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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

View from Cliff Tops atop Mount LeConte (author: Aviator31, 2007).

The Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina (author: Ken Thomas, 2007).
The Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina (author: Ken Thomas, 2007).

 

The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and form part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province. The range is sometimes called the Smoky Mountains and the name is commonly shortened to the Smokies. The Great Smokies are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 9 million visits per year, it is the most-visited national park in the United States.

The Great Smokies are part of an International Biosphere Reserve. The range is home to an estimated 187,000 acres (76,000 ha) of old growth forest, constituting the largest such stand east of the Mississippi River. The cove hardwood forests in the range’s lower elevations are among the most diverse ecosystems in North America, and the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest that coats the range’s upper elevations is the largest of its kind. The Great Smokies are also home to the densest black bear population in the Eastern United States and the most diverse salamander population outside of the tropics.

 

 

Panoramic view of the Smokies. The tallest mountain about center is Mt. Leconte (author: ReverieHikes, 2006)
Panoramic view of the Smokies. The tallest mountain about center is Mt. Leconte (author: ReverieHikes, 2006)

 

Along with the Biosphere reserve, the Great Smokies have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The U.S. National Park Service preserves and maintains 78 structures within the national park that were once part of the numerous small Appalachian communities scattered throughout the range’s river valleys and coves. The park contains five historic districts and nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the background from Lynchburg, Virginia (author: Billy Hathorn, 2011).
The Blue Ridge Mountains in the background from Lynchburg, Virginia (author: Billy Hathorn, 2011).

 

The name “Smoky” comes from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is caused by the vegetation exhaling volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a high vapor pressure and easily form vapors at normal temperature and pressure.

As a result of the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, the Great Smoky Mountains have received international media coverage.

 

 

 

Geography

 

The Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee (author: Terrill White, 2006).
The Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee (author: Terrill White, 2006).

 

The Great Smoky Mountains stretch from the Pigeon River in the northeast to the Little Tennessee River to the southwest. The northwestern half of the range gives way to a series of elongate ridges known as the “Foothills,” the outermost of which include Chilhowee Mountain and English Mountain. The range is roughly bounded on the south by the Tuckasegee River and to the southeast by Soco Creek and Jonathan Creek. The Great Smokies comprise parts of Blount County, Sevier County, and Cocke County in Tennessee and Swain County and Haywood County in North Carolina.

The sources of several rivers are located in the Smokies, including the Little Pigeon River, the Oconaluftee River, and Little River. Streams in the Smokies are part of the Tennessee River watershed and are thus entirely west of the Eastern Continental Divide. The largest stream wholly within the park is Abrams Creek, which rises in Cades Cove and empties into the Chilhowee Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River near Chilhowee Dam.

Other major streams include Hazel Creek and Eagle Creek in the southwest, Raven Fork near Oconaluftee, Cosby Creek near Cosby, and Roaring Fork near Gatlinburg. The Little Tennessee River passes through five impoundments along the range’s southwestern boundary, namely Tellico Lake, Chilhowee Lake, Calderwood Lake, Cheoah Lake, and Fontana Lake.

 

 

 

 

Notable peaks

 

The highest point in the Smokies is Clingmans Dome, which rises to an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 m). The mountain is the highest in Tennessee and the third highest in the Appalachian range. Clingmans Dome also has the range’s highest topographical prominence at 4,503 feet (1,373 m). Mount Le Conte is the tallest (i.e., from immediate base to summit) mountain in the range, rising 5,301 feet (1,616 m) from its base in Gatlinburg to its 6,593-foot (2,010 m) summit.

 

 

 

 

Climate

 

The Smokies rise prominently above the surrounding low terrain. For example, Mount Le Conte (6,593 feet or 2,010 m) rises more than a mile (1.6 km) above its base. Because of their prominence, the Smokies receive heavy annual amounts of precipitation. Annual precipitation amounts range from 50 to 80 inches (130–200 cm), and snowfall in the winter can be heavy, especially on the higher slopes. For comparison, the surrounding terrain has annual precipitation of around 40 to 50 inches (100–130 cm).

Flooding often occurs after heavy rain. In 2004, the remnants of Hurricane Frances caused major flooding, landslides, and high winds, which was soon followed by Hurricane Ivan, making the situation worse. Other post-hurricanes, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, have caused similar damage in the Smokies.

 

 

 

 

 

Geology

 

Alum Cave Bluffs along the Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the trail passes along a wide, barren area at the base of the bluffs (author: Brian Stansberry, 2006).
Alum Cave Bluffs along the Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the trail passes along a wide, barren area at the base of the bluffs (author: Brian Stansberry, 2006).

 

Most of the rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains consist of Late Precambrian rocks that are part of a formation known as the Ocoee Supergroup. The Ocoee Supergroup consists primarily of slightly metamorphosed sandstones, phyllites, schists, and slate. Early Precambrian rocks, which include the oldest rocks in the Smokies, comprise the dominant rock type in the Raven Fork Valley (near Oconaluftee) and upper Tuckasegee River between Cherokee and Bryson City. They consist primarily of metamorphic gneiss, granite, and schist. Cambrian sedimentary rocks are found among the outer reaches of the Foothills to the northwest and in limestone coves such as Cades Cove.

The Precambrian gneiss and schists—the oldest rocks in the Smokies—formed over a billion years ago from the accumulation of marine sediments and igneous rock in a primordial ocean. In the Late Precambrian period, this ocean expanded, and the more recent Ocoee Supergroup rocks formed from accumulations of the eroding land mass onto the ocean’s continental shelf.

By the end of the Paleozoic era, the ancient ocean had deposited a thick layer of marine sediments which left behind sedimentary rocks such as limestone. During the Ordovician period, the North American and African plates collided, destroying the ancient ocean and initiating the Alleghenian orogeny—the mountain-building epoch that created the Appalachian range. The Mesozoic era saw the rapid erosion of the softer sedimentary rocks from the new mountains, re-exposing the older Ocoee Supergroup formations.

Around 20,000 years ago, subarctic glaciers advanced southward across North America, and although they never reached the Smokies, the advancing glaciers led to colder mean annual temperatures and an increase in precipitation throughout the range. Trees were unable to survive at the higher elevations, and were replaced by tundra vegetation. Spruce-fir forests occupied the valleys and slopes below approximately 4,950 feet (1,510 m). The persistent freezing and thawing during this period created the large blockfields that are often found at the base of large mountain slopes.

Between 16,500 and 12,500 years ago, the glaciers to the north retreated and mean annual temperatures rose. The tundra vegetation disappeared, and the spruce-fir forests retreated to the highest elevations. Hardwood trees moved into the region from the coastal plains, replacing the spruce-fir forests in the lower elevations. The temperatures continued warming until around 6,000 years ago, when they began to gradually grow cooler.

 

 

 

 

Flora

 

Heavy logging in the late 19th century and early 20th century devastated much of the forests of the Smokies, but the National Park Service estimates 187,000 acres (760 km2) of old growth forest remains, comprising the largest old growth stand in the Eastern United States. Most of the forest is a mature second-growth hardwood forest. The range’s 1,600 species of flowering plants include over 100 species of native trees and 100 species of native shrubs. The Great Smokies are also home to over 450 species of non-vascular plants, and 2,000 species of fungi.

The forests of the Smokies are typically divided into three zones :

-1. The cove hardwood forests in the stream valleys, coves, and lower mountain slopes.

-2. the northern hardwood forests on the higher mountain slopes.

-3. The spruce-fir or boreal forest at the very highest elevations.

Appalachian balds—patches of land where trees are unexpectedly absent or sparse—are interspersed through the mid-to-upper elevations in the range. Balds include grassy balds, which are highland meadows covered primarily by thick grasses, and heath balds, which are dense thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel typically occurring on narrow ridges. Mixed oak-pine forests are found on dry ridges, especially on the south-facing North Carolina side of the range. Stands dominated by the Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are occasionally found along streams and broad slopes above 3,500 feet (1,100 m).

 

 

 

 

Cove hardwood forest

 

Cosby Creek, viewed from the Low Gap Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee
Cosby Creek, viewed from the Low Gap Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee (author: Brian Stansberry, 2008).

 

Cove hardwood forests, which are native to Southern Appalachia, are among the most diverse forest types in North America. The cove hardwood forests of the Smokies are mostly second-growth, although some 72,000 acres (290 km2) are still old-growth. The Albright Grove along the Maddron Bald Trail (between Gatlinburg and Cosby) is an accessible old-growth forest with some of the oldest and tallest trees in the entire range.

Over 130 species of trees are found among the canopies of the cove hardwood forests in the Smokies. The dominant species include yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), basswood (Tilia americana), yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera; commonly called “tulip poplar”), silverbells (Halesia carolina), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). The American chestnut (Castanea dentata), which was arguably the most beloved tree of the range’s pre-park inhabitants, was killed off by the introduced Chestnut blight in the 1920s.

The understories of the cove hardwood forest contain dozens of species of shrubs and vines. Dominant species in the Smokies include the Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens).

 

 

 

 

Northern hardwood forest

 

The autumn colors of the northern hardwood canopy near Newfound Gap give way to the dark-green spruce-fir canopy as altitude increases (author: National Park Service, 2006).
The autumn colors of the northern hardwood canopy near Newfound Gap give way to the dark-green spruce-fir canopy as altitude increases (author: National Park Service, 2006).

 

The autumn colors of the northern hardwood canopy near Newfound Gap give way to the dark-green spruce-fir canopy as altitude increases

The mean annual temperatures in the higher elevations in the Smokies are cool enough to support forest types more commonly found in the northern United States. The northern hardwood forests of the Smokies constitute the highest broad-leaved forest in the eastern United States. About 28,600 acres (116 km2) of the northern hardwood forest are old-growth.

In the Smokies, the northern hardwood canopies are dominated by yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia). White basswood (Tilia heterophylla), mountain maple (Acer spicatum) and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), and yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) are also present. The northern hardwood understory is home to diverse species such as coneflower, skunk goldenrod, Rugels ragwort, bloodroot, hydrangea, and several species of grasses and ferns.

One unique community in the northern hardwoods of the Smokies is the beech gap, or beech orchard. Beech gaps consist of high mountain gaps that have been monopolized by beech trees. The beech trees are often twisted and contorted by the high winds that occur in these gaps. Why other tree types such as the red spruce fail to encroach into the beech gaps is unknown.

 

 

 

Spruce-fir forest

 

High-elevation spruce-fir forest on Clingmans Dome (author: Ken Thomas, 2008).
High-elevation spruce-fir forest on Clingmans Dome (author: Ken Thomas, 2008).

 

The spruce-fir forest—also called the “boreal” or “Canadian” forest—is a relict of the Ice Ages, when mean annual temperatures in the Smokies were too cold to support a hardwood forest. While the rise in temperatures between 12,500 and 6,000 years ago allowed the hardwoods to return, the spruce-fir forest has managed to survive on the harsh mountain tops, typically above 5,500 feet (1,700 m). About 10,600 acres (43 km2) of the spruce-fir forest are old-growth.

The spruce-fir forest consists primarily of two conifer species—red spruce (Picea rubens) and Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). The Fraser Firs, which are native to Southern Appalachia, once dominated elevations above 6,200 feet (1,900 m) in the Great Smokies. Most of these firs were killed, however, by an infestation of the balsam wooly adelgid, which arrived in the Smokies in the early 1960s. Thus, red spruce is now the dominant species in the range’s spruce-fir forest. Large stands of dead Fraser Firs remain atop Clingmans Dome and on the northwestern slopes of Old Black. While much of the red spruce stands in the Smokies were logged during World War I, the tree is still common throughout the range above 5,500 feet (1,700 m). Some of the red spruce trees in the Smokies are believed to be 300 years old, and the tallest rise to over 100 feet (30 m).

The main difference between the spruce-fir forests of Southern Appalachia and the spruce-fir forests in northern latitudes is the dense broad-leaved understory of the former. The spruce-fir understories of the Smokies are home to catawba rhododendron, mountain ash, pin cherry, thornless blackberry, and hobblebush. The herbaceous and litter layers of the spruce-fir forests are poorly lit year-round, and are thus dominated by shade-tolerant plants such as ferns, namely mountain wood fern and northern lady fern, and over 280 species of mosses.

 

 

 

Wildflowers

 

Rhododendron atop the Ben Parton Lookout
Rhododendron atop the Ben Parton Lookout, a heath bald on the south flank of Miry Ridge in the Great Smoky Mountains (author: Brian Stansberry, 2008).

 

Many wildflowers grow in mountains and valleys of the Great Smokies, including bee balm, Solomon’s seal, Dutchman’s breeches, various trilliums, the Dragon’s Advocate and even hardy orchids. There are two native species of rhododendron in the area. The Catawba rhododendron has purple flowers in May and June, while the rosebay rhododendron has longer leaves and blooms white or a light pink in June and July.

 

Conopholis americana, American cancer-root or squawroot is called "bear corn" because it resembles an ear of corn
Conopholis americana, American cancer-root or squawroot is called “bear corn” because it resembles an ear of corn (author: Halpaugh, 2005)

 

The orange- to sometimes red-flowered and deciduous flame azalea closely follows along with the Catawbas. The closely related mountain laurel blooms in between the two, and all of the blooms progress from lower to higher elevations. The reverse is true in autumn, when nearly bare mountaintops covered in rime ice (frozen fog) can be separated from green valleys by very bright and varied leaf colors. The rhododendrons are broadleafs, whose leaves droop in order to shed wet and heavy snows that come through the region during winter.

 

Roundleaf yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) on CabinCove, Smoky Mountains (author: Jason Hollinger, 2010).
Roundleaf yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) on CabinCove, Smoky Mountains (author: Jason Hollinger, 2010).

 

Asclepias quadrifolia (four leaf milkweed) flower (author: Halpaugh, 2012).
Asclepias quadrifolia (four leaf milkweed) flower (author: Halpaugh, 2012).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fauna

 

A black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains (author: U.S. National Park Service, 2009).
A black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains (author: U.S. National Park Service, 2009).

 

The Great Smoky Mountains are home to 66 species of mammals, over 240 species of birds, 43 species of amphibians, 60 species of fish, and 40 species of reptiles. The range has the densest black bear population east of the Mississippi River. The black bear has come to symbolize wildlife in the Smokies, and the animal frequently appears on the covers of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s literature. Most of the range’s adult eastern black bears weigh between 100 pounds (45 kg) and 300 pounds (140 kg), although some grow to more than 500 pounds (230 kg).

 

These elk are part of a herd which was transplanted to Cataloochee in 2001, in an attempt to reintroduce the species to the Appalachians in North Carolina (author: Ken Thomas, 2008).
These elk are part of a herd which was transplanted to Cataloochee in 2001, in an attempt to reintroduce the species to the Appalachians in North Carolina (author: Ken Thomas, 2008).

 

Other mammals in the Great Smokies include the white-tailed deer, the population of which drastically expanded with the creation of the national park. The bobcat is the range’s only remaining wild cat species, although sightings of mountain lions—which once thrived in the area—are still occasionally reported. The coyote is not believed to be native to the range, but has moved into the area in recent years and is treated as a native species. Two species of fox—the red fox and the gray fox—are found in the Smokies, with red foxes being documented at all elevations.

European Boar, introduced as game animals in the early 20th century, thrive in Southern Appalachia but are considered a nuisance due to their tendency to root up and destroy plants. The boars are seen as taking food resources away from bears as well, and the park service has sponsored a program that pays individuals to hunt and kill boars and leave their bodies in locations frequented by bears.

 

The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is a medium-sized mouse-eared bat native to North America (user: ZeWrestler, 2007, PD-US).
The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is a medium-sized mouse-eared bat native to North America (user: ZeWrestler, 2007, PD-US).

 

The Smokies are home to over two dozen species of rodents, including the endangered northern flying squirrel, and 10 species of bats, including the endangered Indiana bat. The National Park Service has successfully reintroduced river otters and elk into the Great Smokies. An attempt to reintroduce the red wolf in the early 1990s ultimately failed. These wolves were removed from the park and relocated to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

 

The Blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca) is a small New World warbler (author: Mdf, 2005).
The Blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca) is a small New World warbler (author: Mdf, 2005).

 

The Smokies are home to a diverse bird population due to the presence of multiple forest types. Species that thrive in southern hardwood forests, such as the red-eyed vireo, wood thrush, wild turkey, northern parula, ruby-throated hummingbird, and tufted titmouse, are found throughout the range’s lower elevations and cove hardwood forests. Species more typical of cooler climates, such as the raven, winter wren, black-capped chickadee, yellow-bellied sapsucker, dark-eyed junco, and Blackburnian, chestnut-sided, and Canada warblers, are found in the range’s spruce-fir and northern hardwood zones.

 

Barred Owl (Strix varia) on Great Smoky Mountains (author: D. Gordon E. Robertson, 2006).
Barred Owl (Strix varia) on Great Smoky Mountains (author: D. Gordon E. Robertson, 2006).

 

Ovenbirds, whip-poor-wills, and downy woodpeckers live in the drier pine-oak forests and heath balds. Bald eagles and golden eagles have been spotted at all elevations in the park. Peregrine falcon sightings are also not uncommon, and a peregrine falcon eyrie is known to have existed near Alum Cave Bluffs throughout the 1930s. Red-tailed hawks, the most common hawk species, have been sighted at all elevations in the range. Owl species residing in the Smokies include the barred owl, eastern screech-owl, and northern saw-whet owl.

 

A Black rat snake, on a trail near the Greenbriar area (author: Beeblebrox, 2009).
A Black rat snake, on a trail near the Greenbriar area (author: Beeblebrox, 2009).

 

Timber rattlesnakes—one of two venomous snake species in the Smokies—are found at all elevations in the range. The other venomous snake, the copperhead, is typically found at lower elevations. Other reptiles include the eastern box turtle, the fence lizard, the black rat snake, and the northern water snake.

 

Jordan's salamander (Plethodon jordani), crawling through the leaf litter along the Baxter Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Haywood County (author: Brian Stansberry, 2009).
Jordan’s salamander (Plethodon jordani), crawling through the leaf litter along the Baxter Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Haywood County (author: Brian Stansberry, 2009).

 

The Great Smokies are home to one of the world’s most diverse salamander populations. Five of the world’s nine families of salamanders are found in the range, consisting of up to thirty-one species. A type of Jordan’s salamander known as the redcheek salamander is found only in the Smokies. The imitator salamander is found only in the Smokies and the nearby Plott Balsams and Great Balsam Mountains.

Two other species—the southern gray-cheeked salamander and the Southern Appalachian salamander—occur only in the general region. Other species include the shovelnose, blackbelly salamander, eastern red-spotted newt, and spotted dusky salamander. The legendary hellbender inhabits the range’s swifter streams. Other amphibians include the American toad and the American bullfrog, wood frog, upland chorus frog, northern green frog, and spring peeper.

Fish inhabiting the streams of the Smokies include trout, lamprey, darter, shiner, bass, and sucker. The brook trout is the only trout species native to the range, although northwestern rainbow trout and European brown trout were introduced in the first half of the 20th century. The larger rainbow and brown trout outcompete the native brook trout for food and habitat at lower elevations. As such, most of the brook trout found in the park today are in streams above 3,000 feet in elevation. Trout in the Smokies are generally smaller than other members of their species in different locales. Protected fish species in the range include the smoky and yellowfin madtom, the spotfin chub, and the duskytail darter.

 

A firefly on a leaf (source: https://factismals.com).
A firefly on a leaf (source: https://factismals.com).

 

The lightning-bug firefly Photinus carolinus, whose synchronized flashing light displays occur in mid-June, is native to the Smoky Mountains with a population epicenter near Elkmont, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Ecosystem threats

 

Dead Fraser Firs on the upper slopes of Old Black in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina (author: Brian Stansberry, 2008).
Dead Fraser Firs on the upper slopes of Old Black in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina (author: Brian Stansberry, 2008).

 

Air pollution may be contributing to increased Red Spruce tree mortality at higher elevations and oak decline at lower elevations, while invasive hemlock woolly adelgids attack Hemlocks and balsam woolly adelgids attack Fraser Firs. Pseudoscymnus tsugae, a type of beetle in the ladybug family, Coccinellidae, has been introduced in an attempt to control the pests.

Visibility now is dramatically reduced by smog from both the Southeastern United States and the Midwest, and smog forecasts are prepared daily by the Environmental Protection Agency for both nearby Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina.

Environmental threats are the concern of many non-profit environmental stewardship groups, especially The Friends of the Smokies. Formed in 1993, the friends group assists the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness, and providing volunteers for needed projects.

 

 

 

 

 

The National Park

 

Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from Cherokee, North Carolina (author: Billy Hathorn, 2012).
Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from Cherokee, North Carolina (author: Billy Hathorn, 2012).

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States. On its route from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park. The park was chartered by the United States Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. It encompasses 522,419 acres (816.28 sq mi; 211,415.47 ha; 2,114.15 km2), making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. It was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds. Due to the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, the Park was under evacuation orders, along with some towns and cities located nearby.

 

The Carlos Campbell Overlook is named for a Knoxville, Tennessee businessman who pushed for the establishment of the national park
The Carlos Campbell Overlook is named for a Knoxville, Tennessee businessman who pushed for the establishment of the national park (author: Billy Hathorn,2012).

 

Wilson B. Townsend, the head of Little River Lumber, began advertising Elkmont as a tourist destination in 1909. Within a few years, the Wonderland Hotel and the Appalachian Club had been established to cater to elite Knoxvillians seeking summer mountain getaways. In the early 1920s, several Appalachian Club members, among them Knoxville businessman Colonel David Chapman, began seriously considering a movement to establish a national park in the Great Smokies. As head of the Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission, Chapman was largely responsible for raising funds for land purchases and coordinating park efforts between local, state, and federal entities.

The creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park proved much more complex than the creation of its predecessors, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, which were already federally owned. Along with convincing logging firms to sell lucrative lumber rights, the Park Commission had to negotiate the purchase of thousands of small farms and remove entire communities. The commission also had to deal with the Tennessee and North Carolina legislatures, which at times were opposed to spending taxpayer money on park efforts. In spite of these difficulties, the Park Commission had completed most major land purchases by 1932. The national park officially opened in 1934, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt presiding over the opening ceremony at Newfound Gap.

 

 

 

 

 

History

 

The Great Smoky Mountains, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: USchick, 2008).
The Great Smoky Mountains, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: USchick, 2008).

 

Before the arrival of European settlers, the region was part of the homeland of the Cherokees. Frontiers people began settling the land in the 18th and early 19th century. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, beginning the process that eventually resulted in the forced removal of all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to what is now Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee left, but some, led by renegade warrior Tsali, hid out in the area that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of their descendants now live in the Qualla Boundary to the south of the park.

 

The Becky Cable House in Cades Cove (author: Billy Hathorn, 2012).
The Becky Cable House in Cades Cove (author: Billy Hathorn, 2012).

 

As white settlers arrived, logging grew as a major industry in the mountains, and a rail line, the Little River Railroad, was constructed in the late-19th Century to haul timber out of the remote regions of the area. Cut-and-run-style clearcutting was destroying the natural beauty of the area, so visitors and locals banded together to raise money for preservation of the land. The U.S. National Park Service wanted a park in the eastern United States, but did not have much money to establish one. Though Congress had authorized the park in 1926, there was no nucleus of federally owned land around which to build a park. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., contributed $5 million, the U.S. government added $2 million, and private citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina pitched in to assemble the land for the park, piece by piece. Slowly, mountain homesteaders, miners, and loggers were evicted from the land. Farms and timbering operations were abolished to establish the protected areas of the park. Travel writer Horace Kephart, for whom Mount Kephart was named, and photographer George Masa were instrumental in fostering the development of the park. Former Governor Ben W. Hooper of Tennessee was the principal land purchasing agent for the park, which was officially established on June 15, 1934. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and other federal organizations made trails, fire watchtowers, and other infrastructure improvements to the park and Smoky Mountains.

It was also a site for filming of parts of Disney’s hit 1950s TV series, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.

This park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and became a part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve in 1988.

A 75th anniversary re-dedication ceremony was held on September 2, 2009. Among those in attendance were all four US Senators, the three US Representatives whose districts include the park, the governors of both states, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Tennessee native, singer, and actress Dolly Parton also attended and performed.

 

 

 

Geology

 

Panorama Picture of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: Tetra09, 2014).
Panorama Picture of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: Tetra09, 2014).

 

The majority of rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are Late Precambrian rocks that are part of the Ocoee Supergroup. This group consists of metamorphosed sandstones, phyllites, schists, and slate. Early Precambrian rocks are not only the oldest rocks in the park but also the dominant rock type in sites such as the Raven Fork Valley and upper Tuckasegee River between Cherokee and Bryson City. They primarily consist of metamorphic gneiss, granite, and schist. Cambrian sedimentary rocks can be found among the bottom of the Foothills to the northwest and in limestone coves such as Cades Cove. One of the most visited attractions in the mountains is Cades Cove which is a window or an area where older rocks made out of sandstone surround the valley floor of younger rocks made out of limestone.

 

Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: Tetra09, 2014).
Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: Tetra09, 2014).

 

The oldest rocks in the Smokies are the Precambrian gneiss and schists which were formed over a billion years ago from the accumulation of marine sediments and igneous rock. In the Late Precambrian, the primordial ocean expanded and the more recent Ocoee Supergroup rocks formed from the accumulation of eroding land mass onto the continental shelf. In the Paleozoic Era, the ocean deposited a thick layer of marine sediments which left behind sedimentary rock. During the Ordovician Period, the collision of the North American and African tectonic plates initiated the Alleghenian orogeny that created the Appalachian range. During the Mesozoic Era rapid erosion of softer sedimentary rocks re-exposed the older Ocoee Supergroup formations.

 

 

 

 

Natural features

 

Elevations in the park range from 876 feet (267 m) at the mouth of Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet (2,025 m) at the summit of Clingmans Dome. Within the park a total of sixteen mountains reach higher than 6,000 feet (1,830 m).

The wide range of elevations mimics the latitudinal changes found throughout the entire eastern United States. Indeed, ascending the mountains is comparable to a trip from Tennessee to Canada. Plants and animals common in the country’s Northeast have found suitable ecological niches in the park’s higher elevations, while southern species find homes in the balmier lower reaches.

 

The Clingman's Dome Observation Tower rises 50 feet (15 m) from the summit of Clingman's Dome, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: Scott Basford, 2007).
The Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower rises 50 feet (15 m) from the summit of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point both in the state of Tennessee and along the Appalachian Trail, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (author: Scott Basford, 2007).

 

During the most recent ice age, the northeast-to-southwest orientation of the Appalachian mountains allowed species to migrate southward along the slopes rather than finding the mountains to be a barrier. As climate warms, many northern species are now retreating upward along the slopes and withdrawing northward, while southern species are expanding.

The park normally has very high humidity and precipitation, averaging from 55 inches (1,400 mm) per year in the valleys to 85 inches (2,200 mm) per year on the peaks. This is more annual rainfall than anywhere in the United States outside the Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska and Hawaii. It is also generally cooler than the lower elevations below, and most of the park has a humid continental climate more comparable to locations much farther north, as opposed to the humid subtropical climate in the lowlands. The park is almost 95 percent forested, and almost 36 percent of it, 187,000 acres (76,000 ha), is estimated by the Park Service to be old growth forest with many trees that predate European settlement of the area. It is one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old growth forest in North America.

The variety of elevations, the abundant rainfall, and the presence of old growth forests give the park an unusual richness of biota. About 10,000 species of plants and animals are known to live in the park, and estimates as high as an additional 90,000 undocumented species may also be present.

Park officials count more than 200 species of birds, 50 species of fish, 39 species of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians, including many lungless salamanders. The park has a noteworthy black bear population, numbering about 1,500. An experimental re-introduction of elk (wapiti) into the park began in 2001.

It is also home to species of mammals such as the raccoon, bobcat, two species of fox, river otter, woodchuck, beaver, two species of squirrel, opossum, coyote, white-tailed deer, chipmunk, two species of skunk, and various species of bats.

Over 100 species of trees grow in the park. The lower region forests are dominated by deciduous leafy trees. At higher altitudes, deciduous forests give way to coniferous trees like Fraser fir. In addition, the park has over 1,400 flowering plant species and over 4,000 species of non-flowering plants.

 

 

 

 

 

Attractions and activities

 

The Alum Cave Bluffs trail to the summit of Mount LeConte provides numerous overlooks of the Great Smoky Mountains (author Scott Basford (Blinutne), 2005).
The Alum Cave Bluffs trail to the summit of Mount LeConte provides numerous overlooks of the Great Smoky Mountains (author Scott Basford (Blinutne), 2005).

 

As of Nov. 29, 2016, The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was under evacuation orders, along with some towns and cities located nearby. Before hiking or participating in any activities, it is suggested that people look at all advisory information concerning the area.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major tourist attraction in the region. Over 9 million tourists and 11 million non-recreational visitors traveled to the park in 2010, more than twice as many visitors as the Grand Canyon, the second most visited national park. Surrounding towns, notably Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, Sylva, Maggie Valley, and Bryson City, North Carolina receive a significant portion of their income from tourism associated with the park.

The two main visitors’ centers inside the park are Sugarlands Visitors’ Center near the Gatlinburg entrance to the park and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina at the eastern entrance to the park. These ranger stations provide exhibits on wildlife, geology, and the history of the park. They also sell books, maps, and souvenirs. Unlike most other national parks, there is no entry fee to the park.

U.S. Highway 441 (known in the park as Newfound Gap Road) bisects the park, providing automobile access to many trailheads and overlooks, most notably that of Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 m), it is the lowest gap in the mountains and is situated near the center of the park, on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, halfway between the border towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee. It was here that in 1940, from the Rockefeller Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the national park. On clear days Newfound Gap offers arguably the most spectacular scenes accessible via highway in the park.

The park has a number of historical attractions. The most well-preserved of these (and most popular) is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historic buildings including log cabins, barns, and churches. Cades Cove is the single most frequented destination in the national park. Self-guided automobile and bicycle tours offer the many sightseers a glimpse into the way of life of old-time southern Appalachia. Other historical areas within the park include Roaring Fork, Cataloochee, Elkmont, and the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill at Oconaluftee.

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking

 

The Chimney Tops is a popular destination for hikers (author: Billy Hathorn, 2012).
The Chimney Tops is a popular destination for hikers (author: Billy Hathorn, 2012).

 

There are 850 miles (1,370 km) of trails and unpaved roads in the park for hiking, including seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail. Mount Le Conte is one of the most frequented destinations in the park. Its elevation is 6,593 feet (2,010 m) — the third highest summit in the park and, measured from its base to its highest peak, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Alum Cave Trail is the most heavily used of the five paths en route to the summit. It provides many scenic overlooks and unique natural attractions such as Alum Cave Bluffs and Arch Rock. Hikers may spend a night at the LeConte Lodge, located near the summit, which provides cabins and rooms for rent (except during the winter season). Accessible solely by trail, it is the only private lodging available inside the park.

Another popular hiking trail leads to the pinnacle of the Chimney Tops, so named because of its unique dual-humped peaktops. This short but strenuous trek rewards nature enthusiasts with a spectacular panorama of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Both the Laurel Falls and Clingman’s Dome trails offer relatively easy, short, paved paths to their respective destinations. The Laurel Falls Trail leads to a powerful 80-foot (24 m) waterfall, and the Clingman’s Dome Trail takes visitors on an uphill climb to a fifty-foot observation deck, which on a clear day offers views for many miles over the Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia mountains.

In addition to day hiking, the national park offers opportunities for backpacking and camping. Camping is allowed only in designated camping areas and shelters. Most of the park’s trail shelters are located along the Appalachian Trail or a short distance away on side trails. In addition to the Appalachian Trail shelters used mostly for extended backpacking trips there are three shelters in the park that are not located on the Appalachian Trail.

  • The Mt. LeConte Shelter is located a short distance east of LeConte Lodge on The Boulevard Trail. It can accommodate 12 people per night, and is the only backcountry site in the entire park that has a permanent ban on campfires.
  • The Kephart Shelter is located at the terminus of the Kephart Prong Trail which begins upstream of the Collins Creek Picnic Area. The shelter, situated along a tributary of the Oconaluftee River can accommodate 14 people.
  • Laurel Gap Shelter is one of the more remote shelters in the park. Situated in a Beech forest swag between Balsam High Top and Big Cataloochee Mountain, the Laurel Gap Shelter can accommodate up to 14 people per night. This shelter is a popular base camp for peakbaggers exploring the heart of the Smokies wilderness.

Designated backcountry campsites are scattered throughout the park. A permit, available at ranger stations and via the Park website, is required for all backcountry camping. Additionally, reservations are required for all of the shelters and backcountry campsites. A maximum stay of one night, in the case of shelters, or three nights, in the case of campsites, may limit the traveler’s itinerary.

 

 

 

 

 

Other activities

 

After hiking and simple sightseeing, fishing (especially fly fishing) is the most popular activity in the national park. The park’s waters have long had a reputation for healthy trout activity as well as challenging fishing terrain. Brook trout are native to the waters, while both brown and rainbow were introduced to the area. Partially due to the fact of recent droughts killing off the native fish, there are strict regulations regarding how fishing may be conducted. Horseback riding (offered by the national park and on limited trails), bicycling (available for rent in Cades Cove) and water tubing are all also practiced within the park.

 

The scenic mountain valley setting of Cade's Cove makes it a popular destination for tourists in the w:Great Smoky Mountains (author: Anthony Chavez, 2010).
The scenic mountain valley setting of Cade’s Cove makes it a popular destination for tourists in the w:Great Smoky Mountains (author: Anthony Chavez, 2010).

 

 

 Historic areas within the national park

 

The park service maintains four historic districts and one archaeological district within park boundaries, as well as nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable structures not listed include the Mountain Farm Museum buildings at Oconaluftee and buildings in the Cataloochee area. The Mingus Mill (in Oconaluftee) and Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin in Greenbrier have been deemed eligible for listing.

Cades Cove Historic District :

  • Elkmont Historic District
  • Oconaluftee Archaeological District
  • Noah Ogle Place
  • Roaring Fork Historic District

 

 

 

 

Electric vehicles

 

The National Park Service (NPS) announced in late 2001 that it would use electric vehicles (EVs) provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for a research project in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to evaluate the vehicles’ performance in mountainous terrain. The NPS said the EVs will be on loan from TVA for two years and will be used by park service staff at Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to determine the benefits provided by these vehicles versus standard gasoline-fueled vehicles.

 

 

 

 

 

Air pollution

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is considered the most polluted national park according to a 2004 report by the National Parks Conservation Association. From 1999 to 2003, the park recorded approximately 150 unhealthy air days, the equivalent of about one month of unhealthy air days per year. In 2013, Colorado State University reported that, due to the passing of the United States Clean Air Act in 1970 and the subsequent implementation of the Acid Rain Program there was a “significant improvement” to the air quality in the Great Smoky Mountains from 1990 to 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Special Event in The Park :

Synchronous flashing of The Photinus carolinus

 

 

P. carolinus was the first North American species found to show synchronized flashing behavior (author: Radim Schreiber, 2013).
P. carolinus was the first North American species found to show synchronized flashing behavior (author: Radim Schreiber, 2013).

 

Photinus carolinus is a species of rover firefly whose mating displays of synchronous flashing have fascinated both scientists and tourists. As individual females synchronize with males nearby, waves of alternating bright light and darkness seem to travel across the landscape. Firefly displays typically occur in early June near Elkmont, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Gatlinburg.

Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are one of at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.

Fireflies (also called lightning bugs) are beetles. They take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. While in the larval stage, the insects feed on snails and smaller insects. Once they transform into their adult form, they do not eat.

Their light patterns are part of their mating display. Each species of firefly has a characteristic flash pattern that helps its male and female individuals recognize each other. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light; one species has a bluish light. The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the park is normally within a two-week period in late May to mid-June.

A typical Photinus is a “lightning-bug firefly” (as opposed to the so-called “glowworm firefly”) because it emits light in its winged (imago) stage. Both male and female adults produce mating signals with an abdominal light organ or “lantern”. Members of Photinus are called “rover fireflies” because typically males fly about singly, not in groups, flashing a species-specific pattern until a receptive female responds with her species-specific flashing signal.

 

Photinus carolinus males have a synchronized light flashing display. Seen annually for approximately two weeks every May or June, near the Elkmont Campground (author: National Park Service, 2011).
Photinus carolinus males have a synchronized light flashing display. Seen annually for approximately two weeks every May or June, near the Elkmont Campground (author: National Park Service, 2011).

 

The production of light by living organisms is called bioluminescence. Fireflies are a good example of an organism that bioluminesces, but there are others as well, such as certain species of fungus, fish, shrimp, jellyfish, plankton, glowworms, gnats, snails, and springtails.

When males of P. carolinus detect a female response, a cluster of males will form surrounding the female, with as many as 20 males energetically walking, flashing, and attempting to mount the female or nearby males. The female does not necessarily mate with the first male to reach her, but may show avoidance behaviors to several males before permitting one to begin copulation. In the early stages of copulation, other males may try to separate the couple, but once the mating pair has moved to stage 2 copulation (tail-to-tail), the unmated males fly off to seek females elsewhere.

One of its small population ranges is Elkmont, Tennessee. The species is also found elsewhere in the Smoky Mountains, usually at elevations near 2,000 feet (610 m), and has been observed as far north as Pennsylvania.

Increasing numbers of people come each year to a trailhead near Elkmont to see them. Scientists use a degree day model to try to predict the onset of each year’s peak display.

Driving and parking near Great Smoky Mountains National Park are strictly regulated during the two-week P. carolinus mating season. Would-be visitors are required to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and wait for a trolley to take them to the viewing site. On weekends there may be a four-hour wait for transportation.

The firefly display near Elkmont attracted more than a thousand visitors nightly in early June 2011. A biologist who has studied the fireflies expressed concern about increased crowds at the park.

 

 

 

 

 

Timing of the Display

 

 

A colony of fireflies on Great Smoky Mountains National Park (source: http://www.firefly.org).
A colony of fireflies on Great Smoky Mountains National Park (source: http://www.firefly.org).

 

The mating season lasts for approximately two weeks each year. The dates that the fireflies begin to display varies from year to year-scientists haven’t figured out why, but it depends at least in part on temperature and soil moisture. It’s impossible to predict in advance exactly when the insects will begin flashing each year.

As the season begins, a few insects start flashing, then more join the display as the days pass. They reach a “peak” when the greatest number of insects are displaying. After peak, the numbers gradually decline each day until the mating season is over. Since 1993, this peak date has occurred at various times from the third week of May to the third week in June.

During the two week long mating season, the quality of individual nightly displays can be affected by environmental factors. On misty, drippy evenings following rainfall, the insects may not readily display. Cool temperatures, below 50º Fahrenheit, will also shut down the display for the night. Moon phase has been observed to affect the timing of nightly displays-on nights with a bright moon, the insects may begin flashing a bit later than usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourist attraction

 

 

 The synchronized flashes of this species take place in bursts of five to eight every few seconds (source: http://www.firefly.org).
The synchronized flashes of this species take place in bursts of five to eight every few seconds (source: http://www.firefly.org).

 

Increasing numbers of people come each year to a trailhead near Elkmont to see them. Scientists use a degree day model to try to predict the onset of each year’s peak display.

Driving and parking near Great Smoky Mountains National Park are strictly regulated during the two-week P. carolinus mating season. Would-be visitors are required to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and wait for a trolley to take them to the viewing site. On weekends there may be a four-hour wait for transportation.

 

 


Source :

https://en.wikipedia.org

http://www.firefly.org

https://factismals.com

 


 

 

 

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