The Bear Facts on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
June 18, 2009 by Debi Lander
By golly, I admit I’m not a country girl. Can’t name the Country Music Singer of the Year, don’t follow NASCAR and camping makes me itch. You won’t be able to kiss my grits because I don’t eat any, or fried okra or hush puppies. Nonetheless, I had a dang good time in Sevierville, birth place of Dolly Parton, and home of the Smoky Mountains .
I recently flew to Knoxville, Tennessee, and then drove to the foothills of the Smokies. I found Sevierville to be a right nice place, even if the name sounds a bit harsh. This is a town where you can go hog wild visiting all the attractions.
But the mountains are what called to me. I fell in love with the “Land of Blue Smoke,” as the Cherokee called their native homeland. What appears as wispy smoke from a fire rises out of the peaks and valleys. The enormous amount of water in the area and the respiration of the trees causes this mystical natural phenomenon.
The Smokies are also famous for bears and, of course, I was hoping to see one. Alas, I did not, that being my only disappointment.
I thought I’d give you a little history on the park and add a few interesting facts at the end. Future blogs will explore the attractions, activities and restaurants in the Sevierville and Pigeon Forge area.
A Brief History of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smokies were formed 200-300 million years ago. That makes them very, very old!
Sometime not that far back, Native Americans, the Cherokee, settled in South. However, between 1838 and 1839, the government rounded them up and forced all the Cherokee from their homes. In total 17,000 were sent to a reservation, what’s now Oklahoma, but sadly, many died along the way. That saga is known as the Trail of Tears.
After the Cherokee left, the logging companies moved in and began cutting the forests. Concerned US citizens wanted to protect the natural beauty but the government was not allowed to buy land for national park use. Private money had to be raised to purchase the acreage.
In the late 1920s, the Tennessee and North Carolina Legislatures appropriated $2 million each for land purchases. Additional funds were raised by individuals, groups, and even school children who pledged their pennies. By 1928, a total of $5 million had been collected. Trouble was the cost of the land had now doubled. The Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Fund came to the rescue. They donated an additional $5 million, stipulating that the park remain free and open to the public.
Rural mountain families or hillbillies, as they were often called, had also built cabins in the Smokies and did not want to leave. Eventually, they too, were forced out. Many remained in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area but struggled to eke out a meager existence.
Between 1933 and 1942 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an agency created during the Depression to provide work and wages for the unemployed, built a number of the currently used rails, campgrounds, beautiful stone bridges and buildings.
The park was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in October, 1934. This year makes the 75th anniversary, as good a reason as any to visit.
The Smokies and Sevierville welcome all with Southern hospitality. You’ll find the landscape rises in scenic splendor and the people are down-home friendly. I heartily recommend you mosey on over.
Now in case you don’t know much about the wildlife or offerings in Great National Smoky Mountains (I sure didn’t before I went), I’m leaving you with the bear facts:
- The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed perhaps 200-300 million years ago
- Between 8-10 million people visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, making it the most visited American national park.
- Entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free. The park is one of the only major national parks that does not charge an entrance fee.
- There are over 800 miles of maintained hiking trails.
- 1,500 bears live in the park. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile.
- In the Smokies, the average annual rainfall varies from approximately 55 inches in the valleys to over 85 inches on some peaks-more than anywhere else in the country except the Pacific Northwest. Waterfalls can be found on nearly every stream and river in the park
- Elevations range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet.
- Temperatures differ about 20 degrees F from base to summit.
- Auto touring is the most popular way to see the park There are 384 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies.
- Seventy eight historic structures, including grist mills, churches, schools, barns, and the homes of early settlers, preserve Southern Appalachian mountain heritage in the park.
- Fishing, biking and horseback riding are permitted in certain areas only.
- Biological diversity is the hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. No other area of equal size matches the park’s amazing variety of plants, animals, and invertebrates. Did you know?
- Over 10,000 species have been discovered in the National Park; Scientists believe there are over 90,000 more to be discovered
- 100 species of native trees (more than any other North American national park)
- 1,400 flowering plant species
- 4,000+ non-flowering plants
- 200+ species of birds
- 66 types of mammals
- 50 native fish species
- 39 varieties of reptiles
- 43 species of amphibians
And here’s the kicker, the Great Smokies have lungless salamanders and fireflies that synchronize their flashing lights. Pretty daggum amazing.