Great Smoky Mountain National Park Progressed Toward Reality in 1926

On May 22, 1926, the news came out that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was rapidly becoming a reality. The project grew from the dream of a few enthusiasts to the actual and determined intention of the majority of the citizens in this section of the country, generating more supporters than any other project ever launched in these parts.

The park would comprise about 300,000 acres of forestland in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountain Range, which extended along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. It held within its territorial limits the last great eastern frontier, the final blanket of forest, which covered the entire portion of the United States before the coming of the white man to this country.

In the establishment of the new park, the citizens of the two border states, who had been co-operating in the work, desired to preserve for the future this last great stronghold of nature. Although the land would be deeded forever to the care of the United States Government, it would become the property of the people to be utilized as a national playground for future generations. In its establishment, the people jointly invested $2 million, which was matched with additional funds from outside the two states.

Lumber companies held the majority of the specified land as a timber reserve. The main reason for the magnificent stand of forest, which still existed in this section, was the inaccessibility of the entire mountain territory. No railroads crossed this pristine mountain country and vehicular travel was almost nonexistent over the rough mountain trails.

So formidable was the terrain that mapping of the proposed park had to be done from the air. Mosaic photographs of the section revealed parts of the region that showed no signs of human life. The land appeared undisturbed for miles. Indeed, the region was so vast that there were spots in which no humans had likely trodden.

Within the proposed park area, there were seven major unnamed peaks. The numerous mountains received designations only where they had striking characteristics or represented a significant incident from the past.

According to botanists, within the new National Park, there was a variety of flora that was the most remarkable on the continent. Beginning at the base of the mountains, explorers found trees and shrubs that resembled that of northern Georgia, but after climbing further, a startling change was noticed. The southern varieties were suddenly replaced by more northern shrubs until at the very tops of the ridges were found trees that grew nowhere south of Canada. This variety of flora was more remarkable considering the fact that the number of species in one mountain range greatly outnumbered those species found in the entire continent of Europe.

Hidden in the forest fastnesses of the Smokies were deer, elk, bear and other plentiful species of animals, which were rapidly disappearing elsewhere in the United States. The establishment of the new park further preserved species of animals for the enjoyment of future generations. Even in this section of the country there was need for protection as bear and deer were rapidly becoming limited as hunting became more prevalent. The establishment of the park came just in time to save large sections of the primeval forest; a number of lumber companies were preparing to invade this land with the ax.

One of the major assets of the park was a permanent power supply for rivers, which had their headwaters in this territory. This included not only streams of North Carolina but also those that flowed west from this mountain region. The forest blanket of the Smokies began protecting the continual power supply at the great national power project at Muscle Shoals.

The destruction of these forests would have meant massive flooding in the rainy season and insufficient water supply during the time of drought. The forest cover had an impounding action, which contained the moisture falling on the mountains in a bed of spongy leaves that was slowly released into nearby streams. The exposed deforested slopes had a much greater runoff and streams, which had no forests around their headwaters, received devastation from disastrous floods. According to experts, no system of reservoirs could possibly supplant the value of the natural water storage of abundant forest growth.

After Secretary Hubert Work of the Department of the Interior endorsed the National Park project, the establishment of the new fell squarely into the hands of Congress. There was no precedent for the use of the funds of the National Government for the purchase of National Park property.  In the past, this was handled by individual states. It was possible, however, for a group of citizens to present to the Government a recommended park area that would be accepted and administered by the Government for the welfare and recreation of the general public. Such was the case in the Smoky Mountain project.

The great park area was summarily purchased with funds jointly subscribed mainly by Tennessee and North Carolina to that end. It was policed and improved at the expense of the National Government. The improvement included a skyline highway down the great central ridge, following the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Highways made connection with this central road and traversed the park areas from east to west. It was expected that the establishment of the park and that also of the Shenandoah Valley Park would bring to the south an additional large number of visitors who would add to the prosperity and enjoyment of the section. That was certainly the case.

Congress chartered the Smoky Mountain National Park in 1934 and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated it in 1940. The efforts of those persistent farsighted champions of the 1920s resulted in the creation of the magnificent Great Smoky Mountain National Park that people all over the world enjoy today.