Mark Woods will retire as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway on July 3, but on July 4 he’ll don the flathat one last time as grand marshal of the Lake Junaluska Fourth of July Parade.
“That was a surprise, to get that call,” Woods said. “We have family here, and every year there’s a family reunion that’s been going on for years at Lake Junaluska, so I’ve been coming here for as long as I’ve been married. To me this area is so special.”
A blanket freeze on federal hiring is having a local impact as the agencies tasked with managing Western North Carolina’s roughly 1.5 million acres of public land halt the hiring of seasonal employees responsible for keeping the area’s national parks and forests safe, clean and educational for the millions of visitors who seek them out each year.
It’s not unusual for Waterrock Knob, which boasts some of the best views on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to see its parking lot test the limits as summer reaches its zenith. More people visit the Parkway than any of the 412 units in the National Park Service, and it’s hard to resist Waterrock’s high-elevation coolness and sweeping vistas when mid-year heat grips the valleys below.
When President Woodrow Wilson scrawled the signature that brought the National Park Service into being — 100 years ago, on Aug. 25, 1916 — many of the parks now integral to America’s national identity had yet to be created.
There was no Great Smoky Mountains National Park, no Blue Ridge Parkway, no Appalachian Trail. No Grand Teton or Olympic or Mammoth Cave or Acadia National Park. At the time Wilson signed the Organic Act, only 35 national parks and monuments existed, with America the only country to have any.
It’s been three years since a vigorous debate about charging for backcountry camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ended with the park’s decision to charge backpackers a $4 fee, but for the fee’s most stalwart opponents, the issue isn’t yet in the rearview mirror.
Southern Forest Watch, a group that formed expressly to fight the fee, filed suit against the National Park Service soon after the fee was approved in February 2013. The public had overwhelmingly decried the proposal, SFW said, arguing that the park hadn’t followed correct procedure when approving it and contending that the assertion that the existing backcountry system was inadequate, crowded and causing complaints — necessitating the fee — was unfounded.
For Danny Bernstein and her husband Lenny, trips south to visit Lenny’s family in Miami Beach are a regular feature of life. They always drive rather than fly, and it didn’t take long to realize that the route brushes near an awful lot of national park units. The couple’s travel routine soon began to include two park visits with each trip — one on the way south and one on the return trip north.
“As I really dug into it, this was not in and out,” said Danny Bernstein, who lives in Asheville. “It was, we’re going to spend a day and we’re going to do this.”
“I just don’t want to take any chances,” the hard-hatted contractor tells the officers as they get out of their flashing police car.
The hotel he’s working on has been getting threats from a group of environmental extremists, and caution kicked in when he caught sight of someone slipping around the corner of the building as he pulled into the driveway after hours. He’d come back to pick up a paper he’d left behind, but nobody else was supposed to be there.
In an effort to protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park forest from disease-carrying pests, park officials have proposed a new regulation that would prohibit campers from bringing firewood into the park unless it’s certified.
If passed, the new regulation would only allow visitors to bring in firewood that has been heat-treated and bundled with a certification stamp by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or a state department of agriculture. Certified firewood will be available for purchase at the campgrounds inside the park.
By mid-August, there’s already a chill in the air outside Pisgah Inn. Employees and experienced guests walk around in pants and long sleeves, while visitors who didn’t realize August could be this cool sport shorts and tank tops. At 5,000 feet, the panoramic view stays year-round, but autumn comes early.
“This time of year, it’s full every night,” said the inn’s owner/operator Bruce O’Connell.
By 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 2, the sky had long gone dark and rain was turning to snow. It was the perfect night to watch a football game. But Steve Kloster had barely gotten past the kickoff of the Sugar Bowl showdown between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners before a phone call tore him away from cheering for the Southeastern Conference powerhouse. Chief Ranger Clayton Jordan was on the line, calling the Tennessee District Ranger for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into an even higher-stakes contest.