Great Smoky Mountains National Park – An American Tourist Spot in American City
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an American national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are 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. Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the United States with over 11.3 million recreational visitors in 2016. The Appalachian Trail passes through the center of the park on its route from Maine to Georgia. The park was chartered by the United States Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.
The park encompasses 522,419 acres, making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds.
Elevations in the park range from about 875 feet (267 m) to 6,643 feet (2,025 m) at the summit of Clingmans Dome. Within the park a total of sixteen mountains reach higher than 5,000 feet (1,520 m).
The wide range of elevations mimics the latitudinal changes found throughout the entire eastern United States. Indeed, ascending the mountains is comparable to a trip from Tennessee to Canada. Plants and animals common in the country’s Northeast have found suitable ecological niches in the park’s higher elevations, while southern species find homes in the balmier lower reaches.
During the most recent ice age, the northeast-to-southwest orientation of the Appalachian mountains allowed species to migrate southward along the slopes rather than finding the mountains to be a barrier. As climate warms, many northern species are now retreating upward along the slopes and withdrawing northward, while southern species are expanding.
The park is almost 95 percent forested, and almost 36 percent of it, 187,000 acres (76,000 ha), is estimated by the Park Service to be old growth forest with many trees that predate European settlement of the area. It is one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old growth forest in North America.
The variety of elevations, the abundant rainfall, and the presence of old growth forests give the park an unusual richness of biota. About 10,000 species of plants and animals are known to live in the park, and estimates as high as an additional 90,000 undocumented species may also be present.
Park officials count more than 200 species of birds, 50 species of fish, 39 species of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians, including many lungless salamanders. The park has a noteworthy black bear population, numbering about 1,500. An experimental re-introduction of elk (wapiti) into the park began in 2001. Elk are most abundant in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park.
It is also home to species of mammals such as the raccoon, bobcat, two species of fox, river otter, woodchuck, beaver, two species of squirrel, opossum, coyote, white-tailed deer, chipmunk, two species of skunk, and various species of bats.
Over 100 species of trees grow in the park. The lower region forests are dominated by deciduous leafy trees. At higher altitudes, deciduous forests give way to coniferous trees like Fraser fir. In addition, the park has over 1,400 flowering plant species and over 4,000 species of non-flowering plants.
According to the Köppen climate classification system, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has two climates; Humid Subtropical (Cfa) and Temperate Oceanic (Cfb).
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major tourist attraction in the region. Over 11.3 million recreational visitors (tourists) and an additional 11 million non-recreational visitors traveled to, or through, the park in 2016. The recreational figure represents nearly twice as many tourists as the Grand Canyon, which received nearly 6 million visitors the same year. Surrounding towns, notably Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, Sylva, Maggie Valley, and Bryson City, North Carolina receive a significant portion of their income from tourism associated with the park.
The two main visitors’ centers inside the park are Sugarlands Visitors’ Center near the Gatlinburg entrance to the park and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina at the eastern entrance to the park. These ranger stations provide exhibits on wildlife, geology, and the history of the park. They also sell books, maps, and souvenirs.
U.S. Highway 441 (known in the park as Newfound Gap Road) bisects the park, providing automobile access to many trailheads and overlooks, most notably that of Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 m), it is the lowest gap in the mountains and is situated near the center of the park, on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, halfway between the border towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee. It was here that in 1940, from the Rockefeller Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the national park. On clear days Newfound Gap offers arguably the most spectacular scenes accessible via highway in the park.
The park has a number of historical attractions. The most well-preserved of these (and most popular) is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historic buildings including log cabins, barns, and churches. Cades Cove is the single most frequented destination in the national park. Self-guided automobile and bicycle tours offer the many sightseers a glimpse into the way of life of old-time southern Appalachia. Other historical areas within the park include Roaring Fork, Cataloochee, Elkmont, and the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill on the Oconaluftee River.
The park service maintains four historic districts and one archaeological district within park boundaries, as well as nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable structures not listed include the Mountain Farm Museum buildings at Oconaluftee and buildings in the Cataloochee area. The Mingus Mill (in Oconaluftee) and Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin in Greenbrier have been deemed eligible for listing.
- Cades Cove Historic District
- Elkmont Historic District
- Oconaluftee Archaeological District
- Noah Ogle Place
- Roaring Fork Historic District
- Alex Cole Cabin
- Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
- Hall Cabin (in Hazel Creek area)
- John Messer Barn
- John Ownby Cabin
- Oconaluftee Baptist Church (also called Smokemont Baptist Church)
- Tyson McCarter Place
- Mayna Treanor Avent Studio
- Little Greenbrier School
- Walker Sisters Place
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