With its incredible natural beauty and diverse wildlife, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a fascinating history.
Cherokees and Europeans
Prior to European colonization of East Tennessee, Cherokees lived in the Great Smoky Mountains for hundreds of years. In the 1700s and early 1800s, white Americans began to settle in the Cherokee homeland. During this period, many Cherokee adapted elements of European-American culture, leading to their designation as one of the so called “Five Civilized Tribes”. In 1830, however, the U.S. government changed its policy towards Native Americans from acculturation to expulsion, culminating in President Andrew Jackson’s signing of the Indian Removal Act. The Cherokee were driven out from their homeland and relocated to the new Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Known as the Trail of Tears, the brutal journey from the Southeast to Oklahoma resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Cherokee people.
Growth of the Logging Industry
As more white Americans moved to the region, logging became a flourishing industry. In the early 1900s, the Little River Lumber Company built a railroad to transport timber out of the Smokies. The growth of the logging business caused concern among locals and visitors to the Smoky Mountains, who feared that the region’s natural beauty was being destroyed.
Establishing The Park
In response to this threat, concerned citizens began pushing for the preservation of the land. Congress authorized the founding of the park in 1926, but the government had no federally owned land in the Great Smoky Mountains. Over the next few years, the National Park Service purchased land for the park with contributions from private donors in Tennessee and North Carolina and a $5 million donation from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Miners and loggers were expelled from the park, and on June 14, 1934, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially established.
The park was named an International Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a member of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve in 1976, 1983, and 1988 respectively. On September 2, 2009, a 75th anniversary re-dedication ceremony was held at the park. The event was attended by four U.S. Senators, three Congressmen, two governors, the Secretary of the Interior, and Tennessee singer Dolly Parton.
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