With an unbelievable swath of land stretching over 500,000 acres and a view that lasts for days, Great Smoky Mountains National Park promises cascading waterfalls, roaming wildlife, lush forests, and so much more. It’s no wonder this is the country’s most-visited national park.
The town of Gatlinburg is often the gateway to this glorious national treasure, where visitors can make their way to a well-known park path to explore everything the area has to offer. From there you can hook right on to the Appalachian Trail, walk through meadows of wildflowers, or sojourn to one of many waterfalls. It’s all right here for the outdoor adventurer.
This is one of the planet’s few International Biosphere Reserves, where black bears and wildflowers bloom uninhibited by encroaching land development. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles Tennessee and North Carolina, and the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains; a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.
It preserves a culture rich in Southern Appalachian history, which includes a far-reaching human history, dating back to the prehistoric Paleo Indians. One of the park’s objectives is to protect the historic structures, artifacts, and landscapes, which tells the story of the indigenous people who once called these lands home.
How Great Smoky Mountains NP Came to Be
It was not an easy task for this region to become a national park. Certainly not as easy as it was for other national parks, as they were already owned by the government where no one lived. But for this area, hundreds of farmers and timber-related companies already laid claim to the land. It took the efforts of thousands of people, much time, and money for it to become a reality. The idea was first floated in the late 1890s, and North Carolina introduced a bill to establish the area as a national park, but it failed.
Fast forward to the 1920s, when persistent supporters in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina, along with auto clubs like AAA who wanted good roads through gorgeous scenery, pushed the idea through Congress once again. Finally, in May of 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill that started the process of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to come to fruition. Money was raised to purchase the land from private owners or public companies, which was no small feat. It took several years and millions of dollars to make it happen.
Finally, by 1934, Tennessee and North Carolina transferred the deeds for some 300,000 accumulated acres to the federal government. Then came the arduous task of developing facilities and restoring early settlers’ buildings as attractions to the park. It was formally dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in September, 1940.
An Environment that Nature Allowed to Let Thrive
Thousands of plant and animal species have been documented in the park, with more being discovered every year. The last Ice Age did not quite get this far south, and as such, the various flora and fauna had a better chance to thrive and diversify.
So come with your binoculars, enjoy the show, and explore everything that Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 61 of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!
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