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What is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a preserved section of land in the United States designed to provide posterity with a natural environment kept in a condition similar to how it was before American modernization. Specifically, it is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains section of the Appalachian Mountain chain in Tennessee and North Carolina. Due to its location and pristine beauty, it is the most visited national park in the country, according to the National Park Service. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers an area of 814 square miles (2,108 square km).

Historically, the region was occupied by Cherokee Indians prior to the European influx. In the 1700s and 1800s, white settlers came into the area as the Native Americans were removed to the west. The region was left generally untouched until the 1900s, when clear cutting for timber began to take place. The National Park Service was authorized to build a park in 1926, evicting residents and raising money to establish park rangers and facilities in the area. President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress authorized the park in 1934 and used the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration to build infrastructure in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Approximately 10,000 species of plants and animals thrive in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Among them are 200 bird species, 66 types of mammals and numerous fish and reptiles. Some of the most notable indigenous species are the lungless salamander, elk and black bear. In the mountains, there are also 100 different types of coniferous and deciduous trees and over 1,400 flowers.

Along with a large forest and mountain scenery, there are a number of tourist attractions which bring people to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Two visitor centers greet tourists at the entrances and act as ranger stations. The most famous overlook is Newfound Gap, situated at an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 m). Historical attractions include many log cabins and barns from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Due to its proximity to the highly populated East Coast, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is labeled as the most polluted national park in the US. The National Park Conservation Association added it to its list of polluted parks in 2004, specifically due to the air quality. There is very little that can be done to improve the overall air conditions, since the park itself is not the culprit in the pollution production. Rather, the air quality is being damaged by nearby cities and extensive vehicle use. In response, the National Park Service has a goal of using only electric vehicles in the park for official business.

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