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Seeing Through the Smoke

The Story of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

by Jennifer Watts

Many songs have been written about the Smoky Mountains. Many you might have heard, like “Rocky Top” and “On Top of Old Smokey.” But what is the story behind the songs? Are you ready to learn more? Let’s take a closer look at the story behind the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The mountains we call the Smokies were formed millions of years ago. They changed into what we see today over all that time. Many people have called them home for thousands of years. Archeologists have found artifacts that date back to over 10,000 years ago!

The Smokies got their name from the Cherokee people. They called it “Shaconage” (shah-con-ah-jey) which means “place of the blue smoke.” The name comes from the blue mist that floats above the peaks of the mountains.

European settlers moved to the mountains in the late 1700s. Life for them was very hard. These early settlers moved onto land that belonged to the Cherokee people. They cut down trees to build their homes. They cleared the land to feed their animals and plant crops. They also hunted for food. Sometimes conflict between the two groups led to fighting.

In the 1830s, many of the Cherokee were forced to move west. More settlers began moving onto the land. By the 1900s, the land was owned mostly by farmers, timber companies, and paper factories. Small communities grew into big towns like Elkmont, Smokemont, Proctor, and Tremont. Over time, the beautiful forest was being cut down for lumber and paper products. People began to worry about the future of the mountains.

During the 1920s, a growing push toward conservation of the land was popular. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill that established the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The goal was to save the forest and wildlife who lived there. The Park would include land from two states: Tennessee and North Carolina. In 1934, the two states donated 300,000 acres of land for the park. Another 150,000 acres had to be bought from the people who lived and worked there. Money to buy the land was raised by state legislatures and ordinary citizens. Even school children collected money! They raised $10 million! That land was the beginning of the park.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) worked to get the park ready for visitors. They built roads, bridges, hiking trails, and campgrounds for people to enjoy. In September of 1940, the park was officially opened by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Newfound Gap.

Today the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is over 500,000 acres between Tennessee and North Carolina. It is enjoyed by nature lovers from around the world. It is known as the most visited park in the United States! In 2016, over 11.3 million people visited. People can hike the 850 miles of trails or stay the night at one of the ten campgrounds. Maybe one of them was you!


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