Cruising the Smokies under shutdown

It’s just after 11 a.m. on a weekday, and while a road sign at the Cherokee entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park alerts travelers “All facilities closed for govt shutdown,” visitors are still arriving. 

The lowdown on the shutdown

There are plenty of misconceptions about the federal government shutdown — what it is, who it affects, how it happens, and why — but what is clear is that both parties have engaged in the tactic for almost 45 years, and as time goes on, shutdowns are becoming longer, and becoming more commonly used as a policy tool. 

A writer’s retreat: GSMA offers writing residency in the Smokies

Steve Kemp moved to the Great Smoky Mountains in 1987 for what would become a 30-year career with the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and following his 2017 retirement GSMA is looking to honor his contributions to the organization through a new writer’s residency. 

“There is a specific skill in writing in a way that engages the reader and inspires curiosity and passion in the reader, and that’s what we want to be able to cultivate,” said Laurel Rematore, executive director of GSMA, “because we’re in the business of helping people to connect with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, connect on an emotional level so they will take care of it.”

Sochan in springtime: Cherokee looks to reclaim plant gathering traditions in the Smokies

For centuries and even millennia, the early spring greens of the sochan plant have served as a celebration of spring for the Cherokee people. If a proposal now out for public comment meets approval, in a few months tribal members could hold that celebration with greens harvested in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

“Our culture is not linear. It’s more circular, and going back to places like the park, to where we once inhabited and lived and collected, it takes on a different meaning of spirituality,” said Tommy Cabe, forest resource specialist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a sochan gatherer himself. “It takes on a different meaning of who we are as Cherokee.”

New trail project announced

A two-year effort to rehabilitate Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now complete, and the next Trails Forever project has been announced — Trillium Gap Trail, a 6.6-mile path that intersects with the Rainbow Falls Trail at Mount LeConte. 

The rehabilitation of Trillium Gap Trail will take two years, beginning in May 2019, and will be conducted together with other critical work across the park on trails such as the Deep Creek Trail, Rough Fork Trail, Smokemont Trail and Noah Bud Ogle Trail. Trillium Gap Trail and associated parking areas will be closed from May 6, 2019, through Nov. 14 of that year, from 7 a.m. Mondays through 5:30 p.m. Thursdays. It will be open on federal holidays. Work will resume in 2020. 

Plan proposed to let Cherokee members gather sochan

An environmental assessment for a rule that would allow members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to gather sochan in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is out for comment through Thursday, Dec. 13. 

The early spring leaves of sochan, also known as the green-headed coneflower, have traditionally been an important food source for Cherokee people, whose large territory used to encompass the area now covered by the park. The Qualla Boundary currently abuts the park boundary, but gathering any type of plant or plant part is uniformly prohibited in the Smokies. 

Inventory of life: Twenty-year effort to count Smokies species adds 1,000 to science

By late November, the trees at 5,000 feet are mostly bare, once-green leaves covering the forest floor like a brown blanket, obscuring the ground that had hosted all manner of wildflowers and shrubs and berries during the warmer months. 

Some people might describe the forest as dead or lifeless, but not those who know where to look. Paul Super, science coordinator for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of those people. Stationed up at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, Super’s office is just a stone’s throw away from the Cataloochee Divide Trail and the upland forest surrounding it. 

Symbol of connection: A decade of collaboration yields 300-mile MST trail section

From towering mountains to shimmering seas, North Carolina has a little bit of everything — and for the trail that ties it all together, a major milestone has just been marked. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, trail volunteers, government officials and natural resources workers from across the state gathered at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee to celebrate completion of a 300-mile section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, starting at Clingmans Dome and ending at Stone Mountain State Park in Allegheny and Wilkes counties. 

Body of missing woman found in the Smokies

A week-long search for a missing woman in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ended in tragedy Tuesday, Oct. 2, when search crews located the body of 53-year-old Ohio resident Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements about 2 miles from the Clingmans Dome parking area. 

National park volunteers receive regional recognition

Great Smoky Mountains National Park volunteers received regional recognition through the George and Helen Hartzog Awards Program for Outstanding Volunteers this summer. 

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