Today was not about the hike. Rather, for me, it was about celebrating the reopening of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I wanted to show solidarity with our park employees and park partners, Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) and Friends of the Smokies (FOTS). I couldn’t lead the monthly hike that was scheduled for Tuesday Oct. 15 because the park was still closed. When I heard that the state of Tennessee was going to fund the reopening of the Smokies, I wanted to be there the first day. But by the time the Tennessee legislature made the decision, it was so late in the evening that we couldn’t advertise the hike and hope that anyone would show up. So we postponed the hike to Thursday.
Eight hikers met at the Bradley Fork Trailhead at the far end of Smokemont Campground. For a last minute announcement and a forecast of rain, this turn out was excellent. The campground already had a sprinkling of tents, RVs, and popups. Turkeys wandered all over the road, probably still thinking that they were the only ones in the park.
We followed Bradley Fork Trail along the stream. Creeks rippled through and under the trail to join the main creek. Sourwood trees, which are ignored most of the year, showed off their brilliant red color. Purple asters, the last wildflowers of the year, were still in bloom. It was cool and foggy and soon the rain started.
Chasteen Creek Trail was muddy since it’s heavily used by horses. We watched out for a hitching post on the left and took a side trail to Chasteen Cascade, the destination for the horse trips coming out of Smokemont. For most visitors, that’s their destination but we continued up the trail to campsite #48 for lunch. By then, the rain came down steadily. We ate quickly and started down the trail.
Back at the trailhead, we visited the Smokemont Baptist Church. The church is hidden by foliage and hard to see from the road. We reconvened at Oconaluftee Visitor Center for the next part of the trip, visiting the bookstore. By the afternoon, the parking lot at Oconaluftee was almost full. Tour buses let out their passengers who headed straight for the visitor center. I hope that they bought something at the store.
As I left the park, a solitary elk was grazing quietly in the field next to the Mountain Farm Museum. Visitors watched him through binoculars. The elk wasn’t bothered by the visitors or the shutdown.
The next FOTS hike will be on Tuesday November 19. Put it on your calendar.