The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, with more visitors than any other park. Congress established the park in 1934, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially dedicated it in 1940. It is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States, covering more than 500,000 acres (522,419 to be exact). Early on, not everyone was happy about turning such a large tract of land into a national park, and whether it should be a national park or a national forest was debated. Finally, the park concept prevailed, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in the southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The park has two main entrances, one in Townsend, Tennessee (near Gatlinburg) and another at Cherokee, North Carolina. Both entrances are on Interstate 40. While there have been efforts to extend the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, these have not yet been successful.
The park’s highest peak is Clingmans Dome at 6643 feet above sea level or 2105 meters. The park has 5 major rivers, including the Little Pigeon River and its tributary streams. In total there are over 160 waterfalls in the park, with many of them falling into large lakes such as Fontana Lake or Cades Cove Reservoir.
There are a variety of animals living in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including black bears, mountain lions and white-tailed deer. Other animals include foxes, raccoons, squirrels and coyotes. There are also a number of birds in the park, including bald eagles, ospreys and many others.
Many different types of plants grow in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most common trees include pine, oak and hickory species. Other shrubs include mountain laurel, rhododendron and azaleas. Wildflowers are also found throughout the park’s landscape; some of these can be seen at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Center near Cherokee or at the Cades Cove Visitor Center.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park area was originally inhabited by various Native American tribes, including Cherokee and Catawba. The first European to explore the area was Daniel Boone in 1769, although there is no evidence that he spent time in what would become Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 1819, Andrew Jackson established a trade route from Nashville through the mountains to Charleston via Fort Nashborough (later renamed New Echota). This trail was used for about twenty years, until the Cherokee Nation was forced to cede their lands in 1838 under the Indian Removal Act. The Trail of Tears began when Cherokee were forcibly relocated from their homelands in Tennessee and Georgia to Oklahoma by Federal troops.
The first permanent settlement in Great Smoky Mountains National Park occurred at Cades Cove, a community that developed around a sawmill established there in 1858. This area became known as “Cades Cove” after Major Thomas Arbuckle, a local landowner who owned the mill.
In 1869, the Cherokee Nation opened Cades Cove as a tourist attraction and renamed it “Cairo”. The community soon became popular with visitors from all over the United States. In 1968, after years of declining popularity due to increased automobile traffic in the park and encroachment by commercial development in adjacent Gatlinburg, this area was incorporated into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today it is one of two entrances to the national park; the other, Elkmont, is located near Townsend.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established on June 15, 1934 by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was designated a national park to preserve what it called “an area of great scenic and scientific value”. The legislation proposed specific boundaries for the park that included land from both Tennessee and North Carolina. The legislation did not include lands in Georgia or West Virginia that were already protected as part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The park’s name was derived from the Great Smoky Mountains, a range of mountains that form a distinctive ring around the eastern part of North Carolina and western part of Tennessee.
The park is divided into two areas: the southern section, which extends to Georgia and West Virginia; and the northern section, which extends to New Jersey in the east and Tennessee in the west. Within these sections are thirteen individual units designated by act of Congress as “national parks” or “national recreation areas”. The park is home to many species of mammals, including black bears and white-tailed deer. More than 400 bird species inhabit the area, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons.
Many types of trees grow in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; examples include tulip poplar, red spruce, Fraser fir, Atlantic white cedar and black birch. The Appalachian Trail traverses the park from north to south along its entire length; it was constructed by volunteers and opened to the public in 1935. The park is also home to more than 1,200 archeological sites of various cultures, including a large Mississippian culture earthwork known as the Monks’ Mound or Monk’s Mound.
The park has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because of its “outstanding natural beauty”. It was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and declared an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1976. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, with over 11.7 million recreational visitors in 2016–2017. The park’s diverse ecosystems and vast mountains have made it a haven for many species of plants and animals, including endangered ones such as the red-cockaded woodpecker; this has led to some controversy regarding preservation efforts within the park itself.