The Great Smoky Mountains National Park had the highest May visitation on record for this past May. Visitation for May 2013 was up 10.5 percent, compared with May 2012. During this past May, a total of 885,860 visitors came into the park, which is 86,200 more than in 2012.
However, visitation so far this year is down overall. January through May 2013 visitation is 5.5 percent below the five-year average of January to May visitation. The park has recorded 2,506,300 visitors, which is 273,002 less than what was seen during the same period in 2012.
Newfound Gap Road, which connects Gatlinburg, Tenn., the park’s busiest entrance, with Cherokee, had been closed from Jan. 16-April 15 while construction work was done to repair a major landslide. That caused a large drop in visitation for most of this year.
The park straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border is still the most visited national park in the country, with nearly 9.7 million visitors in 2012, up 7.5 percent from the year before.
Visitation for Entrances:
Outlying areas, including Cherokee: 306,103
For more on the park, visit www.nps.gov/grsm.
Looking to help the elk?
This is one of the coolest volunteer opportunities you can probably ever wish for. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is seeking volunteers to join the Elk Bugle Corps to assist rangers with managing traffic and providing visitor information on responsible elk viewing practices.
Cataloochee is a remote mountain valley on the eastern edge of the park where remnants of early settlements are preserved. Surrounded by mountain peaks, it is popular, year-round. Elk were reintroduced in Cataloochee in 2001 as part of an experimental release to determine if an elk herd could sustain itself in the Smokies after a 200-year absence. Approximately 140 elk now live in the self-sustaining herd.
Each volunteer is asked to work at least two scheduled, four-hour shifts per month starting the second week in May and continuing through November. This target period is during high visitor use from late spring during the elk calving season through the end of the fall color and elk mating season.
Volunteers will spend time roving the valley in a zero-emission electric vehicle or by bike. Volunteers who prefer to rove by bike are required to bring their own bicycle and protective riding gear. Bike patrol volunteers will rove along the road through the valley which is mostly flat with very little change in elevation. And you get to see these beautiful, majestic animals and teach other people about them and how to help protect them.
For more information, call park ranger Pete Walker at 828-506-1739.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park crews are making needed repairs on both Chimney Tops Trail and Noland Creek Trail, which received significant flood damage this winter.
In North Carolina, park crews will repair a slide area along Noland Creek Trail, so the trail will be closed to all hikers and horse use from Monday, April 22–May 2, from the trailhead to Backcountry Campsite 64. Note that Campsite 64 will remain open, but Backcountry Campsite 65 will be closed during the project.
In Tennessee, the popular Chimney Tops Trail has been closed since January when high waters destroyed the pedestrian bridge across Walker Camp Prong at the beginning of the trail. Crews are working to replace the 70-foot long bridge to allow trail access and estimate reopening the trail by June 30. At that time, the Park’s Trails Forever Crew will begin Phase 2 of the ongoing full trail rehabilitation which will necessitate closing the trail each Monday through Thursday from Monday, July 1 through Thursday, Oct. 17, while the trail continues to undergo a major facelift.
For more information about trail closures, please visit the Park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm or call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.
And remember, the Newfound Gap Road from Cherokee to Gatlinburg is now open for travel!
Steve Senior, 65, of Bridgenorth, Ontario, was seriously injured today in a canoe accident above The Sinks area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to a press release from the park.
At 12:41 p.m., the park Communications Center received an emergency call reporting that an individual was pinned under water. Senior was visiting the area to attend the “Ain’t Louie Fest,” which includes a series of river trips loosely organized by a group of whitewater enthusiasts.
Senior became trapped after his canoe capsized and he was swept downstream. Many members of the group are well trained in swift water rescue and immediately began rescue operations. Just as emergency responders arrived on scene, the group pulled the injured party out of the water and began CPR.
National Park Service rangers, along with emergency personnel from Blount County and Townsend, Tenn., transported the individual by litter from the riverbank to a Rural Metro ambulance. Senior had reportedly been under water for approximately 30 minutes and was unresponsive when he was rescued, but later had spontaneous heartbeats and respiration. He was transported by ambulance to Blount Memorial Hospital where he is in critical condition.
The Townsend Volunteer Fire Department, Townsend Police Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Department, and Blount County Fire also responded to the incident. Little River Road was closed for over an hour to allow for emergency traffic.
If you haven’t ventured out to the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yet, you need to go. Besides all the scenic beauty, history, hiking trails, blah, blah, there are elk!
These stunning, massive creatures were reintroduced about 10 years ago and are doing really well, roaming around the park at their leisure.
The Swannanoa Valley Museum will host a trip out to meet the elk, starting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the Black Mountain Savings Bank parking lot. And they’ll give you lunch.
The trip will start at Cataloochee Ranch in Haywood County for a classic Southern fried chicken buffet and an historic presentation by the daughter of the ranch’s founder.
After lunch, the group will continue on into the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to tour the remaining homes of early settlers and view the elk that have been reintroduced.
Fran and Burnace Roberts, Black Mountain residents, photographers, and Cataloochee Bugle Corps volunteers, will give a talk on the history of the elk in the park and show photographs and artifacts relating to the majestic animal. The elk are best viewed in late afternoon, so the return to Black Mountain will be near dusk.
Meet in parking lot of Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St. at 10:30 am to carpool to the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley.
Cost is $35 for Museum members; $50 for non-members and includes lunch. Reservations are required. To register, call 828-669-9566 or register online at www.swannanoavalleymuseum.org/oct.htm.
Human remains recently found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been identified as those belonging to Michael Giovanni Cocchini, 23, a Nashville man who went missing in the park March 18.
Park officials said that investigators worked with the Sevier County Medical Examiner’s Office, Knoxville Regional Forensic Center, and the Knox County Sheriffs Forensic Unit to make the official identification through dental records.
There will be no way for park investigators to determine an exact cause of death, but evidence found at the scene indicates that Cocchini had intentions of taking his own life. Foul play is not suspected.
Human remains were found Aug. 20 about a mile from the Sugarlands Visitors Center, said park spokeswoman Molly Schroer.
Park employees doing research on an unrelated matter discovered a backpack thought to belong to Cocchini on Friday near where his vehicle was found parked along Newfound Gap Road.
Searchers combed the area where clothing and other items consistent with what Cocchini was last seen wearing were located.
“The items were found three-tenths of a mile from where his car was parked, at a quiet walkway on Newfound Gap Road, about a mile south of the Sugarlands Visitors Center,” Schroer said. “It was within the original search area, but on a ridge just outside of the area that was intensively searched.”
Cocchini was from Nashville but was said to have been living in Gatlinburg, Tenn., at the time he went missing.
Another man, 24-year-old Derek Leuking of Blount County, Tenn., went missing in the Newfound Gap area of the Smokies on March 17. His car was found in the Newfound Gap parking area. A sleeping bag, tent, park maps and a note asking that no one search for him were found in Leuking’s car.
Intensive searches for both men, including dog teams, were discontinued after a week. The cases are not thought to be related. Schroer said there is still no sign of Leuking.
“It is still considered an ongoing investigation,” she said.
The Smokies is the country’s most visited national park with more than 9 million visitors a year. It encompasses a half-million acres of mostly rugged, forested land on the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
The Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park annual telethon is going on right now on WLOS TV in Asheville. The fundraiser is from 7-8 p.m.
Friends of the Smokies will contribute more than $1 million this year to fund current park needs, including the ongoing battle to suppress the hemlock woolly adelgid across the Smokies, conservation of black bears in the backcountry, and management of the elk herd in Cataloochee. Friends will provide more than $275,000 for curriculum enhancement for the Parks as Classrooms environmental education program that serves more than 12,000 students in schools bordering the park.
Telethon donations can be made online now at www.friendsofthesmokies.org. During the broadcast, volunteers will take phone-in pledges at 877-687-MTNS (6867).
Since 1993, the not-for-profit Friends of the Smokies organization has raised more than $37 million to help maintain Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a crown jewel of the national park system, including the establishment of the $4 million Trails Forever endowment to improve Smoky Mountain hiking trails in perpetuity.
The federal budget alone is nowhere near enough to provide these programs. Help out the most visited national park in the country and an important patch of wilderness right in our backyard by supporting Friends of the Smokies. If you don’t get to call tonight, don’t worry, you can call and donate tomorrow, too.
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Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said that regardless of the DOT report’s conclusions, he would not take up the bill, during this short session or in the next regular session.
“These (specialty plates) serve a good charitable cause, and we applaud that, and we believe it has some good merit,” said Rucho, who is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “But if most license plates can’t be read by the cameras, you have to pay more money for a person to come out and manually read the plates, rather than the automated system.
“The second part of this is law enforcement officials have told us it’s a challenge for them to do their jobs safely and effectively.”
The increase in the number of full-color specialty plates — there are now about 40 — has made the job of law enforcement across the state more difficult, said George Erwin Jr., executive director of the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.
“A lot of plates, you can’t make them out,” Erwin said. “We’re not against the specialty plates, but there has to be some uniformity.”
Erwin said police chiefs do not support HB 1035 and are in favor of allowing the full-color plates to expire in 2015, then returning all plates to the “First in Flight,” white background, with specialty plates all having a small, uniform logo, such as the current university alumni plates.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, on Friday said the group’s position was outlined in a letter to Rucho and other legislators in February.
In the letter, the sheriffs recommend “a design template that is readily identifiable by law enforcement officers, reflective lettering and raised block lettering for all specialty plates offered by the DMV.”
Caldwell said they leave the design of a plate to achieve their recommendations up to the DMV.
On Friday, Marge Howell, spokeswoman for the DMV, said the division stands by the readability report released in April.
Ward, of the Parkway Foundation, said switching to the plain-looking plates will cause people to stop buying them and seriously hurt the nonprofits.
The foundation receives about half its funding from the specialty plates revenue.
“To not have the Senate take this home when everyone else is on record of support, I don’t know that the stars would align this way again. It is disconcerting,” Ward said.
“Everyone has supported this design of the white box. When you’ve got bipartisan House support in such a contentious partisan atmosphere, and the Senate will not even let it come to the floor, it’s disgusting.”
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GATLINBURG, TENN. — Authorities continued their hunt Sunday for a masculine who raped and stabbed a 44-year-old lady on a hiking route in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The plant was walking on Gatlinburg Trail joining a Sugarlands Visitors Center with Gatlinburg when she was pounded Friday. She done her approach to a circuitously highway to dwindle down a visitor, who reported a incident.
A ranger pronounced Sunday there were no new developments in a case.
The lady was airlifted to University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she remained in fast condition over a weekend.
Chief Ranger Clay Jordan pronounced authorities have searched for a think in a area around a route and are focusing their efforts in Gatlinburg with hopes of identifying him.
The think is described as a white masculine of skinny build in his 40s. He is about 5 feet 7 inches high with a organisation cut and skinny mustache. He was wearing black dress pants and a gray T-shirt. Authorities contend he has mixed tattoos, including one on his stomach.
Anyone with information about a box is urged to call a park puncture line during 865-436-9171.
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Ellisons collaborate on new book ‘Permanent Camp’
BRYSON CITY — Nature writer and Citizen-Times columnist George Ellison and his wife and collaborator, Elizabeth, have published “Permanent Camp: Poems, Narratives and Renderings from the Smokies” with The History Press.
A book launch event will be at 6:30 p.m. June 8 at City Light Books, 3 E. Jackson St., Sylva.
According to the publisher’s announcement, “The Ellisons have found their own secluded valley in these verdant mountains, crafting permanent camp in which to reflect on their place in the natural world. … (George Ellison’s) poetry speaks to one from the heart of the Smokies, imparting a deep appreciation for nature’s beauty and powers of renewal.”
The poems are accompanied by watercolor and oil paintings and illustrations by Elizabeth Ellison, whose “artwork depicts a variety of landscapes, flora, fauna and even more abstract pieces that express a wealth of feelings and capture the reader’s conscience,” the publisher said.
The Ellisons publish the biweekly “Nature Journal” column in the Citizen-Times Home Garden section. Their book will retail for $21.99.
Stepp to sign ‘Delia’s Place’
Mountains novelist Lin Stepp will be in Western North Carolina for two book signings of her newest title, “Delia’s Place,” the fourth book in her Great Smoky Mountains series.
The contemporary novels are each set in different locations around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
All Stepp’s titles, including “Delia’s Place,” set in Gatlinburg, will be available at the signings.
The first event is 11 a.m.-noon Saturday at Blue Ridge Book, 152 S. Main St., Waynesville. To learn more, call the store at 456-6000.
The second signing will be 2-4 p.m. the same day at the Barnes Noble bookstore in the Asheville Mall.
To learn more, call the store at 296-7334.
To learn more about Stepp and her other works, visit www.linstepp.com.
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