As we round the corner from Labor Day into autumn, those looking forward to cooler weather outdoors have begun posting fall leaf color guides and forecasts.
The National Forest Service released its annual fall color guide to the places to find the best fall color in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in western North Carolina. There, leaves begin to turn at the highest elevation in late September and early October. Colors peak in mid-October and move to the lowest elevations by late October and early November.
There's color everywhere in the mountains once the show gets underway, but the National Forest's recommendations for leaf viewing are:
High elevation (above 4,500 feet)
* Cherohala Skyway in Graham County
* Wayah Bald and Wine Spring Creek area in Macon County
* Big Butt Trail in the Mount Mitchell area of Yancey County
* Roan Mountain in Mitchell County. The road to Roan Gardens (from Carvers Gap) will close in early October, the Forest Service advises. Take in fall color by hiking the Appalachian Trail either direction or walking on the road.
Middle elevation (2,500 to 4,500 feet)
* Chunky Gal Mountains from Standing Indian to Shooting Creek along US 64 in Macon and Clay Counties
* Along NC 28 and 143 within Graham County from Fontana Village (see also Fontana Dam) to Stecoah Gap, within the Moses Creek drainage along Forest Service Road 4651 in the Roy A. Taylor forest in Jackson County (see also Wayehutta ATV System)
* Along US 19E in the Poplar area of Yancey County from the Cane River to Spivey Gap
* Along Curtis Creek Road (FSR 482) and US 70 in McDowell County, and the Harper Creek area in Avery County
Low elevation (Below 2,500 feet)
* Joe Brown Highway in Cherokee County
* US 64 in eastern Clay County
* US 441 in southern Macon County
* NC 28 in Swain County near Fontana Lake (see also Fontana Dam)
* US 25-70 in the Hot Springs area
* Along NC 181 and the other forest roads in the Steeles Creek area in Burke and Caldwell counties.
In May, the Forest Service's Southern Research Station and National Forests in North Carolina introduced the Forest Trail Explorer site, which allows users to browse maps of trails in the Tsali and the Jackrabbit Mountain recreation areas in the Nantahala, as well as portions of the Appalachian Trail in the forest.
Information on the site includes trail type, length, difficulty, elevation, and images from fly-overs of some trails. In addition, users can download files of the trails and view them on their computers or tablets using Google Earth. The site is designed to work on smartphones and other mobile devices.
Elsewhere, Romantic Asheville says some glimpses of fall color are showing already but little color change should be expected this week.
Fall Color Guy Howie Neufeld, an Appalachian State University biology professor, told The Charlotte Observer that sunny and relatively cool conditions in late summer bring vivid colors during early October in the highest elevations and early November in the Piedmont.
But, according to Neufield, late-summer's warm and wet weather this year could push leaf color changes to later in October and make them more muted.
Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at Western Carolina University, says in her annual prediction that we should expect a long-lasting leaf display in the mountains, but with spotty color development.
“The rainy spring months this year portend somewhat muted pigments on the leaves in the fall,” she says in a WCU news release. “Trees that produce red leaves, including sourwood, red maple and dogwood, perform best in dry conditions. Therefore, we may see fewer brilliant reds during the peak of fall color change.”
The National Forest Service announced fee increases at seven recreation sites among the four national forests in North Carolina. The 2014 season fees will be effective May 7.
According to a news release, the changes are at:
Cedar Point Campground in Croatan National Forest. Nightly campsite fees will rise from $12 to $15 in 2014 and to $20 in 2016. The surcharge for electricity at single sites will increase from $5 to $7 per site this year, but not go up in 2016 (all sites have electricity).
Fees at double campsites will go from $24 to $30 in May and to $40 in 2016. The electrical surcharge will increase from $10 to $14 per site but not increase in '16.
Camping fees at Cedar Point were last increased in 1998, the release says.
Arrowhead Campground and Canebrake Horse Camp in Uwharrie National Forest. Single campsite fees, now $12, will be $15 in May and go to $18 in 2016; double sites go from $24 to $30 in May and to $36 in '16. Electricity, which is available at 33 of the 50 sites at Arrowhead and all 28 sites at Canebrake, costs $3 now, but will be $5 in May and $7 in 2016.
Sliding Rock Recreation Area in Pisgah National Forest. The daily fee increases from $1 to $2 per person. Annual passes remain $25.
The Forest Service says Sliding Rock sees 1,000 or more people a day in season and the higher fees will help to expand lifeguards' hours and maintain the site.
Three shooting ranges in the Nantahala National Forest. Fees will be standardized at $3 per person per day and $25 per person for an annual permit.
At Dirty John Shooting Range, a daily permit was $3 per vehicle and the annual permit was $7 per vehicle. Previously sold 2014 permits for Dirty John will be honored at Dirty John. At Panther Top Shooting Range they were $2 per person a day and already $25 per person for an annual permit.
The new fees are a first for Moss Knob Shooting Range.
The three Nantahala shooting ranges have recently been improved, the Forest Service points out, and the higher fees "will help to maintain these improvements as expected by those who use the sites."
The range and berms have been reconstructed and leveled, a news release says. Work continues on a parking lot and new access road approaching from behind the shooting line and safety berm.
Work was announced last summer but delayed until November. In November, the Forest Service said it would reopen in the spring.
Moss Knob, which is in the Highlands / Franklin area, has four firing lanes or stations on a 150-yard range with frame targets set at 25 and 50 yards.
The National Forest Service says Moss Knob sees "moderate" use. The Dirty John Shooting Range, west of Franklin, gets "light" use. (The Panther Top Shooting Range near Murphy is also a National Forest site, but the NFS does not have a web page for it.)
The closure of the left loop was announced January 2.
The 42-mile, four-loop trail network is open to hikers and horseback riders, but is best known as a challenging mountain bike course.
The left loop of the 42-mile trail system at Tsali Recreation Area in the Nantahala National Forest is closed because of a landslide, the National Forest Service said yesterday.
Forest officials are working to inspect and repair the damage, according to a news release, and will advise the public when work is completed.
The four-loop system on the Fontana Reservoir is well-known as a challenging circuit for mountain biking, and is also open to hiking and horseback riding.
The other three loops at Tsali remain open.
The Moss Knob Shooting Range near Franklin will remain closed until next spring as work to renovate it continues, forest officials said Monday.
Renovations were to be done in the fall, according to a Forest Service news release, but were originally announced last summer. "However, logistical challenges with the project have delayed reopening of the range," the release says.
Work at the Nantahala National Forest site is to include building a new access road to the shooting range from behind the shooting line, constructing a new earthen backstop for each shooting line, drainage work, and filling and leveling along the firing line.
Moss Knob has four firing lanes or stations on a 150-yard range with frame targets set at 25 and 50 yards.
Now that repairs to the dam at Balsam Lake Recreation Area have been completed and the lake refilled, the National Forest Service advises that visitors have the rest of November to rent the lodge at the Nantahala National Forest retreat.
The lake had been drained last spring and through the summer after a leak in the dam was noticed and heavy summer rains prohibited work. Today, the Forest Service said in a news release that the dam has been fixed and the lake has filled with water. They'll stock it with fish next spring.
The lodge offers 16 twin beds with linens, a kitchen with utensils and three bathrooms. All facilities are fully accessible. Rental costs $170 per night Sunday through Thursday, and $200 per night Friday and Saturday. There's a minimum stay of two nights on weekends (Friday and Saturday), and a maximum of 14 days.
The lodge closes for the season after November 30.
The 8-acre Balsam Lake, which will remain open to others beside lodge renters, has accessible fishing piers, a half-mile hiking trail, picnic shelter and vault toilet.
The leak was caused by a broken board at the bottom of the dam, the Forest Service said. Even though the board was less than a year old, it either had a hidden defect, which caused the failure, or absorbed too much moisture then expanded too much and cracked. About 30 boards had to be removed to get to the failed board.
Previous repairs to the dam were completed after the 2012 season ended, eleven months ago.
The U.S. Forest Service is adding material to the backstops for the pistol range and the 25-yard line, a news release says.
It will close November 4 and reopen when work is completed or by November 8, whichever comes first.
Earlier this year, the Forest Service added earthen back stops behind the 7-yard line and the 50-yard line at Dirty John. Forest Service personnel also improved drainage on the shooting range.
The end to the federal government shutdown means federal outdoor recreation lands are reopening.
Meanwhile the four national forests in North Carolina can't make such a blanket statement.
A National Forest Service news release (that hasn't made it to their website yet) says facilities in the Croatan National Forest will reopen by noon Friday, October 18.
In the Nantahala National Forest, all day use sites and campgrounds are currently open except for Cliffside Lake and Van Hook Glade Campground, and Moss Knob Shooting Range, which is closed due to construction.
In the Pisgah National Forest, all day use sites and campgrounds in the Pisgah and Grandfather Ranger Districts were to be open today, except for Sunburst Campground, which will reopen with limited services as soon as possible. The Forest Service says it "continues to open recreation facilities on the Appalachian Ranger District as possible."
Other federal outdoor recreation agencies are less punctual with news releases than the National Park and Forest services. Check with individual parks and campgrounds for the status of North Carolina's:
* Edenton National Fish Hatchery, which offers a raised-boardwalk nature trail through wetlands.
* Four TVA Reservoirs in the far southwest mountains.
Many federal outdoor recreation sites in the mountains close for the season at the end of October or early November. Be sure to check our website and theirs.
Officials with various federal outdoor recreation agencies are spending today telling people that many of their sites are closed because of the federal government shutdown.
However, among the National Forests in North Carolina, several campgrounds in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests will remain open because they are operated by private concessionaires, a news release advises.
In the Nantahala National Forest, they are: Black Mountain Campground, Briar Bottom Group Camp, Carolina Hemlocks Recreation, Cove Creek Campground, Davidson River Campground, Kimsey Creek Group Campground, Kuykendall Group Campground, Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, North Mills River Recreation Area, Sunburst Recreation Area and White Pines Group Campground.
In the Pisgah National Forest, they are: Cliffside Day Use Area, Van Hook Glade Campground and the Standing Indian / Kimsey Creek / Hurricane Creek Recreation Complex.
Visitors may still use undeveloped recreational areas in the national forests, the news release says. But, no restrooms or trash collection are available. Only essential Forest Service employees will continue working; volunteers are not active.
The Forest Service is canceling Forest Festival Day scheduled for Saturday, October 5, at the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest and the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest management plan revision workshop scheduled for October 5 at the N.C. Arboretum in Asheville.
"Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed [including nine in North Carolina] and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to www.doi.gov," is the sole message available at the National Park Service website this afternoon, referring people to the Department of the Interior.
Pages for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in North Carolina go to a page that says: "Because of the federal government shutdown, all Corps lakes are closed and Corps Lakes webpages are not operating. For more information, go to http://www.usace.army.mil."
The federal government shut down at midnight September 30, the end of the fiscal year, after Congress failed to pass a budget or temporary funding legislation. All non-essential services have ceased, and hundreds of thousands of government workers have been furloughed without knowing when they will return to work.
Republicans want to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) as part of a funding bill, and Democrats in the Senate have blocked them from doing so.