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15th Annual Evergreen Ball raises thousands for Great Smoky Mountains

Friends of the Smokies gathered for the 15th annual Evergreen Ball at Cherokee Country Club on Saturday, January 27th to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in grand style. This year’s black-tie gala has raised more than $700,000 for the park’s annual needs.

The fundraiser featured a silent auction, wine auction, and live auction with more than 500 items, including one-of-a-kind experiences and vacation packages to HGTV’s Dream Home in Gig Harbor, Washington and the Grand Canyon. The evening’s program was emceed by WBIR anchors Abby Ham and John Becker, and included welcome messages by board chairman Rev. Dr. Dan Matthews and GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash. The evening also featured live music from The Music City Toppers.

Money raised from the event will also help to support education, conservation, historic preservation and wildlife protection programs in GSMNP. This special event also kicked off celebrations of Friends of the Smokies’ 25th anniversary. The organization has raised more than $60 million in support of GSMNP since it was founded in 1993.

“We are so thankful to the many people who have helped support the Friends of the Smokes over the last 25 years with gifts of donations, time, and service,” added GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We know we can count on their generous support to protect this park for generations to come.”

A portion of the proceeds raised at the 2018 Evergreen Ball will go towards Friends of the Smokies’ 25th anniversary signature project – a campaign to replace the Park’s emergency radio system. The fundraising goal of $1.25 million will be matched by federal funding and grants for a total of $2.5 million needed to replace the aging communication system.

“We are humbled again by the tremendous support we receive from our friends in East Tennessee and beyond,” added Friends of the Smokies president Jim Hart. “Many of the important projects being done in the Smokies would not be possible without this overwhelming generosity, so we give heartfelt thanks to our guests and sponsors.”

The 2018 Evergreen Ball was presented by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Travel Channel and was sponsored by Boyd’s Jig & Reel, The Charlie and Moll Anderson Family Foundation, Citizens National Bank, Clayton Homes, Haslam Family Foundation, Jim and Natalie Haslam, Home Federal Bank, Pilot Travel Centers, SmartBank, Toyota of Knoxville, Charles Blalock & Sons, Inc., Pete & Cindi DeBusk, Dollywood, LeConte Lodge, Martin & Company, Nisus Corporation, Paine Bickers LLP, The William B. Stokely, Jr. Foundation, Regal Entertainment Group, with special underwriting from Connor Concepts, Shafer Insurance, Pugh CPAs, All Occasions Party Rentals, Stowers Machinery Corporation, EST8TE, Ullrich Printing, Mortgage Investors Group, The Trust Company, Beverage Control, Inc., Harper Auto Square, and Sugarland Cellars



Jeff
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President Trump’s proposed $2.7 Billion Budget for NPS includes legislation to address $11.6 Billion in deferred maintenance

President Donald J. Trump has proposed a $2.7 billion budget for the National Park Service (NPS) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which includes legislation to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would help address the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The fund would take new revenue from federal energy leasing and development and provide up to $18 billion to help pay for repairs and improvements in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education funded schools.

"President Trump is absolutely right to call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks, refuges, and Indian schools, and I look forward to helping him deliver on that historic mission," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. "Our Parks and Refuges are being loved to death, but the real heart break is the condition of the schools in Indian Country. We can and must do better for these young scholars. This is not a republican or democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I are ready to work with absolutely anyone in Congress who is willing to get the work done."

"This budget reflects President Trump’s call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks and public lands to ensure they may be enjoyed by future generations of Americans,” said National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Smith. “Focusing on addressing the maintenance backlog now is critical to our core mission of preserving our parks and the world-class experience our visitors expect. The infrastructure proposals included in this budget offer innovative solutions to restoring our parks while fulfilling our duty to curb spending and in some cases make tough but necessary decisions to save tax dollars on other programs.”

Infrastructure – The National Park Service estimates that in FY 2017 there was more than $11.6 billion in backlogged maintenance and repair needs for the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that service national park visitors. In 2017 330 million people visited the 417 NPS sites across the country. The NPS retired over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in FY 2017, but aging facilities, increased visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

In addition to the proposed Public Lands Infrastructure Fund proposal, the President’s budget provides $241 million to fund construction projects, equipment replacement, project planning and management, and special projects. This includes $157 million for specific line-item construction projects like reconstructing an unsafe cave trail at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and replacing the roof of the Eielson Visitor Center at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

The budget provides $99 million for repair and rehabilitation projects to address the deferred maintenance backlog as well as $113 million for cyclical maintenance projects to ensure maintenance is done in a timely manner and does not become “deferred” in the first place.

These discretionary fund sources are critical to help address the deferred maintenance backlog in the National Park System. Additionally, the recreation fee program allows the NPS to collect recreation fees at selected parks to improve visitor services and enhance the visitor experience. In 2017, NPS leveraged $107 million in recreation fees to address priority maintenance projects to improve the visitor experience. The budget includes a legislative proposal to permanently authorize the recreation fee program.

Park Operations – The FY 2019 NPS budget requests $2.4 billion for park operations, which includes $900,000 for NPS’s role in the Department of the Interior’s reorganization to common regional boundaries to improve service and efficiency.

State Assistance – The budget proposes a continued shift from discretionary funding to mandatory funding from oil and gas leases for state conservation grants. These grants provide funding to states to acquire open spaces and natural areas for outdoor recreation and access purposes, and develop outdoor recreation facilities. Permanent funding for these grants in 2019 is estimated to be $89 million.

NPS's FY 2019 Budget Justification is available here, and additional details on the President's FY 2019 Budget proposal are available on the Department of the Interior’s website.



Jeff
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Smokies Recruits ‘Adopt-a-Plot’ Volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are recruiting volunteers to adopt a monitoring plot in areas throughout the park. In an effort to track nature’s calendar, or phenology, volunteers will collect information as part of an important research project tracking seasonal biological data such as plant flowering dates and the presence of migratory birds.

Previous experience is not necessary but an interest in science and love for nature are characteristics of a successful volunteer. A 3-hour training workshop is provided and will include topics like tree identification techniques, stages of tree change throughout the year, fruit and flower identification, and phenology data collection protocols. Volunteers must attend one of these training opportunities which will be held at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, TN on Saturday, February 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC on Saturday, March 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Plots are available for adoption near parking areas at several locations in the park. Volunteers will monitor their adopted plot at least two times per month from the first leaf bud in spring to the final leaf drop in fall. The Adopt-a-Plot project helps us better understand how changing weather patterns affect our diverse ecosystem and the seasonal timing of wildflower blooms and fall color.

If you are interested in this exciting volunteer opportunity, please contact Jessica Stump at jessica_stump@partner.nps.gov or 828-497-1945 to register for the training. For more information about phenology research efforts across the country visit the National Phenology Network at https://www.usanpn.org/.



Jeff
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North Carolina State Parks Report Record 19.4 million visitors in 2017

State parks and recreation areas welcomed 19.4 million visitors in 2017, a 3.4 percent increase over the 18.8 million who came during 2016. It was the fourth consecutive year of record visitation.

Among 39 state parks and recreation areas, 27 reported increases in visitation in 2017. Jockeys Ridge State Park in Dare County reported the greatest visitation at 1.56 million, and was among six state park units logging more than a million visitors. The others were Fort Macon and William B. Umstead State Parks and Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake State Recreation Areas. Six other state park units had more than 750,000 visitors including Lake Norman State Park, which crept closer to a million this year with more than 962,000 visitors.

North Carolina State Parks strive to focus on the quality of each visit above the quantity, according to Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susi H. Hamilton.

“We are pleased North Carolinians and visitors to our state continue to love, enjoy and experience our parks,” Hamilton said. “In 2017 we also acquired 2,075 additional acres. The acquired lands will be added to eight state parks, four state natural areas and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.”

Visitation at state parks and state recreation areas has increased more than 44 percent during the last decade. In 2007, 13.5 million people visited a state park unit—6 million fewer than last year.

Following the system’s Centennial year in 2016, North Carolina State Parks engaged visitors with its Passport and 100-Mile Challenge programs, which promote a healthy, active lifestyle through goal-setting and accountability.

Parks officials attribute the continued increase in visitation to new trails, improvements in parks and greater public awareness brought on by a more aggressive social media effort. The uptick in enjoyment of the parks further confirms the wisdom of including State Parks in the Connect NC Bond initiative approved by voters in March 2016. Using those funds, the Division of Parks and Recreation will add new campgrounds, visitor centers, and additional conveniences to parks, as well as acquiring new lands across the state.

State parks reporting significant increases in visitation included Medoc Mountain State Park in Halifax County (40 percent), Eno River State Park in Orange County (31 percent), Carolina Beach State Park in New Hanover County (21 percent), Haw River State Park in Guilford and Rockingham Counties (19 percent) and Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County (19 percent).



Jeff
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Iconic Linn Cove Viaduct to Receive Facelift during Upcoming Closure

The National Park Service announces the closure of the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway for surface repaving and bridge maintenance from March 1, 2018 through May 24, 2018. These projects require a full closure of the Parkway, including closure of the trail below the bridge; with the reopening coinciding with Memorial Day weekend. The Linn Cove Viaduct is located at Milepost 304.

A traffic detour will be put in place from Milepost 298.6 (Holloway Mountain Rd) to Milepost 305.1 (US 221). Gates will be located at MP 303.6, Wilson Creek Overlook on the north and MP 305.1, US 221 on the south end of the work zone. Within the closed area, including the trail areas beneath the viaduct, the Parkway will be closed to all uses including motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. The public’s cooperation with these closures will provide for the most efficient work schedule and will ensure the safety of staff and visitors.

During the closure, crews will remove and replace the asphalt pavement, waterproofing membrane and joints on the bridge. Repairs to the supporting structure, stone curb, railing and drainage features will also be made.

The Linn Cove Viaduct was completed in the mid-1980s, and is commonly known as the “missing link” that signaled the completion of the entire 469-mile Parkway route. The Linn Cove Viaduct is often celebrated as an engineering marvel with the road wrapping around the contours of Grandfather Mountain. It is 1243 feet long, contains 153 segments weighing 50 tons each, and is supported by seven permanent piers.

The Blue Ridge Parkway inventory of paved roads includes bridges, tunnels, parking areas, spur roads, service roads, campground and picnic area roads, and the 469-mile Parkway motor route itself. Across the Parkway, many of these areas exceed recommended life cycles for pavement and are in need of repairs estimated to total over $300 million. Funding for road maintenance on the Parkway comes in large part from the Highway Trust Fund, which is derived from a federal fuel tax. The Blue Ridge Parkway annually identifies projects and competes for these funds to repair and maintain park roads.

For more information about the Linn Cove Viaduct: http://go.nps.gov/linncove



Jeff
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Injured Black Bear Released Back Into Park

On December 04, 2017 a juvenile black bear, which was seriously injured by a motor vehicle four months prior, was returned to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Due to the release of the bear in a remote area of the park, during evening hours, this activity was not open to the public.

On August 18, park visitors reported an injured bear on the road, near Bandy Creek Visitor Center. Upon reaching the site, National Park Service (NPS) staff found the injured six-month-old bear. A subsequent check confirmed that the bear had several broken bones, but no fatal injuries from a motor vehicle collision.

NPS staff anesthetized, then transported the cub to University of Tennessee for examination and surgery. The bear was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, and was cared for with minimal human contact, where it gained over 100 pounds. When released, the young bear was healthy and had completely healed from its injuries.

"Although this accident ended on a high note, vehicular collisions with wildlife often do not. This event serves as a cautionary reminder to motorists to be alert for the presence of wildlife on or along the roadways, especially during the low light conditions between dusk and dawn," said Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas.



Jeff
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Big South Fork NRRA Reveals New All-inclusive GO BIG 2018 Challenge

Get up and get moving in 2018! Join in the fun and participate in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area’s new all-inclusive GO BIG 2018 Challenge. This year-long self-paced challenge was designed to encourage ALL visitors to explore and experience Big South Fork while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, reducing stress, and being physically active.

Until December 8, participants will earn points on the honor system by answering questions about the nature and history of the park that will require exploration in search of site-specific information. Points will also be given for miles hiked, biked, paddled, or equestrian-ridden. All participants who earn at least 100 points are eligible for the GO BIG 2018 Challenge patch that was specially designed for this event.

For more information, and to download the challenge booklet, please click here. You can also pick up the booklet at Bandy Creek Visitor Center. The challenge booklet is broken up into five different challenge categories. Pick and choose the challenges that are right for you or choose to do them all!

The challenge will wrap up on December 8 at 10 AM (ET) with a GO BIG celebration. All visitors that participate in the challenge and are present will be recognized for their accomplishments and considered for an award in various categories.

For more information, please call Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275.



Jeff
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