Most Blue Ridge Parkway facilities will be open for the 2015 season by May 1 or 2, with picnic areas opening mid-April and one campground partially opening April 1.
The National Park Service posted 2015 spring / summer hours for Parkway facilities today.
Most Parkway campgrounds open May 1 on a first come, first served basis but will take reservations through recreation.gov from May 15 on. Most campgrounds reserve campsites but have a few that remain available without reservations.
* Linville Falls Campground will have one tent camping loop open as of April 3 and allow campers to register themselves.
* Crabtree Falls Campground, which has been closed for two seasons, will open one tent camping loop and one RV loop on May 1.
* Price Park (below) and Mt. Pisgah campgrounds will open May 1 with full services.
* Doughton Park Campground will have two tent loops and an RV loop open May 1.
Picnic areas throughout the Parkway open April 17, except at Price Park, where they remain open year-round.
Most visitor centers and other facilities, like the Blue Ridge Music Center and the Moses Cone Manor House, open May 1 or 2. The Parkway Craft Center at the Moses Cone Manor opened March 15.
The Parkway also runs into Virginia, and some northern sites open later in May.
Parkway sites that close for the winter do so around the end of October.
Camping at Julian Price Park (below) and most other Parkway campgrounds begins for the season May 1. Click on either photo for more about Price Park, which is popular for picnicking year-round and boat rentals, which resume for weekends April 3.
The lighthouse at Cape Lookout National Seashore will be open an additional day each week for climbing during the 2015 season.
The 163-foot lighthouse will be open Tuesday through Saturday this year, a National Park Service news release says, with the season running form May 12 to September 19. It will also be open on the Sunday of three holiday weekends: May 24, July 5 and September 6.
It was previously open Wednesday through Saturday during the season.
Climbing hours are 9:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with ticket sales from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for senior citizens (62 or older), children younger than 12, and those holding a National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Access Pass.
Children must be at least 44 inches tall (3.5 feet), and those who are younger than 13 years old must be accompanied by someone who is 16 or older.
The news release says climbing the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is equivalent to climbing a 10-story building, but the NPS webpage says "Climbing the 207 steps to the gallery is roughly equal to climbing a 12-story building." The climb covers 207 steps inside the lighthouse, which may be hot, humid, noisy and dim, the NPS advises.
"Shoes are required; heels should be less than 1½ inches. Flip-flops are not recommended," the website says.
You have 18 additional opportunities to climb the Cape Lookout Lighthouse this year.
Pisgah National Forest officials are taking precautions against bear encounters in a popular area of the Shining Rock Wilderness Area by temporarily closing it to overnight camping and ordering the use of bear canisters when camping in adjacent areas.
Officials say in a news release that a bear "entered a tent and removed a hiker's backpack" in the Graveyard Fields area.
Graveyard Fields is a high valley area within the Shining Rock Wilderness popular for dispersed primitive camping. The valley is accessible from a newly renovated Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at Milepost 418.8 and a 2.3 mile loop trail that goes to three waterfalls. The Beech Gap (Section 6) portion of the Mountains to Sea Trail also passes through the valley.
The area will remain open for day use, but the Forest Service will monitor the area "over the next few weeks" to determine when to reopen it for overnight camping, the news release says.
It is not unusual to suspend camping in the Shining Rock area because of bear activity. The entire wilderness area was closed to camping because of a series of incidents in October 2012.
Overnight campers are also being required to use bear canisters in the adjacent areas of the Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam's Knob and Flat Laurel Creek. The Forest Service has received numerous reports of bears acquiring food from backcountry campers in the area.
Canisters must be commercially made and constructed of solid, non-pliable material manufactured for the specific purpose of resisting entry by bears, the release says.
"In springtime bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips," Pisgah District Ranger Derek Ibarguen says in the release. "Black bear attacks on people are rare but when we do have encounters we do our best to break the cycle of success so the bears do not become habituated to humans - protecting both our visitors and the bears."
Campers are also advised to not leave food unattended and to clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills, or other areas of campsites.
Dates for North Carolina campgrounds include:
* Balsam Mountain - May 22 to October 13.
* Big Creek - April 10 to October 31.
* Catalooche - April 3 to October 31.
* Deep Creek - April 10 to October 31.
* Tow String Horse Camp - April 3 to October 31.
Smokemont Campground is open year-round.
Frontcountry camping fees, which range from $14 to $23 per night, have not changed for 2015.
Backcountry camping is permitted year-round and is free, though a permit is required.
Picnic grounds that close during the winter are also opening in early April. The picnic areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms remain open year-round.
A move to reopen 8.5 miles of Lynn Camp Prong near Tremont, Tennessee, in Great Smoky Mountain National Park means all of the park's streams are open to fishing for the first time since 1934, the Knoxville News Sentinel says.
The park has about 2,115 miles of streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States, according to the park website's fishing information.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. Anglers must possess a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina.
Biologists have completed a six-year project to remove nonnative rainbow trout from Lynn Camp Prong and re-establish brook trout, the only trout species native to the Southern Appalachians, the News Sentinel says.
Lynn Camp Prong is a tributary of the Middle Prong of the Little River.
About 20 percent of the park's streams are large enough to support trout. Rainbow trout occupy 15 percent of these streams' miles, while brook trout are found in about 8 percent.
Raven Rock State Park will build up to 20 miles of bike trails over the next several years, the state Parks and Recreation Division said today.
The 4,694-acre park is located on the Cape Fear River outside of Lillington in Harnett County. The network of three loops is planned for the southeastern section of the park (Moccasin Branch area) with a trailhead near the picnic shelter, a state parks blog post says.
A beginner loop of about six miles is expected to be finished by mid- to late 2015.
A series of volunteer workdays began Monday with a group of volunteers clearing brush from the first trail corridor. The next volunteer workday is Sunday, January 25. (Fill in the search form here for details.)
Officials announced plans for mountain biking at Raven Rock last September. The park has since received two grants totaling $200,000 from the federal Recreational Trails Program to create a network of beginner, intermediate and advanced trail loops.
Raven Rock already has 20 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. The park also offers hike-in camping, canoeing, fishing and picnicking.
The N.C. state parks system is adding mountain biking trails in parks that can accommodate them, the blog post says. The largest networks are a 30-mile system at Lake Norman State Park at Troutman in Iredell County, and a 15-mile system that opened last year at Lake James State Park at Nebo in Burke County.
Raven Rock State Park has begun work on one of three mountain biking loops planned at the park known for its 150-foot cliffs along the Cape Fear River (below). Click on the photo for more about Raven Rock.
The Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge has announced activities for its annual celebration of the return of Tundra swans to the 40,000 surface acres of Lake Mattamuskeet.
Swan Days 2014 will be held December 6 and 7, with multiple birding tours Saturday, tours of Mattamuskeet Lodge, and more. Swan Days this year will also mark the 80th anniversary of the refuge.
The lake, which is the largest natural lake in North Carolina, is a wintering spot for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl, including Tundra swans, Canada geese, snow geese, ducks and coots.
In January, the refuge said a count of some 200,000 ducks, geese and swans at the refuge represented a trend of increasing wintering waterfowl over the past few years.
Saturday's schedule of events includes:
- Tram tours at 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. Phone 252-926-4021 for reservations. The tours, one of which we joined a few years ago, go through wetland impoundments on the lake's eastern shore near the Lake Landing Canal for opportunities to see birds.
- Guided birding walks at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
- Guided caravan driving tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Mattamuskeet Lodge tours at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, and 10 and 11 a.m. Sunday. The lodge (left) was originally built in 1914 as the largest pumping plant in the world and was later used as a hunting lodge until 1974. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 but efforts to restore it have faltered.
Additional activities on tap include an 80th Anniversary celebration at noon Saturday (with refreshments), wildlife and history presentations, a Wildlife Olympics and other kids' activities, and a winter hummingbird banding program on Sunday morning.
Get a full schedule here and phone 252-926-4021 if you need more information.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has announced that three Parkway campgrounds originally scheduled to be open through this weekend are now closed.
* Doughton Park Campground, Milepost 239.2
* Linville Falls Campground, Milepost 316.4
* Mt. Pisgah Campground, Milepost 408.8
The weather forecast for the North Carolina mountains calls for rain and snow this weekend, with snowfall ranging from less than half an inch in Sparta (near Doughton Park) to 1 to 3 inches at Altamont (near Linville Falls) and 1 to 2 inches at Mount Pisgah.
The Parkway also said Parkway rangers will be proactively closing gates in potentially affected areas along the main road this afternoon and evening. Should the storm not materialize as forecast, the road will be opened as soon as possible the following morning or when conditions allow.
The campground at Julian Price Park, Milepost 297, was not part of the announcement, though 1 to 2 inches of snow is forecast for the Blowing Rock area. It was to be open through Saturday. (We'd suggest calling; our call went to voicemail.)
Campers who were in affected campgrounds last night are in the process of checking out, and once all campsites are clear, these campgrounds will be closed for the season, the Parkway said on Facebook this afternoon.
Any advance reservations for the remainder of this weekend will be refunded if necessary.
DuPont State Recreational Forest will post operating hours for visitors, a first such restriction, beginning November 2, the N.C. Forest Service announced this week.
A news release says the forest will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with hours posted at each access area: High Falls, Hooker Falls, Corn Mill Shoals, Fawn Lake, Lake Imaging and Guion Farm.
Permits for legitimate use of the forest after hours will be available by request through the forest's website or by email to [email protected]. Permits will be issued according to available staff resources and observed impacts to the forest, the news release says.
The new hours are a continuation of recent attention to the 10,400-acre forest. The state forest became a "state recreational forest" in 2011 and the state adopted a new plan to manage natural communities, wildlife habitat and recreation in the forest.
The forest's first visitor center opened at the High Falls Access Area in July 2013.
Through January 1, those in the forest without a permit after hours will receive a warning. Afterward, violations can result in expulsion from the forest and a citation for a Class III misdemeanor, the news release says.
Work to refurbish and expand the family campground at South Mountains State Park has been completed just in time for fall camping, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation said today.
In addition to a new bathhouse with a family restroom and shower, all campsites were refurbished and the campground was expanded from 11 to 18 sites. Two sites are RV-compatible with electricity hookups.
"The family campground is within babbling distance of Jacob Fork River, revered not only for its stunning beauty but its congenial trout population," a state parks blog post says. "It’s one of the best spots in North Carolina for fishing, casual hiking and being lulled to sleep."
The park also offers camping at 15 campsites for equestrians, which surround a 33-stall barn, and at 20 backpacking sites.
Camping reservations through the state parks system are suggested, particularly this time of year, the state says.
South Mountains State Park, in southern Burke County, is North Carolina's largest state park at more than 18,000 acres. It has 40 miles of trails and elevations of 3,000 feet, and features the 80-foot High Shoals Falls, below.
Click on the photo for more information about South Mountains State park.