The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected land areas in the United States. It covers over 520,976 acres; straddling the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains. This is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is named for the bluish haze which is formed by the water vapor coming from the thick forests, covering the mountains and valleys in the park. It is also a division of the larger Appalachian Mountains. Between Tennessee and North Carolina, the border runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. From Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the park.
One of the very first people to advocate for the establishment of a national park in the Smoky Mountains was W.P. Davis of Knoxville, Tennessee. It started with a tour that he and his wife made of the western national parks. The story is that Mrs. Davis asked her husband why there wasn’t a national park in the Smoky Mountains. She was not the first with that idea, though. Horace Kephart was one of the first to see and recognize the potential of conserving the natural characteristics of the Smoky Mountains. He wanted to preserve this beautiful area as well and actually came to live there in 1904.
The park wouldn’t be finally and fully authorized until 1934, after the success of a group in Knoxville called the Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Association. It formed in 1923, and was led by Colonel David Chapman. He formed the organization to promote the idea of the national park in the Smoky Mountains. The work of photographer James E. Thompson also contributed to the success of the national park concept; the images allowed many to share the beauty of the area. Together, these individuals were responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Smoky Mountain National Park.
As was expected, the park was successful immediately. In 1941, just nine years after it’s creation, the park set a record for one year visitation of a national park with over one million visitors. It has continued to be the most popular park in terms of visitors in the entire national park system. Tourism has continued to grow to this day, and its popularity has never waned. People come for many reasons, such as to see the beautiful trees, the thousands of gorgeous plants, and the variety of animals that inhabit this park. They also come to hike the 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads. Not to mention the 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail!
Before the European settlers moved to the mountains, it was home to the Cherokee Indians. In 1830, however, the Indian Removal Act was created and put into place by President Andrew Jackson. This forced the Indians east of the Mississippi River to go west. Most of them went, though some of them took refuge in what is now known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and their descendants can now be found in the Qualla Reservation located south of the national park in Cherokee, NC.
As the first settlers moved into the area, logging became a major industry in the mountains. They had to have a way to move the timber, so the Little River Railroad was created to make this process more streamlined. Clear cutting was destroying the ecological aspects of the mountains, but the natural beauty of the mountains was also being harmed. Many of the locals and even some of the tourists began working together to try and raise enough money for the preservation of the mountains. The US government donated over two million dollars. John D. Rockefeller also donated five million dollars. This was in addition to what the locals and visitors had already raised.
Eventually the loggers were pushed out of the mountains, and the park became protected land. In 1929, federal organizations, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Work Progress Administration became building fire watchtowers, making trails, and improving areas all throughout the park. At one point, there were at least six thousand small farms that existed within the park during the early nineteen hundreds. Remnants of these old homes can be seen in many areas of the park, including Cades Cove and the Oconoluftee area.
If you’re looking for a place to vacation, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to visit. You’ll be amongst millions of others who wanted to see this beautiful area, and learn about it’s rich, complex history. While you’re in the area, you can visit Gatlinburg, which has many attractions and great people.
This is a great place for family vacations, solo adventures, and even weddings! Many people love to tie the knot using the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop to their beautiful ceremony. If you get married in late September or any time during October, you’ll be able to see the rich greens fade away to be replaced with deep, beautiful reds, and golds, and yellows.
Just to add to the parks points of interest, it became an International Biosphere Reservation in 1976. It was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It also became part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reservation in 1988, and celebrated it’s 75th anniversary in 2009. That makes the park almost 85 years old! With it’s rich history, and beautiful colors, this park is a must see for everyone!
So next time you’re planning a vacation, consider heading out to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bring your camera, your fishing pole, and your hiking boots. Trust me, you’ll never find yourself bored!