junco
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
House Finch
House Sparrow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch

Learn more here…


Environmental analysis completed and decision signed for Twelve Mile Project on Pisgah National Forest

Posted by on Feb 2, 2020 @ 6:31 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Environmental analysis completed and decision signed for Twelve Mile Project on Pisgah National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service has completed the environmental assessment process and made a final decision on the Twelve Mile Project on the Pisgah National Forest’s Appalachian Ranger District in Haywood County, North Carolina. Once implemented, the project will help maintain a healthy and diverse forest that supports wildlife, provides a sustainable output of timber, improves water quality and aquatic habitat, and improves access to the forest.

“Many people helped us throughout the planning of this project and I thank them for working with us to identify what needs to change on this landscape and how to achieve our goals while being responsive to public comments and environmental concerns,” said Appalachian District Ranger Richard Thornburgh.

Projects like Twelve Mile start with an assessment and analysis of the area including forest age and structure, types of tree species, wildlife habitat, and transportation. This study revealed how much forest stands were departed from their natural range of variation. For example, in the mesic oak ecozone, the loss of American chestnut and fire suppression has led to dominance by red maple and blackgum. The dense shade of these trees makes it difficult for young oaks to grow up. Harvesting some trees will allow more light to reach the forest floor and improve the growth of the remaining trees. This also creates young forest habitat.

The project will also ensure there is small patch old growth dispersed across the forest. This helps ensure habitat connectivity between medium and large patches of old growth. Both young forest and old growth, as well as wildlife openings, are needed to provide food and habitat for a diversity of wildlife species at different times in their life cycle. For example, the golden-winged warbler is a tiny songbird that uses specifically designed harvest areas within large forested landscapes for breeding and feeding.

The landscape assessment also identified opportunities such as restoring woodlands and shortleaf pine, and other needs such as stream restoration and transportation improvements. Frequent management actions such as thinning and prescribed burning are needed to maintain the open canopy of woodlands. Fire is also important for maintaining fire-adapted species like shortleaf pine. Restoration of streambanks will help to improve water quality. Changes to the road system will also improve water quality while providing and improving access for recreation, research, and management activities and private landowners as well as reducing maintenance needs.

Work in the project area will begin this year and will continue for 10 or more years.

Additional details are available at the Twelve Mile Project Fact Sheet. For more information contact Project Lead Jason Herron at 828-689-9694.


Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Them.

Posted by on Jan 31, 2020 @ 6:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Them.

Utah had a problem. Shown a photo of Delicate Arch, people guessed it was in Arizona. Asked to describe states in two adjectives, they called Colorado green and mountainous but Utah brown and Mormon. It was 2012. Up in the governor’s Office of Tourism, hands were wrung. Anyone who had poked around canyon country’s mind-melting spires and gurgling green springs knew it was the most spectacular place on the continent—maybe the world—so why did other states get the good rep?

The office hired a Salt Lake City ad firm called Struck. The creatives came up with a rebrand labeled the Mighty Five, a multimedia campaign to extol the state’s national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches. By 2013, a 20-story mashup of red-rock icons towered as a billboard over Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. A San Francisco subway station morphed into a molten ocher slot. Delicate Arch bopped around London on the sides of taxicabs. The pinnacle was a 30-second commercial that was—let’s face it—a masterpiece.

An attractive, young, and somewhat cool family of four—Dad sports shaggy hair to the chin, stubble, and wraparound sunglasses—takes a road trip for the ages. They splash through the trippy slo-mo waterdrops of a slot canyon seep, spin beneath psychedelic pillars the voice-over calls “giant orange drip castles,” behold a rapturous explosion of Milky Way stars framed by rock walls, punch their J-rig through a gargantuan wave in Cataract Canyon. Then finally—and this is the shot I’m sort of embarrassed to admit still fills my eyes with tears—the little girl, who’s about ten years old, scrambles along a slickrock bench with a headlamp in the dark until she catches a heart-stopping sunrise glimpse of… well, you’ll just have to watch it yourself.

“I was like, Holy crap,” says Lance Syrett, chairman of the state’s Board of Tourism Development, remembering his first viewing. “You get that feeling—like hair standing on end—this is lightning in a bottle!”

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‘This is a human tragedy and an ecological tragedy’

Posted by on Jan 29, 2020 @ 7:17 am in Conservation | 0 comments

‘This is a human tragedy and an ecological tragedy’

At Organ Pipe National Monument in far southern Arizona, the landscape’s ecology confronts its militarization: A migratory corridor collides with a wall, a natural spring could lose water to pumping for concrete, and both migrants and locals who cross the Borderlands are monitored and tracked. Here amid a sea of saguaros, standing tall like giant green tridents, and organ pipe cacti rising in clusters like their namesake church organ pipes, the voice of local dissent grows louder.

Some members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose land spans both sides of the border, see the wall construction as the latest abuse from the federal government. “To the Anglo people, to the people of color, I want you to think back in terms of your own communities,” said David Garcia, a former tribal leader. “What may be going on in your communities has just started recently, but this has been going on for many centuries.”

The ongoing construction is already having ecological impacts and threatens to destroy or fragment habitat for 93 threatened, endangered and candidate species, according to a 2017 report by the Center for Biological Diversity. Already environmentalists fear that border wall construction, which involves mixing concrete with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from nearby aquifers, could drain Quitobaquito Springs.

Vehicle barriers have been ripped from the ground, replaced by steel bollards. The difference is dramatic. Where the old barriers blend into the landscape — simple rusted metal columns a few feet high with big gaps in between — their successors resemble the bars of a giant never-ending jail cell.

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Smokies Park Sets Visitation Record with 12.5 Million Visitors

Posted by on Jan 28, 2020 @ 6:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Smokies Park Sets Visitation Record with 12.5 Million Visitors

Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed a record 12,547,743 visitors in 2019, which is 1,126,540 more visitors than in 2018. The park’s three primary entrances near Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Cherokee all had increased use, accounting for about two-thirds of the total park visitation. Secondary park entrances experienced tremendous growth, due primarily to the new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley. Over one million visitors enjoyed this new scenic driving experience.

“I am very proud of our employees who work hard each day, along with our volunteers and partners, to help provide outstanding visitor experiences and to protect the resources that people come here to enjoy,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “With growing visitation, this has become more challenging. In 2020, we’ll be inviting people to help us thoughtfully look at how we can improve access and continue caring for this very special place.”

Monthly visitation records were set during January, March, April, May, June, and December. In both April and May, approximately one million people visited. Before 2015, park visitation had not exceeded one million visitors per month until the summer and fall months. Another traditional shoulder season month, September, has now exceeded one million visitors since 2015. Visitors are more consistently reporting traffic congestion, busy restrooms, and over-full parking areas throughout the year These are some of the issues the park will be exploring over the next year in an effort to provide better access, experiences, and stewardship of the park.

For more information about visitation, please go to the National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics web page at


Vermont hopes to complete 93-mile rail trail by mid-decade

Posted by on Jan 27, 2020 @ 7:10 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Vermont hopes to complete 93-mile rail trail by mid-decade

The completion of a 93-mile rail trail across northern Vermont would help link an ever-expanding network of recreation trails across New England and beyond, advocates say.

The effort got a big boost this week when Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott asked lawmakers to approve $2.8 million as the state’s share of the estimated $14.1 million cost of completing the remaining 60 miles of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. It runs from Swanton, near the Canadian border, to St. Johnsbury, not far from the Connecticut River border with New Hampshire.

“As far as New England goes, pieces and parts are starting to come together,” said Marianne Borowski, the founder of the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail. That trail begins in Woodsville, New Hampshire, about 20 miles south of St. Johnsbury, and runs 83 miles across northern New Hampshire to Bethel, Maine. “When they start to link together, they look good, not only for the locals who want to get out and take a walk, but for people who are coming from away who want to come in and enjoy the region.”

Tom Sexton, northeast regional director of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which since 1986 has helped oversee the construction of 24,000 miles of rails-to-trails projects across the country, said the completion of the Lamoille Valley trail would go a long way toward linking a series of existing or planned rail trails throughout the six New England states.

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Smokies Park Announces Temporary Cataloochee Area Road Closures

Posted by on Jan 25, 2020 @ 6:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Smokies Park Announces Temporary Cataloochee Area Road Closures

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the main access road into the Cataloochee area, Cove Creek Road, will be closed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to conduct road repairs from February 10 through May 20, 2020.

The county roadway will be closed to stabilize a hillside just outside the park. The secondary access road into the area, Highway 284, will also be closed in the park throughout the duration of the construction project. Both roadways will be closed to all vehicles, cyclists, and horseback riders.

The secondary access road into the Cataloochee area, Highway 284, is a narrow, winding gravel road leading from the Big Creek area of the park into Cataloochee Valley. This gravel route is often seasonally closed during the winter months due to hazardous conditions and is not recommended for low clearance vehicles or trailers. This road will be closed throughout the closure period at the park boundary, approximately 2 miles north of Mt. Sterling Gap. During the closure, there will not be any potable water, restrooms, trash removal, or camping provided in the Cataloochee area.

Backcountry trails and campgrounds will remain open throughout the closure, but there will be no access to trailhead parking beyond the Big Creek area. Hikers and horseback riders should plan to start their itineraries from the Big Creek area or other areas across the park. The Cataloochee Campground, Group Camp, Horse Camp, and all services are expected to be operational by Memorial Day weekend.

For more information about the Cove Creek Road repair, please visit the North Carolina Department of Transportation website.


RiverLink’s RAD Watershed Plan addresses Asheville’s most impaired waterway

Posted by on Jan 23, 2020 @ 6:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

RiverLink’s RAD Watershed Plan addresses Asheville’s most impaired waterway

Out of view of the paddleboards and kayaks that meander with the lazy flow of the French Broad River, an orange tube skims oil from a creek’s surface. The tube is a last line of defense preventing oil from flowing directly into the river. The creek is Town Branch, a waterway long believed to be the most polluted stream in Western North Carolina.

“Many people still call it Nasty Branch,” says Renee Fortner, watershed resources manager for the Asheville-based nonprofit RiverLink. For her, Town Branch is not just a matter of a single ailing creek. Instead, it’s part of a system in dire need of repair.

Fortner notes that stream cleanups are a regular remediation activity for RiverLink. “To try and clean the stream, we work with volunteers to remove the trash, build riparian habitat and perform invasive species removal,” she says. But while these efforts are good for treating the symptoms of stream impairment, she admits, they leave the root causes of pollution untouched.

The RAD Watershed Restoration Plan is RiverLink’s response to this problem. Funded by a $78,000 grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Fund and a $28,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund, the yearlong assessment of the watershed’s health will include water quality monitoring, identification of pollution sources and suggestions for infrastructure changes. The goal is to provide long-term, meaningful protection for Asheville’s ailing waterways.

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White Sands is the newest national park. These places might be next.

Posted by on Jan 22, 2020 @ 7:05 am in Conservation | 0 comments

White Sands is the newest national park. These places might be next.

It’s easy to think of national parks as untouchable—grand, immovable fixtures in our natural environment. But in reality, they come and go: some lose their designation, while others are added.

New Mexico’s White Sands National Park hit the big leagues in December 2019, becoming the country’s 62nd national park. It protects the largest gypsum dune on Earth, a remnant of bygone lakes and seas, a 275-square-mile basin that glitters white and stays cool to the touch. Visitors come to cruise the eight-mile Dunes Drive, hike one of the five established trails, or see the soft, translucent sand glow blue-white under a full moon.

But White Sands’s current 600,000 annual guests could prove merely the calm before the storm. The former national monument’s shiny new moniker might now draw the kind of crowds that swamped elder sibling Indiana Dunes National Park after its January 2019 designation.

So what does this mean for travelers? Get there before the bucket-listers descend—or beat the crowds entirely by visiting parks-to-be. More than a dozen preserves and pristine areas have begun campaigns for national park status, and while the process is far from simple, it likely won’t be long before White Sands is no longer the newest kid in town.

These beautiful spots could one day be national parks…


New Mexico’s Valles Caldera preserve acquires site with volcanic features

Posted by on Jan 18, 2020 @ 6:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

New Mexico’s Valles Caldera preserve acquires site with volcanic features

  A 40-acre site that includes volcanic features like steaming mudpots, sulfuric-acid hot springs and fumaroles — openings which emit steam and gases — has been acquired by the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico.

Valles Caldera officials said the acquisition of Sulfur Springs “was critical to preserving the breadth of geothermal features” in the preserve. The property also supports a range of “extremophile” algae and bacteria living in high-temperature acidic pool and stream environments.

“As the only place in the State of New Mexico with geothermal features like mud-pots and fumaroles, this site has the potential to become a primary location to educate the public about Valles Caldera’s geologic origins and status as a dormant, but not extinct, volcano,” said preserve superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos in a news release.

Sulfur Springs is on the western edge of the preserve, northwest of the visitors center off N.M. 4. It’s in a remote location on Sulfur Canyon, but maps show U.S. Forest Service or hunting route roads that run to or near the site.

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