Outdoor Updates: National Park sign vandalized, Assassin bug, Fat Bears, and more

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Great Smoky Mountain National Park sign vandalized with racist message, real bear skin

Officials at Great Smoky Mountain National Park are asking the public for help identifying the person responsible for vandalizing the Foothills Parkway West Entrance sign to the park, near the highway intersection in Walland, Tenn. 

Park visitors reported seeing a real black bear skin hanging from the sign Saturday morning along with a  piece of cardboard scrawled with the words “from here to the lake black lives don’t matter.” Officials say the incident occurred sometime between September 18 and 19. They are offering up to $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Falls Creek Falls inducted into Old Growth Forest Network

Falls Creek Falls State Natural Area in Tennessee has been inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network, a national network designed to protect native and publicly accessible mature forests, News Channel 9 reports. The mission of the network is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of forests protected from logging. 

“We are excited to include Fall Creek Falls State Natural Area in the Network,” Dr. Sarah Horsley with the Old-Growth Forest Network said. “We depend on local, county-level volunteers to help us identify the candidate forests they want to see recognized and work with forest and park managers to make sure these forests will remain protected.” 

Greenville, SC named one of the best small cities by Conde Nast Traveler 

It might be the greenspace, the city’s walkability or the natural beauty of the area– whatever the reason, Conde Nast Traveler readers have voted Greenville, NC as the No. 6 Best Small City in the United States. Charleston, SC, the only other South Carolina city on the list, stole the show at No. 1.

“People are ready to safely be outside. A bike ride along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a stroll through Falls Park and outdoor dining along Main Street are just what the doctor ordered,” Green Mayor Knox White said. “Greenville is ready to welcome new and repeat visitors. Our place on this prestigious list will hasten our economic recovery.” 

Former president of Blue Ridge Audubon dies

Len Pardue, past president of the Blue Ridge Audubon Society, passed away on Oct. 1. A retired newspaper reporter, Pardue was known as an excellent birder and exceptional gardener. Pardue moved to Asheville, NC in 1997 and became “deeply engrossed in bird-watching and pursued that avocation in much of North America and in six Latin American countries,” his obituary said. 

“To me he was the epitome of a gentleman,” Tom Tribble, a longtime friend and birding buddy of Pardue, told the Citizen Times. “He was such a good friend and a good man.” 

First person to climb Mount Everest 10 times has died

Nepalese mountaineer Ang Rita Sherpa, the first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times, died on Monday, CNN reports. All of Ang Rita’s ascents of the mountain were made without oxygen between 1983-1996. The 72-year-old suffered brain and liver ailments and died at his home in Kathmandu, his family said.

“He was a climbing star and his death is a major loss for the country and for the climbing fraternity,” Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told CNN. His body will be placed at a holy site in Kathmandu and cremated on Wednesday according to sherpa tradition.

Residents call for responsible management of Max Patch amidst flood of campers, trash

The mountain bald known as Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest is one of the most iconic stops along the Appalachian Trail. Offering 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, Max Patch is beloved by AT thru-hikers and day hikers alike. But activists say the mountaintop faces destruction by overuse—trashed by those who come to camp and hike in the area. 

Recently, Sarah Jones Decker, who lives near Max Patch and once thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, set out to climb to the top of Max Patch with her friend, Mike Wurman. After encountering a mile-long line of cars leading up to the trailhead, they summited Max Patch only to find dozens of tents, piles of trash and toilet paper and visitors disregarding fences put in place to keep people from trampling the fragile plants growing atop the bald. 

“By no means do I think the outdoors should be closed to anyone,” Jones Decker told the Citizen Times. “But there’s no bathrooms up there, and hundreds of tents are up there. It looks like fun, but where are these people using the bathroom?”

That evening, Wurman launched a drone to capture the true impact of campers atop Max Patch. The release of the video has drawn attention from the public and the National Forest Service, who says that while camping atop Max Patch is not advisable, it’s not illegal, either.

People that live along Max Patch road have joined the chorus of voices saying it’s time to address the overuse of Max Patch. James Sutton Jr., whose family owns a house on Max Patch Road, told the Citizen Times that hikers headed to Max Patch “don’t even slow down when they see us and the kids [in the yard]. They’re doing 35 mph. They beat up the road so bad. It’s miserable on the locals.” 

While there are no easy answers, many agree that action needs to be taken to lessen the human impact on Max Patch. “We don’t want these places closed forever,” said Jones Decker, “and we don’t want to lose our access, so this is the conversation that needs to be out there.” 

Man dies of cardiac arrest in Smokies despite rangers’ attempts to save him

A 26-year-old hiker died in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday despite attempts by park rangers to save him, park officials said. Rangers responded to a report of a man in cardiac distress beside Laurel Creek Road near Crib Gap. A park news release said Zach Brown of Portland, Tenn. was standing beside the road with his family when he experienced a “cardiac event.”

Rangers performed CPR on Brown until emergency responders arrived. He was transported to Blount Memorial Hospital where he later died.

Missing woman is found, then lost again, in Outer Banks woods

A 31-year-old woman became lost on Friday during a nighttime walk in thick woods at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Charlotte Observer reports. Her disappearance launched a nighttime search-and-rescue operation. A Coast Guard helicopter initially located the woman, but she became lost again before rescue personnel could reach her. The search was then suspended until the next morning.

On Saturday morning the woman was spotted in the woods by a park ranger. There was no word on her condition. “The Seashore appreciates being part of such a dedicated team of county, state, federal, and volunteer organizations that help to protect public safety,” David Hallac, superintendent of the National Parks of Eastern North Carolina, said in a statement. “I thank all of the emergency services personnel that spent the night searching through thick woods and in the air.” 

Assassin bug discovered in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Researchers at work inventorying insects and other creepy crawlies living in Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s beech tree canopy made a surprising discovery recently when one of them came upon  specimens of two different thread-legged assassin bug species (Barce fraternal and Empicoris sp.), never before known to exist in the park. Thread-legged bugs are predators of other insects and arthropods, the Citizen Times reports. 

“As I was rifling through bags of… samples, two vials, each containing a single slender-bodied insect with extra-long legs, caught my attention,” Will Kuhn, an entomologist, said of the discovery. “After a little digging, I tentatively identified them as two different thread-legged bugs not previously known to exist in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” 

Fat Bear Week is back and it’s just what the world needs right now

Covid-19 cancelled March Madness and just about everything else, but it can’t cancel Fat Bear Week, an annual tournament celebrating the fat, healthy bears that snack on salmon at the Brooks River in Katmai National Park. During Fat Bear Week, Katmai’s bears go head-to-head in a single elimination tournament. Each day your votes will decide which of the hefty bears will advance in the tournament and which will be eliminated.

The tournament is single elimination, so for each set of bears you’ll vote for the one you think is the fattest. The bear with the most votes advances and one will be crowned champion of Fat Bear Week.

Get into the spirit of Fat Bear Week by filling out your Fat Bear bracket and encourage your friends to do the same. Will you pick the fattest bear of the year? Only time will tell!

This year, the National Park Service has moved voting from their Facebook page to it’s own website: explore.org/fat-bear-week. Matchups begin today and voting will be open from noon- 10 p.m. Eastern time. Get a sneak peek at the bears by watching the bear cam.

The survival of the bears in Katmai National Park depend on their ability to accumulate ample fat reserves. During winter hibernation the bears lose one-third of their body weight. Katmai’s bears are fattest in the late summer and early fall after they’ve spent the summer feasting on salmon.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images by RobChristiaans  

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