Smoky Mountain Bears black bear

Be bear aware when you visit their home!

Smoky Mountain Bears are the symbol of the Smokies and sighting one is always a special event! With the tourist season in full swing and a record number of visitors to the Smoky Mountains predicted this summer, along with reports from National Park rangers of increased bear activity, the opportunities for an encounter with the Smoky’s most iconic symbol have increased as well. Approximately 1,600 black bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this year sightings and encounters seem to be on the rise.

There are a few things that visitors and locals alike need to know regarding black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains.

For many, spotting a bear is the most exciting part of their vacation in the Smokies. And rightly so, the majestic creatures are truly a sight to behold and their furry cuteness creates some sort of romantic notion about their gentleness. However, bears in the Great Smoky Mountains Park are wild creatures and can be dangerously unpredictable. At speeds of 30 mph, black bears can outrun, outclimb, and outswim humans.

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Smoky Mountain Fairy Rings

Smoky Mountain fairy rings are cool!

Smoky Mountain fairy rings are cool!

Smoky Mountain Fairy Rings. Finding a Smoky Mountain fairy ring is always a special event! Last year was one of the wettest on record, more than 13 inches of rainfall above the norm.  And one of the consequences of so much rain is mushrooms.  As you hike through fields and woods this year, you may notice an arc or circle of mushrooms.  In grassy areas you may also see circles of either dead grass or exceptionally green grass.  All of these are fairy rings!

The visible rings are fascinating and have been the subject of mythical lore from ancient times.  In fact, it’s still fun to imagine a midnight meeting of fairies, gathered in their circle beneath a waxing moon to dance and sing while other sprites watch from their seats on the surrounding mushrooms.  But the real magic is taking place underground.

Purple puffball mushroom. Photo credit: fichas micrologicas

Purple puffball mushroom. Photo credit: fichas micrologicas

Fairy circles start with a few mushroom spores being naturally deposited in a given area, usually by rainfall or by an animal brushing against a mature mushroom.  When conditions are favorable (think wet weather, think 2018), the spores germinate to form mycelia (the mushroom equivalent of roots).  The mycelia emit enzymes that dissolve the nutrients in the soil so that the mycelia network can absorb them and grow. As the nutrients and moisture are used up around the original spot of germination, the mycelia move outward to form a circle.  The resulting lack of nutrients can cause the vegetation within the circle to die.  This happens within the circle of the flat-topped mushroom called the giant funnel (Leucopaxillus giganteus).  But the enzymes of another mushroom, the purple puffball (Calcatia cyathiformis), actually releases nitrogen into the soil, creating a circle of richer, faster growing grass.  Little wonder that legends about these fairy circles variously attribute both good and bad luck to their appearance!

When a fairy ring appears in the lawn you’ve spent so much time and money to develop, you may not care all that much about moonlit midnight dances; you want to be rid of it.  Treatment, however, can be difficult.  If you have a brown circle, try hand watering the area and applying a lawn fertilizer.  If the circle is green, try applying nitrogen to the entire area to mask the circle. But the best strategy is prevention. Most fairy circles develop in lawns because of thatch build up.  Annual removal of thatch followed by soil aeriation, typically done in the early spring, are the best preventative actions.

But when you find fairy circles in our meadows, fields, and forests—just enjoy them; the fairies do! A few of our favorite places to find fairy rings in the Smoky Mountains are Cades Cove, Cataloochee, and Oconaluftee. is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.


Source material credit: Fairy rings


Smokey Bear Turns 75

We all love Smokey Bear. Photo credit: adweek

We all love Smokey Bear. Photo credit: adweek

Smokey Bear Turns 75. This year marks Smokey’s 75th year that he has cautioned Americans about the dangers of wild fires. Smokey Bear’s iconic first poster, depicting a brown bear, clad in jeans and a wide-brimmed forest ranger hat, debuted on Aug. 9, 1944.

It was later that a real life counterpart would “bear” the same name serving both as a living symbol and a cautionary tale.

According the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute,  in the 1950’s a badly burned bear cub was found clinging to a charred tree after a forest fire in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest. Nicknamed Smokey by firefighters, the orphaned cub was treated for his injuries and then flown to the Smithsonian National Zoo where he would live and serve as a reminder for wildfire prevention and conservation for 26 years until his death in 1976. When Smokey’s plane touched down at the nation’s capital airport literally hundreds of reporters, photographers and onlookers were on hand to chronicle his arrival and help spread his fame.  Millions of fans visited the famous bear during his lifetime, and sent him thousands of letters, and more than a few jars of honey. Smokey received so much mail that the US Postal Service provided him his own special zipcode-20252.

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Great Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival

Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival will be fun for the entire family. Photo credit -

Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival will be fun for the entire family. Photo credit –

The Great Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival will light up the Smokies on Saturday August 17, 2019. Beginning at 3 p.m. and culminating with a spectacular glowing extravaganza, the third annual Great Smoky Mountain Balloon Festival is scheduled at The Townsend Visitors Center at 7006 SE. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Townsend, Tennessee.

Short tethered rides (weather permitting) will be available as well as elevated rides, weather permitting. A short-aside here; hot air balloons cannot fly in rain because the heat from inside the balloon would cause the rain water to boil thus melting the balloon – not an adventure you want to encounter. Rides are scheduled from 6 pm – 8 pm and last approximately 5 -7 minutes rising to a height of about 30 feet. Tickets, for ages 8 and above, are $20 per person. Elevated rides go much higher and are for riders age nine and up. Elevated rides are $125.00 per person.

Visitors will also enjoy an up close look at the colorful and often whimsical balloons, the mechanism involved in launching them, and the huge wicker passenger baskets.

It's all about the glow y'all! Photo credit -

It’s all about the glow y’all! Photo credit –

Be sure and stick around for the balloon glow fun. Balloons will glow for more than an hour, beginning about 8pm and lasting until 9:30pm, will provide a dramatic focal point for Tennessee’s famed sunsets. If inclement weather occurs, balloonist will perform a candlestick glow.

No outside food or beverages are permitted but there will be plenty of food vendors to satisfy every palate. A craft beer tent will offer a variety of regional brews and Nine Lakes Wine Country Wine Tasting is scheduled from 3pm-9pm. Tickets for the wine sampling (which includes a commemorative wine glass and wine tote) are $10. Wines will also be available for purchase by the bottle or case during the event. The wine garden opens at 3 p.m. and closes at 9 p.m.

Additional family friendly activities include live entertainment, arts and craft vendors; face painting; Eurobungy; a rock climbing wall; a trackless train, and a fun-filled water balloon war for the more intrepid.

Bring your camera-take your best shot and enter the GSM Hot Air Balloon Photo contest. Photos can be submitted to and should be accompanied by your name, phone number and a brief description of where it was taken.

Parking passes may be purchased online at for $20 and guarantees a parking spot. Cost to park on the day of the event is $25. There is no handicap parking but shuttles will be provided for anyone needing assistance. The parking lot opens at 2:30 p.m.

This is a rain or shine event and parking passes are non-refundable. Pets are welcomed but must be leashed and poop bags are required. Be warned: inflating balloons is a noisy process and may frighten four-legged friends.

For more information visit Balloon Festival.

Jared Hard Smoky Mountain Music Tour

Jared Hard tours the Smoky Mountain region!

Jared Hard tours the Smoky Mountain region!

Jared Hard Smoky Mountain Music Tour. Jared will be bringing his musical stylings to the HeySmokies region for several months in late summer and early fall of 2019. Jared is an Americana singer/songwriter currently living in Knoxville, TN. His midwestern upbringing instilled in him a strong sense of American story telling which brings honesty and intensity to his performances.  At a young age Jared picked up the guitar and began writing music. Natural sounds of meadows and mountains infuse and influence his music while keeping it grounded in the red dirt of his midwestern childhood home. These elements combined emerge in an easy going, modern Americana folk sound that is pure Jared!

Get Jared Hard in your music library!

Get Jared Hard in your music library!

Jared has been touring and supporting his debut project, “10,000 Hydrogen Bombs” since the release in 2015.  This EP is a perfect laid back introduction to Jared’s signature storytelling style of songwriting.  The EP laid the ground work for a full length album “Boy, Man, Fool” which is in the pre-production stage.  

Boy, Man, Fool” promises to be a walloping-good-time of an album. The tracks will have plenty of foot stomping, toe tapping tunes to go around while featuring moments of thoughtful storytelling that are the signature of Jared Hard music.  

Be a part of music history and join Jared in his musical quest! Jared’s GoFundMeSite is poised to raise thousands of dollars to complete his new albums production and your contribution would be greatly appreciated. Jared’s tour dates can be found on the special events calendar and his Facebook page. Jared will be releasing his album soon so be sure and make room in your music library to get Jared Hard!