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Travel Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains

Travel20TennesseeWith the coming of spring and summer, thoughts turn toward vacation destinations, and this year, consider placing the Great Smoky Mountains on your travel list. Those of us that call East Tennessee our home have this national treasure right in our backyard, and we invite visitors to our region to come and explore America’s most visited park with all its plant and animal diversity and remnants of the Southern Appalachian culture.

History

Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves a rich cultural tapestry of Southern Appalachian history. The mountains have had a long human history spanning thousands of years – from the prehistoric Paleo Indians and early European settlement in the 1800s to loggers and Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees in the 20th century. The park strives to protect the historic structures, landscapes, and artifacts that tell the varied stories of people who once called these mountains home.

Founding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park took the dedicated efforts of numerous individuals and groups. Most of the hard working supporters were based in Knoxville and Asheville, North Carolina. The park was formally dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in September 1940. He spoke from the Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap astride the Tennessee – North Carolina state line. That ceremony dedicated a sanctuary that is not a local park, a county park, or even a state park, but a national park for all the people of the country and the rest of the world to enjoy.

Nature & Science

Biological diversity is the hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which encompasses more than 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. No other area of equal size in a temperate climate can match the park’s amazing diversity of plants, animals, and invertebrates. More than 17,000 species have been documented in the park. Scientists believe an additional 30,000-80,000 species may live here.

The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed perhaps 200-300 million years ago. They are unique in their northeast to southwest orientation, which allowed species to migrate along their slopes during climatic changes such as the last ice age 10,000 years ago. In fact, the glaciers of the last ice age affected the Smoky Mountains without invading them. During that time, glaciers scoured much of North America but did not quite reach as far south as the Smokies. Consequently, these mountains became a refuge for many species of plants and animals that were disrupted from their northern homes. The Smokies have been relatively undisturbed by glaciers or ocean inundation for more than a million years, allowing species eons to diversify.

In terms of weather, the park’s abundant rainfall and high summertime humidity provide excellent growing conditions. In the Smokies, the average annual rainfall varies from approximately 55 inches in the valleys to more than 85 inches on some peaks – more than anywhere else in the country except the Pacific Northwest. During wet years, more than eight feet of rain falls in the high country. The relative humidity in the park during the growing season is about twice that of the Rocky Mountain region.

Plan a Visit

From black bears to salamanders, old-growth forests to spring wildflowers, log cabins to grist mills, the park offers a myriad of opportunities for exploring and discovering both the natural and cultural history of these ancient mountains. Consider a visit in 2013. There is enjoyment for the whole family.

For more information, visit the National Park Service website at www.nps.gov.

Photo credit: National Park Service

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