Smoky Mountain Hellbenders

Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest salamander in Great Smoky Mountains.

Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest salamander in Great Smoky Mountains. Photo credit:  David Herasimtschuk and Freshwater Illustrated.

Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamanders in the national park. You may recognize the Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) by one of its other colorful names; snot otter, water dog, Allegheny alligator or mud dog. The male and female Hellbenders average in length from ten to sixteen inches. It has a flat body and head with slimy skin which gives it the ability to easily slip under submerged stones searching for food. The Hellbender serves as both predator and prey in the ecosystem.

Hellbenders are found in fast-moving, clean mountain streams in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Like frogs, Hellbenders are excellent indicators of water quality in streams and rivers. Since they breathe through their skin, hellbenders are sensitive to poor water quality, and are considered “bioindicators.” These species can tell biologists about degrading environmental conditions when they first start changing. As Hellbender populations decline so do other species in the environment.

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Spur Tunnel Repairs Begin

Smoky Mountain road closures set to snarl traffic.
Smoky Mountain road closures set to snarl traffic.

Spur tunnel repairs begin. Northbound Spur traffic will be one lane beginning January 3 through April 7, 2023 while the spur tunnel has water leaks repaired and performs lighting improvements. Motorists are reminded to reduce speeds, refrain from honking when traveling through the construction zone, and allow extra time for all northbound travel on the Spur.  

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New Year Beans And Greens Recipe

New Year beans and greens recipe.

New Year beans and greens recipe, a Southern tradition.

New Year Beans And Greens Recipe. What is behind the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Years day? Some folks say the people in the South were once so poor that is all they could afford but we know the truth. First and foremost this perfectly combined dish is delicious! Second, Southern superstition supersedes even flavor sometimes. Eating peas represents good luck in the new year. It is said that diners should eat one pea for every day of the year. That is 365 peas y’all. The greens represent money, and who does not want some of that in 2019? Eating greens ensures that your coffers will be full throughout the year. There is only one thing this dynamic duo of flavor need to accompany them in our opinion – cornbread!

HeySmokies culinary factoid: Are peas beans? They are officially both legumes let us know what you think on the HeySmokies Facebook page.

Cooking beans and greens is a simple task that everyone should try at least once. Here is our classic recipe.

Black-eyed peas recipe:

Ingredients:

One nice sized ham bone

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Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushroom

Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushroom. Photo credit – Jennifer M

Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushrooms are always in season! Trametes versicolor (common name Turkey Tail mushroom) is a decomposing polypore mushroom found on logs, stumps and dying trees all across North America. You can find them year-round in an array of beautiful colors, concentrically lining the fan shaped or circular caps (zonate) and growing in rosette patterns or overlapping clusters on dead or dying hardwoods and sometimes conifers. The underlying pore surface has 3-8 tiny pores per mm that starts out white but gradually ages to buff or darker, with a white spore print. This mushroom is thin and flexible when young turning more rigid as it weathers and ages. The cap has zones of velvety or finely hairy rings, again weathering off sometimes with age. Not only are Turkey Tail Mushrooms beautifully photogenic, they are also being investigated medicinally worldwide. With their high levels of antioxidants and polysaccharides they are purported to help stabilize immunity levels and store energy to aid in the fight against colds, flu’s and the recovery process after cancer treatments. Turkey Tails simmered together with Chaga, cinnamon bark and pure maple syrup make a delicious tea. Make sure to check below the cap to correctly identify Trametes versicolor, for there are many Turkey Tail lookalikes with larger pore surfaces, toothed pores, even gills or just smooth.

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Christmas Cookie Recipe

Heysmokies Christmas cookie recipe. Photo credit - Black Star

Heysmokies Christmas cookie recipe. Photo credit – Black Star

Christmas Cookie Recipe. When the holidays arrive in the Great Smoky Mountains there are many HeySmokies sweet treat favorites but the traditional Christmas cookie is a must. We make a double batch to share with friends and neighbors. If there are any left over, and there never are, we freeze them until our next cookie craving! We hope you enjoy this time honored recipe and have a delicious holiday.

Christmas Cookie Recipe:

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flower

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup softened butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups refined sugar

Icing Recipe:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons light corn syrup

4 teaspoons whole milk

 

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