Kate Dixon, executive director of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, says the MST was originally to parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway after leaving the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the parkway owns almost no land where it crosses the Cherokee Reservation. Because a route couldn't be worked out, hikers using the Blue Ridge Parkway to get from one existing trail section to another are forced to hike through five tunnels.
There are two proposals so far:
* An 80-mile route through the Great Smokies park on existing trail. This route has extreme elevation gain and no locations where hikers can easily obtain new supplies.
* Leaving the park at the Deep Creek Campground and roughly following the Tuckaseegee River past Bryson City, Sylva and Cullowhee before heading up through the Nanatahala National Forest to rejoin the existing trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway. But, it will probably be many years before this route is entirely off-road.
The routes are depicted on a map at the first link above. Other ideas are welcome, Dixon says.
The workshop is Thursday, September 13, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Jackson County Library, 310 Keener Street in Sylva.
The ongoing Mountains-to-Sea Trail project is to eventually extend across the state for approximately 1,000 miles from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey's Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks.
The workshop is the first one planned as part of an effort to begin developing a regional trail plan for Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in the state's far west.
The Southwestern Commission is developing the plan with a grant provided by the State Trails Program of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. The primary product of the plan will be a comprehensive regionwide trail map. The Commission will also use public input to recommend where new trails, greenways or routes should be located to connect to other trails and to connect towns/communities to one another, Dixon says in a memo.
Work begins in the Croatan National Forest this week to repair road surfaces, drainage structures and ditches that have been damaged by severe weather over the last couple of years, the U.S. Forest Service said last week.
Some roads will close as soon as this Wednesday, September 5, and may remained closed into December.
Pettiford Creek Road (National Forest Service Road 206) will remain closed for about a year for work that includes replacement of a major drainage structure.
Affected roads include:
* Millis Road (NFSR 128), closed from September 5 to October 3.
* Morton Field Road (NFSR 129), Belangia Road (NFSR 163) and Haywood Landing Road (NFSR 146), closed temporarily between September and December.
* Riceground Branch Road (NFSR 3014), closed from mid-late October through November.
These roads will be closed "periodically":
* Great Lake Road (NFSR 126)
* Hunters Creek Road (NFSR 144)
* Neds Creek Road (NFSR 616)
* Farrior Farm Road (NFSR 121-A)
* Middle Little Road (NFSR 121-2)
* Brown Road (NFSR 121-D)
* Pine Grove Road (NFSR 156)
The repairs will cost an estimated $823,000, the Forest Service says in its news release. The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads program.
Those interested in a proposal to construct a shooting range in the Nantahala National Forest near the Fires Creek Recreation Area must re-submit written comments for them to be considered as the U.S. Forest Service's work on the proposal moves forward.
The plan for the Clay County Shooting Range calls for allowing The Clay County Sports Club, at its expense, to construct five to eight shooting lanes and clean soil backstops, a news release from the Forest Service says. The facility would include covered shooting stations, sign boards and a portable restroom.
Two sites on national forest land east of Hayesville are under consideration. One site near Perry Creek is 0.7 miles west of the Chunky Gal Trail, a 21-mile-long footpath that connects to the nearby Bartram National Recreation Trail from the Fires Creek Rim Trail. The second site, at the end of Barnett Creek Road (FSR 6236) in the Chestnut Branch area, is approximately one mile east of the Chunky Gal Trail.
Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine has said a shooting range at the Perry Creek site "would make the sound of gunfire a constant companion on the trail."
The Forest Service says rapid development in the county leaves national forest land as the only viable option for locating a shooting range.
The shooting range would be open to the public, with title to the target range and revenues generated by user fees remaining with the government.
If the Forest Service decides to grant the request, approximately three to five acres at one of the two sites would be developed.
Work toward a shooting range in Clay County began in 2002. An environmental assessment was released in October 2010 and comments were accepted then. But, "additional analyses have since been completed, and the Forest Service is again requesting comments on the proposal," this week's announcement says.
Only comments on the newly revised environmental assessment (available here) will have standing in an appeal of the Forest Service's decision, the news release says.
Written comments must include "(1) your name and address; (2) title of the proposed action; (3) specific substantive comments on the proposed action, along with supporting reasons that the Forest Service should consider in reaching a decision; and (4) your signature or other means of identification verification."
Comments may be submitted to [email protected] or to:
Tusquitee Ranger District (Clay County Shooting Range)
Nantahala National Forest
123 Woodland Drive
Murphy, NC 28906
The free 11 a.m. event is officially a dedication of the parking lot at the two waterfalls on the Catawba River, but the restrooms and information center are what's new. The parking lot and public access to the site opened in April.
But the whole site is so new to ownership and operation by the Pisgah National Forest that the national forest website has yet to develop a page for it. The U.S. Forest Service bought the 88-acre tract in 2010 from the Foothills Conservancy, which acquired it in 2005 and 2007 after 20 years of work.
Visitors to the new day use area can make a "short walk to Catawba Falls," the Forest Service said when the site opened in April.
We were disappointed on a trip last weekend to the Highlands-Cashiers area for the Cashiers Mountain Music Festival to find that Dry Falls in the Cullasaja Gorge was once again closed.
We were last in this part of the Nantahala National Forest in the summer of 2008, when Dry Falls was closed to pave the site's parking lot and add an overlook, restrooms and picnic tables. It is closed again this summer, according to a local source, for renovations to the 1/2-mile trail that allows visitors to walk behind the 80-foot waterfall.
Dry Falls is expected to reopen in September, in time for leaf viewing season.
We did enjoy seeing Bridal Veil Falls, left below, and the Upper Cullasaja Falls again on this trip, and have added new photos to our Carolina Outdoors Guide pages for them (at the links), including video of Bridal Veil Falls.
Eight NWRs in South Carolina conserve more than 161,000 acres of land, water surfaces and wetlands to provide habitat for a wide variety of animals. Seven of the refuges are open to the public for birding and wildlife observation, hiking, boating, fishing, hunting and other recreation compatible with the preservation mandate.
The new page for South Carolina wildlife refuges joins pages for South Carolina National Parks, National Forests and U.S. Corps of Engineers Projects (dams and reservoirs), and directories for camping at National Parks and National Forests in South Carolina.
Carolina Outdoors Guide is a comprehensive directory of federal and state recreation sites in North Carolina, including national and state parks and forests, wild and scenic rivers, National Wildlife Refuges, Corps of Engineers projects, Tennessee Valley Authority reservoirs, coastal reserves and more, with separate sections for camping and hiking, plus a links section with more than 50 links to federal and state outdoors resources and various advocacy/support groups connected to preservation and conservation of parks and the natural environment.
No other single source on the Web or in print lists as many federal and state public recreation sites in the Carolinas.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has its eyes on 23,000 acres in the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains that it would like to see become the 12th National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.
The proposed Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge would comprise as many as 30 sites in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Clay, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania, Wilkes and Watauga counties, North Carolina, and Carter and Johnson counties, Tennessee, the Fish & Wildlife Service says.
The refuge would protect Southern Appalachian bogs, one of the nation’s rarest and most imperiled natural habitats.
"National Wildlife Refuges are lands, managed by or in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, set aside for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants," Rick Huffines, deputy regional chief for the National Wildlife Refuge System, says in a news release. "Given the rarity of these bogs and their importance to plants and wildlife, creating a refuge to conserve them is a natural fit."
Creating the refuge will require fee-simple purchases, conservation easements, leases or cooperative agreements with landowners. Money would likely come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which includes money collected from the sale of offshore oil and gas drilling leases.
The Service is authorized to acquire in fee-title or hold conservation easements on 30 sites covering approximately 23,000 acres containing bogs and surrounding lands among a 45,000-acre area.
"Mountain bogs are ... typically small and widely scattered across the landscape, often isolated from other wetlands," the Service says. "Important to wildlife, they’re home to five endangered species and provide habitat for migratory birds and important game animals, including mink, woodcock, ruffed grouse, turkey and wood duck. Bogs are breeding habitat for many species of amphibians, especially salamanders, for which the Southern Appalachians have the greatest diversity in the nation.
"In addition to their wildlife importance, bogs provide key services to humans. They’ve a natural capacity for regulating water flow - holding floodwaters like giant sponges then slowly releasing the water, thus decreasing the impacts of floods and droughts."
Parts of the proposed refuge would be too fragile for recreation, but other parts would be open for wildlife-based recreation, including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, education, and interpretation.
The Service is seeking public input about the proposed refuge at [email protected] or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 160 Zillicoa St., Asheville, NC 28801, or at 828-258-3939.
The Service is also hosting a series of open houses to receive comments and answer questions:
* June 26, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Henderson County Public Library in Hendersonville.
* June 27, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Ashe County Public Library in West Jefferson.
* July 10, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.
* July 11, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Watauga County Public Library in Boone.
The Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge homepage has a project overview, FAQs, wildlife benefits, a fact sheet and other documents, video and photos about work being done to conserve mountain bogs, and more.
A bill that would overturn the Park Service’s new off-road-vehicle plan for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was sent to the House floor Thursday, according to published reports. A vote is yet to be scheduled.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., would overturn rules for off-road-vehicle use adopted in January, end a consent decree that dates to 2008, and return management at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the 2007 Interim Protected Species Management Plan, according to the Island Free Press.
Currently, just under 18 of 65 miles of seashore are open to beach driving.
The rules adopted earlier this year gave the National Park Service the discretion to close sections of the beach surrounding nesting shorebirds and sea turtles, and permanently closed some sections of the beach to driving, the Virginian-Pilot said. Safeguarding federally protected species is part of the reason the rules were enacted.
Cape Hatteras businessmen and elected officials complained last winter that the more-restrictive driving rules, which also require higher fees for driving permits, were hard on fishermen and hurt local businesses.
Under the bill, the Secretary of Interior would be able to restrict beach access "to protect species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973" if "peer-reviewed science" and public comment showed it was necessary.
If the bill passes, the interim strategy would remain in place until the Park Service devises another long-term plan that is less restrictive, the Island Free Press said.
Cape Point Campground, one of four campgrounds at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, has opened for the season following repairs to flood damage, park officials announced Thursday.
Cape Point, which is in Buxton near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, has 202 sites. The fee to camp is $20 per night. The campground will close September 3.
National Parks Traveler reported last fall that federal and state wetlands protection laws were hampering efforts to correct drainage problems in the Cape Point area.
Heavy rains last fall, including a drenching from Hurricane Irene, had left standing water in the campground and surrounding portions of Lighthouse Road.
Cape Hatteras' Oregon Inlet, Frisco and Ocracoke campgrounds opened in April and will close in October.
Each of the park's campgrounds accommodates tents, trailers, and motor homes up to 35 feet. Each has rest rooms, drinking water, unheated showers, grills, and picnic tables. No hookups (utility connections) are available.
Pending legislation would allow hunting, trapping and recreational shooting in most National Parks, changing "the fundamental purpose of the National Park System," says a legal analysis commissioned by the National Parks Conservation Association.
The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (HR 4089) is meant to prioritize hunting and shooting on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, but its text includes National Parks, according to the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP.
"Today, hunting, trapping and recreational shooting are prohibited throughout the National Park System except in places where they have been specifically authorized by Congress," Craig Obey, senior vice president for government affairs at the NPCA says in a news release.
"Under this bill, the law regarding such uses would no longer be closed [to hunting] unless opened, but would instead be open unless closed. National parks were set aside to protect the wildlife that roam and historic sites that preserve our nation’s history — not for using some of America’s most valued treasures as target practice."
North Carolina parks include Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is bordered by state game lands and Nantahala National Forest property, both of which allow hunting, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which allows waterfowl hunting. Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina also allows hunting.
The bill would force park managers to undertake "lengthy and potentially costly analyses" to justify closing park units to various activities, yet would open those units without any such analysis, the news release says. "For example, park managers would need to use the 'best science' to justify prohibiting paintball games on the hallowed ground at Gettysburg," the release says.
Additionally, the Congressional Research Service says the bill would open Wilderness Areas to motorized use, oil and gas development, logging and a host of other activities "that would cut the heart out of protective designations like Wilderness Areas," according to Outdoor Life magazine, which supports expanded hunting opportunities in the bill. "In fact, the CRS didn’t have much in terms of kind words for this bill:
Because of imprecise wording in the bill, the full extent of the bill’s impact on the Wilderness Act is unclear. However, it appears that Section 104(e) would not only allow any activity related to fishing, hunting or wildlife conservation to be conducted in wilderness areas, but it may also obviate the primacy of wilderness values in determining permissible activities in wilderness areas."
The bill passed in the House April 17, and has moved to the Senate.
The NPCA is encouraging the public to contact their senators "to prevent this threatening legislation from damaging our National Park System." Take action here.