Here I am in front of the GSMNP sign with my Fish and Feathers Uniform

Fish and Feathers Intern at The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Here I am in front of the GSMNP sign with my Fish and Feathers Uniform

To call this summer the best summer in my life would be an understatement, in reality, these three months have come to be the best continuous memories of my life.

When I first applied to my Fish and Feathers Internship, we were given the opportunity to select three national parks to our liking. Unaware of national parks, I had to look for them on the internet. When I looked up Great Smoky Mountains, the information about this park was mind-blowing, most visited national park, most black bears, and salamander capital of the world. It didn’t take me much convincing after that. My first choice was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, when I got the call back for working in this park, my heart and soul left my body, I just couldn’t believe it. And then, once I arrived on May 20th, I would still have to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. All the way from hiking, to birding, fishing, and animal experiences. My desire is to document the greatest highlights I lived during these three months.

Deep Creek Fly Fishing Program

What’s that old saying? A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work? What if work is fishing all day? Well that was my life in the Great Smokies. One of my favorite day that stands out is the Deep Creek Fly Fishing Lessons. I would set my fishing station at around 10 in the morning, just before visitor masses started tubing in. The fishing station was right in front of Juney Thank Falls, only a .02 mile hike from the parking, and with enough wide space to not get tangled in the trees while fishing. The idea was that Kida or adults would go through a 15-minute fishing lesson with me and then they’d win their Junior Angler Badge. Kids and adults were very happy to fish with me and earn their badges but there was one kid who shined the brightest. His name is Henry and he is the child in the top right corner, after he earned his badge he wanted to keep fishing with me, after a full hour of fishing he did not give up. He wanted to snorkel with me to see the fish instead of catching them. The energy and enthusiasm in Henry was incredible, at the end, after almost three hours together, his parents came and told me: “Thanks for taking care of him”. (07/24/22)

Clingmans Dome Peregrine Falcon program

It is in Clingmans Dome, the tallest point of the Great Smoky Mountains, where I would set up a birding station. On this day, (07/15/22), I completed my first test of the Peregrine Falcon Program. The goal of this program was to get people into birding in the park and to also raise awareness on endangered bird species such as the Peregrine Falcon. One of my tricks to lure children and adults to my birding spot was a measuring tape containing the measurements of the most common birds in the park. Most visitors, especially the children, were all the way from Northern Screech Owls, to Canadian Goose. The absolute winner was every time I told a kid they were a Wild Turkey. The tallest visitors were mostly Turkey Vultures and Great Bald Eagles. It was a very fun and creative way to get visitors into birding.

Hellbender Survey with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)

Hellbenders are the largest amphibian in the American continent. They are a near-threatened species of aquatic salamander and are therefore very hard to spot. But if you do find one, it is very rewarding, They can grow up towards two feet and weight four to five pounds. It is with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, especially Jacob Colon, that I found this hellbender. It was actually unplanned, the original plan was to do fish index, but the electroshocker batteries were left at HQ. The lead scientist decided to put on our wetsuits and snorkels and do hellbender surveys instead. I have never been more happy because of a mistake. We used instruments to lift heavy rocks and poke our heads in looking for our giant buddies. I was able to learn how to find Hellbenders, take body measurements, blood and tissue samples, and the importance of conservation effort towards this species. And to finish the day, after our surveys we got a call about a wild Timber Rattlesnake that needed to be relocated. I took part in its capture and relocation, I felt like a real wildlife management expert. (07/22/22)

Bird Banding at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont

Coming to the Great Smoky Mountains during summer is a wonderful time to visit. Aside from the warming sun, it’s the nesting season of around 210 documented birds, 110 of them migrate from other parts of the continent just to nest in the park. Around 60 of them are permanent residents all year around. Although its a great time to be birding in the park, it can also be very difficult due to the dense foliage of the forest, you’ll certainly hear more birds than you’ll see. Even so, thanks to their nesting season, birds are very active early in the morning from 6 am to 12 pm.. This is when we set our mist nets in three different locations around Tremont and started birding. Thanks to Erin Carter, and the Tremont Volunteers, I was given the opportunity to attend bird banding sessions with them. I learned the importance of bird banding on understanding bird migrations, how to take bird measurements and observations, distinct several species by morphological and vocal traits, and to install the bird bands. (06/23/22)

Bear Interactions

If I ever wanted to see black bears, the Great Smoky Mountains is the place to go. Black bears was actually one of the main reasons for this park as my choice. Bears are incredible animals with a fascinating life-style. After three months of working and looking for bears on my spare time, I was lucky enough to witness 24 black bears during my stay. Here I document the best bear interactions I had in the Smokies.

First time I ever saw a bear:

Not just one bear, but a momma and her two cubs. WOW! (06/05/22)

My last choice for this video was ironically the last black bear I saw in the park. This was the last day before leaving, on august 5th, 2022. Driving on the Clingmans Dome road I witness this teenage black bear crossing the road again and again and again. I was fortunate enough to be in uniform and control the traffic while admiring the bear.

Clingmans Dome bear (08/05/22)

Hiking in the Smokies

I have never walked so much like I did in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The truth is I hiked so many beautiful and unforgettable hikes. I’ll be including pictures of the best hikes I did in the Smokies. I hiked all across the park, from east to west, and north to south. I discovered mountain scenic views and waterfalls a man can only dream of. Walking the trails while admiring the life of the Smokies was my dream. There is no place like the Smokies to go hiking.

This hike was one of my favorite hikes. It is the hike to Gregory Bald and Shuckstack Fire Tower done in one day. The trail took me 22 miles in under 6 hours of active movement.

I am smiling while the Appalachian Mountains stand behind me

“You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”

― Dr. Seuss

Without doubt, the most amazing view I got to see in the Smokies

Visitor interaction

Although my love for animals is immeasurable, I also have a passion in education and interpretation. It is thanks to this job that I was able to meet and interact with so many amazing visitors that loved the Smokies like me. Kids have an incredible imagination that can do wonders in my programs. All the kids in these pictures had a blast during my programs and I could tell they will love birding and fishing after their visit to the Smokies. Here is one email I received from the Sugarlands Visitors Center email address.

“Please forward this message to the Supervisory Park Ranger: My husband and I want to compliment Julio who we saw at both the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and at Clingman’s Dome. Julio was helpful in providing information to us at both sites and was exceptionally polite, friendly and professional. He is truly an asset to the park service!”

– Great Smoky Mountains visitor

These months have been filled with everything I’ve ever wanted, I have hiked, fished, gone birding, looked for bears and salamanders, explored scenery of the mountains, learned about the history of those who came before me, met fascinating visitors that loved my programs, and swam in the coldest waters of this forest. I feel that I know this forest as if I’d been living here for decades. The Fish and Feathers Internship has provided me with invaluable scientific experience that serve as a stepping stone towards the fields of biology and conservation which attract me. The Great Smoky Mountains have introduced me to the National Park Service and its mission, as President Theodore Roosevelt said “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”. I now believe that National Parks are of utter importance for visitors to experience the preservation of history, culture, and the conservation of nature. I definitely look forward to continue working in the National Park Service and the conservation efforts made by park scientist and volunteers. I am aware of the Pandora box that awaits me in each separate park, and I can’t wait to explore them. During my time working, I bonded with more than just my coworkers, I bonded with visitors who had a meaningful interaction with my programs, I bonded to further respect nature and its wonders, and I bonded with my calves from so much hiking. I grew as a professional, working first hand with visitors and wildlife, my programs gave me the opportunity to improve my leadership and communication skills and I was able to admire animals and scenery out of this world. One summer is definitely not enough to explore the hidden gems of the Smokies.

I am in Park ranger uniform in front of the GSMNP sign

My internship may have ended, but I live the memories of the Great Smoky Mountains for the rest of my life

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