Surprising Facts About Great Smoky Mountains National Park
When 9 ½ million people travel to a national park each year, you know it has something going for it. In the case of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – America’s most popular national park – there are many reasons for a visit. Whether you’re visiting the park for outdoor fun, scientific study, or just a desire to get away, these surprising facts should tempt you to learn even more about the wonder of the Smoky Mountains.
Thank the son of a “robber baron” for the park: Although the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was the first national park to be purchased (in part) with Federal funds, the original legislation passed in 1926 required that all funding be from states or private sources. Contributions lagged until 1928, when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. offered $5 million in dollar-for-dollar matching funds.
It’s no small bit of irony that the Standard Oil fortune helped found the nation’s most popular national park – and that almost half the people in the United State live within a day’s drive of the park.
The land itself used to be part of European Continent: The Appalachian Mountains are old – really old – over 300 million years. In contrast, the Himalayas are mere youngsters at 40 million years. It’s really cool to realize that the geographic features of the mountains span multiple continents. When the continents were a single land mass called Pangea, the Appalachian Mountains were part of the Caledonian mountain chain in present day Scotland. When Pangea split, part of the range headed West and became the Appachalians.
It’s no wonder then that the area reminded emigrating Scottish Highlanders of home. Remnants of their speech remain part of distinctive local dialects and the many old-time music festivals feature tunes brought directly from Scotland and Ireland hundreds of years ago.
The park really isn’t crowded. Well ok, some parts (like the Cade’s Cove loop road) can experience traffic jams. but that’s because of this astonishing statistic: observers estimate that 80% of the people who visit the park never leave their cars.
The adventurous 20% find that many of the park’s best sights are just a short walk from the trailhead – and some trails are even paved. The delightfully-named “Hen Wallow Falls” is a 90-foot waterfall that’s a 2.2 mile walk through a hemlock and rhododendron forest. Eighty-foot “Juney Whank Falls” is less than a mile from the parking area.
The mountain ridges act as a migration map for birds: The North-South alignment of the mountains have aided migration for millions of years, enabling species to escape south and avoid extinctions during the Ice Ages and now providing a sort of mountain map for migrating birds.
More than 240 bird species have been found in the park, with nearly 120 species using the park for breeding. The mountains offer birds a much-needed migration respite complete with ample food and shelter. The park is a birdwatcher’s paradise and vitally important to the survival of many bird species.
The park is under attack: Around 1900, horticulturists accidentally released an Asian fungus. By the 1940’s, it had killed virtually all the Chestnuts – a third of the trees in the park. Efforts to find a blight-resistant Chestnut variety continue.
Different invaders threaten the park today. Non-native species threaten the natural ecosystem, and an invasive insect is attacking the park’s hemlock trees. Scientists and conservationists are working feverishly to combat the pest, because losing the hemlocks would be devastating. Some of the trees are over 500 years old, grow 150 feet tall, and their trunks reach 6 feet in diameter. As things stand today, they’re losing the battle.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a jewel in the Southern Appalachians and well worth a visit of several days or more. The tourist areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are a short drive from some of the park’s most popular areas and offer numerous lodging and entertainment options. You can camp, enjoy a luxury stay at CabinsOfTheSmokyMountains.com, or meet local residents at an independent inn or B&B.
Visit the Smokies and stay a while. You’ll be glad you did!
About The Author: Billy Parris is the general manager of Venture Resorts, a vacation property management and rental service specializing in luxury lodging in the East Tennessee region near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Properties include Cabins of the Smoky Mountains: all log-style luxury mountain homes ranging in size from 1 to 12 bedrooms.
Photo Souce: Google Commons