Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Mountain Biking Trail Opens in Graham County

This past Saturday, April 12, the USFS held the grand opening for a new mountain biking trail in Graham County. This collaboration between the US Forest Service and the local revitalization group GREAT has brought the first new trails to Graham County in years.

The 9 miles of trails will be open to both bikes and horses and will use a combination of current and old forest service roads connected by some areas of single track. Most of the trail will follow the shore for beautiful Santeetlah lake, giving some awesome views as you overlook the lake. 

To get to the trailhead, follow state road 143 (Massey Branch Road) north out of Robbinsville toward the Cherohala Skyway. Turn right when the road dead ends and the trailhead parking area will be about 2 miles on the right, at the intersection of 143 and Snowbird road. An alternate parking area is at Long Hungry road, further down 143 near the Carver Cemetary.

Two maps can be found below, one with the topography shown, another showing the two loops that make up the trail system. I haven't gotten the chance to ride this trail, but when I do I will certainly share some pictures and advice. Happy riding!

Trail map (no topo): http://www.grahamcountytravel.com/wp-content/uploads/SanteetlahBikeTrail-1.pdf

Trail map (topo): http://spokeyjoe.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/santeetlahlaketrail_portrait.pdf

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WNC Fishing Report - March 12, 2014

March is usually a pretty slow month for fishing in western North Carolina due to most streams being closed for their annual stocking. However, all delayed harvest streams are open as well as all native trout-designated waters, including all of the Great Smoky National Park streams.

Here are a couple of fish that my dad caught on one of these 70 degree afternoons earlier in the month. They are both big, fat stocked brookies from the delayed harvest section of Big Snowbird creek in Graham County. He and my uncle caught over 50 fish both on spinners and fly fishing for the afternoon!







I follow several different local fly shops on Facebook and Instagram (such as Hooker's fly shop in Sylva and Fontana Guides from Bryson City)  and there are reports of 150+ fish days on the delayed harvest section of the Tuckaseegee and Raven's Fork in Cherokee. R&R Fly Fishing in Tennessee is reporting an increase in dry fly action in the park and plenty of native trout on nymphs. If you get a chance, get out and play on some of these awesome rivers!

Monday, March 3, 2014

NC Wildlife Announces Delayed Harvest Stocking Dates

The NC Wildlife commission has announced their stocking schedule for the delayed harvest streams in western North Carolina. These streams will be stocked in March, April, May, October and November. These streams are stocked at a higher rate than other streams and with larger fish, making them super popular places for people to try out fly fishing somewhere they know there will be fish. Some of the creeks include the Tuckasegee in Jackson county, the Nantahala in Macon county and my personal favorite, Big Snowbird in Graham county.

The complete stocking schedule and locations can be found at http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Fishing/documents/TROUT_MAP.PDF

Happy fishing, everyone!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Baby's First (real) Dayhike - Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

We took the opportunity of this spring-like day here in late February to take our daughter on her first real hike. We went to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Graham county and walked the approximately two-mile figure eight shaped loop through the huge trees and by Little Santeetlah Creek. Our little girl is just three months old and she was mesmerized by the trees and new scenery...until she fell asleep of course.

Mom and baby check out the awesome trees.
If you haven't been to Joyce Kilmer Memorial forest, it is several hundred acres of preserved, virgin hardwood forest. This area, unlike much of western North Carolina was not logged during the early part of the 1900s. Much of the surrounding forests, uincluding much of the Great Smokies National Park have been logged at some point in time. This lack of human intervention means the tulip poplars and white oaks have grown to incredible sizes - 15 to 20 feet around in some cases!

Two huge poplars!
However, the area has not been without intrusion, especially in the past ten years. The wooly adelgid is wreaking havoc on the hemlock trees up and down the Appalachians. Entire stands of these trees are dying, leaving only their trunks as a reminder of their former glory. The dead and dying hemlocks have proven to be at best a nuisance and at worst a serious hazard for anyone that might be caught under one on a windy day. 

Huge dead hemlocks are becoming all too familiar in the southern Appalachians.

 Three or four years ago, the Forest service realized that they were going to have to address the hemlock issue in Joyce Kilmer. However, this area is designated as a "wilderness" meaning it should be kept as close to natural as possible. The use of gas-powered machinery is forbidden and the idea of leaving sawn off stumps wasn't appealing to the wilderness idea anyway. So the solution came to use dynamite to blow up the dead hemlocks, giving the illusion that they broke off themselves during a wind storm. I'll admit that I was skeptical and was not impressed when I went hiking just a few months after it was done. However, after several years, the forest is starting to reclaim the blown down and broken logs as planned. 

These logs were cut with traditional hand tools after being dynamited.

A dynamited stump of a dead hemlock.
Joyce Kilmer memorial forest is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and it is a place I have some of my earliest memories of hiking with my family. I will make sure it is one of my daughter's earliest memories too.

I always assumed that design was a leaf, but it is actually a relief of the Little Santeetlah Creek watershed.

After a wet winter, all the wet weather springs were running - some even through the trail!
Trail conditions on this day were good with a few muddy spots. Our wet winter has led to several springs running where they might not be found in the summer. There are a few new logs down that require either a big detour or some scrambling, but the forest service should have things cleared up soon.

Little Santeetlah Creek runs through the heart of Joyce Kilmer.

Joyce Kilmer is part of the Slickrock-Citico Creek wilderness

This dynamited tree has formed a big pool (full of fish, I'm sure).

Trail Camera Fun - Part I

For Christmas this year, I got a trail camera. I set it up near my house and put out some food scraps and feed corn, just to see what shows up. So far we have gotten what I expected - squirrels, mice, racoons - and a few things I didn't - coyotes, foxes and some neighborhood dogs.

I look forward to having this camera set up all summer and into next fall because I know there are bears around (I have seen at least three in the past year) as well as deer and plenty of turkeys. I'll keep you posted.



Coyote at night.

Must have heard the camera.
Three coyotes!

Coyotes are actually pretty animals, even though they are considered a nuisance.
Marking its territory.

Raccoon butt!

Fat raccoon.

"What was that?!"

All done for the night.

 
So. Many. Crows.


Selfie!



Must have heard the camera.
Very photogenic.

Two foxes!

Very rare daytime shot of the fox.

Checking out his squirrel kingdom.
 
Very sensitive motion detect - caught this mouse going for the corn.
Neighborhood dogs - we know their owners.
 
Our dog Abby is mad about all the visitors.

Happy, happy, happy! (We don't know him, though)
My brother looking for the camera! It is well-hidden.


Friday, February 14, 2014

A Full Moon Snowy Night!

Last night we were treated to a rare treat for Western NC - a full moon on a clear night with 8 inches of snow on the ground. It made for some amazing sights and I was lucky enough to capture some of it in these photos.

The following were all taken on a tripod with my Nikon D3100 at 30 seconds exposure time with an aperture setting of f3.5. The setting is the town of Robbinsville, NC and surrounding mountains.








Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lower Falls of Snowbird Creek, Graham County, NC

As you probably know if you've read this blog before, one of my favorite places in Western North Carolina is Big Snowbird Creek in Graham County. I have written about my many trips to the Middle Falls, day hikes to Sassafras Creek and fly fishing the Delayed Harvest section. Today I will share some photos and tips for a successful trip to the Lower Falls (also labeled as the Big Falls on most maps) of Snowbird Creek.

The lowest cascades of the Lower falls.

Snowbird creek is located about 10 miles from Robbinsville in Graham County. I have previously given detailed directions and trail information here, when I wrote about the Middle Falls. There are three main sets of falls on Snowbird Creek, creatively named Lower (Big) falls, Middle Falls and Upper Falls. The Lower falls are actually a set of three or four cascades and slides that serve to separate the rainbow and brown trout populations from the native brook or speckled trout.

Nice little brown trout.

On this particular trip, myself and a set of friends camped at the mouth of Sassafras Creek where it joins Big Snowbird Creek. It was late May and we couldn't keep the fish off the end of our lines. My brother and I and another friend fished from the campsite at Sassafras to the Lower Falls - a distance of about a mile. The day before, my brother and I had fished Sassafras creek, which is a great little creek to itself, but that's a topic for another post.

Pretty little native rainbow.


Below the Lower Falls, you will catch decent sized native rainbows and browns, though you may also see the occasional speck (if you're lucky). However, the size of the falls prohibits the rainbows and browns from moving any farther up the creek.

You will catch the rare speck below the Lower Falls.

If you decide to hike straight to the falls, you can cross Sassafras creek and follow the trail along the left side of the creek for about a mile. The trail will rise in elevation above the creek to where accessing the main creek becomes almost impossible (you will even lose the sound of the creek at one point). This is an important thing to remember if you fish this portion of Big Snowbird as you will have to do some climbing and bushwhacking if you decide to leave the creek before the Lower Falls.
Rock-climbing skills can come in handy!

There is no signage for the falls themselves, but they are pretty straight forward to locate. Once you begin to hear the creek again, you will soon be able to see the falls and several fisherman's trails down to the falls. Be careful, as the banks are pretty steep! If you reach the foot log that crosses Big Snowbird, you have gone too far for the falls. (Side note - there are some amazing campsites on the other side of this foot log at Mouse Knob creek - also a topic for another post). 
 
Lunch on top of a rock would be great!

Like I noted before, the falls themselves are a series of cascades and slides and you can rock hop from one to the next. The tallest is the farthest up the creek and is ten to fifteen feet tall with a huge pool below. In my opinion, this is one of the best swimming holes in WNC. I have been swimming here since I was about 12 years old and taking a dip in the perpetually chilly creek is one of the highlights of each summer. If you're brave enough, the pool is even deep enough for a jump off the top!
Geronimo! It was cold, I'll guarantee that!
 As always, be safe and have fun in WNC!

Shimmy up the left side and you've got a nice pool to jump into.