27 Jun Smoky Mountain Living
My first busy week in the Smokies was packed full of introductions, reading, and general orientation to the park. I was greeted by a lot of friendly faces and presented with a few options for how I should spend my time here in the Smokies so that I may tailor the work to fit the type of experience I want to gain. I met my site supervisor Dianne Flaugh who is the Cultural Resources Manager. She is super accommodating and just a pleasure to work with! I got to look at historic cabins and beautiful waterfalls,but the definite highlight of the week was getting a chance to do an overnight hike up to the Historic LeConte Lodge. I really lucked out because most visitors to the lodge have to make reservations months in advance and here I was on my first day being asked if I wanted to join a group for the excursion to the historic lodge! Our group was led by two officers with the United States Public Health Services that were conducting routine inspections of the water, sanitation,and food preparation provided by the concessionaire. Two other interns working at Park Headquarters where I am stationed also joined our trek and that was nice because it gave me an opportunity to start making some new friends. On the day of journey to LeConte Lodge we met up at Park Headquarters, threw our packs into the back of a pick-up truck and drove up to the Alum Cave Trail-head. Trail crews have been restoring and improving the trail so it was actually closed but since we were on official park business we were permitted to try out newly restored sections! There were a few foot bridges that were recently replaced and were really exceptional in their construction. From the trail-head to Arch Rock it was relatively flat with a small incline. From the Arch Rock on however the trail began to take on a greater incline and rock and stone have been painstakingly worked to make trail steps. As we hiked we traversed past the new improvements and ran into the crews finishing up their work for the week. We thanked them for all the hard work they have put into the trail improvements and wished them a good weekend. As we approached the top of Mount LeConte the trail leveled out a bit and we walked through a pine forest that lead us to the site of the lodge. Prior to the hike I had a chance to read a report about the origins of the lodge and how it was instrumental in the founding of the park. The Lodge was one of the places that advocates for the creation of a national park in southern Appalachia would take influential members of society in order to show them the potential of what a National Park could be like in this region. As a newcomer to the park it felt amazing to get a chance to walk in the shoes of those that had such an important role in the parks formation of the park. I thought it fitting that I begin my internship hiking to a place with such historical significance. Of course I did not get to tag along on this journey to the mountain top just for fun, I had work to do after our 5.5 mile hike. Once we had reached our destination I was tasked with shadowing the USPHS officers during their water and sanitation inspection and then I helped with documentation by taking photographs of all the buildings for our park records. After the work was done we had the pleasure of eating some spectacular food at the lodge and we followed this up with a walk to the clifftops where we watched the sunset over the Smokies. We had great weather and clear skies and we were told we were very fortunate as 80 percent of the time the mountain tops are immersed in clouds.
The sights I saw from the top of Mount LeConte were like the images that you see of the Smokies in post cards. Low clouds crawling over ridge upon ridge of mountains, covered in a a verdant canopy of trees. This is why they call this place the Smokies and this is what people rave about when they talk about this park. To me it felt like the opportunity of a lifetime being that I had come so far to see it and there I was on top of the mountain creating a memory that I believe will be etched into my mind for the rest of my life.