Newly Designed I-40 Exit 407 Now Open in the Smokies | The Diverging Diamond Interchange is a Gem!

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An example of the new Diverging Diamond Interchange design to ease traffic congestion to and from the Great Smoky Mountains.

Newly designed I-40 Exit 407 is now open in the Smokies and the Diverging Diamond Interchange is a gem! Visitors and locals alike have anticipated improvements at the interchange of I-40 and Highway 66 that serves as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains for millions of motorists each year. And it couldn’t happen at a better time as the area prepares for its busiest time of year.

The interchange has been redesigned in a smartly engineered “diverging diamond” pattern to ease traffic congestion for motorists getting on and off the Interstate. With the newly styled interchange, traffic switches sides at a signal before getting on the overpass bridges so that drivers turning left don’t have to stop or yield to oncoming traffic. Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) officials report that the diverging diamond design has proven very efficient at moving large volumes of traffic more quickly.

TDOT officials are asking motorists to please use extra caution as at times lanes will be closed and construction workers will be in the area making some final improvements throughout the summer months. Additionally, the widening of lanes on Highway 66 to three-lanes in both directions is still ongoing but should be finished by the end of 2015.

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Synchronous Fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains June 2016

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Synchronous fireflies light up the night sky each year in early June in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: Katrien Vermeire)

Synchronous Fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains June 2016

These aren’t your average backyard lightening bugs; these particular bioluminescent beetles (Photinus carolinus) perform an extraordinarily silent symphony of lights in the warm, dark forest evoking images of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s truly a sublime experience.

They’ll be here for a week or two in early June 2016. However, the event has become so popular, bringing over 12,000 visitors to Elkmont, that some advance planning is definitely required. Utilizing scientific data on daily temperatures, park scientists have announced that peak viewing time will be May 31 to June 7, 2016. Here are a few tips to help with your planning:

  • You can camp at Elkmont and have direct access to the trails where you can view the nightly light show. Campground reservations can be made up to six months in advance at www.recreation.gov. If you want to backpack, backcountry reservations are required and can be made at nps.gov up to 30 days in advance.
  • Non-campers have limited to no access to the Elkmont area during the 8-day viewing period; however, nightly trolley Shuttles from Sugarlands Visitor Center are available with a Parking Pass via a new lottery system to award the much sought-after passes.
  • The Shuttle Operating Dates will be from May 31 to June 7, 2016. The new lottery system will be open for applications from 12:00 noon on April 29 until 8:00 p.m. on May 2, 2016.  All entries, regardless of the time of application, will be submitted for the lottery drawing. Results for the lottery drawing will be available on May 10.
  • Visit www.recreation.gov during the specified time period to enter the Lottery. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 877-444-6777, but National Park officials highly encourage the use of the online process.
  • Lottery applicants must apply for either a regular vehicle parking pass or a large vehicle parking pass. Regular vehicles are passenger vehicles up to 19 ft. in length with a maximum of 6 occupants. Large vehicles are RVs and mini-buses from 19-30 ft. in length with a maximum of 24 occupants.
  • Lottery applicants must choose two possible dates to attend the event over the 8-day viewing period.
  • There is no fee to enter the lottery this year. If selected the lottery winner will be charged a $1.50 reservation fee and awarded a parking pass. Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household. All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail on May 10. Arrival times to the Sugarlands Parking Lot will be assigned will be assigned to relieve traffic congestion.
  • Remember to bring a chair or blanket, rain gear, and a flashlight because it’ll be dark. Keep your flashlight covered with either blue or red cellophane, usually available at the check-in table. Visitors are not allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns. For up-to-date info from the National Park Service, please visit GSMNP Firefly Event.

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Bears in Great Smoky Mountains | What You Need to Know

black-bear-heysmokiesWith 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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10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

Packing the 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains is like your insurance policy for a back country emergency. Ninety-nine percent of the time you will not need them but when you do, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The 10 Essentials were originally conceived in the 1930’s by The Mountaineers club based in Seattle, WA. For over eighty years the 10 Essentials were the standard until 2003 when the group updated the list to a “systems” approach instead of an individual items list. This systems approach categorizes necessities allowing a more thorough level of preparedness.

10 Essential Systems for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains:

1    Navigation (map/compass/GPS)
2    Sun Protection (sunscreen/sunglasses)
3    Insulation (extra dry clothing)
4    Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5    First-aid Kit/Supplies
6    Fire (waterproof matches/lighter)
7    Repair Kit and Tools
8   Nutrition (extra food)
9   Hydration (extra water/water purification system)
10 Emergency Shelter (Mylar blanket)

Here are the many advantages to the systems approach to the 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Navigation – Map and compass are viewed as a single necessity. Know how to use them. Unless you plan to walk an impossible to miss footpath, invest in a quality topographic map for the area you plan to explore. A GPS is great as long as the batteries last and you know how to operate it.

Sun Protection – Especially at the higher elevations in the National Park, this can be critical. There is nothing worse than a nasty sun burn after a great hike. Even on a hazy day, your skin is at risk for overexposure.

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Discover Sevierville’s Best Kept Secret! Burchfiel Grove and Arboretum is a Dog Friendly Trail in the Smokies!

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Majestic Mt. LeConte covered in snow as seen from the Arboretum’s walking trail.

Discover Sevierville’s Best Kept Secret! Burchfiel Grove and Arboretum is a Dog Friendly Trail in the Smokies! But it’s so much more than that; it’s an integral part of the city’s expanding Memorial Greenway system. The Arboretum boasts a 2.22-mile long, paved walking trail. The trail is pet friendly and is a favorite among joggers, cyclists, and fishermen.

The  riverwalk trail meanders along the banks of the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River and affords opportunities to view waterfowl and other wildlife. A fine view of Mount LeConte and the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains is front and center when looking southward along the path. 

A free brochure guides visitors to over 70 unique trees in the Grove. Each tree has an identifying sign providing information on the specimen’s scientific name, common name, and growth habit. The Grove has proven to be a valuable resource to businesses and homeowners interested in learning which trees, shrubs and other plants are best suited for their landscapes.

Burchfiel Grove and Arboretum is managed by the professional staff of the City of Sevierville Department of Parks and Recreation with assistance from the Trees/Trails and Beautification Committee.

Group tours are available at the Arboretum. To arrange a tour call 865-453-5441 or email bparker@sevierville.org.

The Burchfiel Grove and Arboretum is located just off Hwy. 411 (Chapman Highway) at Hardin Lane in Sevierville.