Last week, Anna Lee and I scouted our Friends of the Smokies hike.
Yesterday, we led a total of 16 people to three waterfalls and a cemetery.
You can read about the particulars of the trails from my scouting blog. The weather was perfect, reaching a high of 70 by the afternoon.
For me, it’s all about the people.
Yes, I could go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park by myself but it’s so much more fulfilling when I have a bunch of eager hikers along. I was overjoyed to see Mark, who had overcome some major medical problems, on the hike. He was cheerful and so glad to be hiking again. Yes, a newbie found the hike more challenging than she thought but she made it up to our highest point on Indian Creek and more important, made it back.
When I tell people that I lead a lot of hikes for various outdoor organizations, they say “oh what fun”. And it is fun! But leading is a skill I’ve acquired over many years and I never wing it. First, you need to scout the hike to make sure you know the trails and can execute the turns smoothly. There’s nothing more disconserting than having a leader scratch her head and say “now where do we go?” and dig out a map. Worse, when the group realizes that she doesn’t have a map.
I’m lucky that with Friends of the Smokies, I have Anna Lee, an eager staff member, with me. I’ve scouted plenty of hikes by myself because sometimes it’s just easier than trying to set a date with others. When we check out the trails, we look for a good spot for lunch and breaks. I make sure that I can find the artifacts – the chimneys, cabins – the stuff that makes hiking in the Smokies so special.
Yesterday I pointed out a huge boxwood that had gone wild. Boxwoods are exotics but a clear indication that there was a house site. I read Hiking Trails of the Smokies to make sure that I don’t miss anything worthwhile. You do have a copy, right? Don’t bother with Amazon. Buy it from the Great Smoky Mountains Association or a park store.
FOTS and Anna Lee always highlight good works that is done for the parks. Yesterday, she explained the gingseng protection and trout management programs that FOTS funds. Here’s a picture of her talking to the group.
We also figure out the timing, including when and where to meet, when we’re likely to get to our lunch spot and what else we can offer our hikers. For example, most hikers didn’t know about the Swain County museum and Smokies visitor center in the middle of Bryson City.
On the day of the hike, Anna Lee ensures that she has contact details for all hikers and they’ve all signed in. Everyone introduces themselves and we say a few words about the hike. We always have a few new people (Yeah!!) and we want to make them feel welcome. You never want to say “Well, you’ve all done this before”. We’re an exclusive group that welcomes all hikers.
Then we walk. If all goes well, (and it has almost all the time) leading looks like it’s effortless.
The next FOTS hike will be on Tuesday Dec. 9. We’ll go up Kephard Prong Trail and have a little after-hike social afterwards. Sign up with Anna Lee Zanetti at Outreach.NC@FriendsOfTheSmokies.org or call 828-452-0720.