Wetlands comprise less than 1% of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, yet they are found scattered throughout the entire park at both low and high elevations (870 to above 6600 feet) and account for an important part of the park’s biodiversity. Smokies’ wetlands mostly occur as isolated patches on both gently sloping and steep terrain, and range in size up to about 2 acres. They can be associated with one or more of a variety of water sources including streams, springs, seeps, vernal pools, overland flooding, groundwater saturation, and lakes. Community types are structurally and compositionally diverse and include emergent marshes, forested wetlands, high- and low-elevation seeps, sinkholes, rocky bars and shores, beaver pond marshes, and alluvial forests.
Due to their variable water regimes and food and habitat resources, Smokies’ wetlands provide important habitat for a variety of plants, amphibians, insects, birds, fish, and mammals. Approximately 20% of the park’s plant species are associated with wetlands and 8%—including some that are rare—grow only in wetlands.
Beyond providing habitat for plants and animals, individual wetlands can provide different ecosystem functions such as helping to filter pollutants and excess sediment out of water, temper flood waters during periods of heavy rain, reduce stream erosion, store water for groundwater recharge, and much more. They also provide for recreational opportunities such as birding and photography, and contribute to the Smokies many unique soundscapes and overall wilderness character.
The biological importance of wetlands in the Smokies has led park managers to make their identification and inventory a focus of resource management activity. A field-based, park-wide wetlands inventory project was started in 2010, and has been on-going since. Aided by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyses and winter field scouting, the park has documented and mapped over 450 wetland communities. These inventory data are designed to support park management decisions and research interests.
Use the interactive story map below to explore the extent and abundance of Smokies’ wetlands and learn more about their hydrology, diversity, importance, and threats such as hog rooting, invasive plants, and historic land use. The story map also provides background information on the park’s wetland inventory project.