The Smoky Mountains are among the most ancient mountain ranges in the world, and among the highest in the Appalachian chain. However, establishing this beautiful place as a national park was daunting. It began in 1904 when Horace Kephart, a librarian from St. Louis, came to the Smoky Mountains to restore his health. He discovered that large-scale logging was destroying the land and disrupting the lives of the people. For many years, he promoted the idea of preserving the Smokies as a national park. In the 1920s, prominent Knoxville residents formed a citizen's organization and took up the cause.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service (NPS) began looking for park sites in the East after having established parks in the West. Established in 1916, the young agency wanted to generate more public support for national parks by creating a park that was closer to most of the nation's population. So, the NPS as well as private concerns promoted the idea of a national park in the Smoky Mountains.
The states of Tennessee and North Carolina and citizens gave millions of dollars to purchase parkland. The federal government was not interested in buying private land to establish public parks; the national parks in the West had been established on land that it already owned. However, it did give $2 million for the project. This investment coupled with a $5 million gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. meant that the NPS had reached its financial goal, thus it began the process of establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Fortunately, the establishment of the park has meant that generations of people have had and will continue to have the pleasure of enjoying this wonderful place. The park offers an abundance of activities including auto touring, backpacking, hiking, bird watching, camping, fishing, horseback riding, biking, nature walks, and wildlife viewing.
With over 800 miles of trails visitors can spend hour upon hour exploring this natural wonderland and communing with nature. Along the way they may encounter one of the estimated 1,800 American black bears that make the place their home. Hikers are sure to spot some of the other 65 mammal species within the park, especially the most common ones: the white-tailed deer, groundhog, chipmunk, and some squirrel and bat species.
When planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors should consider weather conditions. The park's elevation ranges from 800 feet to 6,643 feet, and temperatures are 10 - 20 degrees cooler on the mountaintops. Spring weather is unpredictable, particularly at higher elevations, and rainfall is common. Snow may fall in March, however by May daytime highs can reach into the 80s. Nighttime temperatures vary from below freezing in March to the 50s in May. Summer is hot and humid, but cooler and more pleasant at higher elevations. Afternoon rain showers and thunderstorms are common during the season. Fall brings warm days and cool nights. This is the driest period of the year. Winters are generally moderate. However, extreme weather conditions can occur.
The Great Smoky Mountains, with its beautiful misty blue aura, ancient forests, and abundant wildlife is one of the nation's most treasured natural places.