All posts by Danny Bernstein

About Danny Bernstein

I'm a hiker, hike leader for the Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Smokies and an outdoor writer.

A Vision for Waterrock Knob on the Parkway

John Manuel on the MST

What is your vision for Waterrock Knob, a high point and small park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, MP 451.2?

For years, Carolina Mountain Club worked on extending the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on both sides of Waterrock Knob. Finally in June, 2016, we had a big celebration with several state and federal dignitaries. And CMC went on to work on other sections of trail.

Now the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the help of several conservancies, has been able to protect more land around the original knob.  What does the public want to do with it? So National Park Service and Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation held an open house in Waynesville to find out.

JD Lee, Superintendent of BLRI

When I walked in, I was greeted by a Foundation employee who asked me to sign in and gave me a strip of six “sticky” dots.

“Walk around the room and place the dots where you think the Waterrock Knob area should focus on.”

The Folkmoot Friendship Center, where the event was held, was decorated with large posters displaying different themes of the Waterrock Knob vision: recreation, preservation, heritage, and tourist and economic development.

The first theme I encountered was recreation. In large print, it said:

Engage with South Beyond 6000 Peak Bagging Program to Understand the Current Program.

Wow! That’s Carolina Mountain Club’s program. The smaller print said:

Work with Carolina Mountain Club to determine how the program should be promoted in the Waterrock Knob region that has several 6000 foot+ elevation peaks.

A little above, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail was mentioned.

Consider using the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as the spine of the regional trail system that connects all communities.

One of the Recreation vision

On post-its, you could write out your vision. Here’s mine:

Build campsites about 10 to 15 miles apart from Heintooga Rd to Stone Mountain State Park on the MST – by volunteers, of course – so hikers can backpack the MST easily and legally. Now, camping is only available in a few designated campgrounds.

I met JD Lee, the incoming superintendent and asked him what his vision and his priorities are:

  • Work with stake holders, volunteers and the community. It takes a village to care for the Parkway.
  • Engage the millennial generation. Every national park employee says that.

If you missed the open house, you can still send in comments. Here’s how:

Additional comments specific to the NPS approach to large landscape collaborative management for lands at Waterrock Knob are also welcome via the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at

Government Shutdown in the Smokies

Day Three of the 2018 Government Shutdown!

On Saturday I went to Carl Sandburg National Historic Site to see how the government shutdown was affecting the national parks.

The next day, I drove to the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I chose that area because it’s a little out of the way without a visitor center. The Smokies store is in Bryson City.

No signs that the park was officially closed.

Juney Whank falls

I walked the three-waterfall loop – Juney Whank, Tom Branch (see the picture on top) and Indian Creek Falls, a classic 5.5-mile loop. When I started at about 11 am, a very-prepared fisherman was heading to Deep Creek. A few people were walking slowly toward Deep Creek. Nothing unusual.

On Deep Creek Trail, I met a group of guys from Raleigh, walking out of a weekend backpack.

“We started on Friday and got in under the wire,” one said about getting to their campsite.

No one else was on the trail until I reached Sunkota  Ridge junction, the high point on the loop trail. Here, a couple from Louisiana were enjoying a cup of coffee from their thermos and a smoke.

Swain County Heritage Museum

They were navigating from their AllTrails app and didn’t feel they needed any instructions. Instead they asked about good restaurants in Bryson City and Cherokee, where they were staying in a cabin. Still I encouraged them to visit the Smokies Store in Bryson City inside the Swain County Heritage Museum.

But there’s always something new!

Trail use counter


On both the Deep Creek and the Indian Creek Trails, the park had installed a trail counter. The sign was very adamant; this is not a camera. Still I waved to it.

Back at the trailhead, someone told me that the only sign of a shutdown was the same sign that I had seen at Carl Sandburg on a bathroom building.

The bathroom was closed and the sign wasn’t very obvious. Most people who walk the three-falls loop are locals, again treating the national park as a local park. Still, I didn’t see any problems, maybe because there’s little ranger presence on this section.

I drove to the Lakeview Drive, better known as the Road to Nowhere. The  road was open. My curiosity was satisfied.

Smokies stuff

My last stop was the Smokies Store, where I bought Smokies swag for my upcoming trip.

When I was working on my Smokies 900M, I calculated that there were sixteen entrances into the Smokies. Some were very small; others were on private land, but the number was correct. It’s obvious that the staff can’t put signs on all these entrances. But, still, Deep Creek is the second most used entrance in North Carolina. I was expecting more of a indication of the government shut-down.

PS When I got home, I headed to Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Center was open. However the parkway was closed at the first barrier, though it wasn’t clear if that was because of the shutdown or ice in the tunnels.

Government Shutdown at Carl Sandburg National Historic Site

Well, it’s happened!

Our U.S. Government has shut down, as of midnight last night. So, today, on a weekend, I was curious to see what it meant for our local national parks. I drove down to Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, ready to walk all five miles of trail. I chose this site because it’s the easiest to close of the park units close to me.

Carl Sandburg home site is only open from 9 am to 5 pm normally. Unlike larger parks, there’s a gate which can be closed, but it wasn’t.  I can only assume that the rangers didn’t close it last night, in preparation for today. Most visitors use it as their local park to walk, talk and exercise their dogs.

When I got to the Flat Rock, NC site, I was amazed to see that almost all the parking spaces were taken. As soon as I left the parking site and got on the paved trail to the house, I saw this yellow sign:

Government Shutdown

The sign tells visitors that there are no NPS staff members and they’re on their own. In  my wanderings, I saw four of these signs.

The bathrooms were closed, as advertised. So was the bookstore. The house is being renovated, so was going to be closed anyway.

I walked to the top of Big Glassy Mountain on an icy trail. I guess if someone slipped and couldn’t walk out, they would have to alert the county EMTs. At the top, I only saw one group of walkers. The trail is short but steep. See the picture on top.

CARL goat barn

What about the goats?

I knew that they were being taken care of and fed. A car was parked at the goat barn, which I assumed belonged to a volunteer.

The sign on the gate said “Come on in” but the gate was locked tightly. Too bad since several children congregated at the fence.

You can’t see the goats but they’re in front of the barn, hugging the wall. Usually you can go in and pet them.

My last trail took me around the lake.


It’s the easiest trail and therefore had the most people. Eavesdropping on conversations from groups walking the trail, I couldn’t discern any bitterness about the shut-down.

Other than the closed restrooms, the shutdown probably didn’t affect most visitors to the Carl Sandburg house. But the National Park Service doesn’t just protect and preserve; it interprets as well, so that you know why this site is important. And that’s what was missing today.

As I headed for my car, Rob Moore, a reporter at the Hendersonville Times-News, came to see  the situation. I told him about the four yellow signs, thereby saving him a walk through the park.

Elections have consequences. The government shutdown is one of them.

What’s happening at your park?