This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog about my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issuEdgy in Montreat Wildernesses. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Experience your Smokies

How well do you know your Smokies?

Ramsey Cascades
Ramsey Cascades

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in conjunction with the Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountain Association announces a special opportunity to experience the Smokies. The program, Experience Your Smokies, is a unique opportunity to get to know the park and its employees in a whole new way.

“If you have ever wanted to be a park ranger or get a behind the scenes look at what goes on in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this is your opportunity,” said acting park Superintendent Clayton Jordan.

Experience Your Smokies is a program designed for local business, civic and educational leaders to get a behind the scenes look into the national park, while networking with others from western North Carolina. “Our surrounding communities and their leaders are very important to us, and this program gives us a chance to make more meaningful connections with our neighbors and for them to do the same with us.”

Participants will attend five full day sessions at a variety of locations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, accompanying park employees in activities that may include helping to restore a park wetland, participating in a fish survey, and assisting with trail restoration. This is a perfect way to get an insider’s look at park operations as we explore areas like Oconaluftee, Clingmans Dome, and Purchase Knob.

One participant said of her experience, “I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the entire staff for their respective roles. The knowledge each has is so amazing.  This has been one of the coolest experiences of my life.”

Experience Your Smokies is seeking diverse applicants from the surrounding communities for a program this spring. Programs run on Tuesdays on the following dates: March 17th, March 24th, April 14th, April 28th  and Saturday May 9th.  Those attending will be asked to commit to attending all class days.  Applications will be accepted between now and February 27, 2015.  The program costs $50.00 with funds going towards program administration and materials.

Please visit or call 828-452-0720 for an application.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Asheville – Discoveries

Shadows on the MST
Shadows on the MST

You would think that the Asheville section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail would be uneventful.

The last time I walked this section was in 2010 when I was working on hiking the whole trail through North Carolina. Yesterday Lenny and I walked 8.9 miles from US 25 to the Folk Art Center with a side trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.

This was in preparation for leading a Carolina Mountain Club hike.

Magic collection on the MST
Magic collection on the MST

My first discovery. What elves left all these goodies on the trail? See the picture above to the left.

Yes, technically, it’s just littering but I didn’t feel like dismantling it. Someone had put a lot of effort and I just left it.

Artist James Hinton 2011
Artist James Hinton 2011

Further on, we found an ordinary bench as the trail came down on the Parkway. But there was a small metal sign which read Artist James Hinton 2011.

Who was James Hinton? Is this bench artistic? Most benches in national parks are a few feet away from a building to encourage visitors to get on a trail.

Finally we reached the split between the Parkway Destination Center and the Folk Art Center.

Mileage to Folk Art Center
Mileage to Folk Art Center 1

There was a dispute in the signs. One sign said 2.2 miles to the Folk Art Center and the other on the opposite side of the trail said 2.5 miles. The two signs were there the last time I walked this section.

Mileage 2
Mileage to Folk Art Center 2

Obviously no one in charge cares. about the inconsistency.

You would think that they would get it together.

Brainstorming with the best

Book title ideas
Book title ideas

I’m writing a narrative on visiting all the southern National Parks. There are 70 in all, now that I’ve added the Underground Railroad. I sent out a few queries and talked to my old publishers. Several small publishers just blew me off, not answering emails or bothering to reject me officially.

But it became obvious that if this book was going to hit the bookshelves in 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I was going to have to publish it myself. For a while, I was not a happy camper. I’ve had three books published by traditional presses and I knew what they did. Now I was going to do it myself.

But I decided to look at the bright side, make lemonade out of lemons, and have an adventure. In November, I attended the NC Writers Network Conference to jumpstart this project. Writing a book is one thing, publishing a book is quite another. Where do I start? I went to lots of workshops but the most helpful was Karon Luddy, author of Bewilderment of Boys, who had a chart of all the services she used and the decisions she made to publish her book.

One of the many decisions but a most basic one, is a title, a zippy, catchy title, that captures what the book is about. To help me with that, I called on several friends who understood writing, marketing, the outdoors and hiking and hosted a brainstorming session. I sent each participant a table of contents of my book and several pages. Each person got a different set of pages. I laid out several creative nonfiction books with good titles.

Brainstorming a book title
Brainstorming a book title

After a casual dinner, we gathered in my living room. Holly Scott Jones, Director of Community Outreach and Strategy at Friends of the Smokies, agreed to facilitate the session. We got some ideas on how to run a brainstorming session for several articles, including this one from Forbes. Holly brought a shaker in the shape of an avocado to keep us straight. If anyone broke the rules or wandered off topic too much, Holly would shake the avocado and bring us back on topic. Anna Lee wrote down every idea that was flying around on large Post-it notes and we stuck them up for everyone to see.

A nonfiction title usually has a couple of words to grab the reader’s attention. Then a phrase to explain the book. Think Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island or Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History.

The group generated lots of ideas.
Some were funny: More than Bojangles, Rubber eating crows and many things you didn’t know, and NJ Yankee in southeastern parks.
Others were serious: Your national parks in the Southeast, Journey through time, Hiking through history.
Becoming Southern one national park at a time had great potential but Lenny thought it was misleading. More were about food: Southern fried parks, Sweet tea trail: parks in the Southeast, Sweet Tea challenge.

Forts, caves, criminals is certainly an attention getter. I can play around with the three words but the concept is good. Someone suggested Seventy shades of green and blue, also an attention getter but the book is not just about natural history.

Next subject: who could blurb the book?

2015 Classic Hikes of the Smokies

Mark your Calendars: 2015 Classic Hikes of the Smokies

Discover America’s most visited national park on guided hikes with Friends of the Smokies. View breathtaking vistas, rushing waterfalls, historic homesteads and much more tucked away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the 2015 Classic Hikes of the Smokies.

Friends of the Smokies Classic Hikes feature trail interpretation, history and park projects that donations to Friends of the Smokies have supported. Hikes are guided by author and hiking enthusiast Danny Bernstein.

This year’s hikes include Smokemont, Caldwell Fork, Lake Shore, Hemphill Bald, overnight at LeConte Lodge, Big Creek, Boogerman, Purchase Knob, Chimney Tops and Noland Creek.

Participants on the hikes will learn how donations made to Friends of the Smokies help fund stewardship projects in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These projects include but are not limited to native trout management, hemlock wooly adelgid treatment, historic structure preservation, Parks as Classrooms program, and elk management.

Hikes are offered on the second Tuesday of each month. Guided Classic Hikes are $35 and include a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. Current Friends of the Smokies members receive a discount and hike for $10. Members who bring a friend hike for free. All registration donations benefit the Smokies Trails Forever program.

The first Classic Hike of 2015 is Tuesday, March 10th to Smokemont. This hike is 6.2 miles round trip and is moderate in difficulty with a total elevation gain of 1,400 feet. Participants will visit a historic chapel and cemetery on this hike.

To register for a Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact To view a complete listing of Friends’ monthly Classic Hikes of the Smokies, visit

Donors acknowledgement in National Parks

Have you noticed that national parks don’t usually name things after people?

At the NC Arboretum
At the NC Arboretum

Many local parks may have a bench with a plaque which says “to the memory of”. In some places, the benches go on and on. Some are done very tastefully, as the stone marker at the North Carolina Arboretum.

But until recently, this was not the general practice in national parks. That is about to change.

The day after Christmas, while most of us weren’t looking, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2015. That’s the law that funds the government until the end of September. Those of us who registered this breathed a sigh of relief that we could go to national parks for a while longer.

But deep inside the bowels of this “defense bill”, there was Section 3054, National Park System Donor Acknowledgement, which authorized expanded donor acknowledgement practices within the NPS including areas covered under the Commemorative Works Act. What that means is that now parks can decide within broad guidelines how they can potentially acknowledge names of donors on vehicles and benches. I don’t think you’ll see the Coke trail or the Wal-Mart overlook, but who knows.

Donor's name at Death Valley
Donor’s name at Death Valley

At least one park has been doing this all along. When we went to Death Valley National Park, this sign had been planted at Zibrinsky Point. The donation acknowledgement was minimal but it was there.

What do you think? Will donor acknowledgement encourage more people to donate to their Friends group? Do people need to have their name up someplace to help their parks?

Development professionals have told me “yes, people respond to this.” Obviously, the National Park Service thinks so too.