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In the economically challenging times in which we live, vacations have often become “staycations” or mini-vacations where one doesn’t spend the night away from home. Also known as “day trips” this area features many interesting places to visit for the price of a picnic lunch and a little gas in the tank.

Our trip begins on a stretch of roadway that shows up on maps as Highway 64 going east from Franklin to Highlands, N.C. In this neck of the woods it is more simply known as, “The Gorge,” a twisting, winding, narrow stretch of road stuck on the side of a mountain. The mountain rises straight up on one side of the road, and the other side looks down sheer, deep drop-offs into the gorge below. This is the Cullasaja Gorge through which the Cullasaja River flows, showcasing numerous magnificent waterfalls and cascades. This 16- to 18-mile drive is also appropriately labeled “The Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.”


The Cullasaja River Gorge is a popular attraction in Western North Carolina. It symbolizes what people love about the Smoky Mountains with its exposed rock faces and rushing waterfalls, its foot paths and bountiful fishing holes. For a little more than nine miles, people of all ages and walks of life can experience the natural beauty that spans the distance between Franklin and the Town of Highlands. For 20 years the Highlands Chamber of Commerce has staged a cleanup along Highway 28/64 leading up the gorge. Before long, other local groups joined in the effort.

“We thought it was a no brainer to partner with Highlands, and help keep one of our beautiful natural assets clean, like the Cullasaja River Gorge,” said Matt Bateman from Stay and Play In The Smokies. “We also approached the Franklin Chamber of Commerce to see if they wanted to sponsor this initiative as well and they happily joined the effort.”


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that farmers and ranchers can sign-up for disaster assistance programs, reestablished and strengthened by the 2014 Farm Bill, beginning Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Quick implementation of the programs has been a top priority for USDA.

"These programs will provide longawaited disaster relief for many livestock producers who have endured significant financial hardship from weather-related disasters while the programs were expired and awaiting Congressional action," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) will provide payments to eligible producers for livestock deaths and grazing losses that have occurred since the expiration of the livestock disaster assistance programs in 2011, and including calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014.


The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announces this year’s recipients of Appalachian Trail (A.T.) Specialty License Plate grants for projects that enhance the Trail in North Carolina. This spring, $35,000 was granted to 11 partner organizations, including A.T. maintaining clubs, schools, botanists, ecologists and environmental and conservation groups. This year’s recipients include the Carolina Mountain Club, Friends of the Smokies, Nantahala Hiking Club, North Buncombe High School Adventure Club, Hot Springs Tourism Association, Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club and The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards.

The grant funds will also support additional ATC programs and projects in North Carolina, including a schoolwide Trails To Every Classroom immersion program for Summit Charter School in Cashiers; Wilderness First Aid courses for A.T. club volunteers; the Roan Mountain Ridgerunner program; and a workshop to construct a pollinator garden and monitor Monarch butterflies at the Wesser Nantahala Outdoor Center.


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