Tag Archives: great smoky mountains National park

Friends of the Smokies on Mingus Creek

Water pipes

Friends of the Smokies kicked off a new season of Classic Hikes today. Thirty-two people walked on Mingus Creek Trail to the Mingus Family Cemetery and back.

As this was our first hike of the year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we chose a four-mile hike with lots of history and artifacts.

From the time we got on the trail at the Mingus Mill parking lot, it was obvious that there had been an active human history in the area. The trail started out paved and wide. We passed a firing range, still used by park rangers. Then a water plant built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You can still see the pipes. But we also identified yellow and purple violets, blood root and hepatica. Spring is definitely here.

We got to the intersection where Mingus Creek Trail takes off to the left and the cemetery trail (not its official name) goes right. And though the trail is not an official trail and not on a map, it is well-maintained by the park. Two sturdy walking bridges makes it obvious that this path to the cemetery hasn’t been forgotten.

At Mingus Family Cemetery

The turn to the Mingus Family Cemetery is obvious since there’s a sign. We scrambled up the short but steep way to a small field of field stones marking the graves.

Hikers wandered around trying to glean information on the people buried here. A few markers had faint dates.

Back at the cars, we headed over to Oconaluftee Visitor Center where Supervisory Ranger Lynda Doucette talked about the Mountain Farm Museum.

“It’s a museum because on a real farm, you wouldn’t have buildings so close together.”

Lynda Doucette

She spent most of the time describing the challenges of dealing with elk who just love all the crops in the fields. She and her staff have come up with various fence configuration to keep out the elk.

The elk reintroduction brought challenges. In olden days, farmers would have just shot the elk but that’s not an option today. Elk have now been seen (but not confirmed) as far as Cades Cove.

The next Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike will be on April 11 to Big Creek. Register online and bring your flower book. You’ll use it.

The Smokies – What happens at the border?

Every national park has boundaries. There’s no question when you’re in the park and when you’re out. Today’s Carolina Mountain Club hike showed this off at its best. Our hike went back and forth from “town” to “gown” or Great Smoky Mountains National Park in this case. Because of the park’s history, dwellings and farms can be right over the border.

Frozen weeds

Our hike started at the gate to Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, informally known as Purchase Knob. In the winter, the Science Center is closed-it is over 5,000 feet in altitude, so hikers have to walk about 1.5 miles to the Cataloochee Divide Trail. It was cold and windy and my fingers were frozen.

The land on which the Science Learning Center is located was owned by Kathryn McNeil. She and her family had built a summer home. But in the year 2000, she donated the house and 535 acres of land to the park. Now, school children and scientists use it as a base for scientific exploration.

CMC Hikers

But once we reached Cataloochee Divide Trail, we were in between two sets of trees and I felt a little warmer. I could at least find my fingers.

Cataloochee Divide Trail forms part of the eastern boundary of the park. If you have any doubts about that, you can see the fence separating the park from private land.

We reached a small cabin, called Taylor’s Turnaround. It used to be a shelter but now is a full-fledged cabin. We all thought that it belonged to the Swag, coming up, but no… We met the owner in the afternoon who said his property adjoined the Swag.

Now the Swag.

Drayton Robertson

Dan and Deener Matthews built this upscale lodging in the mountains. first as their summer home. Dan is the Rector Emeritus of Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York City.

The Swag is open from mid-April to the end of November. The rooms, with all meals, go from $625 to almost $900 a night. It’s a beautiful place for a honeymoon or anniversary or just to see the Smokies in comfort.

You can always figure out when you’re on private land, since there are always more signs. The most puzzling one is a memorial to Drayton Robertson. Look at the photo.  The memorial is no older than about two years. Any idea who this person was?

At the Swag

Cataloochee Ranch is the last piece of private property. It’s a ranch where you can ride horses, rent a cabin or just have lunch. Much of the top of Hemphill Bald has been saved as a conservation easement, guaranteeing that it can never be developed.

We then headed back.

By now, the sun was shining  and we stopped on the porch at Purchase Knob before walking the road to our cars.

If you want to see unbroken wilderness, this hike is not for you. But I love seeing the different ways that our land is being used.

Thanks, Laura F. for leading the hike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elkmont Houses to be demolished

Well, it had to happen at some point.

The Elkmont houses in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are to be demolished. To be specific, the park now has money to make progress on the plans solidified in 2009 to preserve 19 cabins and demolish 55 others.

Peering into the cabins

If you want a little history of how these modern-day houses came to land in the park, you can read my blog or read the full Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which probably runs in the thousands of pages.

A few years ago, the park refurbished the Appalachian Club and the Spence Cabin shown at the top of this post.

They didn’t have the money to move on the rest of the FEIS. It costs money to tear things down as well.

But the bottom line is that the park is going to stabilize 19 cabins eventually. Right now, they’re working on four cabins to be open to the public.

So as usual, I’m suggesting that you get out there. Once the demolition starts, the park will limit access to the area. They’ll close the Little River Trail and the Jakes Creek Trail.

In Elkmont

To get to the Elkmont historic area,

From Sugarlands Visitor Center, take Little River Road for about six miles.

Turn left toward Elkmont Campground which is well-signposted. Follow the road toward the campground. Turn left again at the “Jakes Creek Trail sign” and go up to the parking area. In front of you will be Millionaires Row. Get out, walk and explore.

Take lots of pictures because when they’re gone they’re gone.