Great Smoky Mountain National Park; or preaching to the choir...

Rushing stream in the Smokies.

In my personal opinion, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most fascinating places on Earth. I have been there more times than I can recall and learned many things each time I went. I learned about the rocks, the animals, about the different types of flowers and trees, and I learned about the people who once called this area home. I learned that after a hip replacement surgery, I could walk all the way up to the Mount LeConte lookout. I was tired, but I had done it! At times it was like a home away from home.

The park is not only the most fascinating, but it’s also the most visited. A recent list showed GSMNP as having about eleven and a half million visitors a year. Grand Canyon National Park was next with about 6 million visitors. At 816 million square miles, it’s also one of the largest federal parks. But then, everyone in east Tennessee has been to the park and knows this, right? Well, it took us ten years after we moved to Tennessee before we made the trip. Sure wished I had done it earlier.

I would like to venture some reasons why I think the park is so popular. One reason is that the park is free. I believe that was something that happened during its formation. It was to be open to the public without cost.

Another reason, in my humble opinion, is the mountains themselves. To drive up Highway 441 toward Cherokee, North Carolina is breathtaking. The name of the mountains fits perfectly, with low-lying clouds like puffy blankets, thick in the valleys, letting the mountain tops show off their colors of green or red, orange, and yellow, depending on the season. And if you can drive up after a snowfall, it’s magnificently white and pristine.

Parts of the park are like walking in a rainforest, others are like walking in alpine regions. Mountain tops, forests, ravines and valleys, streams and rivers, caves and waterfalls grace this diverse area of the South.

People visit the park because of the variety of life there. More than 10,000 species of known plants and animals live in the Smokies. Among the animals are more than 200 species of birds, 50 different fish, 39 species of reptiles, and 43 types of salamanders. I was astonished at this fact. I have seen a lot of animals in the park, but most of them must be shy. Reading an article recently about the synchronous fireflies let me know that there are more than 18 species of the bioluminescent insects in the park. I didn’t know there were that many types in the whole world! And of course there are the mammals, like bears. Plenty of those, too.

The park also contains one of the most interesting old settlements I have ever seen—Cades Cove. When the park was created several hundred people lived and worked in the fertile valley. At first, they were all for the formation of the park because they were assured the cove wasn’t going to be a necessary part of the new national reserve. Later, that changed and bitter court battles ensued. Ultimately, the families lost the battle. Several residents were allowed to continue living there for many years. The last person to live in the cove was Lois Caughran, wife of Kermit Caughran. She was there until 1999. You can see an interview with her at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEvSCMO90L0 . Another video is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SBoHu0gnho.

The national park saved the oldest settlement structures such as cabins, barns, churches, a mill, and other buildings that tell of a vibrant past and a resilient and independent people. They built a visitor’s center, horse trails, and have people showing old-time skills. Over two million people a year visit Cades Cove.

With such history and breathtaking vistas, and the diversity of animals and plants, one can’t live in the backyard of the Smoky Mountain National Park without going to see it. If you haven’t, please take the drive. You won’t regret it.

Susan Kite is the author of several science fiction, fantasy, and historical young adult novels. Her website is: http://www.bookscape.net/author/main.htm

Meadow in Cades Cove with surrounding mountains.

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Animals of Cades Cove

Bear near John Oliver cabin

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Fax 865-992-2349

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