January 29, 2009

The Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is the nation's most visited National Park, with 8-10 million people visiting each year. It was first founded in 1934 and will be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
The Smokies are an ancient mountain range and classified as a temperate rain forest. Hardwood trees such as hickory, hemlock, birch, buckeye, tulip popular, magnolia & sugar maples, grow throughout the forest in the lower elevations. The American Chestnut tree, the most beloved tree of the early inhabitants, was killed off by a blight in the 1920's.

Conifer pine trees such as the Red Spruce & Fraser Fir grow on higher elevations, although most of the Fraser Firs were killed by a bug infestation in the 1960's. You can still see many of the dead trees still standing on Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokies. Thus the Red Spruce is the dominant pine species now.
The Smokies are full of wildlife. About 1,500 black bears live in the park, as do deer, elk, wild boar, bobcats, coyote, the red & gray fox, river otters, and smaller animals like salamanders, snakes, and butterflies. There are 30 different known species of salamanders in the Park. That's more than anywhere else in the world! The Park is home to 66 species of mammals, over 240 species of birds, 43 species of amphibians, 60 species of fish, & 40 species of reptiles.
Scientists even suggest that there are species of these smaller animals that haven't even been discovered yet!
The Smokies is a moderate climate, meaning mild winters & hot, humid summers.
Topographical elevations range from a mere 800 feet to over 6,600 feet at the summit of the tallest mountain!
The earliest known people to inhabit the Smokies were the prehistoric Paleo Indians. In the 1800's a large amount of European settlers came from Scotland, Ireland & Germany. When these first white settlers came, they found themselves in the land of the Cherokee Indians. Unfortunately in the 1830's, most of the Cherokee were forcibly removed from the region in the tragedy known today as the "Trail of Tears". These Cherokee were relocated to Oklahoma, but there is still a large Cherokee reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina, where many work, reside, and keep their culture alive.
More white settlers came to the area in the early 20th century as loggers. They used the lumber for building houses, barns, and fences for their livestock.
The settlers lived off the land by pasturing livestock, farming, and hunting.
Logging became a booming industry in the 20th century, and the National Park was established in 1934 to save & protect the primeval forests that remained from logging. So much forest had been cut down that by the time the Park was established, only 20% of the forest remained. That 20% has been protected ever since, and comprises more than a million acres of forest.
Once the land became the National Park, residents were not allowed to live within Park boundaries, and more than 1,200 land-owners were forced to leave their homes & land and move somewhere outside Park borders.
The culture of these artisans still exists today. In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, there is a tourist destination called the "Smoky Mountains Arts & Craft Trail Loop", which is a group of shops & stores located on a loop road. The artisans that run the shops make their goods by hand, preserving the ancient culture of the Appalachian people.
In the Smokies, you will find country home-cooking (biscuits & gravy, grits, flapjacks, sausage & bacon), bluegrass & gospel music, and many churches, chapels, & pioneer cemeteries, indicating how important faith in God was and is to the mountain people. You will also find numerous arts & crafts shops, from woodworking, to knitting, painting, pottery, homemade clothing, soaps & candles, and leather goods.
"Bush's Baked Beans" Company (with their "secret recipe") is located nearby, and the "English Mountain" bottled water company resides near the actual English Mountain, an Appalachian foothill.
The Cherokee Indians call the Smokies
"Shaconage", meaning "the place of the blue smoke". Anyone who witnesses the surreal beauty of the Smoky Mountains will agree that it is a beautiful, ancient place; full of mystery, culture, and faith.
-some information from the GSM National Park Service Official Website & Wikipedia

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