I am excited beyond words. Today, I received my phone call explaining that my family may be one of the fortunate families picked to participate in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park re-dedication ceremony as part of the park’s 75th anniversary celebration! I’ve stood where Franklin D Roosevelt dedicated the park on September 2, 1940, "for the permanent enjoyment of the people" and tried to imagine that day. It will be such an honor to be at Newfoundland Gap on September 2, 2009 for the re-dedication if we actually get tickets. The thought puts butterflies in my stomach.
I was born on the coast of North Carolina and had the good fortune to make several trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (map) as a child. I have fond memories of climbing up to Clingman’s Dome and looking out over the park’s lush green forest. I did not see the park for most of my teen years. When I became a student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I revisited Clingman’s Dome to be dismayed at the devastation of the Balsam Woolly Adelgid. The park became my Walden Pond where I escaped for inspiration, adventure, and respite. Over the years, I made many journeys with friends and solo. I’ve watched the sun rise from atop the Chimney Tops and skated down solid ice with a burned out flashlight on a Alum Cave Bluff night hike in January. I’ve laid in the back of a pickup truck at midnight in a trail head parking lot staring at the Milky Way in awe only to be blinded by a park ranger’s spot light wondering what I was doing. I was privileged to watch a homemade video by mutual friends of the last caretaker of the Wonderland Hotel as he told stories about the trains which would bring the visitors to the hotel. Another old timer chuckled and shared a story with me once. Said he was on a Cade’s Cove tour and the guide pointed to a nook in the wall incorrectly conjecturing to its purpose. The old timer explained, "I’ll tell you what it was. That was the family’s [he said their name] store and there was a tin can in that nook with a string that went to a tin can in the house so that people picking stuff up from the store could talk to them." He spoke with authority. I nearly stepped on a copperhead, a black snake and I shared the trail for a bit, and I’ve passed a rattle snake sunning on a log. I’ve been nose to nose with deer, smelled bear, and watched many other creatures. My adventures in the Smokies have been awesome. I’ve driven Rich Mountain Road so fast that Bo and Luke Duke couldn’t have caught me (okay, not a proud moment but I had the groom in the Jeep, got caught in Cade’s Cove traffic and wasn’t about to make him late for the wedding). Streams and waterfalls have been swum. I’ve seen a lot of the back country. Greenbier is my favorite. I’d camp down an old railroad bed with its hard to find trailhead hidden beside the ranger’s house. I never did find the old steam engine in the gorge. I was with the oldest ranger in the park when she told a group of girl scouts about the land she lived upon as a child. We then went across the street from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and hiked the nature trail on what used to be her family’s land.
The Great Smoky Mountains Natural Park has so many treasures from stories to adventures to nature to science to spirituality and so much more. Visit this park as often as you can. You won’t be able to get enough!
The Tennessee Tourist Development Commission proposes this pledge to all Tennessee tourists, whatever their interests:
"Take nothing but pictures;
Leave nothing but footprints;
Kill nothing but time."