Category Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Boogerman Trail with Friends of the Smokies

Crossing Caldwell Fork

How much do you need to know about a hike before you sign on?

How concerned are you about getting your boots wet when the weather is warm and the water low and your fellow hikers are friendly?

September’s Friends of the Smokies hike was postponed from a rainy, miserable day last week to a perfect weather day with blue skies, warm temperatures, and low water levels.

Today was a wonderful day to be doing a classic North Carolina hike. The Boogerman Trail may be the most well-known hike on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The hike has ten major water crossings on the Caldwell Fork Trail. A few years ago, a storm washed away several bridges. Other bridges were damaged, though still standing. Still, we hiked the loop and just got wet.

Mike K.

The park has replaced the first two bridges with sturdy, high structures that will withstand a lot. But other crossings require agility. The park has put in large, flat boulders instead of bridges. That’s where the agility comes in. Still you’ll get your feet wet.

The bottom of the creek is very rocky and uneven. Hikers were experienced enough to cross with their boots on and with hiking poles. Sandals, or worse, bare feet, is just asking for trouble.

Still, I would not want you to think that we were just preoccupied with water crossings.

Mike K., our leader, did a fine job of talking about the history of the Boogerman Trail. We bushwhacked to the Boogerman home site. He took us to a cemetery and the Messer property. He also pointed out huge trees.

Late summer and early fall flowers were bountiful.

We could recognize cucumber root, gentians that were almost pure white, doll’s eyes, and Jack-in-the-pulpit fruit clusters. A few turtle heads were still hanging on, though probably not for long.

The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be on Tuesday, October 10 from Purchase Knob. Fall colors ought to be at their peak at that time and no water crossings will be involved.

Sign up here.

Steve Kemp retires from the Great Smoky Mountains Association

Every once in a while I go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I don’t hike. Today was one of those days.

Smokies Headquarters

I was one of many, many people who met in the lobby of Park Headquarters to say good bye to Steve Kemp, interpretive products and services director at Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA).

Everyone who’s anyone was there including Superintendent Cash, Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, and other park officials, Laurel Rematore, Executive Director of GSMA, and much of her staff, Jim Hart, Executive Director of Friends of the Smokies, and Frances Figart, the new face of publications at GSMA.

Steve has been on the job for thirty years, growing the number and quality of the GSMA publications. He’s edited Hiking Trails of the Smokies, the beloved “brown book”, Wildflowers of the Smokies, Birds of the Smokies and all the “of the Smokies” book series. He started Smokies Life, a semiannual journal, with long, in-depth, thoughtful articles on some aspect of the park, a journal that published two of my articles.

After many toasts and reminiscences, Steve had the last word. He told a story that I wish I had caught on tape:

Steve grew up in Iowa, where, as he put it, the state motto was “There’s nothing to do around here”. With no public land available to hike or camp, he and his friends camped illegally in private fields by ponds. Farmers kept chasing them away.

Then one day, his posse found “Benny’s Happy Valley”.  Benny had a Welcome sign and allowed the public to camp and use his land. Steve and his  group were ecstatic and camped, fish and ran around along with others.

Cataract Falls

The moral of the story was that the Smokies and all the national parks have a welcome sign out for the public. And visitors really appreciate the chance to use the parks. Steve told the story with great humor, which reminded me of Garrison Keillor.

So whenever you pick up a GSMA publication and wonder who was responsible for the book or magazine, remember Steve, and soon, Francis. They are the “they” behind the interpretive products sold in the Smokies stores. See the picture above – Francis, Steve and Laurel.

PS What is the picture of Cataract Falls in the middle of this post? OK. I got to Sugarlands Visitor Center area early and I walked to Cataract Falls. I wanted to see the torrent of water after the rain. No torrent, not much more water than usual.

Friends of the Smokies at Fontana

Hall Cabin in Bone Valley

If anyone thinks that the United States is one big homogenized interstate with lots of fast-food restaurants, I would like to invite them to Fontana Village and Hazel Creek in far-western North Carolina.

Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) held an overnight trip to the Fontana area, about 30 miles west of Bryson City. FOTS leads day hikes throughout the year but once a year, we organize an overnight around the park. We don’t rough it but stay in a building with beds and a shower. The exception was our overnight trips to LeConte Lodge.

Monday, we met at Fontana Village at noon and drove to the Twentymile Ranger station – that’s even more remote than Fontana. We hiked the Twentymile Loop Trail, a lollipop, which involved three trails – Wolf Ridge, Twentymile Trail and Twentymile Loop Trail.

Dan Pierce

Dan Pierce, Professor of History at UNC-Asheville, came on the hike. On a break, he talked about moonshine in the mountains and Quill Rose, a memorable moonshiner in this very remote part of the park.

Dan was also the evening speaker on Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Town published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

The next day, FOTS offered two hikes: a short hike on Lake Shore Trail to the old cars and my hike to the Hall Cabin.

The seventeen hikers going on Hazel Creek and into Bone Valley took a pontoon boat from the Fontana Marina across Fontana Lake to the Hazel Creek area. As we turned the corner, we spotted a mama bear and two cubs scampering up a branch on the shore. Most hikers pulled out their phones but I just watched – sorry, no pictures.

Crossing a creek

With 15.5 miles to walk and a return boat at 5 pm, we didn’t have time for interpretation. Dan Pierce had prepped the hikers for walking through the town of Proctor and on Hazel Creek Trail.

We then turned on Bone Valley trail and crossed five small creeks – without a bridge. Our wet shoes felt good after a long morning walk to the Hall Cabin. We had lunch and walked to a cemetery in back of the Hall Cabin, which I referred to as the Hall cemetery – Not sure of its official name.

On our way back, we formed little clumps of people but we still had an official sweep –  a strong hiker who made sure that no hikers were left behind. A rattlesnake was lying quietly in the shadows on the side of the trail. Anyone who wanted to see the snake had the opportunity.

We stopped at the Calhoun house, home of Graham Calhoun, an entrepreneur and the last person to leave the Hazel Creek area in 1944, when it became part of the Smokies.

We saw only two other hikers the whole day – a runner and a woman who had paddled to Hazel Creek. It’s not easy or cheap to get across the lake here. The companionship and interpretation is priceless.

The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be Tuesday September 12 on the Boogerman Trail. Sign up now!