Parks as Classrooms program benefits students, teachers, scientists and GSMNP

by Julie Dodd

students examine plants for ozone damage

Students analyze Crownbeard plants to determine ozone damage at Purchase Knob as part of the Parks as Classroom project. All photos by Susan Sachs

For the students, they are trying out the scientific method in the field – analyzing plants for the impact of ground-level ozone.

For teachers, they have the opportunity for their students to engage in hands-on learning in a real world setting.

For scientists, they have a cadre of students to help collect data for long-term environmental studies.

This is one of the Citizen Science Projects conducted at Purchase Knob, North Carolina, that is part of the Parks as Classrooms program, funded in part by Friends of the Smokies.

I talked with Susan Sachs, Ranger and Education Coordinator at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, about the Parks as Classrooms projects at Purchase Knob.

She explained that the ozone garden biomonitoring project is one of eight different curriculum-based citizen science projects designed to coordinate with the middle school and high school curriculum for students in schools in North Carolina and Tennessee.

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Group hikes and hiking workshop provide support for Smokies hiking

by Julie Dodd

Now is a great time of year for hiking in the Smokies.

If you are new to hiking or new to the area, you may not be sure if you’re ready to hike. Do I have the right gear? What would be the best hikes for me? Can I find others to hike with?

Friends of the Smokies and FOTS partners can help you solve those issues and enable you to get on the trail.

Hiking 101 – Tennessee

Hiking 101 at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports

Participants in Hiking 101 will be able to see a demonstration of hiking clothing and gear and will be able to try it out.

Blue Ridge Mountain Sports is hosting Hiking 101 with Friends of the Smokies on Thursday, March 26, at the Farragut location, 11537 Kingston Pike.

This free workshop is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and light refreshments will be served.

The workshop focuses on day hiking basics and will include layering techniques (why certain fabrics work and others don’t), essential gear, how to pack your pack, local hiking groups and local hikes.

After the presentation, participants will be able to try out gear. A 10 percent discount will be given to Friends of the Smokies members who show their membership cards. The discount may not apply to all purchases.

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800,010 reasons to get a Friends license plate

by Brent McDaniel

In North Carolina and Tennessee, you see specialty license plates all the time while driving down the highway — there are plates for universities, military veterans, clubs, square dancing, your favorite NASCAR driver, you name it.

Among the 100+ plates to choose from, what’s so special about a Friends of the Smokies plate? Why bother? Well, I’ll give you 800,010 reasons why:

800,000Friends of the Smokies North Carolina Plate

That’s roughly the amount of money Friends of the Smokies’ license plates bring in from Tennessee and North Carolina each and every year. In North Carolina, $20 of your $30 specialty plate fee comes back to Friends of the Smokies, and in Tennessee, $30.75 of the $35 you pay comes back to support the park.

Depending on where you live, your county may have combined a Wheel Tax or other local fees with your license plate renewal or registration, but don’t let the sticker shock dissuade you. The specialty license plate fee has stayed the same since the program started, and that’s the money that is going to support your Great Smoky Mountains.

$35 each year is only about $0.10 a day, roughly the cost of … well, nothing. Nothing is that cheap anymore. You spend way more on your daily cup of coffee and more than that going out to dinner just once. And while the cost of a specialty license plate is relatively small for you, it really adds up for Friends of the Smokies. Money brought in by our specialty plates has helped fund a wide variety of programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park like:

  • SCA Parks as Classrooms National Park ServiceThe Parks As Classrooms program annually reaching thousands of schoolchildren with environmental education
  • Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners helping maintain the 71 miles of AT in the Smokies
  • Artists-in-Residence producing original works of art in the park
  • Funding Student Conservation Association positions and seasonal internships for high school students and recent graduates
  • Marking native ginseng roots to prevent poaching
  • The Volunteers-in-Parks program supporting the amazing people who give their time and talent to improve your visitor experience
  • Construction of the new NPS Collections Preservation Center in Townsend
  • Sam Hobbs Caldwell House at CataloocheeMonitoring water quality in rivers and streams throughout the park
  • Preservation of historic structures like the Hiram Caldwell House in Cataloochee Valley and historic churches in Cades Cove
  • Programs like Teacher-Ranger-Teacher at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob

and that was just in the last year. These needs and many others would not be possible if it were not for the support of license plate funds. Since our plate program began in 1997, it has raised $11.9 million and counting.

10Friends of the Smokies Tennessee Plate

That’s about how many minutes it took me to get my own Friends of the Smokies plate a few weeks ago. No, seriously.

I went to my local county clerk’s office, filled out the paperwork, paid my fee, and walked out with my license plate in hand in about 10 minutes. I was amazed at how quickly the process went. I even brought with me a book to read while I waited, but I barely had time to sit down in the waiting area before they called my number and I was back out the door. The staff was courteous, service was fast, and they couldn’t have made it simpler.

It’s so easy to get your own Friends of the Smokies specialty license plate. You don’t even have to wait until your tag expires — you can get a Friends plate any time. In Tennessee, just go to your county clerk’s office and in North Carolina, visit your local tag office or get your plate online.

Getting a Friends of the Smokies license plate makes a huge difference for America’s most-visited national park and that is reason enough.

NPS Collections Preservation Center’s construction underway in Townsend, TN

by Julie Dodd

NPS Collections Preservation Center groundbreaking

The groundbreaking ceremony for the NPS Collections Preservation Center was held last November. FOTS President Jim Hart is second from right. The center is scheduled to open in January 2016. GSMNP photos and illustrations

Work is underway on the new NPS Collections Preservation Center, a facility to preserve more than 400,000 artifacts and 1.3 million archival records documenting the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee. The 14,000 square-foot facility is being built in Townsend, TN on land adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and is scheduled to open January 2016.

Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association combined to donate $1.9 million for the construction of the building. The total cost of the facility will be $4.1 million, which is being funded through public-private partnerships, with both federal funds and public donations. The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center donated the 1.6-acre parcel of land to the Park.

Groundbreaking for Center

FOTS President Jim Hart was part of the groundbreaking crew for the ceremony last November. Hart joined GSMNP Acting Superintendent Clayton Jordan, Great Smoky Mountains Association Executive Director Terry Maddox, and other officials.

“The Friends of the Smokies is privileged to partner with the Great Smoky Mountain Association to assist the NPS in the creation of such a lasting and meaningful resource for our area,” Hart said.

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2015 Evergreen Ball

January 31st was the 12th Annual Evergreen Ball to benefit Friends of the Smokies and it was a huge success! Thanks to our generous bidders, we raised more than $525,000 in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including $29,000 for the Parks As Classrooms education program. It was a truly incredible evening and we are humbled and grateful for your loyal support.


SEE MORE PHOTOS on our Facebook Page

Thank you to Travel Channel and all our amazing sponsors, our special guests, and our generous Friends for their support.

Trailcams capture Chimney Tops Trail restoration work

by Julie Dodd

Trailcam camera on Chimney Tops Trail

A trailcam camera was installed on the Chimney Tops Trail to record restoration work with time-lapse photography. Photo by Julie Dodd

Thanks to the photo planning and editing skills of Tobias Miller, Smokies Trail Crew Supervisor, you can watch three sections of the Chimney Tops Trail be restored right in front of your eyes.

Trailcams were installed on trees along the trail and, with time-lapse photography, captured the evolution of the trail work. Each of these three videos shows the creation of a staircase on the trail. When you next hike the Chimney Tops Trail, you’ll have to see if you can identify the staircases.

You’ll see the Trails Forever Crew, the American Experience Trail Crew (wearing white helmets), and some trail work volunteers.

Chimney Tops Trail 2012 – 3:25 minutes

First staircase of 2012 season
May 1 – May 13, 2012 – 1 hour time lapse

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Rich Mountain Loop in Cades Cove Is Great Winter Smokies Hike

John Oliver Cabin

By Holly Jones, Director of Community Outreach and Strategy

The wildly popular mountain valley of Cades Cove inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great winter hiking launch point because fewer park visitors and locals choose to motor around the famous eleven mile, one-way road even on the weekends. Perhaps this is because odds are less that folks will catch a glimpse of black bears since they are enjoying their seasonal snoozes; viewing and photographing wildlife is one of the primary reasons that people choose Cades Cove as a destination when visiting the Smokies.

At a round trip distance of 8.5 miles, the Rich Mountain Loop is a moderately challenging dayhike. For our trip, my husband and I allotted 4 hours for the actual hiking, an hour’s drive each way from Sevierville to Cades Cove, and about 30 minutes for lunch. We know that we average 2 miles of trail per hour.

Trail distance and hours of daylight are always factors to consider with winter hiking, so it never hurts to pad the schedule a bit for the unexpected. Getting a jump on the day can be a good idea, but makes for a chilly start. I tend to dress in too many layers and end up carrying what I shed in my pack for the majority of the trip.

We parked our car close to the orientation shelter near the start of the Cades Cove Loop Road and walked about 75 feet to where the trail begins, just off the right side of the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. (I wish we’d taken a picture of that; actually I wish we’d taken more pictures in general!)

With no leaves on the trees, even in the understory, at the beginning of our hike we could see cars pulled over on the Loop Road, so we knew wildlife was present in the first big meadow we passed on our left. There were deer out grazing on a “double date”- two large bucks each with a doe.

Rich Mountain Loop Trail sign

This sign sits at the intersection of Rich Mountain Loop Trail and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. The top of the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail sign is visible at lower right.

Quickly we reached the intersection of Crooked Arm Ridge Trail, and we had a choice to make.

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