Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee Handbook 112
Cover photo: Sunrise from Mt. LeConte, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
North Carolina and Tennessee
Produced by the
Division of Publications
National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 1981
The National Park Handbook Series
National Park Handbooks, compact introductions tothe great natural and historic places administered bythe National Park Service, are designed to promoteunderstanding and enjoyment of the parks. Each is intendedto be informative reading and a useful guidebefore, during, and after a park visit. More than 100titles are in print. This is Handbook 112. You maypurchase the handbooks through the mail by writing toSuperintendent of Documents, U.S. Government PrintingOffice, Washington, DC 20402.
About This Book
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles theNorth Carolina-Tennessee border and encompasses theclimax of the Appalachian Mountain System. Major attractionsare the mountains themselves, the preservedstructures and lore of mountain folklife, stupendous displaysof flowering plants and shrubs, fall colors, wildanimals, superb hiking opportunities, and gorgeousrivers, streams, and waterfalls. This handbook is publishedin support of the National Park Service’s managementpolicies and interpretive programs at the park.Part 1 gives a brief introduction to what you may findin a leisurely visit to the park; Part 2 outlines the naturalhistory of the mountains and their valleys; and Part 3presents concise travel guide and reference materials.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
- United States. National Park Service.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee.
- (National park handbook; 112)
- Includes index.
- 1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (N.C. and Tenn.)
- I. Title.
- II. Series: Handbook (United States. National Park Service. Division of Publications); 112.
- F443.G7U63 1981 976.8’89 81-11320 AACR2
- Part 1 Welcome to the Great Smokies 4
- The Appalachians at Their Best 7
- Part 2 The Nature of Things in the Highlands 22
- By Napier Shelton
- A One-day Walk to Maine 25
- The Trout’s World 39
- The Evolution of Abundance 53
- Bears, Boars and Acorns 67
- The Tracks of Our Predecessors 79
- Part 3 Guide and Adviser 98
- Topical Reference 101
- Going to the Great Smokies 101
- Park Map 102
- Visitor Centers 104
- The Smokies by Car 107
- Wildflowers and Fall Colors 110
- Activities 112
- Hiking and Backpacking 114
- Accommodations 118
- For Your Safety 120
- Nearby Attractions 122
- Books to Read 125
- Index 126
1 Welcome to the Great Smokies
A rustic Cades Cove cabin preserves the spirit of pioneer life and times.
Here in the East’s wettest corner, winter snows release moistureslowly into the ground until spring thaw swells streams to rush downslope. The ultimate destination?The Gulf of Mexico.
The Appalachians at Their Best
At first glimpse there appear to be two Smokies: themountains’ wild nature, and the folk life. The mind callsup both the sweeping mountain vistas whose peaks succeedpeaks to the far horizon and the rustic cabins andbarns set off with the split rail fences of 19th-centurymountain life. The mountains are everywhere, punctuatedby restored settlements, by Cades Cove, MingusMill, Cataloochee, and Little Greenbrier. But this is notthe full story for there are many, many Great Smokies, adouble fistful of which may be just for you. There are asmany Great Smokies as there are people who come hereintent on discovering their secrets: the folklorist’s andamateur historian’s Smokies; the trout angler’s Smokies;the Smokies of the backpacker, day-tripper, and trailwalker; the botanist’s, ecologist’s, and birder’s Smokies;and the automobile tourist’s Smokies. Take your pick.
You can walk into the Smokies, into the heart of thewilderness. You can drive through the Smokies, throughthe jewels in the crown of the Appalachian highlands.You can enter them through North Carolina or throughTennessee. But you can also enter them through anystrong interest you may have, for there are as manySmokies as there are ways you can see them. And onegood way to see them is through the eyes of a native sonwhose love for these mountains is exceeded only by hislove for people. Such is Glenn Cardwell.
Glenn Cardwell took his aging mother and fatherdown to the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin just after the NationalPark Service finished restoring it. Glenn works for thepark and would conduct nature walks at the cabin, so hewanted to see what his folks would say. They used to livenearby and his mother’s Aunt Cindy and her husband,Noah, built the cabin just off Cherokee Orchard Roadout of Gatlinburg.
“Well I’ll tell you,” Glenn said, “my mother got toreminiscing not one step off the parking lot and stoppedat every rock and spot in the yard and told a tale. Itmust’ve taken the better part of an hour just to get herthrough the yard and down to the porch.”
Glenn’s mother took one look at the porch and said,“They put the step [a big flat rock] in the wrong place.”And so the restoration team had ... but it was another8rock that bothered Mrs. Cardwell most.
Walking back to the car she stopped dead in hertracks and said despairingly, “What have they done toCindy’s rock?”
Glenn had no idea what she meant although he couldsee the road cut close to a big boulder. The road hadbeen relocated but Glenn recalled nothing unusual aboutthe rock.
His mother, still staring, repeated her question. Glenn’sfather shrugged, “Looks to me like somebody blowedhell out of it.”
“I still couldn’t figure out what was bothering mymother,” Glenn said.
But now, in the 1980s, he will tell you that everyone inthe Smokies had scaffolds in their yards back in AuntCindy’s day for drying fruits and vegetables for winterstorage. Everyone, that is, but Aunt Cindy. She used thebig boulder across from their cabin, or what used to bethe flat part of it. Many’s the time Glenn’s mother, as alittle girl, helped Aunt Cindy spread produce to sun dryon the rock.
Glenn Cardwell is an affable walking encyclopedia ofSmokies life at the time the Smokies changed from apiece of Tennessee and North Carolina real estate intoour second national park in the East. Stories such asGlenn’s—and there are many—supply a compelling humanresonance to this wilderness land. Glenn’s enthusiasm isa bit unusual, because his father was bought out twice bythe Federal government as lands were being acquired forthe park. And each buy-out meant an unplanned relocationfor the family, moving and building anew.
“I think if my mother hadn’t had me on the way at thetime of the first buy-out,” Glenn said, “my father wouldhave pulled up stakes and gone back to Cumberland,Virginia, like many, many of our other relatives did.” Butthe Cardwells stayed on near the park and Glenn embodiesa transition, bridging new and old ways of doing andseeing things here. His father was bitter at first, but whenhe visited the Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin years later headmitted he was glad the park had come along so thatsome things remained unchanged. It was nice, he said,that he and others could still see the land as it had been.
The Great Smokies represented a new direction innational park policy in the 1920s. The eighteen nationalparks then in existence in the West had been createdfrom lands already owned by the Federal government.The Smokies lands authorized for park purchase beginning9in 1926 were all in private ownership in more than6,600 tracts. The lion’s share was owned by eighteentimber and pulpwood companies, but 1,200 other tractswere farms. Worse, there were also more than 5,000 lotsand summer homes. Many of these had been won inpromotion schemes and their owners had never botheredto pay taxes on them. This created an awesome landacquisition headache.
The Federal government would not purchase land fornational parks in those days, so in 1927 the Tennesseeand North Carolina legislatures each provided for appropriationof $2 million to purchase the land. Already, $1million had been pledged. The legislation also createdState Park Commissions in each state to handle thebuying. The John D. Rockefeller family supplementedthe fund drive with a $5 million donation. This wasconsidered one of the biggest and most important accomplishmentsof the entire national park movement. Thetwo states eventually purchased the needed lands anddonated them to the Federal government.
Ten years of dogged, full-scale activity and severalmore years of tying up loose ends were required to get theacquisition job done. Despite this tremendous impact ofhuman land use in the Smokies, however, about fortypercent of the park’s 209,000 hectares (517,000 acres)constitutes the East’s most extensive virgin forest. Forestrecovery is now well underway throughout the parkdespite the former blight left by logging and subsequentforest fires, and landslides, and other forms of erosion.
At one time no sharp edge separated two aspects ofnature in the Great Smokies: man and the wilderness.Cherokee Indians lived here in ways ironically similar tothose of the whites who would soon displace them. Theycultivated crops, hunted, believed in one god, practiceda democratic form of government, and lived not inteepees but in mud-and-log structures. “The place ofblue smoke,” Shaconage, they called this mountain huntingground. And here amidst the haze lived also the spiritof their people; it, too, could not be divorced from theland itself. Treaty after treaty saw the Cherokees losemore and more homeland, up to and finally including theSmokies. In one of the great human tragedies that blotsAmerican history they were forcibly removed westward,“relocated” to Oklahoma via the “Trail of Tears.” Onefourth of the people died along the way. A few Cherokeeshad resisted removal, staying behind in small groupsand hiding out in the mountains. Troops could not relocatethem because they couldn’t locate them. Later the Cherokeeswere allowed to return and reclaim the bordersof their old homeland. They live there today on theCherokee Reservation.
A contentedcow lends realism to the reconstructedPioneer Farmstead,next to Oconaluftee VisitorCenter.
Mt.LeConte is the park’s thirdhighest peak, following Mt.Guyot and Clingmans Dome,the highest. Smokies rocks areamong the continent’s oldestsediments. The ranges havesurvived 200 million years oferosion. By contrast, the SierraNevada is thought to be only 1million years old.
First things first!A rain-geared backpacker makessure her feet are protected againstblisters. The park offers morethan 1,300 kilometers (800 miles)of trails, including 110 kilometers(70 miles) of the AppalachianTrail that stretches from Maineto Georgia.
It is difficult now to appreciate the pressure onceexerted on the Appalachian highlands by human settlement.Back when land meant livelihood to a nation ofagrarian people, the gradual pressure from the easterncoast, across the Piedmont, reached the Appalachianchain. The shortage of arable lands forced people intoand finally onto the mountains in search of a plot ofground that would produce a livelihood. And so settlementcame to the Great Smokies, gradually working itsway up the mountainsides to the limits of cultivation.Grazing was eventually pushed beyond those limits all theway up the mountain to the balds. Combined overgrazing,overfishing, destructive logging practices, and overhuntingwould soon turn dense wilderness into a ravaged landscape.The National Park was authorized in 1926, establishedfor protection in 1930, and established for developmentin 1934. And now, about 50 years later, wildernessis again in ascendancy, as field naturalist Napier Sheltonamply testifies as he takes you exploring in Part Two ofthis handbook.
The wilderness richness here is both astounding andclose at hand. Richness? There are more species ofsalamanders here—22—than in any other part of theworld. In the lush density of the Smokies forests thereare more tree species than in all of Northern Europe. It isthought that this sheer density of forest cover and itsattendant transpiration help account for the “misty” characterfor which the Great Smoky Mountains are named.
This forest richness continues to unfold for present-daybiologists, as the recent discovery of the paper birch inthe Smokies attests. It had long been held that thisnorthern species did not occur in Tennessee. Its rangegenerally swings southward into New Jersey and thensimply jumps along the Appalachians, appearing hereand there as elevation and other conditions simulatenortherly climes.
Peter White, plant ecologist with the National ParkService’s Uplands Biological Field Research Laboratoryin the Smokies, discovered several of the trees one daywhen he went out to verify a paper birch sighted by threeNorth Carolina graduate students two years before. “Itwas