Cataloochee Exploration in the Winter

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It started out as one of the coldest morning yet. I spent 15 minutes scraping my car at 8 am.

“Why am I doing this?” I asked myself. The answer was easy. “Hiking is my job”. I wouldn’t blow off work because it was cold when I was a prof at Kean University, so why here? Besides I was meeting Brent of Friends of the Smokies and we were both looking forward to a day away from the computer.

The main purpose was to check out the Little Cataloochee Trail as a potential hike for next year’s Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes of the Smokies. The attractions were all there: Hannah Cemetery, Hannah Cabin, Little Cataloochee Baptist Church and onto the Cook Cabin. But we finished the hike so early that we went into the Big Cataloochee Valley.

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First, we looked at the state of the Boogerman Trail. The bridge over Caldwell Fork has been out for a while now, with no plans for a replacement.FOTSlittlecatscout-rope22A.jpg You can see the stone posts but no bridge in between. A sad situation for such a popular trail.

But wait! What is this rope doing on the side? We checked the rope and it was solid and tight. So we can cross Caldwell Fork by holding on to the rope. I wouldn’t do this in December but in July?? Who knows?

Further down the road, we met a ton of elk. The rut (mating season) has been over for a while but young males and some females are still hanging around the valley.FOTSlittlecatscout-elk40A.jpg The few visitors mostly did the right thing by staying in their cars while the elk sniffed around their tires. Maybe the elk was licking the salt off the tire. Hey, elk buddy, you’re getting too personal with this car here.

We drove almost to the end of the valley but it was so full of elk on the road that we turned around as not to disturb them. We parked at the Caldwell house.

What was a truck doing in the field?

No NPS insignia on the side so we imagined that someone just drove out just because he/she could. Intrigued, I told Brent that I was going to walk out there and talk to the driver. We walked over and it turned out to be a park employee, Pat, who had just removed two hogs from a pen. He was pretty pleased. He had just baited these pens yesterday and look what he got today.

Pat was taking blood samples for different research projects as we got there. Hogs are an invasive species that was brought over by George Gordon Moore in the early 1900s. He worked for a landowner who was trying to set up a hunting game reserve in Graham County’s Snowbird Mountains. Moore imported a variety of hunting animals from Europe but only the boars survived. They quickly got out of the reserve, crossed in the Smokies and have been creating havoc ever since.

“So what do you do with the hogs after you’re finished taking samples? I asked. “I just throw them in the back woods and eventually the bears will eat them.”

In case you’re wondering where the pictures are, Pat asked me not to take pictures of dead hogs. Too bad but I’m not a paparazzi, when it comes to park employees. Elk? That’s a different story.

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