Tag Archives: Friends of the Smokies

Fontana – Here we come!

Fontana Lake in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not an easy place to get to. It’s far from everywhere. So I am so excited that Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes has chosen Fontana Village as the base for their annual overnight trip.

Sign up for the Friends of the Smokies trip on

Monday August 28 – Tuesday August 29 2017.

All the details are in the PDF document but here are some highlights.

Surprise – I won’t start with the hikes. Professor Dan Pierce, chair of the history department at UNC-Asheville has made the Smokies his life work. On Monday evening, he will be speaking about his latest book, Hazel Creek: The  Life and Death of an Iconic Community.  I’ve known Dan since Fall 2001, when I took my first course on Appalachian history, a few months after I moved here. I’ve been a Dan Pierce groupie ever since.

Fontana Lake

Now for the hikes. Monday afternoon, we’ll hike in the Twenty-mile area, even more remote than Fontana Lake.

Tuesday, you have a choice between a long and short hike. So friends and couples coming together can each choose a hike that they would prefer.

Note that I didn’t say hard and easy. Both hikes are very gentle.

Long hike on Hazel Creek Trail to the Hall Cabin. I led a group there in 2014, so you can read all about that experience. We’ll take the boat across Fontana Lake and hike the Hazel Creek Trail and then onto the Hall Cabin. It’s 15.5 miles round trip, with little ascent, but quite an experience.

Cars on Lake Shore Trail

Short hike on Lake Shore Trail to the old cars. Where did these cars come from? Again, you can read about the history of the area in an article I wrote years ago.

We’ll be staying at Fontana Village and not roughing it.

But you have to make reservations soon. They’ve even thought about all the single people who might want to find a roommate and created a form.

Sign up and see you on the trail.

Err on the side of YES

Always err on the side of “Yes”.

Always err on the side of Going instead of Cancelling.

Don’t err on the side of caution. In fact, throw caution to the wind and the rain.

It was a dark and stormy morning when I woke up. Over twenty people had signed up  with Friends of the Smokies to hike to Chasteen Creek Falls and further up to the campsite .

I was scheduled to lead a hike for Friends of the Smokies but was anyone going to show up in this weather?  Should I even bother to drive about an hour to Oconaluftee Visitor Center(OVC) to see if anyone wanted to hike? The Smokies staff were working in the Tennessee office, so I was the only leader.

I went to OVC because:

  • My motto is that I never cancel a hike based on hiking weather. Once I suggested cancelling because of driving concerns, but never because an all-day rain was in the forecast.
  • I’m a volunteer, which means I don’t paid, I don’t get expenses and I treat the work like a job. Would I cancel work because of rain? OK. I’ve always had an indoor job, but the principle is the same.
  • I just finished reading A Man Called Ove about a stubborn Swedish man who believes rules are rules. Ove was a real curmudgeon but he had some wise sayings.
Ranger Michael and Ginger of GSMA

When I arrived at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the parking lot was empty. I checked in with Ranger Michael who was happy to see someone on the other side of the desk.

“I’m going to walk to Chasteen Creek,” I said to Michael. “You always have to tell someone where you’re going and you’re it today. I’ll check out when I come back.”

After coming all this way, I was not going to just turn around and go home, no matter how wet it was.

I got to Smokemont Campground but no one from the Friends group was here. While I put on my boots, a young woman with colorful high plastic boots, more like garden Wellies, asked if I was going hiking. It turned out that she and her traveling companion, both from Arizona, were on a whirlwind cross-country trip and this morning was their chance to see the Smokies.

“Why don’t you walk to Chasteen Creek Falls with me?” I suggested. It was quickly obvious that this millenial woman couldn’t keep up but her male friend and I hoofed it on Bradley Creek Trail and turned right on Chasteen Creek Trail. The rain had not let up since I got into the park. Even though I had a good raincoat and rainpants, I was soaked.

Amanda, Sallye, Linda and me

When we reached the turn to the falls, three women in colorful rain jackets came toward us. Linda S, Sallye S. and Amanda Gomez, manager of the OVC Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) bookstore had just been to the falls.

“We weren’t sure that you were coming,” Linda said.

“You know that I said rain or shine,” I said. “But I’m so glad to see you.”

We went back to the falls, so I could admire the copious amount of water coming down. See the photo on top. Amanda needed to get back to the store. The guy from Arizona needed to get back to his slow-hiking friend. But we continued up to the campsite, the way the hike was planned in the first place.

By now, the rain didn’t make any difference. I was drenched but not cold. Linda had a system of plastic bags to keep her serious camera from getting soaked. We stopped to take pictures of the waterfall from several angles going up and down the trail.

When we got back to the car, I gave them the present that Friends of the Smokies had promised all attendees. I gave them each a couple of pieces of my ubiquitous dark chocolate and wished them a good Christmas.

What did I do with the rest of the chocolate, you might ask. When I checked back into OVC, Ranger Michael was no longer at the desk so I gave the bag of chocolate to the GSMA folks. I bought a couple of Smokies calendars and headed home.

At this moment, US 441 is closed past Smokemont Campground. But there’s plenty of hiking from Smokemont or Mingus Creek Trail. Look at a map and explore.

Thanks for the folks that came out on a rainy day. If you want to be the first to learn about the Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike series for 2017, make sure to join and watch your email inbox.

Friends of the Smokies is going hiking!

On Bradley Fork Trail
On Bradley Fork Trail

This has been a horrific week in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in the gateway communities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The park has been closed tight, something that I’ve not seen since I’ve been paying attention to park issues.

But now we hear that at least some of the North Carolina side of the park is open. It’s important that we get out there to show support and solidarity with the park.

Friends of the Smokies is leading a hike on Tuesday December 6 to Chasteen Creek Falls. It’s an easy to moderate out-and-back hike (7.5 miles, 1,200 feet of altitude).

We’ll hike along Bradley Fork and Chasteen Creek Trails. We’ll marvel at the changing leaf color and explore a tumbling waterfall. Since the waterfall isn’t right on the trail, many hikers miss it as they climb up Chasteen Creek Trail. I led this hike last month for Carolina Mountain Club and know that, even in the middle of the worst drought, there was water in the falls. It ought to be flowing now.

Chasteen Creek in drought
Chasteen Creek in drought

We’ll hike to the campsite for lunch and go back the same way.

After the hike, we’ll go to Oconaluftee Visitor Center (OVC) for some holiday shopping. Great Smoky Mountains Association, the park partner that manages the bookstores in the park, needs our help as well.

Bring your holiday shopping list and do all your shopping locally at OVC. Don’t forget to bring your Friends of the Smokies membership card to receive 15% off.

We will have a small gift for each hiker in attendance in the spirit of the season. If you haven’t registered, please do so online now on the Friends of the Smokies website.

The event will say “Grotto Falls”. Ignore that. The date is correct so just sign up by Sunday evening and you’ll be sent  instructions on the  meeting time and place.