Tag Archives: great smoky mountains National park

At the Cades Cove Loop Lope

I’m not a spectator – not basketball, not baseball and certainly not football. I don’t see the point of watching other people play. But I volunteered to help out at the Friends of the Smokies Cades Cove Loop Lope. I was going to watch other people run and even walk around Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dolly, a serious runner

Holly Scott Jones, Director of Community Outreach & Strategy at Friends of the Smokies, was the race organizer.

It’s not easy to close a section of a national park. It involves a lot of planning, regulations and staff. The day went off perfectly.

Like the New York City marathon, the date was carefully chosen to be the day of the time change.

The last time (and only time) a race was held in Cades Cove was in 2010 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration. It was the most requested event, Jones said. “We never thought we’d bring it back. It was such a joyous event.” 

My assignment was to be a course monitor at the intersection of the Cove Loop and Hyatt Lane at about the three-mile marker. I was supposed to make sure runners stayed on the loop and didn’t venture on the cut-through and shorten their course. I also had to encourage them to keep going since the runners had seven miles to go.

Loop Lope

“You’ll report at 6 am and someone will take you to your station,” one of the many emails instructed.

I packed for a winter hike – water, snacks, fleece, hat and rainjacket – since the run was going to happen rain or shine. Unlike a hike, I was just going to stand there, or sit, since the amenities included a chair. But it was a warm day, more appropriate to June than November.

The race, limited to 500 entries, was a sold-out event.

In addition to over 50 volunteers, there was a sea of park personnel, including many law enforcement rangers who checked parking permits. Volunteers could park at the beginning of Cades Cove; runners had to take a bus from Townsend.

Finally at 7:30, the race started. The first runners were past me in a flash.

But as the slower runners and walkers came by, they thanked us, highfived us and even were willing to stop for pictures. They weren’t loping anymore; they were walking, jogging and even pushing baby carriages.

Some even wore small day packs.

This was their way to enjoy Cades Cove without cars or even rushing bikes. Here’s Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan and his wife, stopping for a picture.

Why didn’t I think of this? I would have walked the Cove. I think I could have finished in three hours, the alloted time. At 10:30, ranges opened the gates to let cars in.

I looked up the word, lope – a long bounding stride.  I also noted, Sunday November 4, 2018, for the next Loop Lope. I hope they do it again.

When Closed means Closed

Chimney Tops Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened about a month ago. The trail had been closed since Thanksgiving, 2016 because of wildfire originally set by two teenage boys. The fire moved from the top of Chimney Tops Trail into populated areas and caused a great deal of damage.

But it seems like most of the trail wasn’t affected, so the park decided to build a platform at the new top of the trail and close off the original top. You can no longer scramble to the actual rocky top because of significant environmental damage and safety concerns. The fire destroyed so much of the vegetation at the top. There is severe erosion of rocks and soil, making for very steep slopes and drop offs.

But rumors are flying that some hikers feel it’s their right to ignore this closure and go around the gate and yellow tape. If this continues, the park may close the whole trail again. Oh no!! What part of closed don’t they understand?

So I decided to see the shortened trail, now only 1.75 miles, for myself? Today was a colorful autumn day, probably too warm for November – climate change is real.

Happy hikers at the platform

The trail was as perfect today as it had been after the Trails Forever Crew put in steps and water diversions. And just as steep. I met 24 people going up and too many to count going down.

Most understood what happened even “if they weren’t from around here” and were content to enjoy the view from the platform. I took plenty of pictures of happy people.

But there’s always a few who aren’t happy with restrictions and think they know better. A father with two adult children from the area wondered why the park had put in all those steps in the first place, why he couldn’t climb to the top, and was there always someone from the park here?

It was obvious that the family group was waiting for me to leave so they could try to get to the top of the rocks. I took their picture.

View of Chimney Tops

“There’s over 800 miles of trail in the park. Plenty of other challenges here.” But they weren’t going to explore other trails. You know the type – wearing  jeans, a cotton t-shirt, a sweatshirt around the waist and usually a scowl on their face. It seemed tempting to wait them out. But after 30 minutes on top and talking to everyone as they got to the platform, I started packing up.

They didn’t even wait for me to leave. They headed down to the closed area. More hikers came up as I started down the trail.

The trail is perfect, until the closure.

Go up there, stop at the platform, walk down to the Closed sign, if you’re curious and go back down – a perfect half-day hike.

Friends of the Smokies at Purchase Knob

Fall Trail

The weather forecast was not encouraging today.

However over twenty Friends of the Smokies members ignored the threat of rain and even thunderstorms and went hiking at Purchase Knob.

It would be more correct to say  we hiked from Purchase Knob, home of the  Appalachian Highland Science Learning Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Beth R. of Tampa led the group.

The day started out gray but the yellows, reds, green and even brown more than made up for the lack of brilliant sunshine.

We left the Science Center on the Cataloochee Divide Trail, which is the dividing line between the park on one side and private land on the other.

Bill Woody’s cabin

First we stopped to admire the view from Bill Woody’s cabin. If you look to the left of the cabin, you see the private road that allows the owner to get from his house to this tiny cabin.

Gooseberry Knob, at the Swag Resort, allowed us to feel like we were staying at this high-end luxurious mountain hotel.

Since the trail passes by the property, the owners, Deener and Dan Matthews, encourages hikers to stop and sit a while. And we did. See the picture at the top of this post.

Then the climb started to Hemphill Bald located at Cataloochee Ranch, a private dude  ranch. The ranch is managed by the third generation of Alexanders.

To their credit, the owners have protected the property with a conservation easement. Though they can graze cattle and ride horses on the property, they can’t have developers put houses and condos on these high mountain knobs.

Marker trees

We came back down and took a short detour to a Native American Trail Marker Tree. The Cherokees bent back saplings to grow with a curve to indicate a trail marker – like our trail blazes but without the paint.

Here are Jack and Linda under the Trail Marker Tree.

By now, no one knows what “trail” the tree was supposed to mark.

After we returned to Purchase Knob, Ranger Paul Super gave us a short history of the Learning Center and its purpose. You can read more about the Learning Centers here.

Thanks, Beth, for leading the hike.

The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be on Tuesday, November 14 on the North Shore Road Loop. Sign up here.