Today Friends of the Smokies kicked off its Classic Hikes of the Smokies series with a four-mile hike on Kephart Prong Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a long way to go for a four-mile hike but the mileage wasn’t the point. It was to encourage North Carolinians to experience their Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Kephart Prong Trail is about eight miles from Oconaluftee Visitor Center outside of Cherokee. It was named after Horace Kephart though Kephart spent his time on the Hazel Creek/Bryson City part of the Smokies. At the beginning of the trail, artifacts of the Civilian Conservation Corp era are still there. A little further up, a small stone trout hatchery is perched at the top of a rise on the left side.
We thought this was going to be a history hike but spring flowers made their debut: Yellow and purple violets, spring beauties, Hepaticas, toothworths, white trilliums even trout lilies. Is it the middle of March or the end of April? Everything was so fresh and green it almost looked artificial. Did the folks on the hike know how lucky they were to hike in the Smokies?
We walked to Kephart Prong shelter and back, crossing five bridges. We only met three or four groups that walked past the 1/4 mile to the CCC artifacts. One group of young men asked me “How bad was it?” I told them that 22 people, almost all over 50, had just walked it and enjoyed it. Why are people not leaping to get into the backcountry?
After we came back and spent some money at the Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstores, Will Butler, a seasonal ranger, gave us a tour of the Mountains Farm Museum. This is one of the benefits of being a “Friend”. At APPL, I learned that a successful event always has a ranger in uniform, wearing their flat hats.
The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be on Thursday, April 19 in Cataloochee. We’ll do a variation of the Boogerman Trail. Go the events page of the Friends site to find out how to sign up.