Monday, December 5, 2016

Super Opportunity: Smokies 900 Round 2 - Bradley Fork & Smokemont Loop Trails

Bradley Fork & Smokemont Loop Trails – 6/25/16 – 5.6 Miles
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.  2016 was the 100th anniversary of the National Park System, a year-long celebration of events across the country.  Did you know there are 413 National Park units?  We can easily name some of the large parks, such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, but there are many national historical parks, battlefields, military parks, historic sites, seashores, recreation areas, preserves, rivers, scenic trails, memorials, monuments, and even an “other” category.  What a gift to ourselves, preserving and protecting spaces that, if lost, cannot be re-created, both wild and manmade, part of our history and heritage.  The newest addition, on the eve of the National Parks birthday, is Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. 

My favorite national Park (surprise!) is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). In early 2016 a calendar of centennial events was introduced and the most intriguing invitation was a hike with the park superintendent, Cassius Cash.  I was more than a little excited to join the group on a Saturday morning. Bonus: Also leading the group was Backcountry Management Specialist Christine Hoyer, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting and working for on a Trails Forever project in 2012 (rebuilding Chimney Tops Trail).

 Superintendent Cash and Christine Hoyer

Superintendent Cash inspired the “Hike 100” challenge for GSMNP and he, along with his wife and their younger daughter, has been leading the way to get past the parking lots and hike 100 miles during the centennial.  On a warm June day our group of 18 enthusiastic participants hiked the classic loop of Bradley Fork and Smokemont Loop Trails counterclockwise from the Smokemont campground. Now, 18 people do not hike efficiently but our purpose was fellowship and fun rather than speed. We split into two predictable groups, a-little-bit-fast and a-little-bit-slow.  The faster folks were happy to stop and catch a breeze as the slower folks made their way along the trail. 

Cash adeptly spent time walking with each hiker, chatting about the park, its history and his vision for the future.  He is directing a great amount of energy to promoting the outdoors for the next generation and his enthusiasm for the empowering and healing benefits of nature is infectious.  Read and/or watch this video about his background and his work at GSMNP here.

Crossing Bradley Fork on one of the longest footbridges in the Park

Lunch break

I don’t have much description for the trails on this hike because I was concentrating on the energy of the group.  Several of us found that we had mutual friends in the hiking community.  I especially enjoyed Cash and Christine’s stories and dreams for the Park.  I’m sad that I live too far away from the Smokies to play a bigger part in the day-to-day life of the Park - but I can strive to increase my visits.

Hanging with the rock stars: Cassius Cash, Christine Hoyer and little ole me

This hike took place in June 2016, but I am writing in early December 2016.  On November 28, a wildfire originating near the summit of Chimney Tops Trail, exacerbated by high winds, swept down through the Park, felling trees and power lines, sparking more fires, and consuming a vast portion of the town of Gatlinburg.  More than 15,000 acres in all were burned.  While the devastation to the Park is heartbreaking, the loss of 13 lives and over 1,000 buildings outside the Park is an even greater tragedy.  Nature will renew itself and buildings can be rebuilt, but loved ones are gone and livelihoods are forever altered.  

The fire is believed to be human caused.