Hiking 500 Miles in the Smokies

The first time I went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park more than 15 years ago I knew it was someplace special. But it took me nearly 10 more years before I ever set foot on one of her trails. Work kept me busy and I had different recreational interests, but when I got serious about hiking around 2008, you couldn’t hold me back. Most of my early hikes were...

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Joint Information Center Opens to Provide NC Wildfire Information

A joint information center is now open to provide timely and accurate information about wildfires in western North Carolina and related issues. This one-stop information center will provide the public with updates on wildfires, evacuations and shelters, road and trail closures, air quality, current burning restrictions, and the schedule for public meetings for wildfires....

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Highly Skilled Firefighters Use Blasting to Remove Hazard Trees

Bug kill and severe drought conditions have weakened and killed trees throughout the southeastern US, including North Carolina. On the Boteler Fire, in Clay County, a tiny invasive insect—the hemlock wooley adelgid—has had a devastating effect on established stands of the magnificent eastern hemlock. Some of these trees are 20 to 30 inches in diameter and up to 100 feet...

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TOTAL FIRE BAN in effect for Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina are implementing a TOTAL FIRE BAN due to the extremely dry conditions, high fire danger, and little chance of rain in the immediate forecast. Beginning on November 10, 2016, the following restrictions are in place for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests until further notice: Building, maintaining,...

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Buck Spring to Pilot Rock, Pisgah National Forest

Starting at the former site of George Vanderbilt’s Buck Spring hunting lodge near Mt. Pisgah, this hike crosses the summit of Little Bald Mountain before dropping down the watershed to Pilot Rock, one of the many plutons found within the Pisgah Ranger District. The high country is home to thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron, while various maples, oaks and...

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Forest farming can bring economic, environmental benefits to WNC

Farming: For most of us, the word conjures images of geometric rows of vegetables, cows contentedly grazing in well-mown pastures, and carefully pruned and tended orchards bearing grocery-store-bin fruit. In Western North Carolina, however, that traditional image of farming is being met with an alternate view: of the cultivation of ginseng and other medicinal native...

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Why the heck are there pig farms in the path of hurricanes?

Some 2 million chickens and at least 4,800 pigs drowned after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina earlier this month. The storm inundated massive pools of hog feces and piles of chicken manure, spreading pollution from North Carolina’s thriving pork and poultry industry into the surrounding woods, rivers, and swamps. “I’m seeing a lot of devastation out there,” said...

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Fall Foliage Time on the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

There aren’t many places in Western North Carolina better for Autumn leaf peeping than the Blue Ridge Parkway. On Monday, October 17, 2016 I set out to demonstrate that by taking a little tour between mileposts 410 and 420. But first I had to get there. I went up the Pisgah Ridge on Scenic Hwy 276, passing the Cradle of Forestry along the way. I arrived at the Cold...

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North Carolina’s record floods could have unexpected environmental consequences

Hurricane Matthew swept across the southeastern seaboard of the United States this weekend, bringing intense rainfall to North Carolina and triggering record flooding across much of the state. But as the rains subside and clearer weather rolls in, some environmentalists are raising alarm bells about the potential for yet another environmental disaster. Over the weekend,...

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FWS decision dooms North Carolina’s red wolves

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its plan for the future of the red wolf recovery program in North Carolina. Rather than confront the real challenges facing the effort to recover the world’s most endangered wolf species, FWS instead presented a roadmap for a disastrous retreat, announcing that it was going to try to save red wolves by pulling them out of...

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Balsam Mountain Trail to Laurel Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This remote corner of the Smokies isn’t easy to get to, but your efforts will be rewarded with solitude, quiet, peaceful 2nd growth forest, and a pensive wandering. The Cherokee lived on one side of the ridge. The Cataloochee settlers on the other. They met in the middle to graze their cattle on “The Ledge” between the two. The bald knobs are reforested...

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Construction starting on Mountains-to-Sea Trail bridge in Price Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

On Wednesday, August 24, 2016 construction began on a new 80-foot pedestrian bridge for North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail near Boone and Blowing Rock. The bridge, in the popular Price Lake Picnic Area along the Blue Ridge Parkway, will allow hikers to avoid a knee-deep wade across Boone Fork as they walk from the Boone Fork Trail over to Shulls Mill Road,...

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Long Bunk Trail at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The forest north of Cataloochee Valley in the Mt. Sterling watershed has recovered nicely from logging activities a century ago. It is dense, rich and diverse… a verdant testimony to Nature’s ability to reinvigorate herself. This hike starts at the north end of Little Cataloochee on Mt. Sterling Road and meets Long Bunk Trail a mile later. Long Bunk is a near...

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Foggy Morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

Every couple weeks or so during the green seasons I travel up to milepost 413 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Friends of the BRP has a volunteer program called Adopt-an-Overlook that I have participated in for six years. I am responsible for keeping Pounding Mill Overlook clean and green, trash free, and desirable for the tourists. Saturday, August 13, 2016 was one of those...

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What to do and see in Bat Cave, Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, N.C.

Travelers heading east on I-26 in North Carolina have surely shaken their heads a bit after passing exit 49. In fact, it might inspire a flashback to a classic TV show about a dynamic duo. The exit, like it says, leads to Bat Cave, but people hoping to catch a glimpse of Batman might instead have to settle for the community’s dynamic setting with...

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DISMANTLED — The North Carolina Government’s Attack on Environmental Protections

After decades of protecting North Carolina’s natural resources as well as its economy, over the past six years the North Carolina General Assembly and executive branch have begun to systematically dismantle the longstanding, sensible policies that make North Carolina a great place to visit, live, and do business. Attacks on our environment include: Slashing by 40% the...

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Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina can get pretty warm and muggy in mid-summer. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not exempt from that. So when I hike in July and August I like to head for the high country… and there’s nowhere higher in the Smokies than Clingmans Dome. In fact, it’s the third highest peak in the East and the highest point...

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Hanging Rock is a must see hiking destination near Winston-Salem, NC

Located about 45 minutes from Winston-Salem, this beautiful State Park offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails for all experience levels. The view at the end of the Hanging Rock Trail is a must-see. At 1.3 miles (one-way), this is a fairly easy hike that also offers some waterfalls at the bottom. While the last part of the hike is steep and has several stairs to...

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Mountains to Sea Trail Near Old Bald, Nantahala National Forest

Love the high country in summer. It’s like getting an extra month of spring. For much of its length through the Western North Carolina mountains, the Mountains to Sea Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is an area near mile marker 434 on the Parkway, beneath Old Bald, where the MST winds through mixed forest and high mountain meadows teeming with...

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New North Carolina Bill Allows Duke Energy To Dodge Coal Ash Cleanup Again

While residents and environmentalists urge Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash pits, North Carolina’s biggest utility — and the governor’s former workplace — just got another pass from the legislature. Duke will likely not have to clean up seven of its unlined coal ash pits, where the byproduct of coal-fired power plants is stored. Instead, the company can opt to simply...

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Summer Solstice on Sam Knob – A Photo Essay

The summer solstice occurs when a planet’s rotational axis, in either northern or southern hemispheres, is most inclined toward the Sun. Most cultures have marked this occasion in some ritualized manner and from time immemorial people have acknowledged the rising of the sun on the summer solstice. At Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as seen...

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Hemphill Bald Trail from Polls Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have hiked to Hemphill Bald from the east along the Cataloochee Divide many times. However, this was the first time approaching from the west on the Hemphill Bald Trail from Polls Gap. This made my second foray into the Heintooga region of the Smokies in recent weeks, another beautiful piece of the national park that doesn’t get enough attention. This trail would...

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Appalachian Trail from Yellow Mountain Gap to Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains

You can see them from Roan Highlands. They appear when viewed from Linville Gorge and Grandfather Mountain too. The long, green balds that comprise Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains stick out like limes in a grapefruit basket. And, you can see all those other landmarks from the Hump Mountains. The iconic Appalachian Trail (AT) arrives from the Highlands of Roan to...

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Flat Creek Trail to Heintooga, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This delightful forested trail in the Heintooga section of the Smokies follows Bunches and Flat Creeks up Overlook Ridge to a perch high above Cataloochee Valley and Cherokee, NC. Few short trails in the Smokies are as memorable. The pathway is carpeted with a charming wispy grass that waves in the breeze and tickles your legs as you pass by. What’s not to love? My...

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Instead Of Cleaning Up Coal Ash Sites, North Carolina Legislators Want To ‘Bail Out’ Duke Energy

North Carolina’s biggest utility has 14 different coal ash storage sites in the state, and none of them are safe. That means the chemicals and heavy metals — including mercury and arsenic — in coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for power generation, can leach into local water supplies. The safety issue was demonstrated in dramatic fashion a few years ago, when a coal...

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Big Bradley Falls Overlook, Green River Game Lands

Like its partner, Little Bradley Falls, this hike is found in a remote corner of the Green River Game Lands near Saluda, NC that enables you to enjoy beautiful waterfalls. Big Bradley Trail follows Cove Creek along its path to an eventual meeting with Green River, but before it gets there, it free-falls 75 feet over the stone precipice at Big Bradley Falls. Bring your...

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Fire Danger High Across North Carolina

The U.S. Forest Service and the North Carolina Forest Service are warning the public of high fire danger across North Carolina. Fire danger is high across the state due to lack of rainfall in recent weeks and low humidity. Conditions across North Carolina are forecasted to remain dry for the next couple weeks. April typically marks the height of wildfire season in North...

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Kanati Fork Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This lovely wildflower trail is about half way up Newfound Gap Road from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, but its shortish length and tranquil setting belie the grueling terrain. Climbing from the Oconaluftee River valley to Thomas Divide, 2,200 feet above, it is a true test of stamina for even the most seasoned hikers. Kanati Fork is one of those picturesque drainages...

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Well owners in disbelief about NC’s decision to lift tainted water warning

Hundreds of well owners near Duke Energy coal ash pits received letters last spring from state health officials warning them not to drink their own well water. Last week, a letter signed by Randall Williams, the state health director, and Tom Reeder, the assistant state secretary for the environment, lifted the warning. Now, well owners such as Bonita Queen, Deborah...

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Palmer Creek Trail at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Smokies? Is it 6,000 foot mountaintop vistas that expand the imagination? Perhaps you think of the half-million acres of forest or the hundreds of varieties of wildflowers. There is one other constant in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that is water. Cataloochee Valley is surrounded on all...

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Ridgeline Trail to Hickory Mountain Loop, DuPont State Forest

When you step on a trail at DuPont State Forest, you can usually tell pretty quickly if it was designed and built for mountain biking. Some tell-tale signs are banked curves and bumps, rails for tricks, and a smooth, hard-packed surface. Such is the case with Ridgeline Trail. DuPont State Forest is a haven for mountain bikers from all over the Southeastern United States,...

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Appalachian Trail to Mt. Kephart and The Jumpoff – A Photo Essay

The Appalachian Trail splits the states of North Carolina and Tennessee through most of the breadth of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hugging the state line as it traverses the rugged and remote ridges, the AT is a favorite destination for day hikers and thru hikers alike. There is a three and a half mile stretch from Newfound Gap to the summit of Mt. Kephart, and...

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