The air on the Cataloochee Divide Trail is heavy with humidity and the promise of an afternoon storm, but the pervading mood is contrastingly buoyant as a group of 27 teens and their leaders sets out on a sunny Thursday morning. 

It’s a tone that Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had set before anybody left the trailhead.

fr campgroundCamping fees could increase in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park if a recently released proposal gains approval.

coverIt’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.

out frIt’s 4 p.m. on the Appalachian Trail, and while the sun will be awake for hours yet, “hiker midnight,” which strikes at 9 p.m., is drawing steadily nearer. A couple of hikers wander in from the trail, sighing as they slough their packs and plop down on the picnic table under the shelter roof, debating whether to press on toward the Walnut Mountain Shelter, 5 miles away, or stay here for the night.

A third hiker soon joins them. Nick Hyde, a New Zealander known on the trail as “Mountainear,” looks grateful for an excuse to shed his pack and rest his legs. He’s tired, he says, and very sore. It isn’t long before he, as well as the other two hikers — Khanh “Chicken Feet” Dung and Stan Walters — decide that this is as far as they’ll get tonight.

Easter on the trail

out eastertrailThis Easter marked an important milestone for Jerry Parker, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who completed the 2,160-mile trail before it was cool.

out trailartieBright sunshine? Sixty-degree weather? In February?

out athikersThe number of Appalachian Trail hikers passing through the trail’s “psychological midpoint” in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, hit an all-time high this year.

out frOlga Pader will always remember the Naked Ground Trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness as “the hike from hell.” 

It started out innocently enough, with she and her three hiking buddies stepping onto a wide, gently ascending trail. A weathered rock with a crack resembling a smile provided a pleasant spot for pictures and a water break. 

out altBy Wil Shelton • SMN Intern

For Jeff Alt and his family, hiking is more a lifestyle than a hobby.

“After experiencing all the great positive physical and mental benefits gained from hiking, I wanted to share it with my family,” he said.

out frThere was no doubt about how the Smoky Mountains got their name as day dawned on the Friends of the Smokies’ planned hike to Hemphill Bald. Sky seemed to meet earth as the carpool headed up the mountain from Maggie Valley, fog so thick the road 20 feet ahead could have been imaginary. It didn’t look like the bald at the end of the 4.4-mile hike would offer much of a view that day. 

The gloomy weather didn’t drive away Patrick Murphy, however, who’d come over from Bryson City to try out his first Friends of the Smokies hike. The morning was “dismal,” Murphy said, but not without its high points — the first one to arrive at the trailhead, he found himself sharing the spot with two elk.

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