In 2019, 12.5 million tourists visited The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it the most visited national park in the United States. The 522,419 acre park spans across Tennessee and into North Carolina, and is one of the largest protected areas in America. The history of the smokies dates back long before the national park was established. The mountains themselves are said to be 300 million years old. But how did a historic mountain range become a national park?
Creating the National Park
The idea to turn the beautiful mountain range and its surroundings into a national park began in the late 1890’s. However, the ability to begin acting on the idea wasn’t until the 1920’s. Individuals and private groups held fundraising events to fund the purchase for the national park. Even with the efforts of so many, the fundraising wasn’t enough until the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund donated $5 million to ensure the land could be purchased.
On September 2, 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt stood with one foot in Tennessee and one in North Carolina and dedicated the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park “for the enjoyment of the people“.
How Did It Get Its Name
The Cherokee Indians were the first people to inhabit the mountainous area. They were also the ones to give the area its name. The Cherokee called the smokies schconage which translates to “place of the blue smoke”. This name obviously comes from the blue fog that seems to always hang around the mountain peaks. When pioneers came to the area, they adopted the name from the Cherokee and somewhere along the way “Great” was added to the name.
Trails and Roadways
Many of the hiking trails, roadways, and facilities throughout the national park were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was an organization created during the depression to provide wages to young men. Roughly 22 CCC camps were scattered throughout the Great Smoky mountains from 1933-1942. These camps employed roughly 4,000 men until the start of World War II. Some of the CCC camps were just abandoned, becoming ghost towns at the start of the war. Some of these ghost towns can still be found today.