National Geographic : 1936 Aug
RAMBLING AROUND THE ROOF OF EASTERN AMERICA BY LEONARD C. ROY HAZE-SHROUDED, the Great Smoky Mountains dominate the horizon of eastern Tennessee. "They look like clouds!" exclaimed my companion, who had traveled nearly the length of the Appalachians but had not seen this, the highest mountain mass in the east ern United States. Visitors often are amazed to find such lofty, wild, and unspoiled mountains strad dling the Tennessee-North Carolina State line (map, page 246). In 1923, when public-spirited men and women of the two States organized to encompass soaring heights and plunging valleys in a national park, even the moun taineers, grandchildren of pioneers who had braved the arrows of cunning Cherokees, had not explored the whole area. Adventurous hikers who did invade the mountains found the undergrowth so thick in places that they had to chop their way through it with an ax. A few naturalists and surveyors visited parts of the Smokies. Hunters sought their quarry amid the stately trees and dense cover that sheltered bears, deer, and numer ous smaller animals, and here and there a solitary fisherman whipped a woodland stream for trout. Revenue officers occasionally tried to penetrate the wilderness, and lumbermen, with dynamite, axes, and saws, pushed their roads and railroads only as far as the most recent cutting. There were areas that few white men had seen. ONCE A BARRIER; NOW A MAGNET To business men of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, the Great Smokies long were a trade barrier. No road leaped the rugged ridge along which the State line rambles for 71 miles. Com merce east and west in this latitude still moves around either end of the mountains, but the "barrier" now is an asset as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A mountain woman told me that a few years ago it took her more than a week to go to Knoxville and return to her cabin in the hills. She was 28 years old when she first visited the city. In those days there was little reason for the mountaineer to leave the mountains. A few sheep supplied wool for clothing and the mountain woman was an adept spinner and weaver. When cows and oxen became useless and were dispatched, shoes were made of their hides. Bears, deer, and birds, brought down with five-foot rifles or caught in traps, supplied the family meat platter. "Sweet nin' " was produced from sorghum (p. 244). A corn patch, clinging to the steep moun tain slopes, yielded meal for cornbread and, in many instances, for the powerful, water white "corn licker" that was sold for cash, or traded for salt, coffee, and other articles. "NATURE AT HER CHOICEST" Nearly all the land in the Great Smokies was privately owned when the park move ment was initiated. Arrangements had to be made for its purchase before the land could be turned over to the National Park Service for development. An intensive money-raising campaign was planned. Pri vate subscriptions aggregated $1,000,000. Appropriations by the adjoining States brought the fund to $5,000,000. But this was only one-half of the funds required. The campaigners for many months sought vainly for the other half. Then John D. Rockefeller, Jr., announced that the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Me morial would match dollar for dollar any money raised in the campaign. In 1926 Congress authorized the estab lishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on condition that the citi zens of Tennessee and North Carolina present 427,000 acres of acceptable land in one solid tract, the acreage to be equally divided between the two States. Officials who had investigated were enthusiastic. "Nature is at her choicest there," they reported. Development of the area as a national playground began, and today the thousand resident families have shrunk to about four hundred. Some sold their holdings out right and moved out of the mountains; some sold and took leases for terms of years; some took half the appraised value of their property and were given leases for the remainder of their lives. Only a few landholders have yet to come to an agree ment with the Government.