Wednesday, July 7, 2010

photoblogging: Great Smoky Mountains

A photo album from the Smokies ought to have at least one shot like this: rows of blue mountains fading off into the distance. These, however, are the Balsams, shot from the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. You get the general idea, though...

Okay, the rest are all from the Smokies:

Cades Cove.

Whitetail doe. We saw another in a willow thicket next to Sparks Lane that was within hours or even minutes of giving birth; this one probably had a couple more days to go before dropping her fawn.

Horses in Cades Cove.

The fields here used to be heavily grazed by both horses and cattle, but the National Park Service (NPS) is now letting some of them revert to natural meadows:

...a boon for birds like this indigo bunting...

...and for birdwatchers.

Middle Prong of the Little River, near Tremont. A "No Fishing" sign can just be seen [click to embiggen, then zoom] suspended over the creek; this is one of the areas where the NPS is restoring native brook trout. Southern Appalachian brookies are arguably the world's most beautiful trout (I know, I know, the same could be said of many other strains) but were dealt a serious setback in the form of competition from introduced rainbows and browns. The restoration project has generally been going well, although it was recently reported [see here, for example] that one or more rogue "bucket biologists" had sabotaged restoration by putting large rainbow trout back into a designated brook trout stream from which rainbows had been removed at a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars. I hope they catch the ignorant bastards...and I wish someone at NPS would be a bit more ambitious. Honestly, 40 miles of stream (out of 800) for brookies?

This is the Middle Prong again, a bit farther down...

...and as seen from inside a riffle. Oxygenation is one of the key factors supporting trout; others include clarity, cold temperatures, favorable pH (from limestone), and fairly good populations of aquatic insects.

Some people come to the Smokies for trout...we come for the minnows. Ellie and I practiced catch-and-release with plastic cups (and, rarely, our bare hands) on the Middle Prong and in Abrams Creek. This one seemed to be defending its small pool in Parson Branch from my camera; I suppose it may have had a nest there.

Rosebay rhododendron in bloom near Tremont.

Ferns at Laurel Creek.

Wildflowers at Laurel Creek. I was too busy salamandering to identify these, but they may be some type of bluet.

White snakeroot at Parson Branch.

Creatures great and small.

And, oh yes, people. Susan's parents, Katy and Kelton...

...and my favorite photographer, intent on her craft.


Remchick said...

Great post! Ready to go back now? I am! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

There are a lot more than 40 miles of brook trout water here and the "competition"from other trouts was not the reason for the brook trouts decline.The loss of cover due to the lumber companies turning the watersheds into moonscapes made the creeks warmer and the silt washed in made successful spawning impossible for brook trout.All the upper headwaters that were not logged have creeks full of brook trout although some are not pure Appalachian strain due to the stocking of northern strain trout that have bred with the natives.Lynn Camp Prong(the creek being restored)which was misnamed as Middle Prong in the post is the largest stream yet that was poisoned and restocked.There has to be a barrier falls that prevent the browns and rainbows from migrating upstream for the restoration to be viable and most larger ceeks in the Smoky Mtns.don't have such a feature,not to mention the fact that the larger,lower elevation streams here get too warm in the summer.The Southern strain brook trout thrive in hundreds of miles of creeks in the mountains of East
Tennessee,Western North Carolina and small areas of Georgia and South Carolina as well.Most of the rainbows found after Lynn Camp was poisoned and the brooks restocked were not the result of "bucket biology"but were from smaller tribs that did not get treated and or areas of the main stream that did not get poisoned as thoroughly as the biologists thought.Glad you enjoyed our mountains.

Mark Churchill said...

A lot to deal with here...

Obviously the industrial-scale logging that occurred in the Smokies was devastating to brook trout. Unfortunately, the recovery of the forests was, in many places, not accompanied by the recovery of the native trout. And the major reason for this is that rainbow and brown trout had been introduced to streams that formerly held brookies. Competition from non-native species is a very real and very significant phenomenon that cannot be dismissed just by putting the word "competition" in quotes. As you yourself note, the presence of large falls or other physical barriers is a necessary prerequisite to effective brookie restoration.

I never meant to suggest that the forty miles of stream designated specifically for brook trout management within GSMNP represented the species' entire range. Yes, southern Appalachian brook trout can be found elsewhere...but that fact is not relevant to a discussion of Park policy. The NPS has a mandate to, whenever possible, manage for native species. In GSMNP, Southern Appalachian brookies qualify; rainbows (native to the Pacific coast) and browns (native to Europe) don't. (I personally would not be opposed to eliminating all non-native trout from the park, if such a thing were feasible. And if some of the low-elevation streams proved too warm for brookies, then so be it. At least then we could be satisfied that the original ecology had been restored.)

Moreover, I did not claim that the Middle Prong was the stream that had been sabotaged. Photographs in the post were of the Middle Prong; I referred to "a designated brook trout stream" without naming it as Lynn Camp Prong (which does happen to be a Middle Prong tributary).

Finally, the assertion that sabotage or "bucket biology" was a factor is beyond dispute. While it is true that biologists did miss rainbows in one tributary (see news report at, that error does not account for the presence of large, fin-clipped (hence hatchery-raised) rainbows in Lynn Camp Prong.

If you choose to comment again, you might consider telling us something about yourself: your name, affiliation(s), etc. Anonymity might have its place on the Internet, but may not help if you wish to persuade me or others to your point of view.

Anonymous said...

My name is Tim Buckner and I have no affiliations.I have fished and backpacked in every single watershed of the GSMNP since i was 9 years old in 1969.

I had no desire to change your,or anyone elses point of view.

Curious thing thing about Lynn Camp is that brook trout were starting to show up way lower downstream than in years past.

The drought the park suffered through in 07 and 08 killed off many rainbow trout and when I checked the ph of the stream in 08 it was 2 which brook trout tolerate much better than rainbows.These two examples may be reasons for the brook trout colonizing water that was dominated by rainbows before.

Most of the rainbows found (over 70 at last count)were small trout that were born in the creek or a branch.They dozen or so doughbellies with the clipped caudal and worn pectoral fins were brought in and dumped in the creek by riders on horseback.

Sorry if my post bothered you I will not post here again.

Mark Churchill said...

Whoa, Tim, I don't mean to run you off. Just wanted to know who you are and where you're coming from. Please feel free to comment on this or any other post; I enjoy a good discussion, even (especially?) if there's a bit of controversy.

I'm just a very casual spin-fisherman myself, but I've contemplated taking up fly-fishing for a few years now. If/when I finally get off my arse and take the plunge, the Smokies will be a good part of the reason why. Maybe I'll see you out on the trail someday.

Sorry if I offended you by coming on too strong, but please know that none of this was taken personally on my part.