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Mountain Wilderness

THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, primeval and time-worn, are densely carpeted with vegetation from base to summit. This prevalence of plant-life, coupled with the haze which pervades the scene and broods over this ancient land, engenders a peculiar enchantment, a genuine charm which appeals to us in a warm friendly way. We look down from one of the summits upon range after range receding into the dim horizon, and we are reminded that these mountains are but one segment of the Appalachians. Wisps of fog rise up from the valleys and low-hanging clouds roll through the gaps following the rains that make these mountains the Nation's region of highest precipitation outside the Pacific Northwest. This, in part, accounts for the variety of plantlife and the great size attained by a number of trees and shrubs. Nowhere are there more champion trees than in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; from 15 to 20 species reach record proportions.

The forested land which prevailed here had been practically undisturbed until about a century ago. A few pioneers had appeared, and to them the wilderness presented a truly formidable environment. But man did not make much impression upon the scene until the advent of lumber companies, mostly early in the 20th century. Fortunately, the region was of such difficult access that a considerable amount of its virgin forests was left intact, and this later became a part of the park.

Hikers stop to rest along the Appalachian Trail. In the distance is Clingman's Dome, the park's highest mountain. There, this foot trail reaches its highest altitude (6,643 ft.) in the 2,100 miles from Maine to Georgia. Courtesy, Tennessee Conservation Department.

While great changes were taking place in nearby communities, several generations of strong-willed mountaineers, beginning with the earliest pioneers, continued in their simpler way of life. Here the people, like the trees, marked time, as it were, until the idea of a National Park became a reality. Their story is intimately interwoven with the story of this misty wilderness.

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Last Modified: Sat, Nov 4 2006 10:00:00 pm PST

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