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  • Writer's pictureBryan Donoghue

National Park News: October 2021

History and Prehistory in the Making!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC - Photo Credit: Chris Blake


National Park News is a monthly series for the Pathloom blog. Check out last month's edition here. Sign up for Pathloom Beta Access to be added to a mailing list for the latest news, weekly blog updates, and exclusive sneak peeks to upcoming posts.


All hail King Otis - Photo Credit: N. Boak

Otis wins Fat Bear Week 2021!

Perennial Fat Bear Week Heavyweight Otis has once again captured the Fat Bear Crown up at Katmai National Park in Alaska! The 8th Annual Fat Bear Week tournament was a hard-fat battle between 3-time chompion Otis and a bountiful brisket of some of the fattest competitors this tournament has ever seen. Despite a few missing teeth and increasing competition for fishing spots from younger, bigger bears, the masses have spoken (96K+ voters in the final round!) and Otis has overcome the odds as Fat Bear Week Champ for the fourth time.

Though the competition has concluded, BearCams can still be viewed at We previously covered how these cameras are “some of the most entertaining, enjoyable, and strangely cathartic viewing opportunities on the internet” - so we highly encourage you to check them out before the bears begin their long winter of hibernation!

Otis was last seen celebrating this monumental and unprecedented victory by… well… eating more salmon.


White Sands National Park, NM - Photo Credit: Sharon Berardino

New Evidence of Human Habitation in North America, 10,000 Years Prior to Previous Estimate

Researchers in White Sands National Park in New Mexico have found footprints buried under the gypsum from which the Park gets its name that suggest humans lived in North America as far back as 24,000 years ago - a significant increase from the previously agreed upon range of 13,500-16,000 years. This exciting discovery completely rewrites prehistoric history on this continent, and opens the door for additional discoveries down the road. Footprints and other historical evidence continue to surface in this area, which was one of the primary reasons White Sands was redesignated from a National Monument into a National Park in 2019.

Discoveries such as this truly highlight the importance of the strict observance of Leave No Trace principles when visiting National Parks and other historical areas - the more we can do to leave these places undisturbed when visiting, the more information that can be gleaned by professionals working to better understand our past.


Pensacola, FL - Photo Credit: Cortney Tarell

New Underground Railroad Historical Locations Designated by the National Park Service

The National Park Service has recently dedicated 18 additional sites to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, to add to the 698 sites already designated in years past. These new sites range from Ohio to Florida, and are instrumental in continuing to tell the tale of freedom fighters and allies who fought against state-sanctioned oppression throughout the history of our nation. A listing of the new sites by state can be found on the NPS website.

Some of the new designations, including Pensacola Pass within Florida’s Gulf Islands National Seashore, aim to shine more light on the sea routes taken by seekers of freedom - seeking refuge from enslavement in the South down in the Caribbean or up in New England.


Bunsen Peak Summit: Yellowstone National Park - Photo Credit: Andrew Helmbrecht

Yellowstone sets Attendance Record for September, Annual Visits

The month of September saw over 872,000 visitors to Yellowstone National Park, an all-time record for the month and a 4% increase over the previous year. Many monthly attendance records have been set this year for the Park, as Covid-frustrated tourists liberated from pandemic lockdown take to the National Park System for recreation. In fact, even with 3 months remaining in the year Yellowstone has already surpassed their all-time annual attendance record set in 2016.

If you’re planning on a visit to Yellowstone before the year is through, you may want to consider visiting some off-the-beaten-path areas of the park in an attempt to avoid the large crowds. Check out this piece from the Pathloom Blog highlighting some of Yellowstone’s hidden gems!


Sequoia National Park, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan

KNP Complex Wildfire threatens Largest Tree in the World

In early September, a lightning storm caused two large wildfires to break out in Kings Canyon Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest in California, which eventually merged together to become the KNP Complex Wildfire. Among the thousands of beautiful acres facing total annihilation, the fire also threatens the General Sherman - widely regarded as the largest tree in the world at 275 feet tall and 36 feet wide. Great lengths have been taken to protect this tree and allow it to continue its mammoth growth, including frequent prescribed burns in the immediate area as recently as 2019. So far the Sherman remains standing, but 26 groves of Giant Sequoias in the area were not so fortunate, succumbing to the flames over the past month of burn.

Though the worst of the wildfire seems to now be in the past, the trees are not out of the ‘woodwork’ just yet, as the fire remains only 45% contained. That being said, though the landscape of such a breathtaking area will be forever changed, prospects look good for eventual containment and a return to relative normalcy for the area in the near future. In the meantime, rangers in the area have wrapped the General Sherman in foil to ensure it remains safe from the blaze.


Northern Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Photo Credit: Chris Blake

Leaf Season Hits Blue Ridge Parkway

Every Autumn, and specifically every October, millions of motorists traverse the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of some of the most beautiful fall foliage to grace the planet. The Parkway, which runs from Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Parks through Virginia and North Carolina, features hours of windy roads and dozens of scenic overlooks that are perfect for leaf peeping across magnificent mountain vistas. While the large crowds of October can cause heavy traffic along the route, many would consider the delays to be well worth the brilliant colors of the changing leaves (and if you don’t consider yourself to be all that patient, make sure to at least take this drive on weekdays rather than weekends!).

We here at Pathloom love leaf peepin’ season, and have a few galleries in our blog devoted to that passion. For foliage photos of the Blue Ridge Parkway and other locations throughout the country, click here for the East, West, and everything in between!


National Park News is a monthly series for the Pathloom blog. Check out last month's edition here. Sign up for Pathloom Beta Access to be added to a mailing list for the latest news, weekly blog updates, and exclusive sneak peeks to upcoming posts.


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