• Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the national park.

    Great Smoky Mountains

    National Park NC,TN

Winter in the Smokies

Dispatches from the Field > Winter in the Smokies

Late winter frost.

Late winter frost grizzles hillsides.

NPS photo.

Spring is just around the corner: daffodils are up and waving in the wind, and torrents of springtime rain are washing snow down the slopes. But did you know that people in the park have been busy all winter, working under the cover of snow to wrap up one year and begin the next? Year-round, NPS staff are busy researching, writing, treating, collecting, and managing.

Here's what's going on behind the scenes in Resource Management and Science from November to March:

Vegetation crews treat hemlocks.

Vegetation crews prevent Hemlock Woolly Adelgid by treating trees along roads and in campgrounds with horticultural oil.

NPS photo.

  • Vegetation crews spray hemlock trees along roads and in campgrounds with horticultural oil, which kills invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid insects on contact. Adelgids are active during cold months and aestivate (enter a dormant state similar to hibernation) during the summer.
  • Wildlife crews expand in numbers as they hire technicians to hunt invasive, non-native hogs.
  • Botanists, entomologists, and other scientists in Inventory and Monitoring tally plant and animal species discoveries for the year.
  • Resource managers consult with maintenance and roads staff about resource-safe road treatments to melt ice.
  • The greenhouse manager washes and stratifies (sorts) native plant seeds, then tends to the tiny seedlings as they sprout and grow.
  • Fire management crews finish the last of the spring’s planned burns in grasslands and fire-dependent forests.
  • All science staff hunker down on cold days to write funding proposals for next year's research and management projects (such as treating hemlock trees, checking on rare plants, and monitoring air quality) and review applications for interns and seasonal staff.
Researchers sample soil water.

Researchers sample soil water with lysimeters on Mt LeConte.

NPS photo.

  • Partner researchers snowshoe into the mountains (and sometimes zoom on snowmobiles up steep park roads) to monitor lysimeters. (Learn more about lysimeters, which are instruments to measure water from the soil, in the next issue of Dispatches from the Field).
  • Air quality technicians trek to air quality monitoring stations to maintain delicate computer sensors. On top of the air quality towers winter winds can reach 90 miles per hour or higher.
  • The science coordinator compiles annual reports coming in from researchers who were granted permits (see current permits).
  • GIS (Geographic Information System) technicians create maps for law enforcement rangers, new construction, cultural resources, botanists, and many other park staff.
  • This winter, resource managers are helping education staff design and print new displays for the soon-to-open Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina.
  • And much more!

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