Tag Archives: Smokies

Becoming a Junior Ranger on #OptOutside Day

How did you spend Black Friday? Did you #OptOutside and spend it outside?

At the clocktower
At the clocktower

Yesterday, I took my two granddaughters to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked the Sugarlands Trail with Logan, a Student Conservation Association intern.

About twelve visitors started at Sugarlands Visitor Center and walked about five miles to the Sugarlands Cemetery and back.

On the way, we stopped at the remains of Camp Morgan, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. There Logan explained that the structure that I’ve passed so many times was a clocktower. She showed us the flag pole in the center of a stone circle. The end point was an “open” cemetery where descendants can still be buried. See the photo above.

Isa becoming a Junior Ranger
Isa becoming a Junior Ranger

The main goal of the trip was to make Isa, seven years old, a Junior Ranger. She took it very seriously and so did Ranger Dana Soehn, the Public Affairs officer of the Smokies. She’s called “the voice of the mountains”.

Dana asked Isa several questions about the CCC and the cemetery.

Then she swore in Isa as a Junior Ranger. Isa swore or affirmed that she would take care of the resources and not drop trash – of course, she wouldn’t.

Hannah had become a Junior Ranger several years ago. She just “helped” Isa and me in the process. This is Isa’s first Junior Ranger experience; Hannah has gotten badges from several parks. As the end, before we said goodbye to Ranger Dana, I got her with the two girls.

It’s important to me that the kids talk to national park rangers in their native habitat. Thanks Dana!

Hiking on Black Friday?

Bradley Cemetery
Bradley Cemetery

What are you doing on Black Friday? It won’t be dark, stressful, and rushed for you if you hike with rangers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is your opportunity to meet some rangers in their natural habitat.

From the park press release

The park has over 800 miles of trails to explore throughout the year with every season offering its own special rewards. During late fall and winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas revealing stone walls, chimneys, and foundations. These reminders of past communities allow hikers to discover a glimpse of history along park trails.

Two Hiking Options

Friday, November 25 at 10:00 a.m. – Hike the Historic Smokemont Area
The Smokemont area is rich with history ranging from the Oconaluftee Turnpike, an early wagon road across the Smokies, to a farming community, and later large-scale commercial logging in the days before the creation of the national park.

The walk starts with a visit to the historic Smokemont Baptist Church. Part of the walk is along a portion of the route of the Oconaluftee Turnpike, a wagon road across the Smokies built in the 1830s and will include a visit to the Bradley cemetery. The road provided a link between farms and towns and was also used by troops during the Civil War. Park staff leading the walk will have maps and historic photographs to help illustrate the history of the area.

Participants should meet the ranger at the Smokemont Baptist Church parking area just across the bridge at the entrance to the park’s Smokemont Campground at 10 a.m. The campground is located on Newfound Gap Road 3 miles north of the parks Oconaluftee Visitor Center and 5 miles north of Cherokee NC. Turn at the sign for Smokemont Campground. The parking area is on the right after crossing the bridge.

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Sugarlands Cemetery

Friday, November 25 at 10:00 a.m. – Old Sugarlands Trail
Join park staff for all or part of a 4.5-mile round-trip, out-and-back hike on this lightly trafficked gem. A history buff’s delight, Old Sugarlands Trail passes by a quarry used to build the first paved roads over the mountains, wanders through what was once the center of the Sugarlands community, and explores the ruins of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Participants will not only learn about this rich history, but also the natural wonders of the Smokies. Expect 4 hours total for the hike. Meet at the Sugarlands Visitor Center at 10:00 a.m.

Of course you know what to bring:  Rangers recommend participants dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and bring rain gear. Participants should also bring a bag lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.

See you on the trail!

Horace Kephart Documentary Premieres

Horace Kephart
Horace Kephart

When I first moved to Western North Carolina almost 16 years ago, I knew I needed to be educated about the area. I went to Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville and asked what I should read as a start.

The clerk suggested two books: Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart and a much darker book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area by Harry M. Caudill. I read them both in short order.

Horace Kephart (1862-1931) was a librarian, writer, and outdoorsman who moved to Western North Carolina in 1904. He’s credited with being an important influence in the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If his name comes up more often than other influential voices, it’s because his books are still read today and his descendants keep his name and his contributions alive.

Libby Kephart Hargrave and Linda Kephart, painter
Libby Kephart Hargrave and Linda Kephart, painter

Libby Kephart Hargrave, Horace’s great-granddaughter, is a tireless force in making sure that Horace Kephart isn’t forgotten.

She created the Horace Kephart Foundation and now has produced a documentary Horace Kephart: His Life and Legacy which premiered today at Western Carolina University.

Lots of park supporters were at the premiere, including local legislators, Great Smoky Mountain Association staff and board members, outdoor folks and classic campers. I looked up the latter but just got references to camper vans. So I assume these are people who camp the old-fashioned way, like Kephart did.

I’m not going to recount Kephart’s many achievements or summarize the documentary. But I was impressed by the personal and loving way that Libby portrayed her great-grandfather. Though he left his wife and six children to find his sanity in the mountains, Libby has always talked about how important Horace’s family was to him. The documentary also spends time on his wife, Laura.

Kephart Millstone
Kephart Millstone

I was also impressed by the national figures in the video including Dayton Duncan and Ken Burnes. producers of the documentary National Park: America’s Best Idea. Libby also interviewed park personnel and other authors.

How can a family go back so many generations?

Libby found photographs and writings from many extended family members. How did all those photographs of Horace Kephart’s parents pop up? Who stashed them for all those years? Did they know one of their children was going to be famous a hundred years later?

If you missed the premiere, you’ll be able to buy the video online when it’s ready for distribution. In the meantime, you can ponder how many generations you can trace back in your family. Me – just one.