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The Government Shutdown in the Smoky Mountains


The Government Shutdown in the Smoky Mountains

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” - Mr. Rogers 

For the past month, we have seen story after story of national parks across the country being abused and neglected. A large amount of the mistreatment of our protected wild is due to an ongoing government shutdown. Then, there is another portion of the scary and ugly moments that occur all of the time, but rarely have a magnifying glass on them. The same can be said for the helpers that have received attention from the media in the midst of the shutdown. From volunteers to organizations and even the simple actions of guests during their visits to the park. Some have stepped up due to the shutdown but others are consistently making a difference in the shadows. 

Instead of focusing on the downside of the current situation, let's use it as a lesson. Let us take the fury and frustration that has surfaced with seeing the parks trashed up, wildlife being harassed, trails being mistreated - and use that energy to move forward in a way that makes tomorrow better. 

How can we step up and be better stewards of the places that we love? 

By getting involved in big ways, and small ways. 

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"There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them. In this park, we shall conserve these trees, the pine, the red-bud, the dogwood, the azalea, the rhododendron, the trout and the thrush for the happiness of the American People." 

- Franklin D. Roosevelt (GSMNP dedication ceremony, September 1940)

The park was created for us to enjoy, not destroy. For us to cherish and protect. 

To do so, we must act with love all of the time - not just when park staff is absent. 

Ready to get involved? Here are a few ways to start! 

Support Those That Support The Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 

In the Great Smoky Mountain Mountains National Park, two organizations are always present and doing great things for the park. Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association both work continuously to support the park. Many visitors of the park support each of them every year, but there are also far too many visitors that don't know about all that they do. Both non-profits have stepped up during the shutdown and helped to provide funding that has been needed to keep visitors center locations open. They have helped to keep trash collected and restrooms accessible as well. Throughout the year they also work to provide structure and trail restoration, support educational opportunities and more. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few national parks that doesn't require an entrance fee. Many parks in the country have fees as high as $20 a person per visit. If you're a visitor to Smokies, after seeing all that these two non-profits do, consider supporting them by purchasing a membership or making a donation. 

Become a registered volunteer in the park. As a volunteer, you'll get to give back to the place that you love while spending time there are well. Volunteer solo or put together a group. Opportunities range from helping with special events to adopting a trail. If you can't volunteer on a regular basis check out the one-day work events that are available. 

Another option for volunteering in the park is working with the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The private, non-profit organization is the only residential learning environment located within the park boundaries. The GSMIT has been working for 40 years to connect people of all ages to nature and the Smoky Mountains. They have numerous opportunities for volunteers and once you're involved with thier programs, you'll find that you receive far more from the experience than you could ever possibly give. 

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When visiting the park, it is very important to Leave No Trace. It's also just as important to rise above those that do leave behind their trash or disrespect the area in other ways. During the shutdown, there are many ways to be a part of the solution instead of the problem. Help where help is needed, share Leave No Trace tips and encourage others to do the same. The same type of actions is necessary once the shutdown is over as well. 

The final thought of the current dilemma with our parks being affected by the government shutdown is simply this. We may not all agree on politics but we can agree on protecting and caring for our parks - year around. And wouldn't it be beautiful if the shutdown that has divided us took a turn for the positive and at least brought us all together as stewards for a better tomorrow? 

Now that the parks have reopened, consider RV camping in the Smoky Mountains. The park is full of beautiful spots to spend some time in the woods with the comforts of home.

Written by Kristi Parsons - Tristar Adventures Brand Ambassador


5 Tri-Star Adventures to help you roam Clingmans Dome


5 Tri-Star Adventures to help you roam Clingmans Dome


Your alarm is blaring, it's 4 a.m and the mountains are calling. As you rise from bed, you're fully aware that you're heading straight into the unknown - because today's adventure is sunrise at Clingmans Dome. You grab your bag and run. Many things in life may wait for you, but never the sun. While rolling through Gatlinburg, you notice that the usually hustling and bustling city is looking more like a ghost town. As you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you hit a wall of darkness. Within minutes you begin the drive up Newfound Gap Road, a flood of curiosity and excitement take over the need for sleep. The tunnels of the Smokies feel as if they are portals to another life. A life in the wild and with each curve of the mountain, you leave another worry from mediocrity behind. You begin to notice that the forest is aglow from the night's full moon and as it comes into full view at Morton's overlook - you know that you'll be at Clingmans soon. In the midst of the infamous Smoky Mountain smoke, your drive begins to take you into the sky - to the park's highest point, to the highest spot that Appalachian Thru-hikers will stand on their journey of a lifetime. Just as the itch to explore the AT begins, the first light of day slowly starts to seep into the darkness. It's time. Time to climb the half mile to the observation tower that was built in 1959. Knowing that in the past 58 years, millions of people have found love in the same spot where you now walk. Unconditional love, for the Smokies and the Appalachian Mountains. As you reach the top, the fog and coolness of the air fill your lungs. You feel your heart beating in your chest and turn to face the sun, with only three words on your lips - "I am blessed." It is there, above Clingmans Dome, that you will find both your need to roam and your Smoky Mountain home. 

5 Tri-Star Adventures to help you roam Clingmans Dome: 

1. Hike to Andrews Bald: If you have taken in a Smoky Mountain sunrise and plan to hike to Andrews Bald, take the connector trail just off the Appalachian Trail. If you take the paved path back to the trailhead at the parking lot, you'll miss an entire stretch of beauty that is too often ignored. Within just a 100ft of stepping onto the AT, you'll begin to see the unique traits of the Spruce-fir forest and the higher elevations of the southern Appalachians. If you happened to miss the sunrise because of finding yourself inside of a cloud, you'll quickly discover that you have instead stepped into an entirely different level of storybook style magical mountains. It's always disappointing to be fogged in during the sunrise, but the fog gives the forest an indescribable mysterious allurement. 


2. Get a taste of the AT: Invite some friends along for your Clingmans adventure, and before heading up, leave a car in the Newfound Gap parking area. Once you finish up at the dome, hop on the Appalachian Trail for a 7.9-mile adventure as you make your way back down to Newfound Gap. Have a couple of days or longer to explore? Plan an AT backpacking trip, or, if you just want a longer day hike - leave a car at Elkmont before coming up and hike 13+ miles back down via the AT, Goshen Prong Trail, and Little River Trail. 


3. Stargaze and be amazed: Not a morning person? No problem! Clingmans Dome serves up gorgeous moments 24/7. Head up for a sunset and stay to stargaze on a clear, new moon, night. Climb to the top of the observation tower on a full moon night and see the area in a different light. During summer months, Clingmans is a phenomenal spot for taking in the mind-blowing sparkle and shine of the Milky Way. 


4. Family fun: Bringing the little ones along or your grandparents? Take your time climbing to the top, it's only a half of a mile - but it is straight up. Explore, check out the visitors center, read the signs and learn about the threats of losing many spruce-fit species, including the endangered spruce-fir moss spider. The climb up isn't even necessary to enjoy the area, even the views from the parking lot are stunning. One experience that you can't pass up is wandering the Clingmans Dome Nature Trail. You'll find it along Clingmans Dome road and it's one of the most overlooked, yet wonderfully charming spots in the park. Please watch your step though because there's no need to step on a resident gnome, and please - don't wake the fairies, they need their beauty sleep. 


5. A Winter Wonderland: Are you seeking a more challenging Clingmans adventure? Prefer to avoid the crowds completely or just looking for some serious serenity? From December 1st until Mach 31st, Clingmans Dome Road is closed to vehicles. The closure doesn't apply to foot traffic or even biking. During the winter months, the closure allows unique opportunities for other types of adventures. The park allows you to hike, walk, run, bike, cross country ski or even snowshoe your way to the highest point in the Smokies when the road is closed for the season. 



- Know before you go. Check @SmokiesRoadsNPS for road conditions and for weather conditions. Be prepared for temps to be up to 25-30 degrees below the temp at a lower elevation, as well as weather conditions to change unexpectedly.

- Dodge the crowds. It's worth the early trip up just for the beauty, but also for a parking spot. Finding parking mid-day during peak season can be close to impossible, arrive early and you'll be leaving as the crowd is rolling in. 

- Always practice Leave No Trace and keep in mind that you are in bear country - be aware. 

- Pets must be on a leash and are not allowed on any of the Clingmans area trails or on the paved path to the observation tower. Bicycles may not be on the path as well and the park has determined that the path is too steep to be wheelchair accessible.

Written by: Tristar Adventures Brand Ambassador  Kristi Parsons .

Written by: Tristar Adventures Brand Ambassador Kristi Parsons.