Thursday, May 8, 2008

Smoky Mountain Side Trip

Greg and I have made little day trips into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Maggie has gone too, and yesterday's visit was along the Gatlinburg Trail, which is one of few Park trails that dogs are permitted on. Today we got up really early and went into Cades Cove to view wildlife, and were rewarded with sightings of wild turkey, groundhog, deer, and even one bear. We were absolutely blown away by how calm the animals were, as if they know they have a safe haven inside the park.

The Great Smoky Mountains had human inhabitants for many, many centuries. First, of course, were the Cherokee, who camped and hunted there. In the early 1800's, Scots-Irish settlers came to farm, raise livestock, and log. In 1927, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began buying tracts of land which they would eventually give to the federal government for the establishment of a national park in 1933. This must've been quite a hardship on families who'd lived in the Smokies for generations, and a few resisted the forcible sale of their land, though ultimately  they lost their battles against the government. Residents who agreed to accept a little less money for their land were permitted to remain on it until their deaths, but their descendants could not inherit.

The Great Smoky Mountains is the only park in the National Park system which was created from privately owned land. Lumber companies had owned more than 85% of the park, and had logged vast portions of it. Though I can certainly empathize with the hardy souls who'd carved out their daily existence in those mountains, their sacrifice, forced though it may have been, was a boon to us all, and particularly to the wildlife. When white settlers first came to the Smokies, deer and bear were described as "plentiful." By the time the National Park was created, only an estimated 30 deer lived in the park. Otter, once hunted for their pelts, were no longer to be found in the mountains by the 1920s; elk had disappeared from the landscape in the mid-1800s due to overhunting and loss of habitat. The deer population is now at an ecologically sustainable level, and both otter and elk have been reintroduced. About 1500 bears live in the park, and the park now boasts the greatest biological diversity of any area in the world's temperate zone.

After leaving Cades Cove, we slipped into Townsend, Tennessee, to pay a visit to the Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop. Now we're back at our campsite in Pigeon Forge, listening to thunder in the distance and enjoying a cooling afternoon rain.

Here are a few more pictures from The Smokies and Cades Cove:

This photo was taken along the Gatlinburg Trail, near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It's an easy trail -- the first half-mile or so is paved -- a perfect warm-up for future visits into the park!

The Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove -- the church was founded in 1827, and this building was built in 1887. To the left is a cemetery. One of the stones bears this epitaph: "_____ murdered by North Carolina Rebels." This congregation were Union sympathizers and had to suspend services because of harassment from Rebels. From an official church correspondence: "We the Primitive Baptist Church in Blount County in Cades Cove, do show the public why we have not kept up our church meeting. It was on account of the Rebellion and we was Union people and the Rebels was too strong here in Cades Cove. Our preacher was obliged to leave sometimes, and thank God we once more can meet."

These deer couldn't have cared less that we were about 60 yards away. They are used to visitors, and know quite well that they own the place!

The cabin of George Washington "Carter" Shields

Yes, that really is a bear in the center of this photo. Yes, that's about the best shot I could capture of it. About 1500 bears live in the park, but for the most part they manage to elude visitors.

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