I am reasonably certain that all of us have enjoyed this mild summer. However, a couple things to keep in mind for the outdoorsman is that not only do us humans enjoy the mild summers but so do our 8 legged and legless co-inhabitants. I am speaking of snakes, spiders, and ticks. Most people are already conscious of snakes when in the woods or streamside. My experience has been that they tend to congregate alongside water sources, and this year there is plenty of water to go around. Also, the frequency of venomous snakes in the Smokies appears to be on the incline this year after two consecutive years of drought. However, the wild pig population is doing their best to reduce the population of snakes in certain areas of the park. Hard to imagine that wild pigs dine on snakes, that is just hard for me to grasp.
A couple of lesser considered threats are spiders and ticks. Spiders are much more easily avoided since you can see and feel their webs, so this lends them to detection more easily. However, ticks are sneaky little buggers. Not only are they sneaky, but they can carry serious infection with them. While not as immediately dangerous as some of their spider counterparts, their damage is more of a delayed impact. Two such infections are Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the latter of which my boss's wife just contracted after finding hundreds of seed ticks on her. All of these critters thrive in mild climates, and this past summer was the definition of a mild summer. Hopefully we will have a really cold winter to eradicate some of our creepy crawling friends, so that next year we don't have a population explosion.
Some steps to take to prevent potential disaster:
1. Wear long pants, hiking boots, and long socks
2. Wear a hat to prevent spiders and ticks from dropping into you hair
3. Spray your clothing with a tick spray like Repel Permanone
4. Watch where you are stepping, snakes typically aren't aggressive unless they feel threatened.
5. Be aware of your surroundings. If you find yourself in a tightly confined area take extra precaution. It is commonly said that you can smell a copperhead den, and that they smell very similar to a freshly cut cucumber or squash.
6. If rock hopping in the river, realize that snakes like to sunbathe just as much as we do. They like to lay on top of rocks, so please "look before you leap".
As summer comes to a close, I expect many people to get out and enjoy the typically wonderful East TN weather and scenery. However, the snake and insect activity will continue to be high until we begin to have consistent near freezing nighttime temps. So please be careful out there, and I hope some of these steps will help you prevent having a sour end to what began as an enjoyable experience. If you think of any other steps that I have forgotten, please feel free to add them in the comments section.