Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Sevierville, Tennessee

I normally wouldn’t log this trip as an expedition, but with a 19 month with us, it sure felt that way. My friend was getting married in Nasheville and he suggested that I head out a week early to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as the surrounding Gaitlinburg area before the wedding. Gaitlinburg is listed at 6 hours and 41 minutes from Richmond, and I have always been looking for an excuse to go to the smokies. We felt like the distance might have been quite a stretch for our 19 month old son, but he has always been quite a good lil traveler so we decided to brave the roads instead of the airplane. He had never travelled such a distance by car before and I had no idea how he would tolerate it. So we ended up allotting a 12 hour travel window for us with scheduled 2 hour breaks in between so he could run and stretch his legs.

Roanoake River

Departure: 6:30am. The first leg of the trip went very well. We were able to get in 2.5 hours before our first stop in the town of Roanoake, Virginia. We stopped at Greenhill Park, and it was the absolute perfect pit stop. For a toddler, this park was like an oasis. It had it all, a playground, picnic tables, shaded areas, and even the roanoake river coursed through the park for fishing and cooling off. The bend of river that traveled through the park was very clear and shallow. It was perfect to wade and search for fish and crayfish. Our son loved this spot a little too much and as expected, it was a battle to get him back into the car…fortunately, the weather was merciful on us and by mid-day it was still comfortable.

cabin views

Soon enough we were on 81 south again, as the interstate rolled gently through the hills towards Tennessee. We covered a couple of hours before we stopped again in Bristol, VA/Tennesee for lunch. We finally finished the leg to our cabin at about 4:30pm (a total travel time of 10 hours) 2 hours ahead of schedule! We actually stayed just outside Gaitlinburg in a town called Sevierville, Tennessee (population 16,716). We were all excited to stretch our legs, jump on the bed a few times, and get outside and take in some of the beautiful views. It did not take us long to get settled into our new home for the next 5 days and 4 nights. Our son instantly fell in love with the place and of course the air hockey table. We all rested easily that night, in a cabin up in the clouds after a long day of travel – we were pretty worn out.

The next morning, we woke up early to head into the national park. The drive was a short and easy 20 minutes into the park. Out of all 60 national parks in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited park with more than 11.6 million visitors in 2016. This is likely due to the fact that it is one of the few parks on the east coast and it is also free admission. I was surprised to see the level of commercialization of the surrounding area. The town of Gaitlinburg is basically one big tourist trap, with everything from “Ripley’s Believe it or not” to go carting. I personally found this to be off-putting but many people seemed to love it. In my mind, the parks were created to bring us closer to the outdoors and let future generations learn about the environment and the importance of different ecosystems. Instead, in Gaitlinburg, there are endless shops and stores that just sell pointless tshirts and junk. All of these things will likely end up in a landfill within a couple of months. While it can be certainly entertaining for kids, it comes off as very tacky.

The ascent up to Laurel Falls.

The park itself is very nice and actually very similar to Shenandoah National Park. We chose our hikes carefully…..something feasible with a 27lb 19 month old on your back. We arrived early in the park and were fortunate enough to get a parking spot at Laurel Falls. It was an easy one with only 314ft elevation gain over 2.4 miles. Our son particularly liked the Sugarlands visitor center where he finally got to meet a black bear (the goal of his trip). He even posed next to it for some pictures. He always seems to enjoy visitor centers at parks, whether they be state or national. They offer a quick run through of the key faun and flora in the park. We later head into Gaitlinburg to tour the town and find some dinner.

Now that we knew what we were up against, we wanted to rise early and get to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park and in Tennessee. It is located in the heart of the park at an altitude of 6643 ft. Fortunately with a child, the parking lot brings you within one mile of the observation deck, where you make a steep ascent to be amongst the clouds. The temperature at this altitude was 52 degrees farenheit, a stark contrast from the 82 degree weather back at our cabin! Visibility fluctuates rapidly at this altitude as well, and we hunkered down in our CRV until the sun started to show. Interestingly, at this altitude, there was an information cabin and gift shop. We bought a sweater and a stuffed bear and hung around the parking lot until the sun came out. We caught our break when we caught a glimpse of Fontana Lake on the North Carolina side over a mile away. The climb up is steep with numerous benches along the way for visitors to take breaks. The landscape is pretty amazing with the distinct douglas fir trees that painted the horizon. The clouds moved fluidly over the mountains and created an ocean of moving shadows over the mountain range.

Up in the clouds

We would spend the next few days at the cabin, relaxing and taking in the surrounding views and listening to the sounds of the mountain range. We did occasional trips back out to Sevierville for supplies and food, but the pickings were slim. Of course, a trip to Tennessee would be incomplete without a visit to a local distillery for some bourbon. We picked up a couple of bottles from the King’s Family distillery as gifts for friends and family back home. All in all, our lil toddler loved the trip. The Great Smokies itself is a beautiful park. Perhaps one day, we might return to take on the most popular and strenuous hikes like Mt Leconte or Andrews bald, but I seriously doubt that we would be back in this area with so many more National Parks left to visit. I was surprised at how well he did in the car, and this gives me hope for future trips.

Save Solace – a petition to protect Temagami, Ontario

SIGN THE PETITION

Please sign this petition to help the Friends of Temagami stop construction of the Turner Road into the Solace Wildlands, Temagami’s last remaining tract of roadless, virgin forest!   

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has given Vermilion Forest Management (VFM) license to build a 25 kilometre-long, kilometre-wide primary logging road straight through the heart of the Solace Wildlands.

The Turner Road will destroy a wild, undisturbed forest, erasing campsites and portages in use for thousands of years.

Please help us hold VFM and the MNRF to account and help protect the last intact wilderness in Temagami. Let’s tell VFM and the MNRF that the value of an intact forest is worth far more than its timber.

– The Solace Wildlands contains the last roadless forest tract in all of Temagami and the headwaters for the lakes within Solace Provincial Park and the Sturgeon River Provincial Park

– The Wildlands have never been logged, and likely contain rare old-growth forest

– The Turner Road would destroy intact forest, erase campsites and portages, and eliminate well-used link routes between provincial parks in Temagami

– The road would cross several portages and campsites and include a bridge right above Talking Falls, a remote, well-established campsite that canoeists spend days travelling to reach

– VFM has not included these campsites and portages as Areas of Concern (AOC) on their maps. There has been no ground-truthing of the proposed route and no environmental impact study

– VFM chose the Turner Road route after their application to build a bridge over Sturgeon River Provincial Park to access the Wildlands was denied three times

– VFM currently has no allocated cut blocks in the region and are building the Turner Road ahead of the 2020-2030 Forest Management Plan

– Forestry access roads already exist south of the Wildlands yet VFM wishes to clear-cut undisturbed forest right next to existing protected areas

– The MNRF’s Land Use Policy for this Enhanced Management Area emphasizes “park-based values with emphasis on ecological integrity” over resource extraction, yet the Turner Road has been approved and is already under construction

– The Ontario government and the MNRF continue to ignore calls for greater protection in the Temagami area, despite a federal commitment to protect 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters by 2020

– Our roadless, intact forests need protection. The Solace Wildlands connects three provincial parks and a conservation reserve and provides undisturbed habitat for wildlife

– Solace Wildlands-area lakes are designated natural trout lakes. Only 1% of Ontario’s freshwater lakes contain lake trout, which represents 25% of all trout lakes worldwide

– Protecting the Solace Wildlands would connect and unify existing provincial parks, creating larger wildlife and recreational corridors and preserving intact canoe routes that have been in use for thousands of years by the Teme-Augama Anishnaabe

The environmental damage caused by building a road through the Solace Wildlands will be irreversible. Of the 16,000 square kilometre Temagami area, only 15% is currently protected by provincial parks and conservation reserves. Every year, logging and development creeps closer and closer to protected areas. Every year, portages, campsites, old-growth forests and cultural history are lost to logging.

VFM has plenty of options for resource extraction without cutting through the Solace Wildlands. These options would not impact wilderness and recreational values. VFM maintains that their license to manage this forest means building a road straight through it and cutting it all down. Friends of Temagami disagrees.

The Friends of Temagami encourage and support greater protection for the Solace Wildlands as part of a larger strategy to create a more unified network of existing conservation reserves and provincial parks within the Temagami area.

#SAVESOLACE

Noatak “Return to the Arctic” – by The Muir Project

This short film was recently featured on National Geographic in their short films showcase. A story of two canoeists in their 70s who are still out there kickin it. It’s too good not to share.

“35 years after their first visit to the Noatak River in Alaska’s wild and spectacular Brooks Range, two adventurers in their 70’s reflect on a lifetime of outdoor experiences and what still awaits them.

In this 14-minute short film, the filmmakers behind MILE… MILE & A HALF follow these friends along one of the longest rivers in the US unaltered by civilization. The film premiered at the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival and has screened with the Wild & Scenic Film Festival Tour and Dances With Films.”

A film by The Muir Project
Directed & Shot by Jason Fitzpatrick, Jen Serena & Ric Serena
Music by Paul Bessenbacher & Matt Bowen
Sound edit & mix by Durand Trench
Color correction by Bruce Goodman

Equipment provided by Canon, Kessler Crane & Osprey Packs.

Filmed in Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska.

sidetracked.com/return-to-the-arctic/

“Labrador Passage” – a film by Twin Cites Public Television

“LABRADOR PASSAGE follows two men who set out to retrace a historic 1905 canoe journey through Labrador, using non-synthetic equipment such as a waxed canvas tent, tin-cloth rain gear and a cedar canvas canoe. Blending history, adventure and profiles of the men and women who make the gear, this film explores what it means to be inspired and defeated by the wilderness. “

Interesting video I came across about canoeing in the remote parts of eastern Canada. Cabin fever is starting to set in….

Happy 150th Birthday Canada

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and safe Canada Day! To celebrate, Trail guide pictures decided to provide free streaming of their documentary “Canoe – Icon of the North” on youtube. Check it out above.

(Feature photo above was taken by myself at Killarney Provincial Park at sunrise on O.S.A. Lake during the summer of 2015)

The Birth of a Dugout Canoe – by Northmen

I wanted to share this cool video released by Northmen Guild (formerly known as John Neeman Tools). They are a guild of northern European master craftsmen who use traditional craftsmanship handed down through many generations to create tools, vessels and goods.

“This is a documentary movie uncovering the difficult and time consuming process of making traditional expanded dugout canoe using mostly traditional hand tools and techniques.

The master woodworker in this movie is Richard (Rihards Vidzickis) – an experienced green wood worker, wood sculptor and dugout canoe maker. Richard’s passion to green wood and solid wood creations has grown together with him since his childhood days. Richard’s father is also a wood worker and carpenter and has led his son into the beautiful world of working with wood. Richard has gone through all the traditional steps of becoming a master woodworker – starting from an apprentice, then journeyman and then receiving his Master degree in Latvian chamber of crafts. Richard’s passion to wood is not only sculpturing and carving it but also knowing the wood in a scientific level. So Richard has studied in Technical university as a student and reached his degree of Doctor in engineering materials science, so he has combined the craft, nature and science in his life and work. While working in furniture making during the studies, with making different kinds of difficult wood carving for Jugend, Barrocal, Renesance design style furniture, Richard has discovered that he tends to get back to more rustic, robust and natural forms of wood, so he created a park of massive wooden sculptures, wood crafts museum and live workshop where Richard lives and creates wooden bowls, plates, boats and accepts visitors to share his work and lifestyle.”

The Canoe (film) – by Goh Iromoto

If you have 26 minutes, check out this beautiful film by talented documentary film maker Goh Iromoto.

“If it is love that binds people to places in this nation of rivers and in this river of nations then one enduring expression of that simple truth, is surely the canoe.”

This film captures the human connection and bond created by Canada’s well-known craft & symbol, the canoe. Through the stories of five paddlers across the province of Ontario, Canada – a majestic background both in it’s landscape & history – the film underscores the strength of the human spirit and how the canoe can be a vessel for creating deep and meaningful connections.

Filmmaker’s Note:

I started paddling around the age of 7, and thanks to the canoe, I’ve made some lifelong friends and connections, not to mention memories and stories, that I’ll never forget.

I wanted to show how several other paddlers similar to me have created strong intimate connections alongside the canoe. It really gave me great joy to see how rich the mosaic of stories I encountered were. Whether they were young or old, or from various cultural backgrounds, individuals were taking the traditional Canadian vessel and seeking new meaning with it. For me, the diverse paddlers I met represented a Canada that has grown and evolved since its birth 150 years ago – and something that I was able to stand proud of today.

I’ve continued to paddle my whole life and plan to do so for a very long time. Seeing and hearing these stories made me appreciate and realize how important the canoe is to my life. To all the paddlers out there (and to those who want to start!), this film is for you. Keep on paddling.

Thanks Goh Iromoto for making this awesome film!