Ep. 47 – More Trail Closures, Black Bears Taken, Road Prong Trail

SHOW #47  December 12, 2014


This week on Episode 47 Smoky Mountains Radio, Another Trail is closing, black bears go bye bye, a little feedback, and our Spotlight Hike of the Week (Road Prong Trail).   Let’s Go!


It is Friday, December 12, 2014 and this is episode 47 of SMR.  As always, I am your host Mike, and My goal for the show is to give you the insight and information that you need to have a great trip to the Smoky Mountains.  Whether you are hiking, staying in the towns, or taking in the attractions, I hope to have something here to help you have a great trip.  Yes, I know I have been hit and miss lately with episodes.  The schedule for me has been crazy over the last many, many weeks as I am sure it is for you as well this time of year.  I’ve also been out of town doing some performances, so I get to the mic whenever I get a chance.  Finally, this is one of those times.  I’ll probably be pretty sporadic until the first of the year, but I will have some on location episodes coming to you here very soon, so stay tuned in the next few weeks.  I’ll be out and around the Smokies a good bit soon, so if you are in the area and would like to say hello, let me know.  I would love to meet you.  If this is your first time joining us, welcome aboard and thanks for taking the time to listen.  I hope you like what you hear.  Thanks to all my regular listeners.  Sorry i’ve been away so long my friends.  It’s good to be back with you all.  And sorry I couldn’t get this one out before you trip Wes.  Let me know your trip dates earlier next time and i’ll get it out.  I’m just kidding you man.  Hope you were able to catch it on the way home.  Alright.

To finish out the housekeeping, I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com.  There you will find a wealth of information including hikes from all over the Great Smoky Mountains including length, difficulty, and a short description of what you will see and and can expect as you hit the trails.  If you are planning on staying in one of the surrounding towns, you can find information about those as well.  You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on SMR.com.  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time.  Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SMR.com

Let’s get on with the show.

Another Trail is Closing

We mentioned it in just the last episode.  The final completion of the Chimney Tops Trail.  This extensive rehab has made some huge improvements to the trail and they have done the best they can to protect it for the future.  It was huge.  The trail has been closed more than it has been open over the last three years, but the end is finally here and we can enjoy the trail any time we like.  It is perhaps the toughest two mile hike in the park (other than the Low Gap Trail of course), but the Chimney’s at the top off something you don’t get anywhere else in the Smokies.  But you already knew that.  Why am I saying this again?  Well, there’s another trail going down for a very extensive rehab, and if it is possible, it is even more popular than the Chimney Tops Trail.  Just down the road from the Smokies is the Alum Cave Trail, and yes, it is going down for major rehab.  That right, the trail going to Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluffs, and Mount LeConte will be closed.  Wow.  So what’s the deal?

Well, this trail gets a ton of use.  Erosion is really bad on this trail and it has been for years.  With the particularly unpredictable weather, there have been landslides and even worse erosion than usual.  Parts of the trail have become a little less safe over the years, and the problem needs to be dealt with.  I hate to see this one close, but I totally get it.  So, it will be closed Monday – Thursday from early am to 5:30pm.  The closure is slated to start in May and will take approximately two years to complete.  That gives you an idea of the scope of what will be involved.  When Laurel Falls had a landslide a couple months ago, the trail was closed only a matter of days while it was fixed.  That gives you an idea of the magnitude of the job involved.

Now, while it is closed, LeConte Lodge and Shelter will both still be open.  And remember, there are five other ways to reach the top of LeConte, so you can still get to the summit.  But, my big question is about the people that work at LeConte Lodge.  When they come up and down LeConte, they almost always use that trail.  It is the shortest and maybe the easiest way up.  I would assume they will take the llama route and head through Grotto Falls and Trillum Gap, but I will find out for sure for you.

One thing is for sure, it will be a long rehab.  The Chimney Tops Trail is only two miles long and took nearly three years to complete.  This trail is almost 5 miles long, and has damage in both lower and higher elevations.  It should be interesting.  I’ll guess that you will see the helicopters around LeConte soon dropping materials and supplies for the job.  So if you want to do this hike any time soon, do it now or you will have a small window to hike each week.  One thing is for sure.  With the trail closed for 5 out of 7 days each week, it is going to be ridiculously busy when it is open.  If it were me, i’d stay away until its done unless you will be on your once in a lifetime trip.

(I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com)

Black Bears Seized

I’ll go ahead and thank my brother for the next story on this week’s show, so thanks for bringing this one to my attention, bro.  If you are a regular listener, I have made my stance on keeping animals in captivity pretty clear.  Generally, I am against it.  They are often not taken care of as they should be, they are pulled from family, and their natural habitat is replaced with cages and concrete.  All this for a little side show so people can see the animals.  If you want to see a bear, go to the woods.  You don’t need one caged for your amusement.  Again, that is my opinion.  Take it or leave it.

I think I have mentioned before that after seeing bears for years in the woods, I saw one in Ober Gatlinburg.  I really like Ober Gatlinburg, but I hate their bear “exhibit.”  It is essentially a concrete enclosure and the bears look miserable.  Besides that, they don’t appear healthy.  Their coats have no luster and patches of fur missing, you name it.  If you can’t spend the money to make a real habitat and treat the animals the way they should be, don’t have animals.  And that brings us to this story that my brother first came across on WKRN but has spread around news agencies and blogs all over the place.

Two bears were taken from the ironically named Three Bears Country Store in Pigeon Forge this week.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency found that the establishment did not have proper permits for the bears.  Ain’t that something?  How did they pull off having them in the first place then?  Anyway, major complaints had come in from PETA, and whatever you think of PETA as an organization, they are about treating animals properly first and foremost.  According PETA the bears lived in a quote “concrete prison” and the conditions were awful.  They did not get proper nutrition, veterinary care, and were not shielded properly from the elements.  Luckily the bears were taken away and it sounds a lot like what your parents told you about when you’re dog died when you were a kid, but the bears are now on a wilderness preserve in Colorado.  Hope they do well.

As the for the store owners, they have been in business and doing this for a quarter century.  Apparently that have certain permits, but not what they were supposed to have for these two bears.  He was charged with a misdemeanor for not having the proper permits and has apparently pled no contest.  WATE reports that the owner does have a license to display and house the bears, implying that how he is keeping them is at least legal.  The owner further claims that he bought the new bears to save their life.  Either way, if you see the facilities, it does not seem like an ideal situation to me.

There are certainly two sides to a story, but this seems pretty cut and dry to me.  I’ve seen several of these small establishments along tourist towns in the southeast, and friends of mine out west say they have seen similar things.  I have not left one of these places feeling impressed.  But if i’m wrong i’ll be the first to admit it.  I would invite the owner of Three Bears Country Store to call in and i’m happy to let him give details about his establishment.  I had several comments on this event this week.  Jack said, “bears mistreated at store.  You called that one a long time ago, Mike.”  Brett says, “this is why you shouldn’t make animals into a circus show.”  Billy Jo, who lives just miles from the national park said, “Is it really that hard to go into the mountains to see a bear?  I’ve been doing it for years.  Hell, sometimes they even show up in my yard.”  I agree Billy Jo, and by the way, that last part would freak me out more than just a little!  Thanks to all of you that wrote in.  And if you feel that I am really off base with my thinking here, let me know.  I may always think i’m right, but I truly do like hearing opposing viewpoints.  So let’s debate.

I’ll put more info about this in this week’s show notes and on SMR.com

Spotlight HIke of the Week (Road Prong Trail)

Our Spotlight Hike of the Week this week to a hike that most people doesn’t even know exists even though it is along one of the most popular roads in the park.  This week, we will hike the Road Prong Trail located just off Newfound Gap Road.  I’ve gotten several questions about the Chimney Tops Trail completion and accessing Clingman’s Dome Road when it is closed for winter.  So I thought that this hike would kinda of fit both of those issues into one.

We’ve talked before about the ability to cross country ski Clingmans Dome Road when it is closed and snowed over by parking in the Newfound Gap parking lot.  But what about when it is too snowy or icy to drive up?  We talked about alternative hikes a couple weeks ago, but this hike is a great way to go because it starts at a much lower elevation, so you shouldn’t have driving issues except in the worst weather (when the entire roads in the park will probably be closed anyway.)  Now I will say this, don’t do this hike if the weather is bad down low.  If the weather stinks at lower elevation, it will be worse up high, so use common sense.  Okay, legal disclaimer done.  Let’s get to it.

To start this hike, you will hike at the Chimney Tops Parking Area.  Not at the picnic area….keep going to the Chimneys tops parking area for the Road Prong Trail.  That’s right.  The first part of this hike mirrors the hike to the Chimney Tops.  All total we will be doing 6.6 miles on this round trip strenuous hike.  Many of most of you are already familiar with the Chimney Tops Trail, so I don’t need to rehash all of that here.  But suffice it to say, this trail goes up, up, and up.  The rehab on this trail will be apparent from the beginning.  The crossings are better, the trail is better and more stable…it’s just all better.  But guess what?  It is still hard.

This trail was used heavily in the days before there were roads going up and over newfound gap and still used pretty heavily after the first roads were put in.  Since that time, you won’t see a lot of people on this trail.  It is busiest during winter when Clingmans Dome Road is closed, but it is busy only by comparison.  It is like saying i’m tall because I am taller than my wife.  It’s all relative.  Anyway.

As I have said before, the trail is steep, and that has not changed despite the rehab.  Wear good hiking boots, preferably waterproof, for this hike.  More on that later.  There are still rocks and roots, mostly rocks, all over the place.  The inclines will bend your ankles and your back, but it is exhilarating nonetheless.  As you and what seems like everybody else in the national park hike this together, when you get .9 mile in the trail splits.  The Chimney trail goes off to the right.  The Road Prong keeps moving straight ahead…and up.  Keep going straight.  It is likely nobody will follow you along this trail.  In fact, people will probably look at you weird wondering where the heck you are going.  the last time I hiked this trail, I had someone stop me after the trail junction and said, “You know the Chimney’s are this way, right?”  I politely told the man I was hiking to Clingmans Dome and continued.

The next 2.4 miles of solitude will be nice.  It will also hide the heavy breathing you will be doing from the continued steep inclines and the constant doubling over to catch your breath.  But regardless, it is still pretty cool.  Obviously, we are gaining a lot of elevation.  If you have driven between Chimney Tops and CLingman’s Dome Road, you know it is a long way up over many miles.  This covers the same elevation in just 3.3 miles.  Obviously also, as you go up, the views are going to continue to get better and better.  There is a lot of tree cover, but it opens up here and there for some amazing views.

This area has some places that have a very narrow trail path like you often see along the AT, but what is different is that the path is very often covered with rocks.  In fact, it almost seems like the rocks are the trail in several places.  They are doable, but will no doubt slow you down.  Again….good boots.  And that reminds me

You will also be right along side Road Prong Creek for most of the trail.  You will also have several crossings over it without the aid of footbridges.  This isn’t much of a big deal because with all the rocks, you can rock hop it pretty easily without getting wet, but waterproof boots are still a good idea.  The only time it might be hard to rock hop is after a big snow starts melting and winding the water back downhill.  Other than that, you should be good.

There are several small waterfalls along this trail that are unofficial, meaning that they won’t be on any trail maps or along an official park trail.  Side trails to get to them are pretty easy and short.  They are occasionally a little overgrown, but it will still be obvious where to go.  Waterfalls are small like I said and range anywhere from 10-15 feet, but they are still really nice to see and great places to take a break, which believe me, you will want to.  As you finish the trail off, you will come to the junction with the Appalachian Trail and just a little further you will run right onto Clingmans Dome Road.

It is cool to be on this part of the AT because almost nobody hikes it except thru hikers or section hikers, so you can get some really good conversations with people.  It is also neat and weird to be on Clingmans Dome Road with no cars on it.  You can stand in the middle of the road with no worries.  For some reason, I always end up looking over my shoulders for oncoming cars.  Habit I guess.

Obviously the views from here are excellent.  You have climbed over 2000 feet in less than 3.5 miles and are standing at over 6000 feet in altitude.  Definitely bring the camera.  From here you have a choice to make.  If you want to do this as a shuttle hike, have a car meet you at Newfound Gap.  You will take a left onto the Appalachian Trail for 1.7 miles to the parking area.  You could also hike south to Clingmans Dome, but that does add an extra 12 miles roundtrip, so I probably wouldn’t recommend that to you unless you are in really good shape or staying overnight.  The problem is that there is really nowhere along this stretch to camp.  The only thing there is Mount Collins Shelter which is halfway up to the Dome.

Your last option is to simply stop once you reach Clingman’s Dome Road and turn around and retrace your steps.  Keep in mind that this will take you more time than the typical descent just due to the steepness and the huge amount of rocks.  In fact, if you can take all the rocks from this trail and line them up, they would go around the world twice.  Okay, I have absolutely no proof of that.  But I bet you’ll agree with me when you get done.

Over all this is a hike that offers easy access at a great location.  You have to work for it, but is great.  If you really want a challenge, hike to the Chimney Tops on your way down.  It only adds 2.2 miles roundtrip.  Enjoy!

I’ll put more info about this hike in our show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com


Thanks again for checking out this episode of Smoky Mountains Radio.  Contact me on SMR.com to leave me a question or comment.  Hope this has satisfied everybody’s Smokies fix for this week.  It’s about time for me to get to my next performance, so I need to wrap this thing up.  So until next time, have a great week everyone, and of course……go take a hike!

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