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The Smokies and Bridgemont

May 29, 2013

Tennessee – Sunday, May 19

Knoxville isn’t too far away from the northern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so I headed in that direction, knowing I would also be making a couple stops along the way. The first place I stopped, which is sort of unavoidable when entering the Smokies from the north side was Pigeon Forge. I’m not sure why I wanted to stop there, but it was one of the most awful, commercial places I’ve seen! Although I’m sure if I was a kid, it would have seemed like some sort of magical place. I think it exists only to grab money money from people, especially families with kids, with the inevitable Putt-Putt Golf! Go-Karts! Arcades! Indoor Skydiving! Jungle Rides (indoors?)! Laser Games! Souvenirs! T-shirts! Ice Cream! Merry-Go-Round! etc etc. Some of the touristy towns at least have some kind of charm or character, but not Pigeon Forge. Tula and I walked for nearly 2 miles, but that was enough.

A few miles down the road we came to Gatlinburg, another toursity town, but this one had some old-style charm and was very enjoyable to walk all around. And it is right at the entrance of the national park, so its backdrop was the green mountains, which helped make it pretty. We walked over 3 miles here, and I enjoyed it much more than Pigeon Forge!

Then I drove into the national park and stopped by the visitor center. I showed my picture of yesterday’s snake to one of the rangers, and he identified it as a rat snake – they get up to 6 feet long, and are very, very harmless, but he agreed they can be a fright to stumble across! The 2 kinds of poisonous snakes in the area (copperheads and rattlesnakes) are very elusive, and that made me feel better. The Smoky Mountains are full of bears – I think they said there’s an average of 2 bears per square mile, and I’m guessing that’s the reason dogs are only allowed on one trail in the park. But that’s the trail we took and enjoyed a pretty 4 mile round-trip walk along a stream. And the trail was wide enough that I didn’t worry about hidden snakes, so I felt better about being in the woods than I did yesterday! I will indeed continue to walk in the woods – for now! I also have new admiration for the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s. Not only did it provide jobs for thousands of people back then, but lots of the buildings and trails in the national parks, and campgrounds and roads were built because of them, and we continue to enjoy the results of their efforts to this day.

It was a pretty cloudy day, but when we were done with that hike, I wanted to drive through the park to the North Carolina border anyway, up to Newfound Gap. It took about a 1/2 hour to drive up there, going up the mountains most of the time. I encountered a bit of fog, and at one overlook, I was able to look down on a big cloud that had settled in the valley. It was really pretty to see it from above. I kept going, and was either driving through light fog or a cloud, and although visibility was reduced a little, it wasn’t too thick. I got to Newfound Gap at the TN/NC border where there was a big parking lot. I wandered around the area a little, and it was pretty, even in the fog. I just couldn’t really see any mountains! But I did notice a sign with a bear on it, explaining a bit about the park, and directing people to a donation box. There are no entry fees to get into the Smoky Mt National Park, and it’s one of the most visited national parks in the country. I decided to make a donation there – there was something very appealing about putting a donation into a box outdoors, high up in the mountains, in the fog, where it was still pretty despite the lack of a view. I didn’t figure I’d be in those kinds of circumstances again. So I wrote a note and a check and dropped it into the box, and poof! the fog began to lift! Within about 10 minutes, I could see the Smokies and get some pictures – to compare with the ones I took in the fog. Talk about coincidental timing! I was happy to be able to see the view, and then I also noticed the Appalachian Trail passed right through the parking lot, so I walked a little of it in both directions. It was early evening, and the trail was steep and muddy, so I didn’t walk on much of it, but it was fun to at least walk a little in both directions. I must say I wouldn’t want to be camping on a damp night near a muddy trail!

After I had my fill of the view, I drove back down the mountains to the Visitor Center and left the park. I thought I might just have enough daylight to go find a summer camp that Linda had told me about. It wasn’t too far away, but the miles take a little longer to drive in the mountains. The camp she told me about was called Bridgemont, and her kids attended for several summers, and Jim also helped them with some electrical work. They used to bring in some inner city children to the camp for a week at a time, and that’s what I wanted to support. I have fond memories of summer camps – both as a camper, and as a counselor. I had a little trouble finding the camp – it was in a remote area, and when I drove down the street it should have been on, at first I didn’t see anything that looked like a summer camp. I saw cars, and buildings and homes with lights, and it looked like it was all private property, and I certainly didn’t want to park in someone’s yard on a Sunday evening! I turned around and drove by again, and still didn’t see anything that looked like a summer camp. I almost left the area, but I didn’t want to give up that easily, so I thought I’d drive past one more time (a little worried about people wondering why I was driving back and forth!). It was getting kind of dark, but on my 3rd pass through, I saw a small sign that said Bridgemont, only a foot or so off the ground. It was by a parking area with quite a few cars, so I decided to pull in, and get a picture of the sign if nothing else. It looked like there was a small stream or river and I was going to look at that, and that’s when I met up with Stacy, who runs the camp with her husband Dwight. They live there year-round now. I explained why I was there on a Sunday evening, and she showed me all around. It’s not a big camp as far as acreage, but they can accommodate a lot of people in several tidy large cabins with lots of bunk beds, and separate areas in the back of the cabins for leaders or counselors. There’s also s big lodge (a men’s Bible study group was meeting there, which was why there were a bunch of cars) with a kitchen area, and there’s a swinging bridge over the stream to access a pool and a nature area. The swinging bridge is in the process of being replaced. Stacy told me they loved having the inner city kids out, but they tend to stick to programs closer to their homes now, and now Bridgemont frequently has mission groups stay in the cabins, and Stacy finds local people/programs that need help, and she matches up the mission groups with the people who need the kind of help they can offer. And they still have their regular summer camp programs too. In the future they would like to build an arts and crafts center and bring in local artists to teach the campers about their crafts. Lots of people, and lots of plans! It was fun to see the camp, and it brought back a lot of good memories. So I made a donation – $56 won’t go far for a camp, but like Stacy said, every bit helps! I couldn’t get too many pictures because it was dark by this time.

It was a very full, good day, and I absorbed it all while driving back to the motel.

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