National Geographic : 1966 Jul
Road so tortured it crosses itself on a bridge, Route 441 spirals upward in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Most visited of all na tional parks, it welcomes some five million people a year. Curling walkway to a circular eyrie offers an eagle's-eye view of the Great Smokies. Set atop 6,642-foot Clingmans Dome, the park's highest peak, the tower surveys wave on wave of densely wooded ranges. Smoke like mist, caused by tiny drop lets of moisture blending with plant oils, often shrouds the valleys, giving the mountains their name. Light reflections in the camera lens show as streaks at right of the tower, which re places a former fire lookout. EKTACHROMESBY BRUCE DALE(OPPOSITE) AND GERALDHOLLY© N.G.S. million people visit Washington every year and must now depend largely upon commer cial guides in touring their own Capital. From the visitor center a uniform fleet of buses-hundreds of little ones, perhaps, or complete small trains of them-would set forth on continuous rounds of the national shrines of beauty and history. Such a pro posal has been introduced in Congress. At the moment, Pennsylvania Avenue, tra ditional street of parades in the city's historic heartland, is a bit shabby. Just wait. The President has declared it a national historic site, and if plans work out, it will be trans formed into a truly majestic avenue. Old Forts Ring the Capital Turning from broad avenues, we plan to create a city-wide loop of hiking trails and bicycle paths. We will do this by connecting small parks already in the system, the sites of the forts which ringed the Capital during Civil War times. Nearly all the land is already in public ownership. Washington and the Nation also need to protect the Potomac River and the paralleling Chesapeake and Ohio Canal within a Poto mac Valley National Park. This would stretch from the Capital to Cumberland, Maryland. Few cities in the world have such a magnifi cent scenic and recreational resource so near.* Go ten miles upriver from the Nation's Capital and you find a wild river gorge where egrets feed in the shallows and eagles soar overhead. Forty-five miles farther, at Harpers Ferry, the beautiful Shenandoah meets the Potomac. As Thomas Jefferson said of this magnificent juncture, it is "worth a voyage across the Atlantic" to see. Farther still, the Potomac winds beneath forested mountain slopes, each great bend a warm invitation to lovers of the outdoors. This entire river basin, so beautiful and so historic, replete with so much recreational opportunity for millions of city dwellers close by, is almost entirely unprotected except for an occasional small state or county park and the thin ribbon of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Monument. On a serene Sunday's walk along the old canal towpath one spring, I saw a path lead ing toward the river. Taking it, I found a flight of wooden steps leading down to a dock. Nailed to a tree was a sign reading: "These steps and this dock are not govern ment property-keep off." Such signposts "Keep off," "No trespassing," "Zoning re classification application," "Lots for sale" mark the rapid erosion of the riverside as a natural heritage available to all. The govern ment owns considerable Potomac shoreline, but it should own more. I wish I could describe every addition and improvement we plan for the National Capi tal Parks, but I have room for only one more. This is a blueprint for the first national park *See "Waterway to Washington," by Jay Johnston, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, March, 1960.