The recent reopening of the Chimney Tops Trail was a red letter day for visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Make that a red, yellow and orange day.
As one of the most popular trails in the Park, the Oct. 6 removal of barrier signs means thousands of visitors can again enjoy the fall colors as the leaves turn, stunningly visible from a pathway open for the first time in 10 months.
The entire trail had been closed to the public since the Chimney Tops 2 Fire occurred in late November. Now beautiful views of Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops are again visible — but not from the very end of the trail.
During the closure, Park crews designed and developed a section where hikers can still enjoy the views. But the topmost 0.25 mile section of trail to the Chimney Tops pinnacles themselves was heavily damaged by the fire. That section will remain closed until further notice for safety reasons. Due to the fire, gray and black are colors added to the palate of this autumn. Those somber colors serve as a reminder about Tennessee entering the wildfire season is deadly serious.
Want to burn outdoors from Oct. 15 to May 15? Get an outdoor burning permit. It’s common sense, and it’s the law.
Due to prolonged drought conditions, by this time last year fire was already challenging Blount County and other firefighters — and far worse was yet to come. Pause for a memory refresher:
– Sept. 14 — The Happy Valley Ridge fire north of the Abrams Creek Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park burned about 125 acres before it was reported 90 percent contained on Sept. 29.
– Oct. 29 — A brush fire burned about 5 acres on Sam Houston School Road.
– Oct. 31 — A fire that began as a controlled burn on Triple Oak Street in Blount County eventually claimed a house and a mobile home.
– Nov. 5 — Smoke from 20 active fires in East Tennessee was affecting air quality in Blount County.
– Nov. 8 — Smoke was coming from a 500+ acre fire in Chattanooga, three 600+ acre fires in Campbell County, two 3,000+ acre fires in Anderson County and three small fires in Monroe County.
– Nov. 15 — Fire near Chimney Tops Trail summit closed Chimney Tops Trail, Road Prong Trail, Sugarland Mountain Trail and Huskey Gap Trail.
– Nov. 16 — A wildfire was burning on about 40 acres of land containing a section of the Trail of Tears in Tellico Plains.
– Nov. 17 — A fire began near Walland Elementary School and eventually burned more than 1,500 acres.
– Nov. 18 — Fire off Carrs Creek Road near Foothills Parkway burned about 10 acres.
Just some reminders of the way it was before the worst.
Around 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 23 another fire at Chimney Tops was reported. Smoke was rising again from an area of the Park in steep terrain with vertical cliffs and narrow rocky ridges. The name: Chimney Tops 2.
On Nov. 28, extreme winds caused this latest wildfire to spread rapidly, carrying embers for miles and downing fire lines. The blaze that escaped Park boundaries will forever be remembered by many as the Gatlinburg Fire.
It actually was a combination of fires. By the time the flames were gone, at least 14 people had died, 134 had been injured and more than 2,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.
Fall is a glorious season in these mountains. Fire season is like an evil twin, always hovering with the wicked potential of destruction, even death.
Want to burn outdoors? Get a permit. Make sure a “controlled” burn stays exactly that.
–The Daily Times of Maryville