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.

Friends of the MST Celebrates 40 years!

This past weekend, Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail celebrated its 40th anniversary in Elkin, North Carolina with a gala, meeting and lots of activities. The evening gala attracted about 260 members, the meeting about 290. Here are a few highlights.

Howard Lee and Doris Hammett

Friday evening went back to the past. In 1977, Howard Lee, then Secretary of the NC Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, announced that there would be a hiking trail through North Carolina. Howard, now on the board of Friends of the MST, was at the meeting. So was Dr. Doris Hammett who had chaired the Fourth National Trails Conference where Howard spoke. Doris was also a leader in the trail building Task Force in Haywood County.

Saturday was all about the future. What would the trail look like in the next 40 years, in 2057? Each table brainstormed the future of the MST. Our table came up with:

  1.  One million hikers have completed the trail.
  2. The MST is all on footpath
  3. Hostels and campsites will enable hikers to hike the whole trail smoothly.

Even I won’t be around in 40 years to see this happen but these are important goals.

Kate Dixon and her award

Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST since 2008, received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, a major, major award in North Carolina. Pretty impressive.

Here’s a little information about this award.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society
Among the most prestigious awards conferred by the Governor of North Carolina is The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. It is awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.

Jennifer Pharr Davis, who we all know as the past record holder of the fastest person on the Appalachian Trail, was the keynote speaker.

Jennifer Pharr Davis

She will walk the MST starting in August to publicize the trail and encourage everyone to get out there. Her husband, Brew, will handle the logistics for Jennifer’s hike. It takes support of all kinds to walk the MST.

Jennifer will hold events in the communities around the MST and will invite hikers to walk with her. She emphasized the healing and uplifting power of nature.

No, Jennifer won’t be running. This is a different kind of project. I managed to take a picture of her with Gus, her younger child.

To my amazement, I received recognition for my involvement on the MST.  I received a beautifully framed print of the certificate now given out to MST completers.

Kate and me with a plaque

In my thank you remarks, I emphasized that in our efforts to get the MST off the road, we don’t forget that the MST is more than a walk between two sets of trees.

I hope we don’t lose the history of our state that we can now see on the road – the mills, cabins, tobacco barns, historic plaques, hamlets, old advertising – and major reminders of the American Revolution and even a little of the Civil War. 

Speaking of history, the photo at the top of the blog post is of an American Revolution encampment in Elkin set up for the weekend. The town is the eastern end of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and very proud of its part in the Revolutionary War.

It’s going to be difficult to top this meeting. So let’s just get on the trail.

Great Smoky Mountains Association picked up FAB

I am thrilled to let the world know that the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) picked up  my book,

Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South.

Swain County Visitor Center

You know GSMA as the park partner which manages the bookstores in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Surely you’ve stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands, or maybe, at the Swain County Visitor Center to buy a book, honey or a T-shirt. They have nine stores in and around the park.

But GSMA is also a publisher of all things Smokies.

They are the authority on trails, flowers, birds, salamanders … of the Smokies. If you’re a hiker, you should have Hiking Trails of the Smokies. If you’re a birder, they have Birds of the Smokies in a small-format book.

GSMA has carried all my books including Forests, Alligators, Battlefields. But now they’re going to publish it as well. They might put a new cover, change the price, make all the decisions that a traditional publisher does.

And they’re going to distribute it as well. That is always be the biggest challenge with independent publishing.

So if you’re thinking that you might want a copy (or two or three), go to the Official Park Store and buy a copy from them. Or in a Smokies store, of course.

That’s buying local.