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Archive for the 'Discoveries' Category

A Thrilling Jet Boat Ride Actually Begins In This Bryson City Factory

A 40-minute Jet Boat ride on Lake Fontana is a ‘must-do’ Smoky Mountains adventure for all ages. After experiencing the boat’s signature 360-degree “Hamilton Spins”, one passenger commented, “If you did this in a car, you’d get arrested.”

Did you know that the aluminum New Zealand-style jet boats are actually manufactured in Bryson City? They’re made by Smoky Mountain Jet Boats, the same people that take riders on those crazy rides across the lake. Above, Tony Ward and Adam Queen smooth the welds in a boat destined for Madison, Indiana. In just the past year, owner Nick Williams has shipped boats to Memphis, Myrtle Beach, Galveston, Gatlinburg and Naples, Florida; and as far away as Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Portugal.

The company is only U.S. manufacturer of the New Zealand style boats that are United States Coast Guard approved.

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Cherokee’s Unusual ‘Trees’ Generate More Than Just Curiosity

They make no shade, but the large ‘trees’ at Cherokee’s Riverbend Shopping area do provide a break from the summer heat… at least when you enter the town’s air conditioned Visitors Center. The new ‘solar panel trees’ generate all of the electricity used by the facility. It’s part of a tribal energy management project that has initially included retrofitting three buildings — the downtown Visitors Center, the Cherokee Welcome Center, and Boundary Tree restrooms — to make them more energy efficient. All three locations are also being fitted with solar thermal panels that will provide hot water for the facilities and new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

According to Damon Lambert, manager, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Building and Construction, energy efficient retrofitting projects are planned or underway at 24 tribal buildings. Seven of the projects will result in energy cost savings of at least 30% because of new HVAC systems, programmable thermostats, energy efficient lighting and other actions. All two dozen projects will pay for themselves in energy cost savings in just one to seven years.

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Masonic Marker Built With Special Stones from All Over The World

High in the Smokies, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a large stone marker that pays tribute to the world’s Freemasons. It was built in 1938 with with more than 400 unique stones contributed by Masons all across the US and in 41 countries. A catalog (PDF) published at the time lists the origin, significance, and the contributor of each stone.

This year, as they have done for 75 years, York Rite Masons will assemble in the Smokies for an event that always includes an address at the marker.

A plaque reads “The scenic setting of this marker, surrounded on all sides by national park lands, was chosen to signify the universality of the Masons. Their ideals of equality, morality, charity, and a brotherhood of humanity are symbolized in the cement that binds these stones and bricks.”

You’ll find the marker just off the Parkway between Cherokee and Soco Gap. Near milepost 458, turn onto Heintooga Road and drive 3.6 miles to Black Camp Gap. There’s a parking area on your right, and two short trails to the marker. One trail is wheelchair accessible and the other skirts the edge of a small field where Elk love to graze.

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Soco Falls – An Easily-Missed Cherokee Treasure

Driving the serpentine US-19 from Cherokee to Maggie Valley across Soco Gap requires a driver’s undivided attention, which explains why so many never notice the small sign that says “waterfall .5 mile” (which means ‘keep driving another half-mile’). UPDATE: New, more informative signs have been installed.

It’s also easy to miss the gravel roadside pull-off with space for maybe a half-dozen vehicles. But that’s where you’ll find Soco Falls, a beautiful double waterfall where two separate branches meet for spectacular 40 and 50 foot drops into a dark gorge.

The short trail starts at the break in the guardrail and descends about a hundred feet over some steps to the viewing platform. Some people scramble down the bank to the base of the falls, but it’s extremely steep and not recommended.

Soco Falls is on the Qualla Boundary about eleven miles east of Cherokee, on your right. Coming from Maggie Valley, the pull-off is 1.5 miles west of the Blue Ridge Parkway, on your left.

The photo is by Rich Stevenson, an Asheville photographer with a passion for Western North Carolina waterfalls. If you love waterfalls, Rich’s website NCWaterfalls.com is a must-see.

For more about waterfalls in the NC Smokies, visit this page on GreatSmokies.com


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Where Have I Seen That Before?

If viewing the above photo gives you a sense of deja vu, you probably saw the 1993 movie “The Fugitive” in which Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford) eludes capture by Deputy Marshall Samuel Garard (Tommy Lee Jones) by jumping off a high dam. The scene was filmed at Cheoah Dam in the western tip of Swain County.

Almost all of the escape sequences were shot in the Bryson City area, including the dramatic train wreck which was staged on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad near Dillsboro. Remnants of the ‘wreck’ remain along the tracks and can be seen on the Railroad’s Bryson City to Dillsboro excursions.

“The Fugitive” is one of several motion pictures filmed in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You’ll find complete list of the books, films, music and celebrities with Bryson City and Swain County ties, at GreatSmokies.com

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Unusual Barn Built For Bovine Contentment

When you drive past old barns in the Smokies, it’s not uncommon to see a silo nearby, or even attached to the barn. The tall concrete or metal towers were used to store “silage” — fermented cattle feed. Everyone knew that “contented cows” gave better milk.

In 1943, when Andrew Earl built this barn on his East Alarka farm, he enclosed his twin silos within the structure, creating one of the most unusual barns in the Smokies.


It’s not really a ‘swinging’ bridge, but it can be a little ‘bouncy’

Patricia and James Fields of Crossville, Tennessee explore the 275-foot, double-span Needmore suspension footbridge over the Little Tennessee River. It’s one of two suspension footbridges in Swain County. A smaller one spans the Nantahala River west of Wesser.

Suspension bridges were originally built to allow children from local farms to cross the river to catch the school bus in the days before good roads lined both sides of the river. The Needmore bridge is now part of the 4,525-acre Needmore Game Lands, located in Macon and Swain counties and managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

To visit this bridge, from Bryson City drive west on US 74 approximately ten miles. Turn left on Needmore Road at Smoky Mountain Jetboats (just before Hwy 28 North). Continue south on Needmore for about four miles to the bridge. The GPS coordinates are N 35.32544, W 83.52328.

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That’s no Soda Jerk. She’s a Friend of the Library.

Above, Christine Obert, a visitor from Denver, Colorado, pays Teresa Maynard for her purchase. But she’s not buying a root beer float or a cherry coke or a chocolate malt. She’s buying a book at Bryson City’s Friends of the Library used book store at 32 Everett Street.

With proceeds going to Bryson City’s Marianna Back Library, three blocks south, the all-volunteer Friends of the Library sell previously-owned books, magazines, and DVDs as well as photography and art by local artisans. The bookstore is open 10-5 Monday thru Thursday and 11-6 Friday & Saturday.

The antique marble soda fountain remains from an earlier time when the store was part of the old Bennett’s Drug Store. The fountain has a marble topped counter from Italy with six stools; the lighted back bar with stained glass murals and marble columns is also from Italy. Bennett’s Drug Store was founded in 1905 by A.M. Bennett, who was both a physician and pharmacist. Three generations of the Bennett family served Swain County as pharmacists.

The bookstore is only half of the former drug store. The other half is now Calby’s Antiques, next door. When you drop in, ask to see the photos of the original Bennett’s Drug Store.

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New GSMNP Visitor Center Celebrates Mountain Heritage

The National Park’s new 6,300-square-foot Oconaluftee facility is much more than a mere Visitor Center. Its centerpiece is an impressive museum dedicated to the Smokies’ cultural heritage, beginning with the Early People — the Cherokees. It follows the influx of European settlers in the late 1700s and documents many facets of their often hardscrabble life in the mountains — including ‘moonshining’.

The museum complements the Park’s other museum at Sugarlands Visitor Center, just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which highlights the natural resources and biodiversity of the park.

Located two miles north of Cherokee, NC at the park entrance, the new facility includes a much larger and more convenient comfort station. The spacious bookstore is run by the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The old Visitor Center, built in 1941, will now house office space for park staff and meeting space for park functions.

No tax dollars were used for this Visitor Center. The Great Smoky Mountains Association provided over three million dollars to finance the construction of the buildings. Friends of the Smokies spent more than $500,000 for the information and cultural resource exhibits.

The Visitor Center opens at 8:00 am every day except Christmas. Closing times vary with the season — from 4:30 pm in mid-winter to 7:00 pm in mid-summer. For more visitor information, visit the GSMNP website.

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Galbreath Creek, The Backroad To Deep Creek

If you’re driving from Cherokee, Galbreath Creek Road is a convenient shortcut from Highway 19 into the Deep Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The unpaved portion within the Park is a quiet country road that hasn’t changed much in decades.

Linda Stephenson shot this handsome portrait of Galbreath Creek Road last Fall. She says “Deep Creek is and has been a very special part of my life for many years.” And a lot of people must share that sentiment because Linda’s photo won the People’s Choice award at The Marianna Black Library‘s “Life in Swain” amateur photo contest last year.

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Why Is That Tree Smiling At Me?

Burls are rounded outgrowths on a tree trunk or branch that are filled with small knots from dormant buds. They’re usually the result of some sort of stress but are generally not harmful to the tree.

James Clark, owner of the Deep Creek Boarding Stables, photographed this ‘smiling’ burl while riding his horse “Blackjack” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last summer. He was riding the Lakeshore trail along the north shore of Fontana Lake, and says this one is about the size of a soccer ball.

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In Bryson City, You Can See a “See a Rock City” Barn

This creaky old barn is a piece of disappearing Americana — a relic of the depression and a Bryson City landmark.

Working for the Chattanooga tourist attraction, sign painter Clark Byers traveled the nation’s highways for three decades offering to paint farmers’ barns in exchange for letting him include just three simple words: “See Rock City.”

Byers began his project in the 1930s and continued until his retirement in 1969. In the 60s, more than 900 “See Rock City” barns dotted American roadsides from Michigan to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, fewer than 100 remain, including this one that greets motorists entering Bryson City on Highway 19 just east of town.

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Cold Springs – A Popular Gathering Place For Centuries

Christina Smith and son Aiden fill a container with pure mountain spring water from the historic Cold Springs — just as Bryson City area residents have been doing for many generations.

It was because of the spring’s popularity that early residents established the Cold Springs Baptist Church there in 1851, when the area was still part of Macon County. When the new Swain County was carved out of Macon and Jackson counties in 1871, the Cold Springs meeting house served as the new county’s first courthouse and later doubled as a schoolhouse. The original 19th century wood frame church was later replaced by the brick structure above.

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The Blooms of Bryson

One of the best-kept secrets in Bryson City is the local folk that call it home. Visitors don’t have to look far to find hometown pride. They can see it in the buildings that have been renovated instead of razed and in the beautiful flowers scattered throughout the county.

A short trip to West Deep Creek (which locals call the left side of the creek) reveals a garden so spectacular visitors stop in the middle of the street and take pictures. Larry and Catherine Winchester began planting sunflowers as a way of teaching their grandchildren about the land they love. Today it is a tradition.

The “Sunflower Garden” that began with a few seeds has grown into a traffic-stopping row that reaches high into the air. A welcome home sign to all who pass.

Words and photo by Renea Winchester
Website Blog

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Legendary Outdoorsman Lived and Worked in Bryson City

Much has been written about Horace Kephart’s camps in the wilds of Deep Creek and Hazel Creek, but relatively little is mentioned about his time in Bryson City. Yet it was in his Everett Street office that he completed his novel “Smoky Mountain Magic” in 1929, two years before his tragic death. Kephart’s manuscript was preserved by his heirs and finally published — just last year — by Great Smoky Mountains Association. Fittingly, the book’s proceeds benefit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which Kephart helped to create.

Although written eighty years ago, “Smoky Mountain Magic” has received positive reviews. In Smoky Mountain News, Gary Carden wrote “Is Kephart’s novel entertaining? Yes, it is. … What better topic than a journey into a forbidden realm, complete with witches, robber barons, noble savages and a winsome lady, all wrapped in a cloak of mystery and myth?”

Great Smoky Mountains Association has produced an excellent video about Kephart (below) and how his love of Deep Creek comes to life in the pages of “Smoky Mountain Magic”. The five-minute film is partly narrated by Libby Kephart Hargrave, the author’s great-granddaughter.

Kephart’s Bryson City office — he called it ‘”my den” — was on the second floor of the Waldroup Building (above) overlooking the Tuckaseigee River, with a view of his beloved Smoky Mountains. In 1929, the smaller barber shop building had not yet been added, and a flight of outside stairs led to the second floor balcony. Part of that balcony — Kephart’s porch — still remains behind the barber shop and can be seen from the bridge.

Horace Kephart Days, April 30 — May 2
Next weekend marks the second annual celebration of Horace Kephart Days with special events, hikes, music, speakers and storytelling in various locations around Bryson City and Deep Creek. You can find more information at HoraceKephart.com.

Previous Postcards devoted to Horace Kephart: January 2009 and January 2010.

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They’re Learning a New Language …to Save It

This child is learning the Cherokee language, which over the past century and a half has almost disappeared from use.

In the late 19th century, in an effort to assimilate Native Americans into the European culture, the Bureau of Indian Affairs instituted boarding schools where children were immersed in the English language. In North Carolina, children attending these schools were prohibited from speaking Cherokee and, as a result, many gave up speaking their native language altogether.

Throughout this period, a relatively small number of Cherokees continued speaking their native language. Yet these generations are gradually dying off — to the extent that today, of the 13,000 enrolled members of the Eastern Band, fewer than three hundred Cherokee speakers remain. Of those, most are over the age of 50 and are not likely to be raising children in the language. It’s estimated that within twenty years, no Cherokee speakers would remain …unless something changes.

And things are changing. Today, a group of Cherokee school children are attending classes at the New Kituwah Academy where, for eight hours a day, Cherokee is the language spoken; and English is minimized. The Cherokee language immersion program is part of The Kituwah Language Revitalization Initiative, a project designed to reverse the loss of the Cherokee language and produce a new generation of Cherokee speakers.

Now located in the renovated Boundary Tree Motel property on US 441 in Cherokee, the program began in 1994 with the kindergarten class and will eventually encompass pre-K through grade five. For more information, visit the school’s website, Fluent1.com.

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When Adults Outgrow Their Model Trains


The tracks of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad are a favorite of NARCOAThe National Association of Railcar Owners. It’s always fun to see a caravan of their tiny railcars making their way through the Smoky Mountains near Bryson City, as they did in early June. The railcars above were parked on a sidetrack at the Nantahala Outdoor Center allowing the GSMR’s scenic excursion train to pass through.

Dennis Lockwood of the Greenville (SC) Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society was on the June excursion and told us a little about the railcars. “Our cars are all retired railroad maintenance of way vehicles. They are inspected for safety before each excursion and operators are tested regularly for railroad operational knowledge.  All operators must carry liability insurance offered through NARCOA.

“The motorcars require modification to reach NARCOA safety standards.  So a freshly retired railroad motorcar must be upgraded before it can be operated on an excursion.  Most owners also do some restoration and paint work, as the cars are usually worn when the railroads retire them,” Dennis added.

The next Smoky Mountains Railroad excursion is NARCOA’s “Sunshine or Icicles” run scheduled for December 31, 2009 – January 01, 2010.

Photo © Ken Taylor

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Need a Hard-to-Find Item? Try Bryson City’s Oldest Store.


“Old Clampitt”, as it’s known in Bryson City, is the antithesis of the modern big box store. It’s an old-fashioned country store where you can still find such uncommon necessities as beekeeping supplies, horse tack and chicken feeders. The venerable N.C. Clampitt Hardware Store is the oldest continuously-operated business in Swain County and a fixture on Bryson City’s Main Street for generations. In 1982, when owners Monte and Diana Clampitt expanded the business into larger space just three doors down the street, they kept the old store open, to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Above, shopkeeper Teresa Maynard shows an old-fashioned crock jug to Sevierville visitors Tom and Linda Lakey.

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A Literary Tour of Bryson City’s Hillside Cemetery

Thomas Wolfe angel

While the author never said, many scholars believe that the statue described in Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel” is the gravestone of Fanny Everett Clancy in the Bryson City hillside cemetery (above). Others believe Wolfe’s “angel” was a composite of two statues, the one in Bryson City and another in Hendersonville, NC. Both were imported from Carrara, Italy and sold at the Asheville tombstone shop owned by Thomas Wolfe’s father in the early 1900s. The Hendersonville angel has the smile and the foot of the angel described in the novel, while the Bryson City angel holds the lily that Wolfe described.

While at the Bryson City cemetery, also look for the large boulder marking the grave of Horace Kephart (1862-1931). The plaque reads “Scholar, Author, Outoorsman. He loved his neighbors and pictured them in “Our Southern Highlanders”. His vision helped to create The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” Kephart also penned “Camping and Woodcraft” based on a series articles he wrote for Field and Stream.


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Hikers Find Relics of Smokies’ Lost Communities

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most visited park, but only a few of those visitors attempt to see it all — like Sharon McCarthy, who’s well on her way to hiking all 900 miles of trails in the Park. And she’s doing it as a fundraiser to benefit outdoor programs for Girl Scouts across North Carolina.

Sharon (aka Smoky Scout) chronicles her hikes on her blog “Great Smoky Mountains Girl Scout Challenge“, an online journal illustrated with dozens of photos, like the one above of fellow hiker Judy Gross. While hiking along Lakeshore Trail, near Fontana Dam, the two came across the old car.

In her journal, Sharon writes, “…this part of Lakeshore Trail (all of it, really) is a fascinating walk back through time when there was no Fontana Lake and there were thriving communities here. We did take the time to explore some of the old cars that were abandoned when this was a road.”

Photo by Sharon McCarthy.

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