1. Our Park's Edible Berries

    Our Park's Edible Berries

    By Peyton Proffitt

    Have you ever snacked on berries in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If you haven’t, now is the time! National park visitors are allowed to pick edible berries and have a taste, but are reminded not to disturb the plant as a whole. Be mindful of where you're picking and don’t wander too far off the trail. Check out the list below to decide which berries you want to search for. 

    “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.” - Wendell Berry

    Have you ever snacked on berries in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If you haven’t, now is the time! National park visitors are allowed to pick edible berries and have a taste, but are reminded not to disturb the plant as a whole. Be mindful of where you're picking and don’t wander too far off the trail. Check out the list below to decide which berries you want to search for.

  2. “When the Gales of November Came Slashin’*”

    The hurricane-force mountain wave winds that annually torment residents living in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and which contributed greatly to the deadly wildfires in late November 2016 are probably as old as the mountains themselves. Yet much about these winds remains a mystery.

    One reason for the mystery is the scarcity of professional-grade wind measuring equipment (anemometers) in the isolated areas where the wave winds occur. Many official weather-monitoring stations are located at airports because the terrain is flat and unobstructed by trees or man-made structures. The foothills of the Smokies are the opposite of that. The equipment and its power source also must be capable of enduring extremely high winds.

  3. The Smokies' Most Dangerous Places?

    The Smokies' Most Dangerous Places?

    One of the revelations found in the new book by Great Smoky Mountains Association and David Brill, Into the Mist: Tales of Death and Disaster, Mishaps and Misdeeds, Misfortune and Mayhem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is that some places in the Smokies are much more dangerous than others.

    Not surprisingly, roads are the most dangerous places in the national park. But other sites, such as Abrams Creek and Abrams Falls, renowned for their peaceful, sublime scenery, have also tallied a shockingly high body count.

    Drowning is the leading cause of death at Abrams and is the #3 killer park-wide. In 1997 alone, Abrams Creek claimed three lives—two swimmers and one fisherman. The years 2004, 2006, 2009, 2016, and 2017 were also deadly along this seemingly benign mountain stream.

  4. Just How Big will the Big Day Be?

    Just How Big will the Big Day Be?

    Nothing quite like it has ever happened, at least not in these modern times of mass and social media. Other than China’s annual Lunar New Year celebration, there is almost nothing to compare it to. Sociologists, planners, and astrophysicists alike are scratching their heads and speculating on just how many people will jump in their vehicles and head down the road to witness the “Great American” total solar eclipse on the afternoon of August 21, 2017.

    Some are even predicting the largest mass human migration in history.

    Many are pointing out that 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the eclipse’s 68-mile-wide “path of totality,” while only 12 million Americans live within the path. Not to mention all of those who will travel from other countries for this very special event. Eclipse blogger and GIS guru Michael Zeiler says, “Imagine 20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across our nation.”

    A little better than half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is within the eclipse path, and August is already a busy month here with some 40,000 visitors per day. What if that number doubles, or quadruples?

    Of course, the onslaught of humanity won’t be confined to the park’s roads and trails. The greatest impact will be on major roadways leading from the north and south (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Lexington, Knoxville, Atlanta, Birmingham) to the eclipse path. Conservative estimates predict some 1 million people will head to Tennessee for the big day.

  5. The Mysteries of Gregory Bald

    The Mysteries of Gregory Bald

    “In this Park, we shall conserve these trees, the pine, the red-bud, the dogwood, the azalea…for the happiness of the American people.” - President Franklin D. Roosevelt, from his speech dedicating Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Anyone who has ever accomplished the arduous feat of hiking to the top of Gregory Bald in early summer knows that the myriad azalea shrubs there, when in bloom, present an “Eighth Wonder of the World” type of experience. The abundance of gorgeous flowers, their crazy variations in color, and the mountain top setting all combine to create a sense of wild awe.

  6. How Does the Park Service Forecast When the Fireflies Will Flash?

    Ever since Elkmont's synchronous fireflies became an internationally celebrated event with many tens of thousands of would-be attendees vying for some 4,000 available slots, the question of when the fireflies will flash has become a critical one.

    Several years ago -- before the current firefly prediction system was initiated -- an unusually warm spring provoked the famed fireflies into an exceptionally early performance, meaning that by the time the lucky winners of the event’s lottery arrived for the show, the bioluminescent beetles had courted and bred and put away their flashers for the year.

  7. What Causes a Solar Eclipse, Coincidence or Amphibian?

    What Causes a Solar Eclipse, Coincidence or Amphibian?

    As we all know, there is a very special celestial event coming to our area on August 21—a total eclipse of the sun. While this date is a certainty, what causes a solar eclipse has been debated for thousands of years.

    Current science says that the eclipse can only happen because of an extraordinary coincidence; the size of the sun and moon are almost exactly the same from our earthly perspective. Of course the sun, in reality, is much larger than the moon—400 times to be precise. Coincidentally, the moon is 400 times closer to the earth than the sun, so the sphere of the moon, when aligned, perfectly blocks the sphere of the sun, allowing us to view* the beautiful corona (or aura) of the sun. What are the odds?

  8. Presidents' Day is Monday, February 20

    Presidents' Day is Monday, February 20

    It was a warm day in early September, just two years after GSMNP was officially established (not officially dedicated), and Newfound Gap Road was closed.

    Oh, you could get as far as Conner’s Store, across the road from the soon-to-be Smokemont Campground, before the N.C. Highway Patrol and park fireguards diverted you, but that was about it. Unless you were a governor, congressman, federal judge, high sheriff of Swain or Sevier counties, accredited member of the press, an official of either the North Carolina or Tennessee conservation association, a park official, or president of the United States, you were flat out of luck.

  9. How "Turkey George" Palmer got his nickname


    Anyone who has spent time in Cataloochee Valley knows that the Palmer family was very influential there. Palmer Creek, Palmer Branch, Palmer Chapel, and the Palmer house all bear the name of the family that migrated to this fertile and beautiful place in the 1830s. Robert “Boogerman” Palmer was another noteworthy descendant who helped preserve the area’s old-growth forest and whose nickname lives on in the valley’s lore.

    “Turkey George” Palmer actually had many claims to fame; first and foremost he was an accomplished bear hunter. A compact and muscular man, he always wore overalls when at work and a double-breasted suit jacket when he went to town. “Turkey George” generally hunted without dogs but still managed to kill 105 bears in his lifetime.

    As “Turkey George” grew older, his prowess as a hunter apparently caused him some anxieties. He became terrorized by the thought that, once in the grave, vengeful bears and some of the other animals he had pursued in life, would dig up his remains and desecrate them. Consequently, as his death approached at age 87, “Turkey George” insisted he be buried in a steel coffin. According to George’s daughter Flora, such a coffin was procured for her father in Waynesville.

    “Turkey George’s” homesite is located along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, a little over a mile from the Beech Grove School in Cataloochee Valley. It was near this spot that, as a boy, George set up an elaborate and effective wild turkey trap. It consisted of a wooden pen with a hole dug beneath one wall for access. George sprinkled a trail of corn as bait from the field into the pen.

  10. The Masque of the White Death

    The Masque of the White Death

    Imagine you are living in the Great Smoky Mountains in the 1830s and people in your family and in the community that surrounds you are getting sick and dying. It is the early fall of a dry year. Children and adults are complaining of loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting. Your uncle is in a coma. The haggard doctor in the next community cannot identify a cause. And there are no cures. Some farms are quarantined. A black flag or other sign on the fence out front warns neighbors and travelers that the sickness has reached the unfortunate family within.

    Your neighbor’s horse, which suffered from “the trembles,” slowly dies. Families talk of moving back east where they were never afflicted by such a plague. You have relatives in Kentucky who send word that half the people in their town have succumbed.

    But then, in November, people quit getting ill. You learn that many families have lost most of their calves and are worried about possible starvation in the winter ahead. But the terrible affliction has apparently run its course.

    Because of its cryptic nature, milk sickness remained a mystery in the eastern United States for many years. It is caused by a late summer wildflower that is common in the Great Smokies, white snakeroot. People and livestock tend to avoid the plant, but during drought years, when forage is thin, cattle, horses, sheep, and other livestock will graze it. Many of the livestock get sick and die, but some show no symptoms. Tremetol, the toxin that is passed from the plant to livestock to humans, was not scientifically identified until the early 20th century. Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, is said to have died from milk sickness.


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