For the past 15 years, fitness expert Missy Kane has led a series of fall hikes in the Smokies. The walks are a major fundraiser for the non-profit organization Friends of the Smokies. Last week the first hike was canceled due to the shutdown of the park. Wednesday, the group found a way to continue.
"The original plan was that we would be meeting at Sugarlands and we had about 55 people on the list, even with a waiting list to hike with Friends of the Smokies," said hike leader Missy Kane.
Plan B is closer to home: the South Knoxville urban wilderness.
Sarah Wells, the director of development, went along on the hike. "We are getting out and enjoying the day and enjoying being in Ijams Nature Center," she said.
Missy Kane led the group off the main trail in the urban wilderness to see the keyhole.
The scheduled hikes in the Smokies raise a lot of money for the Friends of the Smokies. According to Wells, hikers pay $20 per hike. The program has raised over $130,000 on behalf of the park.
Despite the change of venue Wednesday, almost 40 people showed up and they all contributed $20, but every day the park is closed the Friends miss out on other contributions.
"This is the busiest month of the year, so the money people put in our donation boxes is huge this month and we're not going to be able to collect it," said Wells.
Missy's loyal hikers miss the park but make the best of it.
"I feel sad that the Smokies are closed. I feel like they're being held hostage by the government but we are still hikers so we keep going," said hiker Toni Loy-Stewart.
"We're still out here having fun but I really feel for the park and how much money they're losing and all the businesses around the park too. It's just a shame and I think, can't we all just get along so we can go hiking again?" said Kane.
If the park reopens, the regular hike schedule will resume. You can get more information at the Friends of the Smokies website at: friendsofthesmokies.org/