Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Most Popular U.S. Park

Do you know its name? GSMNP viewHint: Last week we visited one of the 2 states it’s located in.

IF you said the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) – you’re absolutely RIGHT – this is the most visited U.S. national park with 8 to 10 million annual visits.GSMNP view1That’s 2X as many visitors as at any other national park.GSMNP view3Unlike most other national parks, there is no entry fee to the park.

WHY? The reason for free entry dates to the 1930s. The land that today encompasses GSMNP was once privately owned. The states of Tennessee and North Carolina, and local communities, paid to construct Newfound Gap Road (US-441) which runs through the park.

In 1936,Tennessee transferred ownership of this road to the federal government, and stipulated that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed …” to travel the road. Newfound Gap Road was then one of the major routes crossing the southern Appalachian Mountains; the state was concerned with maintaining free, easy interstate access. North Carolina transferred its roads through abandonment, so no restrictions were imposed. If GSMNP ever wanted to charge an entrance fee, it would take action by the Tennessee legislature to lift this deed restriction.

IMG_0132Established in 1934, GSMNP was created from more than 6,000 tracts of private and commercial land bought with money from public and private donations.

GSMNP collage1About 100 native tree species make their home in Great Smoky Mountains National Park — more than in all of northern Europe. The park also contains one of the largest blocks of old-growth temperate deciduous forest in North America.

pine conesGSMNP is a renowned preserve of wildflower diversity and has over 1,660 types of flowering plants, more than in any other North American national park.

GSMNP flora collage2It is often called the “Wildflower National Park.”  Peak spring wildflower blooming usually occurs in mid- to late-April at lower elevations in the park, and a few weeks later on the highest peaks. Spring ephemerals include flowers such as trillium (the park has 10 different species), lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, columbine, bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, little brown jugs, and violets.

Ephemerals are so named because they appear above ground only in late winter and early spring, then flower, fruit, and die back in a short 2-month period, emerging from February through April, and gone (dormant) by May or June.

These are some of the flowers in bloom the day we visited.

GSMNP flora collageIGSMNP is one of the few places left in the eastern U.S. where black bears live in a wild, natural habitat and are often seen and photographed.

Sorry, no photos as we missed seeing any bears during our visit, but saw several groundhogs and lots of black-capped chickadees.

GSMP wildlifeThe GSMNP straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. Nearby Tennessee towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend and Cherokee, Sylva, Maggie Valley, and Bryson City in North Carolina receive a significant portion of their income from tourism associated with the park.

IMG_0186The two main visitors' centers in the park are Sugarlands Visitors' Center near the Gatlinburg, TN entrance and Oconaluftee Visitors' Center near Cherokee, NC. Ranger stations provide exhibits on wildlife, geology, history of the park, and sell books, maps, and souvenirs.

Establishing most of the older parks located in the western United States, such as Yellowstone, was different than creating GSMNP. In those cases, Congress carved parks from government-owned lands owned, usually where no one wanted to live.

But people were living in the current GSMNP areas. Land was owned by small farmers and  large timber and paper companies. Farmers didn’t want to leave family homesteads; corporations didn’t want to abandon huge forests of timber, miles of railroad, logging equipment, and villages of employee housing.

GSMNP collage1

In the late 1890s, people talked about a public land preserve in the  southern Appalachians; a bill entered the NC legislature, but failed. By the early 20th century, Northerners and Southerners were calling for some type of preserve: a national park or a national forest.

What’s the difference?  In a national forest, consumptive use of renewable resources is permitted; but in a national park, the environment and resources are protected for everyone to enjoy.

GSMNP view3In May, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill that provided for the establishment of the GSMNP and Shenandoah National Park, allowing the Department of the Interior to assume responsibility for administration and protection of a park in the Smoky Mountains after 150,000 acres of land had been purchased.

GSMNP view4The government was not allowed to buy land for national park use, so fund raising was started. In the late 1920s, the Tennessee and North Carolina legislatures each appropriated $2 million for land purchases, money was also raised by individuals and private groups. By 1928, $5 million had been raised, but land costs had doubled. The Rockefeller Memorial Fund gave $5 million for purchase of the remaining land.

IMG_0210Farms and timbering operations were abolished to establish the protected area of the park. Mountain homesteaders, miners, and loggers were evicted – 6.000 small farms, large tracts, and other parcels were surveyed, appraised, and sometimes condemned. Timber and paper companies had valuable equipment and inventory which required compensation. IMG_0174The park was officially established in June 1934.  During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and other federal organizations made trails, fire watchtowers, and other improvements to the park.

  • Bears over 1,500 black bears live in the park, which equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile.
  • Hiking there are over 800 miles of trails ranging from quiet walkways to multi-day backpacking backcountry treks.
  • Historic Buildings GSMNP has one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. Nearly 80 historic structures — homes, barns, churches, schools, and grist mill.
  • Waterfalls can be found on nearly every river and stream in the park.
  • Fontana Dam is the tallest dam in the eastern United States, and is  located near Fontana Village, North Carolina.
  • Mountain Farm Museum  at the Oconaluftee visitor’s center is a unique collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park.
  • Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked the half mile up and half-mile down. (MORE in an upcoming post.)


Sandra said...

I want to go, i want to go. the majestic mountains are worth it and all the plants and flowers. wow. i like that shot of the cones

Daisy said...

Such a beautiful place! Lovely photos, Beatrice. :)

Mamabug said...

Beatrice this place is truly a paradise. I've been so lucky to get to visit here several times a year for the past 10 years. I never tire of it's awesome beauty.

Anonymous said...

We visited the GSMNP in 2009, I believe, while attending a motorcycle rally in Maggie Valley. We enjoyed the sights of the park very much and hope to return to the area again one day.

Chip "Rocket Man" Allen said...

Beautiful series and interesting commentary. Of course. Living across the state line in Southwest Virginia I might be just a little biased. We moved to the Blue Ridge because my wife grew up here and I fell in love with these old mountains the first time she brought me here on vacation

Anvilcloud said...

11 posts this weekend? 11??!!

Anyhow .... this sure seems like an area that would be great to visit.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Hi Folks, blogger is definitely having it's share of issues lately and these delayed replies wereall blogger's "fault." I took Sandra's advice posted on her MadSnapper blog and changed from embedded to pop-up commentsNow I am able to post replies and to leave comments on other blogs. Thanks, Sandra and we can highly recommend a visit to GSMNP if you get a change to go.

Thanks Daisy & we agree Mamabug and Grenville is already talking about the NEXT trip, which of course most likely will include another train ride too.

Glad you visited too, Linda, and we saw lots of motocyclists on the road, but not so many bicyclists, although we're sure they also found this park attractive for riding.

Thanks, Chip for the kind comments. I try to provide background on places we've seen and enjoyed to dshare with others who might also want to visit. Sometimes, my posts gets a bit lengthy as in this case. We are finding mountains more to our liking as well, after a month in Maine last fall and this trip. We currently live in very flat land.

AC, yes our verbosity does get the better of us many (or most) times. Maybe we should find some other things to do as well...could be we have too much time, but then that's what not watching any TV evenings and reading or blogging will do.

Elaine said...

Beautiful series of shots!

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

THANKS Elaine!

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