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.

HeySmokies.com 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

 

Free Smoky Mountain Ranger Events

Find all the free Smoky Mountain Ranger events on the HeySmokies.com daily events calendar!

Find all the free Smoky Mountain Ranger events on the HeySmokies.com daily events calendar!

Free Smoky Mountain Ranger Events occur each day all summer long. 2019 is the perfect year to enjoy some quality time with a ranger in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! All the free events can be found on our HeySmokies.com daily events and special events calendars year round! Your favorite places in the Smoky Mountain like Sugarlands, Cades Cove, Elkmont, Oconaluftee and Cataloochee all offer fun and informative ranger events that the entire family will enjoy.

Bring out the Junior ranger in yourself and your kids with a fun program like Stream Splashers. This is your chance to get wet and wild with a ranger.
You won’t have to guess what all those crazy critters are that you find in our cool, clear mountain streams. Tadpoles, salamanders and more slimy things than you can shake a stick at are waiting to be discovered.

Got a hankerin’ to do some hammerin’? Regular blacksmithing demonstrations will introduce you to the ways of the anvil. Cades Cove blacksmith shop will be stoking the fires and creating useful tools and decorative works of art. Once the blacksmith was an integral part of every community forging everything from nails to build homes to horseshoes to keep the farms and mountain commerce moving. Discover the mysterious art of working metal.

Ranger campfire talks are your chance to discover secrets of the Smoky Mountains. Topics discussed are bear safety, what kind of snakes and reptiles inhabit the park, what is an elk rut and much more! Kick back and relax under the stars with a cozy fire burning bright and let your imagination run wild through the hills!

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Cades Cove Car Ban

Cades Cove car ban is under way.

Cades Cove car ban is under way.

Cades Cove Car Ban began May 2019. Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed to motor vehicles from sunrise until 10:00 a.m. on both Wednesday and Saturday mornings to allow bicyclists, runners, and walkers time to enjoy the cove without having to worry about heavy traffic. This special experience on the 11-mile paved loop road will last until late September.

During the season, bicycles can be rented at the Cades Cove Campground Store. For

Cades Cove car ban allows you to take a break without all the noise and traffic.

Cades Cove car ban allows you to take a break without all the noise and traffic.

pricing info, give them a call at 865.448.9034. Of course, you can bring your own bikes and helmets to enjoy the scenic ride through this historic landscape. Be mindful that Tennessee law requires cyclists under the age of 16 to wear a helmet. HeySmokies and the GSMNP recommend anyone of any age wear protective head gear…just sayin’!

You won’t find any mountain biking trails within the interior of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are only 3 trails in the National Park that allow bicycles:

  • Gatlinburg Trail

    Begins at Sugarlands Visitor Center and travels 1.9 miles one-way toward the outskirts of Gatlinburg along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Leashed pets are allowed on this trail.

  • Oconaluftee River Trail

    Begins at Oconaluftee Visitor Center and travels 1.5 miles one-way toward the outskirts of Cherokee along the Oconaluftee River. Leashed pets are allowed on this trail.

  • Deep Creek and Indian Creek Trails

    From the Deep Creek Campground, cyclists can access both Deep Creek and Indian Creek Trails. Bicycles areProng of the Little Pigeon River. Leashed pets are allowed on this trail. allowed on both trails until the point where the old roadbed ends and the hiking trails begin. Pets are not allowed on this trail.

  • Bicycles are allowed on most roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so drivers need to be alert of cyclists when driving through the park. Due to the narrow, steep, curvy conditions of park roads the HeySmokies cycling team recommends avoiding biking park roads in the interest of the safety of all park visitors.

Bonus Biking Tip! – Tsali Recreation Area has over 40 miles of mountain bike trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Tsali is located on the Southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the southern shore of Fontana Lake near Bryson City, North Carolina.

For more information on bicycling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent National Forests, please visit NPS.gov.

Take time to enjoy the quiet of the Cove and get a little exercise!

Take time to enjoy the quiet of the Cove and get a little exercise!

Smoky Mountain Grist Mills

Mingus Mill was the hub of the beautiful Oconaluftee valley.

Mingus Mill was the hub of the beautiful Oconaluftee valley.

Smoky Mountain grist mills. Mountain streams and rivers provided water power for early grist mills. The fast-moving creeks of the Great Smoky Mountains proved perfect sites for grist mills which were often the gathering place for early pioneers who traveled miles over winding mountain roads and trails to get corn and wheat ground by the great mill stones. Corn was possibly the settler’s most important crop and one of its greatest virtues was that it could by crushed into coarse meal. Corn could be planted on uncleared land and an acre, which provided up to 20 times the yield as an acre of wheat, was a source of food for both the family and farm animals. Corn had a variety of other uses for early residents. Men and women enjoyed smoking ground shuck in corncob pipes; corn shuck was used to stuff mattresses and to make children’s dolls.  It was also found in outhouses (we will leave that to your imagination.)

You can still purchase buhr (stone) ground cornmeal today at several of the active grist mills that remain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cable Mill is one of the many jewels of Cades Cove.

Cable Mill is one of the many jewels of Cades Cove.

John P. Cable Mill in Cades Cove is perhaps one of the most popular and picturesque mills in the Smoky’s. Cable built his mill in the early 1870s along Mill Creek and dug a connecting channel to Forge Creek to insure against times of drought. A low dam directs water from the upper end of a millrace and several water gates allow the regulation of flow. The last water gate is operated by a long lever located inside the mill. The water from the millrace meets the flume and is channeled through a chunk rack which acts as a giant wooden comb preventing debris from entering the 235 foot flume that slopes slightly downward before veering towards the mill and the eleven-foot high overshot waterwheel rising vertically alongside. Water from the flume fills the wheel’s 40-plus buckets- turning the huge wheel and driving a shaft that propels the millstones inside.

Cable considered milling a part time job and his mill had specific hours and days but unexpected arrivals could ring a large bell, located adjacent to the business, to summon Cable from his nearby fields.

Cable’s Mill is located about midway on the road in Cade’s Cove. In addition to the mill, the site also features a vintage farmhouse, barns and outbuildings. During the season, volunteer millers are often on hand to demonstrate the art of grinding grain. The finished products are sold in the park store also located on the property.

Mingus Mill, on its original site, is a scant half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee on U.S. 441. Built in 1886, the mill uses a water powered turbine instead of a water wheel to activate the machinery in the building. Water flows down a millrace to the mill where a working cast iron turbine turns the heavy millstone. An onsite miller demonstrates the process of grinding kernels into cornmeal which is offered for sale, along with other mill items. The grounds are open daily. The miller’s hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. mid-March through mid-December. It is also open Thanksgiving weekend.

Alfred Reagan House and Tub Mill, circa 1900, is one of the best places to imagine just how isolated life in the Smoky’s was for early settlers. Densely forested high ridges surround the narrow valley which is home to the Roaring Fork River- the mill’s source of power. Beyond the sound of rushing water are silence, solitude, and many say a profound sense of loneliness. Nearby, almost perpendicular, overgrown fields where corn was once planted, bear witness to the labor intensive business of farming in these rugged mountains. Reagan’s tub mill, one of the most common types of mills in these mountains, utilized wooden channels to carry water to a primitive horizontal wooden turbine wheel which turned and provided direct drive power to the mill’s stones. A small tub mill could produce about a bushel of cornmeal a day.

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Smoky Mountain Super Moon

Smoky Mountain Super Moon!

Smoky Mountain Super Moon!

Smoky Mountain Super Moon will rise above the Southern Appalachian mountains Wednesday, March 20, 2019. This Smoky Mountain special event is the final Super Moon of the year appearing on the same day as the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring! This super moon is known as the “Full Worm Moon.”  The full moon and the spring equinox arrive within four hours of each other. The last time this occurred was March 2000, but the last time it was on the same date was March 20, 1981.

A “supermoon” means the Moon will be almost at its closest point to the Earth for the month. This is the third and final supermoon of 2019. The moon will seem bigger and brighter than normal.

Traditionally Native American and other historical names for full Moons were used to keep track of the seasons. Each full Moon name was applied to the entire lunar month during which it appears. The Moon we view in March is known as the Full Worm Moon. During this time of year the ground begins to soften from the cold extremes of winter inviting earthworms to begin to appear and do their thing. Robins and other birds begin to feed on them and this was always considered a verifiable sign of spring. This re-birth of the earth is accompanied by roots pushing their way through the soil with green shoots popping up.

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