Two Years Later, Two Major Smoky Mountain Trails Open

While tornadoes are fairly rare in this part of the state, a few that sprang up two years caused quite a bit of damage in the park that was still being felt up until just a few days ago.

Due to the storm that produced those tornadoes, the national park service had to close two major trails in the area. Those two Smoky Mountain hiking trails have now reopened and are ready for heavy hiking boot traffic.

The National Park Service said the Beard Cane and Hatcher Mountain trails – both in the west end of the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park – have been repaired and are again open. They were the last of 10 damaged trails to be reopened.

Thousands of trees were knocked down by an F-4 tornado that struck near Cades Cove in April 2011, forcing the closing of 50 miles of trails. One campsite, Backcountry Site 11, has been permanently closed because damage left it unsuitable for use.

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Newfound Gap

There might not be a more popular, or needed, man-made portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, than Newfound Gap. Typically described as a low point between two mountains, Newfound Gap runs straight through the park from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. It’s also considered the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The old crossing was at a place called Indian Gap which is found just west of Newfound Gap Road. When the lower, easier crossing was discovered, it became known as the “newfound” gap. Construction of a new road followed, and thus, Newfound Gap Road came to be.

The forest ecosystems that one can experiences during a trip down Newfound Gap Road have been compared to those if you were to drive from Georgia to Maine. From native hardwood to pine-oak and northern hardwood, those are just a few species that provide canopy along the way. The woodlands will almost make it seem like you’re traveling through a northern park.

The Appalachian Trail crosses over Newfound Gap Road and straddles the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee for most of its length through the park. Visitors can enjoy a short stroll to stretch their legs or a multi day backpacking excursion on the AT as it runs through the park.

Just south of Newfound Gap, the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road climbs to within 0.5 mile of Clingmans Dome the highest peak in the Smokies. From the large parking area at the end of the road, a 0.5-mile trail climbs steeply to an observation tower at the “top of old Smoky.” Clingmans Dome Road is closed December 1 – March 31.

from Gatlinburg—16
from Cherokee—18

Backcountry Camping Fee Increase for 2013

For anyone planning a camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013, just so you know the backcountry camping fee will increase to $4 person starting in most likely January.

It marks a change in the national park’s backcountry reservation and permitting process.

It’s all for a very worthy and good cause that will benefit all those coming to the national park wanting to stay overnight and observe its majestic beauty up close. All money deriving from the new backcountry fees will go toward improving customer service for backcountry trip planning, making backcountry reservations and applying for permits.

Additional staff will also give the national park the ability to expand backcountry office hours in order to better accommodate all the park’s guests. There will also be greater enforcement of issues such as food storage by park rangers assigned to various portions of the backcountry. These rangers are on patrol each day and look after the well-being of the park and keeping its natural state from harm.

In a move to become more technologically in tune, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will give backcountry campers the ability to make reservations and obtain permits online through a new web site in cooperation with The site is slated to be available within the first few months of 2013.

Backcountry campers may stay at a campsite for a maximum of three consecutive nights. You may not stay more than one night at any individual shelter. The use of tents at shelters is prohibited. The maximum group size is 8 persons, except at the following campsites where parties of 12 are permitted: 17, 20, 46, 60, 86, and 90. Please note that some campsites have a group size limit of fewer than 8 persons.

The park does not allow pets on backcountry trails. Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

Please call the reservations office to cancel any nights or spaces that become available because of changes in your plans.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees near 10 million visitors come through its entrances in Tennessee and North Carolina every year. It’s home to such popular natural spots as Cades Cove, Cataloochee, and Mount LeConte.

Attention Skiers, Ober Gatlinburg will feature new snow-making equipment this year!

So what does that mean to all of us who love the wintery sport? That means Ober Gatlinburg is attempting to get ski season started quite a bit earlier this year…. Possibly even by Thanksgiving – that’s the goal.

After a 2011 season that saw no snow for the first time in 27 years at Christmas at the resort, Ober decided to matters into their own hands and up their snow-making abilities. The new equipment purchase allowed them to start making snow in September to hopefully prepare them for any earlier start this year. It’s an investment in Ober Gatlinburg that carries a price tag of over a million dollars.

The system itself – SnowMagic Infinite Crystals Snowmaking (ICS), is the first to be put to use in the Southeast. Now before you go and compare it with the old system, the new SnowMagic ICS system doesn’t require subfreezing temperatures to make snow. Officials with Ober said that the two 50-ton machines are able to create snow crystals in temperatures below 70 degrees. After that, the new snow crystals are carried to the slope via a long flexible tube. Over 24 hours, the machines are able to create 7,000 cubic feet of dense snow.

That said, all this dense snow will go toward making a base for the snow tubing area, which is about a football field size wise. With just the snow made by the ICS system, there should be enough in 45 days to open the snow tubing area.

Getting to Ober Gatlinburg this fall and winter: Planning a trip to Ober Gatlinburg? You have two options of getting up there. You can either ride the aerial tramway (which happens to be the largest aerial tramway in America) from downtown Gatlinburg or you can drive up the mountain on Ski Mountain Road. Simply turn at traffic light No. 9 on the south end of Gatlinburg (closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and follow the winding road (Ski Mountain Road) all the way to the top…just have cash ready to park. The earlier you go, the better. The are three tiers of parking lots and if you get there early, you have a better shot at getting a parking spot at the top near the resort. Otherwise, it’s a short hike from the lower parking lots, but the locals call that the warmup!

As always, if you don’t have your own skis or gear, don’t worry! You can rent everything you need at the Ober Gatlinburg gear store. They have clothing and gear available for rental in a variety of sizes, for both kids and adults!

The Gatlinburg Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers… For Sale to the Right Person

A Passion for Collecting Salt and Pepper Shakers turned into much more for the Luddens, and now might just be for sale.

According to Kristen Morales with the Knoxville News Sentinel, Gatlinburg’s Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is currently for sale, but only to the right buyer.

The museum opened nearly 10 years ago, and today have more than 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers on display throughout the premises.

“In the beginning of the ’80s we went to swap meets and flea markets – actually, we started with (pepper) grinding mills,” Rolf Ludden said. “After a while my wife started to fall in love with the shakers.”

Step into the museum and before you lies a world of travels, history and cartoon characters constructed for the purpose of dispensing condiments. Categories, such as the type of material used to make them, the type of animal or person they depict, or the place they represent separate the hundreds of thousands lining the shop.

On any given day, visitors can peruse the woodland creatures or barnyard animals or plastic household items from the 1950s. There are ceramic corn figures with grimacing faces. Angels, devils and miniature fried eggs. Chubby babies and chubby chefs. Donkeys – some pulling carts, some without.

International and domestic locales separate a section of shakers from around the world.

Domestically, Ludden said the states with the biggest treasure trove of shakers lie along the rust belt: Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

“In the 1900s there were big factories,” he said. “When the Depression came, the factories that made dishes didn’t have any orders, so they started to do smaller items like salt and pepper shakers.”

Shaker production moved to Japan following the 1930s – first occupied Japan, then Japan, then China.

“But the creativity is from here,” he noted. “That’s the interesting thing about it. My wife is an archaeologist and that’s where she decides – on the creativity. It’s so interesting to see all the different things.”

Today, the museum and the family’s artistic endeavors are a joint effort. Rolf and Andrea have two grown children who are artists in their own right and also have a love for the quirky salt and pepper shakers they’ve grown up around.

Courtesy of the Knoxville News Sentinel

But for as much as they love the shakers, Rolf and Andrea have been working a long time, and they admit they would like to retire, at some point.

So, the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is up for sale – to the right person.

In an innocuous note posted among the display cases, Andrea writes how the family would sell the museum to the right person, one who can take it “to the next stop.”

Rolf puts it more plainly.

“We are not in a hurry,” he said. “We want the museum to stay, (for someone) to keep it going. One day we want to retire.”

Rolf and Andrea’s daughter, also named Andrea, said the family wants to devote some time to their new museum, too. On May 21, a sister museum to the Gatlinburg attraction opened in Spain.

“We opened another one in Spain, and we don’t want to feel too spread,” said daughter Andrea, who makes jewelry with her father and travels around the country selling pieces at art shows. “That’s why I wouldn’t mind it if it’s someone who has a passion for salt and pepper shakers. We’ve already invested seven years of our lives to bring it to fruition. It has to continue; there’s no other option.”

Whether the museum stays in the family or is sold to another salt and pepper shaker lover, Andrea said she’ll always carry her parents’ love of the items. While she doesn’t have a favorite – there are just too many, she says – she does favor the retro-themed plastic ones, like the miniature fried eggs.

“We’re a very close-knit family,” she said, and she notes that she and her brother always appreciated the salt and pepper shakers.

“I don’t think we were given an option.”

Ole Smoky Distillery Opens July 2 in Gatlinburg

State’s First Legal Moonshine Distillery Opening in Downtown Gatlinburg

Come get your moonshine here!” – It’s an uncommon phrase these days, but soon it will heard in Gatlinburg with the opening of the Ole Smoky Distillery in Ole Smoky Holler at 903 Parkway. And it’s all legal by the way.

The distillery’s grand opening celebration will take place Friday, July 2 and will offer free samples of moonshine to adults over 21, moonshine for sale and free tours.

Aside from the actual ‘shine, Ole Smoky Distillery will offer a number of moonshine products including original unaged corn whiskey moonshine, sweet tea moonshine, apple pie moonshine, and peach moonshine. During the holiday season, moonshine cherries will be available for purchase.

The Ole Smoky recipes are the end result of years of perfected work and the experience of local families who have made mountain moonshine for over a century. Dave Pickerell, who served as master distiller at Maker’s Mark for over 15 years, assisted in the refinement of the Ole Smoky recipes in order to ensure a superior, mountain-made moonshine.

An authentic working moonshine still is the highlight of the distillery tour. Here, visitors learn about the science of the distilling process as well as the history and lore of moonshining in the Smokies.

As visitors will see, Ole Smoky proprietors Joe Baker, Tony Breeden and Cory Cottongim place a particular emphasis on celebrating their mountain heritage as well as the historical significance of the moonshine craft in sustaining families during the hard economic times of the early 20th century.

“Moonshine played an integral role in the daily lives of families in this region,” Baker said. “Too often, people rely on the stereotype of a backwards old man making a cheap, dangerous product. In truth, a lot of good people made and sold moonshine in order to feed and clothe their families.”

Ole Smoky is the first federally licensed distillery in the history of East Tennessee, and is currently one of only four distilleries operating in the state. Jack Daniels and George Dickel received their licenses before Prohibition, and Prichards Rum opened their Tennessee facility in 1999.

Road Construction Starting September 15

The stretch of road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN (locally known as “the spur” or US 441) will go under construction starting September 15, 2008 and will continue through October 8. The good news is that construction will only take place during weekdays from early morning until noon. During this time there will be lane closures which will increase traffic congestion. Obviously, the big suggestion is to stay away from the spur during those times….unless you want to take a slooooow stroll through 4.5 miles on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to check out our guide on tips for avoiding traffic in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge as well!