Long-time GSMNP activist Ted Snyder's on the park:
What is the greatest threat or risk to this park?
The greatest threat to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the construction of a 30+ mile parkway road inside the park near its southwest boundary. An Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2007 estimated the cost (in 2006 dollars) at $729 million. The Department of the Interior is contractually bound to Swain County, N.C. to build this road. Throughout the EIS process Swain county urged that the road obligation be dropped and that Swain be paid $52 million as a substitute. Based on these representations of Swain County, and the urging of the conservation community, the preferred alternative chosen in the Final EIS was a financial settlement with Swain County and no road construction. After the fact, Interior is trying to dicker over the amount, and now nothing will happen until a new agreement is written. Failure to settle with Swain County will revive the road, an environmental disaster of the greatest magnitude. Worse, politics can change, and the election of a new County Board of Commissioners, or a new Congressman, or a new US Senator could renew the jeopardy to the park.
What is the "take action"?
Letters to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, are urgently needed. The letters should ask him to approve a Swain County Settlement of $52 million, and to help secure its payment. Ken Salazar’s address is: Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240. Email reaches him at email@example.com.
Has the Sierra Club played a role in some major battle in the past, either in establishing the park or in protecting additional areas?
From its first presence in the two Carolinas in the late 1960’s the Sierra Club has been the major organization in preventing the building of the North Shore Road in the Smokies. The battle has been continuous. We can say with authority that for forty years the Club has held back the road and prevented the despoiling of the park. The fragile, steep terrain, laced by finger ridges, and home of acidic rocks has been kept intact. The massive cuts and fills, and the sterilization of the streams have not been allowed to gouge the pristine landscape. The only question is whether we can hold out long enough to see a Swain County settlement, and a final rescission of the contract to build this killer boondoggle.
What are a few compelling facts - total number of acres, specific landmarks, major species, what makes it special? This is the kind of info they can get from the national park service websites if the local staff/volunteers can't provide it.
- The park contains 521,495 acres, lying in North Carolina and Tennessee.
- The park receives approximately 9 million recreation visits a year, making it the Nation’s most visited park.
- The park is one of nine National Park units to be designated both as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. The World Heritage Site nomination states, in part:
“A similar level of floristic diversity is found in no other temperate zone protected area of comparable size in the world. The park exhibits almost as many kinds of natural tree species as does all of Europe.”
“An internationally significant feature is the remnant stands of undisturbed virgin forest, offering unique primeval vistas of Pleistocene North America.”
The nomination also sums up that the park is “an outstanding example representing ongoing biological evolution, . . .” And, in detailing that, continues:
“Great Smoky Mountains National Park harbors the largest remaining remnant of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era in the world. . . . No other existing protected tracts are of comparable size.”
Since 1977 an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory has been underway in the park, with the purpose of identifying all species within it. As of 2004, 3,350 new records of species occurrence had been documented, and 543 species new to science had been discovered. It is thought that the final inventory could contain as many as 40,000 entries.
3 great trail recommendations for the park?
Trail information: The most comprehensive trail guide is “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” published by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association. The park contains 70 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, mostly along the high, continuous, state-line ridge. For details see www.appalachiantrail.org. Another long trail on a designated route through the park is a portion of the Benton MacKaye Trail. See www.BMTA.org.
Albright Grove Loop. This is a 0.7 mile loop through massive and ancient silverbells, poplars, maples, Fraser magnolias, hemlocks, and others, a spectacular remnant of the original cove forests. To reach the beginning of the Albright Grove Loop, it is necessary to hike 3.0 miles up the Maddron Bald Trail. Since the loop ends higher up on the Maddron Bald Trail, a total distance of 7.0 miles, in and out, is covered. To reach the trailhead take US 321, 15.4 miles east of the Gatlinburg, TN Chamber of Commerce Building, or 2.9 miles west of the Cosby Post Office. From US 321 turn south on Laurel Springs Road, crossing Indian Camp Creek, and reach a parking area and gate in 0.2 miles. There is room for only 2-3 cars here.
Boogerman Trail. This is a 7.1 mile hike from Cataloochee Valley, where the main park Elk herd can be seen, most often at sundown. The hike begins on the Caldwell Fork Trail (adjacent to the campground), immediately crossing Cataloochee Creek on the park’s longest footlog. After 0.8 miles turn left (south) onto the Boogerman trail (signposted) on an old sled road. Much old growth forest is found on this trail. The Boogerman Trail returns to Caldwell Fork Trail after 3.8 miles. The hiker then turns downstream on Caldwell Fork to return to the starting point, 2.5 miles away.
Gregory Ridge Trail. Gregory Bald, the destination for this hike, is noted for its rainbow display of flame Azaleas, in the first half of June. Due to hybridization, the azaleas take on colors from yellow, to orange, to red, to white, to pink, to purple in a dazzling dance. The shortest route is by the Gregory Ridge Trail. This takes one to Rich Gap after 5.0 miles. A right (west) turn and another 0.7 miles takes one to Gregory Bald. Total distance, in and out, is 11.4 miles, with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. Trailhead is off the Cades Cove Loop Road. Halfway around the one-way Cades Cove Loop, pass by the Cable Mill area, and turn right (south) on to the Forge Creek Road. Parking is at a gate, 2.3 miles up this road. Note: Traffic is heavy and slow on the Cades Cove Loop Road on high visitor days, and road is closed Saturday mornings for use by bicycles. In winter Forge Creek Road may be closed, adding 4.6 miles to the hike.