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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Great Smoky Mountains
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Designation National Park
Location Tennessee, North Carolina
Nearest City Knoxville, Tennessee
Coordinates Template:Coor dm
Area 521,495 acres
2,110.42 km²
Date of Establishment June 15, 1934
Visitation 9,189,543 (2003)
Governing Body National Park Service
IUCN category II (National Park)

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park that straddles the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains. The border between Tennessee to the west and North Carolina to the east runs northeast to southwest through the middle of the park. On its route from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park. The park was first created in 1934, and it encompasses 814 square miles (2,108 km²), making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States.

Contents

Natural features

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The Smoky Mountains

Elevations in the park range from 875 to 6,643 feet (250 to 2,000 m) above mean sea level. The tallest peak is Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet (2,025 m), and twenty-seven other mountains reach higher than 6,000 feet (1829 m). The wide range of elevations mimics the latitudinal changes found throughout the entire eastern U.S.Plants and animals common in the Northeast have found suitable ecological niches in the park's higher elevations, while southern species find homes in the balmier lower reaches. 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 (1.4 m) per year in the valleys to 85 inches (2.2 m) per year on the peaks. This is more annual rainfall than anywhere in the United States outside the Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska. The park is almost 95 percent forested, of which roughly a quarter is old growth 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. The park has a noteworthy black bear population, numbering at least 1,500. The lower region forests are dominated by deciduous leafy trees. At higher altitudes, deciduous forests give way to coniferous trees like Fraser Fir.

Attractions

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More Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major tourist attraction in the region; over 9 million visitors to the park were recorded for 2003. Surrounding towns, notably Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Townsend, Tennessee, Cherokee, North Carolina, Sylva, North Carolina, Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and Bryson City, North Carolina receive a significant portion of their income from tourism associated with the park. U.S. Highway 441 runs through the park, providing automobile access to many trailheads and overlooks.

The two main visitors' centers inside the park are Sugarlands Visitors' Center near the Gatlinburg entrance to the park and Oconluftee Visitors' Center near Cherokee, North Carolina at the southern 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.

The park has a number of historical attractions. The largest of these is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historic buildings including log cabins, barns, and churches. Self-guided automobile and bike tours connect these structures with the old-time way of life in southern Appalachia.

In addition to the Appalachian Trail, there are a number of trails and unpaved roads in the park for hiking. The Alum Cave Bluffs trail provides scenic overlooks and is one of the trails up Mount Le Conte, the third highest mountain in the park. At the top of Mount Le Conte is Le Conte Lodge, which provides cabins and rooms for rent and is only accessible to hikers. Another popular mountain trail is the Chimney Tops, which has two nearly-vertical peaktops at the end of a four-mile (6 km) hike. Laurel Falls is an easy, paved trail to a 80 foot (24 m) waterfall. Backpacking and camping are allowed in the park, but only with a permit.

Human history

Before the arrival of European settlers, the region was part of the homeland of the Cherokee Indians. White frontierspeople began settling the land in the 18th and early 19th century. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, ordering all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to move to what is now Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee left, but some hid out in the area that is now the Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of their descendants now live in the Qualla Reservation south of the park.

As white settlers moved in, logging grew as a major industry in the mountains. Overlogging 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 want to spend 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 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. The park 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.

The park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

References

Original entry was from the NASA Earth Observatory; [1] (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=16313)

  • Saferstein, Mark. 2004. Great Smoky Mountains. 22nd ed. American Parks Network.
  • Tilden, Freeman. 1970. The National Parks

External links

de:Great-Smoky-Mountains-Nationalpark

Template:National parks of the United States

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