Getting away from it all in the Great Smoky Mountains
“They die hard, those old ways, in the mountains; some of them were good ways”
- Horace Kephart
Great Smoky National Park is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the United States and is also one of the most biologically diverse environments on Earth.
These are pretty bold statements to make but are actually born out by fact and also by detailed inspection.
The Cherokee, the original inhabitants and custodians of the land called this territory “Shaconage” (Shah-con-ah-jey) meaning in rough translation “land of the blue smoke”. Later inhabitants and settlers came from Scots-Irish backgrounds soon to be joined by those of French and German background. This mix of various Western European settler characteristics you can be assured gave a very interesting (if not as one settler described, “a Heady brew”) mix of inhabitants.
The Smoky Mountains are arguably some of the oldest in the World and detailed inspection of tectonic history will show that what we see now is a vast difference from what was originally in place and also a vast difference in location as well. The history of the Smoky Mountains is such that such is it’s history and bio diverse ecology that it has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.
The Great Smoky National Park was authorised by the US Congress in 1926 and was created from land in both North Carolina and the state of Tennessee. Unlike other American National Parks which were formed from existing Government land, the land that formed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park actually was comprised of land that belonged to Private Individuals or Companies.
The Mountainsides and Forest were a goldmine for Logging Companies who raped and pillaged their way across the landscape until it was calculated that approximately 65 percent of the available forest had been logged. The knock on effect of this was that the farms and the farmland that was created by this deforestation existed primarily to support and feed the loggers.
The other hidden and not so hidden consequence of logging was the destruction of the natural habitat for the resident wildlife and the absence of tress and any forest cover induced widespread erosion which in turn clogged streams with sediment and reduced the opportunity of the land to replenish itself.
The bottom line in all of this is that without the support of wealthy individuals and benefactors such as John D Rockefeller Jr who contributed nearly million towards the purchase of the land, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would not have become a reality. Other notable supporters and “influencers / fans” included the Historian Horace Kephart who came up with the initial idea of preserving the Smokies as a National park after visiting the area for his health.
After much haggling back and fore, the Federal Government finally obtained the land and proclaimed a national park on June 15th 1934. The Park comprises some 520.197 acres of land roughly split along the 70 miles of the eastern Tennessee – western North Carolina Border.
The apparent success of the present day park does not accurately reflect the history and the struggle that earlier Park Superintendents had to wage with what was in effect land that had been ravaged by uncontrolled logging and mineral exploitation and land that had become a hostile environment for a great number of the so called native species.
The outstanding success of the Park Service in re introducing Elk, Peregrine Falcons and river otters has helped restore the parklands to a state almost bordering on the primeval.
This is not to give the impression that the battle is completely won and that the Park doesn’t still suffer from and face daunting challenges from the effect of life in the 21st Century. Air Pollution, Traffic Congestion and the continued destruction of what are called high-elevation forests by persistent pests mans that the Park service has to be ever vigilant.
About the Author: Stephen Morgan is an independent journalist. Further information on this article can be found at http://www.smokymountaincabinsonline.us/great_smoky_mountain_park.html and at http://www.smokymountaincabinsonline.us. He also champions http://www.livingwithhighbloodpressure.net