History of the Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of more than 500,000 acres. The park is located along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and lies in the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. Rich genetic diversity makes the area a natural bio-dome.
Though there were numerous parks in the western part of the United States, eastern citizens had no comparable place to enjoy the great outdoors. During a visit west in 1923, an influential Knoxville, Tennessee resident had the idea to create a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains. The idea was the brainstorm of Mr. and Mrs. Willis P. Davis. Congress authorized a bill to support the park in 1926, but the legislation required a park that contained at least 300,000 acres. The North Carolina legislature approved a bill that appropriated $2 million in funds for the park’s creation in 1927, but the funds were conditioned on similar commitment from Tennessee. Tennessee approved $2 million in funding later the same year. It was quickly evident that $4 million was nowhere near enough, and John D. Rockefeller stepped in with a $5 million contribution. Rockefeller’s contribution was contingent upon matching funds from the National Park Service, and the park soon had $14 million to its name.
In 1929, the funds were finally gathered, and the arduous process of buying land began. Because the area included a number of small landholders, more than 6,000 different parcels had to be acquired. Some of the area was owned by lumber companies, and these firms held out for as long as possible. Finally, condemnation lawsuits were filed in 1930, and in June 1931, rangers showed up for duty. The park continued building throughout the 1930s and was officially established on June 15, 1934.
Genetic Diversity and Recreational Opportunities
The Great Smokies National Park is located in an area of rich genetic diversity and consists of 522,419 acres. Nearly 95 percent of the park is forested, and estimates suggest that as much as 36 percent of the park is made up of old growth forests that predate the arrival of Europeans in America. Elevations within the park vary, and much of the area straddles the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lowest point in the park is a mere 876 feet, and the highest point is the summit at Clingmans Dome which is 6,643 feet above sea level. The various elevations make the park incredibly diverse, and the area contains individual climactic zones that are favorable for a number of different plants and animals.
The Great Smokies were named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 in honor of the area’s rich diversity. Because the area has high humidity and extensive precipitation, it forms an ideal environment for a variety of different living things. The park receives from 55 to 85 inches a year which is higher than any place outside of the Pacific Northwest. Nearly 10,000 different plant and animal species are documented in the park, and experts believe that nearly 90,000 undocumented varieties are present.