How We Can Preserve the Character and Landscape of the Great Smokies

Posted 08/23/13 by Marianne Wesley Fowler in America's Trails

Photo of park dedication © National Park Service

All through the month of August, we have featured stories about great trail and active transportation projects in Tennessee.

Call it virtual travel! We explored the renaissance of urban cycling in Memphis and a unique trail in Central Tennessee, and celebrated with the locals at the announcement of federal grants for new recreational trails projects. We wrap up our Tennessee month today with a glance back, and glimpse forward.

In the mid-1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, the U.S. government had a bold vision to create a national park that was easily accessible to the major population centers on the East Coast. Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina was a large tract of scenic land - the grandeur of its vistas and the complexity of its ecosystem unmatched in eastern North America.  But wanton clear cutting of the primeval forests in this region of the Great Smoky Mountains threatened to destroy this gem of nature.

But there was no public money to purchase and conserve the land. And so, in a remarkable wave of public fundraising and commitment, the people took it upon themselves, pledging millions of dollars to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Right from the very beginning, this was truly "the people's park."

On September 2, 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park "for the permanent enjoyment of the people." Today it is the nation's most visited national park. But almost everyone who visits has to enter by motor vehicle, creating an exhaust-congested and unappealing entryway, the complete reverse of the intention and character of the national park itself.

In just the same way the people of the Great Smoky region came together to conserve the land, now they are coming together to protect and improve it. Coordinated by the Great Smoky Mountains Regional 

Map of regional trail plan © Great Smoky Mountains Regional Greenway Council

Greenways Council, a local effort is underway to provide a nonmotorized pathway into the park, a greenway linking a number of existing trails between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and nearby Knoxville.

One of the trail projects being finalized this year is the Knox Blount Trail, a key connector in the broad regional ambition to make visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park an experience that not only protects the park from further environmental damage but also preserves the character of the landscape that inspired its creation in the first place.

My family has had a farm for decades near Knoxville. I love to return to it and enjoy the clean air and majestic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, home of my ancestors both settler and Cherokee. We must continue to herald and support the volunteers, community groups and supportive governments working to protect and promote the great natural resources of this wonderful place.

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