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Smoky Mountain History

American Patriot Getaways offers the broadest selection of Smoky Mountains cabins, so we know Smoky Mountains very well…and we love them very much! Below you will find some information about the city we love so much. If you have any questions about Gatlinburg cabins or Pigeon Forge Cabins please don’t hesitate to call us at .

History of the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smokies National Map

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Phone Numbers

General Park Information: (865) 436-1200
Backcountry Information: (865) 436-1297
Backcountry Reservations: (865) 436-1231
Lost and Found: (865) 436-1230
Park Literature: (865) 436-0120

Visitor Centers

At the two main visitor centers, Sugarlands and Oconaluftee, helpful park rangers are on hand to answer questions and provide information on roads, weather, camping, backcountry conditions, free backcountry camping permits and first aid. Ranger-guided walks, maps and books are available at all visitor centers. Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove Visitor Centers are all open year-round. For more information, please call the park's main number, (865) 436-1200.

Sugarlands Visitor Center is located near the park's main, northern entrance, two miles south of Gatlinburg along Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441). A new park film and state-of-the-art theater have been added to the center. Natural history exhibits include mounted specimens of park animals in re-creations of their habitats and reproductions of journals kept by the first park naturalists. Short ranger talks and slide shows are also presented daily from the spring through the fall.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located at the park's main southern entrance, two miles north of Cherokee on U.S. 441. The exhibits feature recommended things to see and do at the park.

Cades Cove Visitor Center is located off U.S. 321, about eight miles southwest of Townsend, Tennessee. The visitor center, which is situated among numerous preserved 19th-century farms and historic buildings, emphasizes the cultural history of the Smokies. A bookstore and information on programs and services are provided. There is no telephone service.

Gatlinburg Welcome Center is on U.S. 441, better known as the Spur, at the entrance to Gatlinburg. A joint information center for Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Gatlinburg Department of Tourism, it features a bookstore, information and exhibits.

History of the Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected land areas east of the Mississippi River, encompassing 520,976 acres. Part of the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Georgia to Canada, the Smokies are part of the Blue Ridge Providence, named for their bluish haze. The Cherokee Indians called this land Shaconage or "the place of blue smoke." 

One of America's great natural resources and home to over 10,000 species of plants, animals and invertebrates, millions of visitors come each year to hike the ancient forests, fish in the rivers or drive along the crests of its mile high peaks. There are ten million visitors to the park annually, the highest visitation of any national park.

The Smokies, among the oldest mountains in the world, formed 200-300 million years ago when drifting continents collided. As the continents collided, extreme pressures were generated deforming the once horizontal sedimentary rocks into folded structures. This collection of folded and faulted rocks extends over 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia, thus forming the Appalachian Mountains.

The landscape of the Smokies has undergone major changes throughout the ages. The rocks in this area are mostly a sedimentary type, formed by accumulations of soil, silt, sand, and gravel deposited into a huge shallow sea. Over millions of years, more and more sediments were deposited, becoming layers of hard rock some nine miles or more thick.

Some 100 species of native trees find homes in the Smokies, more than in any other North American National Park. Almost 95% of the park is forested, and about 25% of that area is one of the largest deciduous, temperate, old-growth forests remaining in North America.

Over 1,600 additional flowering plant species and at least 4,000 species of non-flowering plants have been identified in the park. The park is the center of diversity for lungless salamanders and is home to more than 200 species of birds, 66 types of mammals, 50 native fish species, 39 varieties of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians. Mollusks, millipedes, and mushrooms reach record diversity here.

The Smokies are among the tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain. Elevations range from about 875 feet to 6,643 feet, with sixteen peaks rising more than 5,000 feet. The tallest mountain in the East, but not the highest, Mount Le Conte towers to 6,593 feet. Clingmans Dome, the park's highest summit, is the third tallest peak east of the Mississippi River.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. A tour through the park offers visitors breathtaking mountain scenery, including panoramic views, tumbling streams, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.

Due to the abundance of the biology and natural resources, the park has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

Establishment of a National Park

Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on 15 Jun 1934, and turned its stewardship to the National Park Service. Land acquisition continued and on 02 Sep 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the park.

In 1923 when Mrs. Willis P. Davis of Knoxville visited the American West, she fell in love with America's National Parks. Mrs. Davis felt the Smoky Mountains were worthy of such status. It is with this thought the Park Movement was born.

Park support came slowly. Debates raged over who would buy the land and whether the Smokies should become a National Forest or National Park. Many local politicians in both North Carolina and Tennessee supported the Park because they never thought it could happen. Much of the support surrounded the construction of an improved road between Knoxville and Asheville, not the Park itself. After a long and difficult struggle, the concept of a park in the Smoky Mountains became a reality. Colonel David Chapman was the leading figure supporting the future National Park.

National politics were as difficult as local resistance. The Smokies beat out more than 60 other proposed sites. The Federal government provided no money for land acquisition. It was not until 1926 that Congress authorized a Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Park Commissions then raised the funds needed to buy the 6,600 tracts of land that would compose the new National Park. It was the commission that added the word "Great" to the Smoky Mountains. Through donations ranging from pennies from school children to thousands of dollars from large benefactors, the park movement raised almost $2.5 million in pledges. Another $2.5 million came directly from North Carolina and Tennessee.

With the Great Depression, land values soared and pledges became difficult to collect. More money was needed. Desperate, the Park Commission almost appealed to Congress for additional funds. Relief came as the Rockefeller family donated $5 million to complete the Park. The memorial at Newfound Gap stands in honor of this great act. In 1933 the United States Government supplied another $1.55 million to complete land purchases.

Land was difficult to buy despite the park movement. Greed, private property rights, and personal glory often clashed with government condemnation and the park movement. After buying about half the land, it was deeded to the Federal Government. Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on June 15, 1934, and turned its stewardship to the National Park Service. Land acquisition continued and on September 2, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the park.

The Black Bear in the Park

Most Gatlinburg visitors enjoy seeing a black bear, Ursus americanus, in the wild. It is smaller and less aggressive than its western cousin, the grizzly bear. The Smokies rugged, temperate environment provides excellent bear habitat. Only black bears live in the Park. About 600 bears roam the Park, and many consider Cades Cove their home. The Park has one of the country's highest bear densities.

Bear life spans average 12 years. A typical male weighs 300 pounds, while females average 230 pounds. Bears, like humans, are omnivores. Their food intake is 85% plant material. They obtain most of their protein from insects, but occasionally eat fish, fawns, or other small animals.

Most bears enter a deep sleep starting in late fall. Most Park bears prepare to den by mid-December. Cubs, usually two, are born in late January. They weigh 8 ounces when born. Bear sightings usually begin in early March, but weather conditions can delay this. Newborns and mothers remain denned until May. Cubs remain with their mothers for a year and a half.

Bears emerge from their prolonged sleep in March or early April (they do not hibernate). July starts the mating season. Young males often travel more than a 100 miles to find a mate. Fertilized eggs lie dormant until denning.

Once awake the search for food begins. Spring foods are scarce, so bears conserve their energy. Berries ripen in July and cherries in August. If the crop is good, these fruits provide ample food. Acorns provide a source of winter fat. Bears eat some high protein foods, including insects, fish, and higher animals. Though bears can run 30 miles per hour, they rarely run down prey. They prefer carrion, or easy prey such as fawns.

It is illegal to feed or harass any Park wildlife. Fines range up to $5,000 and 6 months in prison. Besides being illegal, human foods (and packaging) can kill a bear. They die from asphyxiation or digestive track blockages. A human-fed bear has a lifespan of only 8 years. Tamed bears lose their natural fear of people. Violent bears must be destroyed. Please, for their sake and yours, do not feed the bears.

Park bear management includes population monitoring efforts, and, when necessary, relocation. The Park moves aggressive bears deep into the backcountry. Hopefully, they revert to natural behaviors. If this does not happen, the Park moves the bear to less populated areas. Most of these relocation sites are open to hunting. Tame bears make easy targets.

Although there is no one best place to see bears in the Park, Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are among the best spots to look. Bears are most active early in the morning and late in the evening.

On the small chance of encountering an aggressive black bear the best action is make a lot of noise (a whistle works well), and slowly retreat. Only when between a mother and her cubs, or when dealing with a hungry, human-fed bear are they dangerous. Bears are excellent climbers, so climbing a tree is ineffective. Playing dead does not work either, since dead animals are part of the black bears' diet. However, few dangerous bear situations occur.

The Elk in the Park

The experimental release of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in February, 2001 with the importation of two dozen elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002 and 2003 the Park Service plans to import another 25-30 animals annually. All elk are radio collared and will be monitored during the five-year experimental phase of the project. If the animals threaten park resources or create significant conflicts with park visitors, the program may be halted. Project partners include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Parks Canada, Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Friends of the Smokies, the U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division, and the University of Tennessee.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800s. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.

The best times to view elk are usually early morning and late evening. Elk may also be active on cloudy summer days and before or after storms. Enjoy elk at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views. Approaching wildlife too closely causes them to expend crucial energy unnecessarily and can result in real harm. If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes direction of travel, or otherwise alter its behavior, you are too close!

Elk are large animals-larger than the park's black bears-and can be dangerous. Female elk with calves have charged people in defense of their offspring. Males (bulls) may perceive people as challengers to their domain and charge. The best way to avoid these hazards is to keep your distance. Never touch or move elk calves. Though they may appear to be orphaned, chances are their mother is nearby. Cows frequently leave their newborn calves while they go off to feed. A calf's natural defense is to lie down and remain still.

The same is true for white-tailed deer fawns. The use of spotlights, elk bugles, and other wildlife calls are illegal in the national park. It is also illegal to remove elk antlers or other elk parts from the park. Never feed elk or other wildlife or bait them in for closer observation. Feeding park wildlife is strictly forbidden by law and almost always leads to the animal's demise. It also increases danger to other park visitors.

SPRING: Most elk shed their antlers in March. The antlers, which are rich in calcium, are quickly eaten by rodents and other animals. (It is illegal to remove antlers from the national park.) After they have shed their antlers, elk immediately begin growing new ones. In late spring elk shed their winter coats and start growing sleek, copper-colored, one-layer summer coats.

SUMMER: Most calves are born in early June. Male elk roll in mud wallows to keep cool and avoid insect pests. By August, elk antlers are full grown and have shed their "velvet." Calves have lost their spots by summer's end.

FALL: Male elk make their legendary bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows. Their calls may be heard a mile or more away. Large bulls use their antlers to intimidate and spar with other males. Most encounters are ritualistic and involve little physical contact; only occasionally do conflicts result in serious injuries to one or more combatants. During the "rut" in September and early October, dominant bulls gather and breed with harems of up to 20 cows.

WINTER: Elk wear a two-layer coat during the colder months. Long guard hairs on the top repel water and a soft, wooly under fur keeps them warm. Elk may move from the high country to valleys to feed. Elk may travel beyond the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in search of new territories. Most non-cropland adjacent to the park is designated as elk buffer zone. If elk move onto these lands but do not come into conflict with private property or the public, no action will be taken. If elk cause significant property damage or other conflict, the National Park Service will remove the animals.