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Hazel Creek Crayfish
The rare Hazel Creek Crayfish was discovered in Great Smoky Mountains National Park by scientists working on the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, now in its 15th year.
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The massive balloon at Pigeon Forge can carry up to 30 people on a 10-minute ride.
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The (non-) lake at Mountain Lake in Virginia may be poised for refilling after nature-mimicking patches were applied to four holes.
Mountain Lake, which some remember as a location for the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing,” was one of Virginia’s two natural lakes until it shrank to pond size seven years ago. This spring, a multimillion-dollar overhaul of Mountain Lake Hotel resort includes plugging the leaking lake atop Salt Pond Mountain in southwestern Virginia.
Led by Radford University geology professor Skip Watts, a team of researchers has developed a plan to patch four holes in the lake bottom by mimicking natural landslides and sedimentation processes going on at the site for thousands of years. The fix involves filling the holes with rocks, pebbles, and clay from the lakeside.
“We’re very hopeful that we’ll see enough rain to put boats on the lake again this summer; it’s up to God and the weather,” says Jeff Burrell, resort general manager.
Burrell, who came to Mountain Lake from Colorado in November, is overseeing a major renovation of the resort. Although the 1930s hotel will keep its traditional look, by the hotel’s May 1 re-opening, every lodge room and many of the cabins will have been remodeled and a new restaurant will feature local foods prepared by a trained chef. An expanded lounge will feature regional microbrews, and several culinary events, including a Brew Ridge Festival, are slated for May
“Through our chef, who has local roots, we have relationships with farms located within five miles of the hotel,” Burrell says.
At the end of the lake, three new aerial adventure courses are being completed. Featuring treetop views of the lake and hotel, they include zip lines, swinging bridges, and canopy tours geared for both children and adults. The hotel has increased its offerings for families seeking outdoor adventure activities such as mountain biking, rafting, fishing, climbing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Burrell plans to keep the hotel open year-round.
Taking Flight in
A drive down the parkway in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., provokes many conversations when travelers spot the partial replica of the Titanic or King Kong climbing a tower at the Hollywood Wax Museum. Now there’s a new attraction pulling visitors’ eyes to the skies. Hovering above the WonderWorks Museum, which looks like a building turned upside down, is the Wonders of Flight tethered helium balloon.
“Our owner, Robin Turner, had been wanting to bring a balloon to this area for the past couple of years,” says Ed Shaffer, general manager at WonderWorks. “It’s a very unique experience. There’s one at Disney in Florida and one just outside of Indianapolis. Those are the only other ones in the eastern part of the country.”
Climb aboard for a spectacular 360-degree view of the Pigeon Forge area and surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During the flight, the massive blue and green balloon rises to a height of 400 feet. It can hold 30 passengers at a time for a 10-minute ride.
For the exact location, ticket pricing and other information, visit WondersOfFlight.com.
Rare Crayfish Found in Smokies as Part of Biodiversity Inventory
Scientists are scrambling to learn more about a new species recently discovered in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dubbed the Hazel Creek Crayfish for its North Carolina watershed habitat, Cambarus (cf.) robustus is believed to be rare and in need of conservation.
The discovery was part of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) initiated in 1998 to catalog every living thing within the park. Celebrating its 15th year, the ATBI has unearthed an astonishing 923 species new to science, and an amazing total of 7,636 species that were not previously known to exist within the park.
The biggest threat to crayfish (a.k.a. “crawdads” or “crawfish”) is water pollution, which they cannot tolerate. The source of this is, of course, humans, who also diminish crayfish populations by catching them for food, using them as fish bait and keeping them as aquarium pets.
“The unique area of the park where the Hazel Creek Crayfish makes its home may be one of its last bastions of safety due to how difficult it is to access,” says Todd Witcher, executive director of Discover Life in America, the non-profit that manages the ATBI. “We expect there may be a lot more such rare species to find in the park.”