Girl returns heart-shaped rock to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, earns praise

A young girl who visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park enjoyed it so much that she decided to take home a souvenir: a heart-shaped rock which she plucked from the trail near Tom Branch Falls. Upon returning home, however, she felt guilty about taking the rock, so she mailed it back along with a donation, a note, and a hand-drawn illustration.

Park officials were charmed but also saw the gesture as a teaching moment. After all, removing objects from a national park is against federal regulations and violators can incur fines. The park service posted the girl’s note and a photo of the rock on Facebook, along with a message: “Already, you are becoming an amazing steward for the park,” the Facebook post said. “Thank you for recognizing that what is in the park should stay in the park. If every visitor took a rock home, that would mean 11 million rocks would be gone from the park every year!”

A new hiking and biking trail has opened in Brevard, NC

A just-opened hiking and biking trail is connecting Brevard, NC to Pisgah National Forest, a world-renowned mountain biking and hiking destination. The 1.5-mile long Pinnacle Trail is located at Bracken Mountain Preserve and brings the total miles of trails at the preserve to nine. The new trail offers a tough climb with 500 feet in elevation gain. Volunteers, including Summer of Service AmeriCorps members, were instrumental in bringing the trail to life.

“The new trail makes Bracken Mountain more of a destination, not just a way to get somewhere else or a quick after-work ride,” said Torry Nergart who organized trail-building days with Conserving Carolina. “Now, you can get in a really good climb and an extended downhill run. Afterwards, you’re right there in Brevard’s downtown.”

Hemorrhagic disease confirmed in deer in West Virginia and Kentucky

White-tailed deer in both West Virginia and Kentucky have been diagnosed with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), transferred to deer by small biting flies known as no-see-ums. EHD is not the same as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), an always-fatal neurological disease. Some deer do survive EHD and build protective antibodies that are then passed on to their young, eventually producing herd immunity.

In Kentucky, the first case of EHD this year was confirmed in Graves County. West Virginia is experiencing an outbreak of the disease, with cases confirmed in Summers, Monroe and Greenbrier Counties. EHD ends with the first frost, which kills the flies that carry the disease. Humans and pets cannot contract EHD.