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Special Live Chats on AOL


Guest: Judi Ritchie
Live Chat
Great Smoky Mountains

May 16, 2001

Davinder Khanna

Judi has just returned from The Great Smoky Mountains. Every spring for the past 4 years she has camped there.  There is no better way to start the spring out than to roam the roads of the Smoky Mountains.

Four years ago, while wandering around AOL, Judi discovered friends that share the same love she had for camping.  The group, which now numbers 1500, have camped many times all over the United States. A member will pick a spot in an area of the states, notify the group and they all come.

Judi and her husband have spent 45 years traveling the U.S., Canada with an occasional trip to Mexico.  And before Judi was married she traveled this country with her parents.  She has seen the United States from inside a tent, to sleeping on the ground and from the inside of a plush motorhome. Her first choice for seeing this country would be from the inside of a motorhome. Much more comfy, but Judi does remember with fondness all the times she camped under the stars with her parents. She wouldn't deny anyone that experience.

Judi's professional life is one as an Accountant.  She put herself through college while being a full-time Mom to 3 children, a wife and holding down a 50 hour per week job.  Even back then she had time to travel and see the back roads of America.  She finds that by going off the beaten path you will find the genuine people and enjoy your travels more.  You get to see a portion of America that lies quietly in the background waiting to be discovered. And the discovery is well worth the time it takes to uncover it.


HOST TRAVEL Park: We are pleased to welcome you to our chat series "Parks & People Live." Tonight's chat is on "Great Smoky Mountains." Our guest speaker, Judi Ritchie (JRitc41846), has just returned from The Great Smoky. She has camped there every spring for the past 4 years. Judi will share with us her vast experience and knowledge of the Smokies.
A special thanks to Carol Dean-Porter (HOST TRAVEL Jump) for conducting tonight's protocol. She will be organizing questions from the audience for us.
So, let us welcome our guest, and begin our session. Judi, thanks for being our guest tonight and for sharing your experience and knowledge of the most visited park than any other national park in the System.
JRitc41846: Thank you for having me.....I am pleased to be able to interact with our online friends and will attempt to answer questions as a lover of both national parks and camping.

Monacoman: What is your favorite part of the Smokies trips in the last 4 yrs

JRitc41846: The Roaring Fork tour would be one of my fav....I've seen it 3 times

RCooper904: There is a drive from Tenn to Va over the mountains. Can a large MH make it easily? May be Skyline Drive, I dont know.

JRitc41846: Russ...I think with careful driving a MH could make it....I've known folks who have driven it

HOST TRAVEL Park: Judi, what do you think is the reason GSM is the most visited national park in the system?

JRitc41846: Its forest....its relaxed envirnment.....being transported back in time to a more simplier the many trails, river, streams. All the plant and wildlife that is to been seen.....Every year something new seems to crop up.

Torchie01: Skyline drive is too tricky for a motor home, best to do by car and camp near by

Yuptruck: What is your favorite part of the Smokies?

JRitc41846: Am I limited to just one favorite part?

Yuptruck: No

JRitc41846: Then I would say Roaring Fork and Cades Cove

HOST TRAVEL Park: Would you suggest a time frame that a person would consume in seeing the Smokies?

JRitc41846: To do it justice, I would think it would take at least 10 8 hrs daily

Slidetaker: Has acid rain affected The Smokies?

JRitc41846: yes it fact in some of the higher elevations you can see evidence of it

BNTO 49ST8S: R Cooper 904 may be asking about the Blue Ridge Parkway from Tenn to Va.

Parkslands: This Park is also famous for its traffic problems. What was your experience recently?

JRitc41846: I stay away from the park on weekends and the traffic is not good at all.... during the week....traffic is managable and you can see what you want 

HOST TRAVEL Park: What's the highest mountain in the Smokies? Is there any?

JRitc41846: Clingmans Dome....6643 high

HOST TRAVEL Park: Are visitors allowed there?

JRitc41846: yes....there is a road to within half a mile to the top.....then you have to walk the remainder of the way

Coast42: Have you ever seen any bears on your trips thru the park?

JRitc41846: I'm sorry to say.....Not a one.....and I didnt even see the elk that were released this past spring.....I think they all hide from me.....LOL

HOST TRAVEL Park: You mentioned two favorites Roaring Fork and Cades Cove....can you tell us why they are your favorites?


JRitc41846: Our country was founded on hard work.....and these two areas typlifies what those folks in the 1800's must have gone thru to make a living for themselves.
it was grueling and extremely hard work to live back then in the mtns

HOST TRAVEL Park: I understand Cherokee Indians gave a name to Smokies? What was that?

JRitc41846: yes they did......"land of a thousand Smokes"

Slidetaker: A woman was killed by a bear there recently. Isolated incident?

JRitc41846: Bears are a wild animal and therefore its hard to say what provoked the bear if anything.....but I think bear attacks are isolated...

Parkslands: NPCA and others have proposed that visitors travel through Cades Cove via bus. What do you think?

JRitc41846: No.....that would take away from the ambiance of the area....if anything there is a hayride.....that goes thru the cove....they can be hired....Leave the buses to interstates...

HOST TRAVEL Park: What's the first thing a new visiter should do to get the most out of seeing the Smokies?

JRitc41846: They should make a stop at one of the visitor centers to ask questions pick up tour brochures and listen to the 10 min movies they have.

PHorstrans: I am very naive when it comes to parks. In the name Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Can you tell me where the Name Smokies comes from?

JRitc41846: Smokies come from the haze that hovers over the mtns on a daily basis....the haze is actually small raindrops..but they dry up before hitting the ground.

Parkslands: Have you ever been to the Cataloochee section?

JRitc41846: I'm sorry to say I have not.....

HOST TRAVEL Park: Judi, can you tell us what's special about camping in GSM?

JWahlsten: It's the people you meet.

JRitc41846: I personally find a certain amt of peace when camping near a stream....listening to the water rushing over the rocks....watching the sun come up.....and the sunsets...

PHorstrans: How much would I have to pay to be a Forest Ranger there? :)

JRitc41846: I wouldn't trade that for all the money in the world...I cant answer that question for you PHorstrans.....but you are certainly welcome to volunteer at any National park.

HOST TRAVEL Park: When was this park established? How large is the the area? And the make up of the area.

JRitc41846: The park was established May 22, 1926 by President Calvin Coolidge.

HOST TRAVEL Park: Birth Anniversary is next week. :)

JRitc41846: There are more than 700 miles of rivers and streams....the park encoumpasses 800 miles.....200,000 acres of virgin forest and 800 miles of hiking trails.

Parkslands: What is your opinion of the policy to let old homesteads deteriorate other than those landmarked.

JRitc41846: My opinion is it would be sad to allow that to happen....Its part of the background of the park.....once can never reestablish it again

JWahlsten: The park has the highest point in Tn Right?

JRitc41846: John...The highest point is Clingmans Dome which sits on the border of TN and NC

HOST TRAVEL Park: What would you recommend to a visitor that would help protect the ecosystem of the GSM National Park? How private citizens can help in the process?

JRitc41846: I think a good rule of thumb is always to leave a park in better shape than when you arrived but I believe that the park has a "wants " list and a visitor may check in with the rangers to see what they could do in that area.

HOST TRAVEL Park: Did you find any problems or threats to the national park?

JRitc41846: yes....people.....throwing paper out...littering.....not using trash containers trying to deface the land.....

Parkslands: Have you ever hiked to the Balds? or any other unpublicized spots?

JRitc41846: Sorry.....Parkslands....I'm a camper not a I dont visit an area to

HOST TRAVEL Park: What was your experience with the park personnel there? Are they easily accessible?

JRitc41846: For the most part they are very accommodating. Sometimes when a great group of folks are there you may have to wait to ask questions of a ranger...but they are always courteous....a fine example of park personnel.

HOST TRAVEL Park: What's the best time to visit the Smokies?

JRitc41846: Spring and Fall......Spring becuz the park is waking up from winter and putting on its spring finery......and fall becuz of the colors that are painted on the mtns...

Parkslands: Are reservations necessary for camping?

JRitc41846: To assure yourself of a campsite when you want one....U should make a reservation.

PHorstrans: Are there camp sites in the park and if so what are the policies for camp fires?

JRitc41846: each camping site has its own policy....depending on where the campground is....but I think 2 out of the 10 campgrounds will allow fires.....

HOST TRAVEL Park: Cades Cave is a must see on anyones agenda.....Are there any descendents still living in Cades Cove?

JRitc41846: There are descendents living in the area.....but not in the cove proper...

HOST TRAVEL Park: Could you describe Roaring Fork, your favorite place?

JRitc41846: Roaring Fork is a turnoff at stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg....once you turn off there you are transported to an entirely different time.....tall green trees.....streams and waterfalls....wildlife....all in an 8 mile loop you will also have the opportunity to see villages such as they were in the 1800's.

Boozoo cha: Greetings from Dixieland everyone!

Coast42: If one is camped outside the park, near the entrance, is there a drive such as you described where one can pull off and look?

JRitc41846: in Roaring Fork?

Coast42: Yes...

JRitc41846: Roaring Fork has many areas where you can pull off and just take in the wonder of the area usually the pulloffs are near waterfalls....or the streams....or at restored buildings

HOST TRAVEL Park: Well folks, the scheduled time with our guest is coming to an end. We will take 1 or 2 more questions now if you have any left. :)

PHorstrans: Is there anything comparable to GSMNP as far as amenities? And do you have a favorite?

JRitc41846: I have 2 favorite National parks out of all of them....The Smokies and Rocky MTn NP.......

HOST TRAVEL Park: Our special thanks to Judi Ritchie for being our guest tonight. Judi is very active in helping the parks and park organizations that are working to protect them. 

JRitc41846: Your is my pleasure.

HOST TRAVEL Park: Thanks also to Carol (HOST TRAVEL Jump) for helping with the protocol.

PHorstrans: Thank you Judi. I have learned alot. :)

JRitc41846: you can tell....I love the parks....

HOST TRAVEL Jump: Night all :)

HOST TRAVEL Park: Good night all

Related Links

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Official site

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park


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