Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a US national park and a UNESCO world heritage site and covers the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains and part of Blue Ridge Mountains (National Park Service US Department of the Interior 1). It is the most visited park and one of the largest protected areas in the US (Walls 7).
It covers about 2108 km2 and forms part of the larger Appalachian Mountain Chain (Saferstein1). Unlike other national parks within the US, the Great Smoky National Park does not charge any entry fee (Walls 7).
History of the Park
The region covered by the park was once the home of Cherokee Indians (Himiak 11). However, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 which resulted in the eviction of the Indian tribes from the region (National Park Service US Department of the Interior 1).
The white settlers later on built a rail line passing through the region but then started cutting and hauling of the trees from the forest. This led to the destruction of the forest and its natural beauty until the locals and the visitors saw the need to preserve the forest.
They then (along with the US government) raised some money to establish the park since the US National Park Service did not have enough finances to establish the park on its own (Campbell 3). Individual citizens from North Carolina and Tennessee came in to help assemble the land for the establishment of the park.
Those who still lived in the park, mainly the Cherokee Indians, miners and loggers, were forced out of the park and all the operations which contributed to the destruction of the forest were abolished (Saferstein 56). The park was officially instituted in June, 1934 by the US Congress and dedicated in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt (Himiak 22).
The Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and other federal organizations developed the infrastructure in the park and around Smoky Mountains during the Great Depression (National Park Service US Department of the Interior 1).
In 1976, the park became an International Biosphere Reserve and in 1983, it was certified by UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1988, the park was expanded to become part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve (National Park Service US Department of the Interior 1).
Attractions and Uniqueness of the Park
According to the US National Parks (para. 1), the park is renowned for its diversity in plant and animal species. For example, the national park has over 10,000 different plant and animal species, its scenic ancient mountains, the depth of its wilderness sanctuary, and the remnants of the Southern Appalachian Mountain culture, among others. It has ridges of endless forest covering the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
The park has one of the largest temperate, deciduous and old growth forest blocks which date as far back as during the time of the European settlement in the region. The trees species alone are over a hundred. The animal species include over 66 mammal species, over 43 amphibian species, over200 species of birds, over 39 species of reptiles and more than species of 50 species of fish. It is also important to note that the park has over 1,800 black bear (National Park Service US Department of the Interior 9).
The park also has a number of historical sites, such as the Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Mingus Mill and Mountain Museums. These historic sites have many preserved historic buildings such as the log cabins, churches and barns which provide an outdoor historic gallery. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has some high altitude mountains like Mount LeConte which is very popular with hikers. The park has some of the most spectacular waterfalls like Laurel, Abrams, Whank, Grotto and Hen Wallow Falls.
It has other beautiful sceneries which include Fontana Dam situated between Rocky Mountains, the Deep Creek rivers and waterfalls, the Balsam Mountain which offers a stunning mountain view for summer wildflowers, the Roaring Rock which offers a glimpse of rushing Mountain Rivers and old-growth forest and the New Found Gap among many other beautiful types of scenery.
Around the park, there is the Andrew Johnson Historic site which was established in honor of the United States’ 17th president. It includes the late president’s home where he resided before and after his presidency.
There is also the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area covering about 125,000 acres around Cumberland River and its tributaries (Kephart 4). This region has many natural and historic features which include beautiful sandstone bluffs and scenic gorges. In the nearby North Carolina, there are the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests which offer rich wildlife, spectacular waterfalls and areas for camping.
The park offers a wide range of activities which include wildlife viewing, hiking, fishing, camping, horseback riding, boat riding among other activities. Hiking is the most popular activity in the park and the park provides many routes for hiking on the elevations of the mountains (Public Service Ads 1). Fishing is the second most popular activity in the park done in the waters within the park. Fontana Dam provides cool waters for boat riding and fishing in the park.
The main entrances to the park are located are on the New Gap Road, US Highway 441. From the south, the park can be reached through Sevierville and then through Pigeon Forge using US-441 and finally to the park using the Gatlinburg entrance. From the north it can be reached through the interstate highway, through to Maryville and then Townsend and finally to the park using the Townsend entrance. Cherokee entrance can be reached through US-19 and then through Maggie Valley road to the park.
There are also two airports around the park: McGhee-Tyson Park in Tennessee which is a few kilometers from the Gatlinburg entrance and Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina which is about 60 miles away from Cherokee entrance to the park. Although there is no public transport to the park, there are private commercial bus services and trolley services such as Cherokee Transit, connecting the park to the main cities around the region.
Inside the park, there are also roads that lead to the various sites and sceneries such as Ramsey Prong Road, Capes Code Loop Road, Foothills Parkway and many others.
Infrastructure and Concessions
The park has many well-maintained roads connecting it to the outside regions and within it for exploring the park. The park is also connecting to the outside world through the two airports in the regions around it. It has lodges, motels and restaurants as well as camp sites for tourists. It provides recreational vehicle camping and background camping (Walls 7). Some of the lodges in the park include the Mt. LeConte Shelter, Laurel Gap Shelter and Kephart Shelter (Public Service Ads 1).
The Park’s Visitors
The park is the most visited national park in the US and records over nine million visitors annually (National Park Service US Department of the Interior, 1).
It experienced the highest visit among the US national parks in 2007 with a record of 9.4 million visitors which was more than double that of Grand Canyon National Park which was the second most visited (Walls 5). Most of its visitors come from the surrounding regions and towns which include Gatlinburg, North Carolina, Tennessee, Cherokee, Townsend, Pigeon Forge, and Bryson City among many other areas.
The most visited centers in the park are and Oconaluftee Visitors’ Center and Sugarlands Visitors’ Center. The categories of visitors recorded in the park include both those who go purely for recreation and those who go for other purposes such as studies and scientific research.
Most of the visitors in the park are hikers who go to hike in the rails and the unpaved roads within the park. It is open to visitors throughout the year, but the most appropriate period to visit the park is during the autumn when the region experiences warm days and cool nights (Public Service Ads 1).
Concerns extraneous to the Park
There are several factors that affect the park. Among these include air pollution, urban encroachment, inadequate funding and invasive species among other problems. According to Camille (28), the air quality around the park is affected by pollution from industries and automobiles and mostly from the coal fired power plants which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The severe air pollution negatively affects the biodiversity in the park (National Parks Conservation Association 1). Air pollution causes diseases in the plants which have killed almost all the chestnut trees and is also threatening future of butternuts and dogwoods as well as beech trees.
Some normative plant species also affect the survival of the native species within the park. Invasive insects also threaten the future of Fraser firs and hemlock trees (Maldona 14). Generally, the invasive species destroy the biodiversity and hence undermining the ecological health of the wildlife in the park.
The park’s efforts to preserve its cultural resources are negatively affected by the underfunding of the park’s management and that of the National Park Service.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934 by the US Congress to protect the beautiful forest and forest features around Smoky Mountains and since then has achieved greater status including being the International Biosphere Reserve and the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve.
It has over 10,000 wildlife species of both flora and fauna, which includes among others the black bear and the old growth forest. It also boasts of many historic sites as well as beautiful sceneries such as waterfalls and gorges. It serves all the US citizens and entry to the park is free. It is also the most visited park in the US. Infrastructure both inside and outside the park is well maintained and includes the road network, airports, lodges among others.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest and the most visited in the US. It is therefore important that measures that ensure that the park’s cultural and natural resources are conserved and managed sustainably. More scientific research should be carried out to find out alternative measures for encountering the normative species. This implies that more funding should be made to help support the park’s conservation and preservation programs.
Camille, Feanne. Smokies top list of most polluted parks. June 2004. 12 November, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/science/06/24/parks.pollution/
Campbell, Chis. The making of a national park. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press. 1964 print.
Himiak, Lauren. National and State Parks: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 2010. 12 Nov. 2010.
Kephart, Horace. Our Southern Highlanders. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 1961 Print.
Maldona, Charles. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hazy Future. Metropulse. June 2009. 12 November 2010.
http://www.metropulse.com/news/2009/jun/10/great-smoky-mountains-national-park-hazy-future/ . New Report Ranks Five Most-Polluted
National Parks. National Parks Conservation Association. June 2004. 12 November 2010.
National Park Service US Department of the Interior. Great Smoky Mountains. nps.gov. November 2010. 12 November 2010. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/things2do.htm
Public Service Ads. Things to do: Smoky Mountains. 2010. 12 November 2010.
November 2010.US National Parks. Great Smoky Mts. National Park: Tennessee and North Carolina. ParkReservations.com and Yellowstone Net, Bruce Courtley, 2007. 12
Walls, Michael. Parks and Recreationin the United States: The National Park System. Washington, D.C. Resources for the Future. 2009. Print.