Land use, Conservation, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park


By karin turnmire

Initially, the creation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was to contribute to the overall conservation movement occurring the United States. Cades Cove was incorporated as part of the park and this brought up the larger question of how this land should be used. A majority of the park was returned to the wilderness. The picture on the left above may just look like a collection of trees but this is an area where it obviously at one time was a clearing but overtime has been allowed to regrow as a forest. The picture on the right is an example of land that was once a field or a part of a cove resident’s land. It is now a field that gives a perfect view of the mountains surrounding Cades Cove.

            The point of conserving the land is to return it back to nature in order to allow the environment to go through its natural processes. When Cades Cove was made part of the park a lot of the established buildings and houses were removed.  The rangers for the GSMNP had coordinates of where a majority of these buildings and houses were. From the coordinates, it can be deduced that that picture on the left was the sight of a school. While it is unclear on how or when exactly these structures were removed, it is known that it was in order to restore this portion of Appalachia back to nature. In some areas of Cades Cove, this was done by letting trees grow and revert back to wooded areas (as in the left picture). Other areas however they left the areas clear and maintain the land by keeping the grass mowed. While this does not restore it back to the conditions before civilization, it does allow for green spaces for people to enjoy and an unobstructed view of the mountains.

            This conservation movement was a product of the overall Progressive movement in the late 1800s and has continued through to today. People were concerned with the state of the environment, especially in Appalachia. There is a unique quality of the Appalachian region compared to others in the world and people began to worry about the lifespan of the natural beauty of the region. There are many industries that can be detrimental to the environment; lumber can lead to deforestation, mining can harm the land and cause pollution if not done consciously. Because of this, conservationists felt that the Appalachian people were the cause of the environmental decline. A study done by Alisa A. Wadea, David M. Theobald, and Melinda J. Laituri assess the threats that human activity has on the parks and they consider GSMNP to be a part that has a high risk of being negatively impacted, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a nationwide conservation regime that the Park Service provides. In their research report, they stated, “It is equally important to assess external and internal threats because human activities both in and around a protected area can impair the area's ecological goals or impart important ecological benefits to adjacent lands.” While the government was obtaining land for the GSMNP, they offered to buy the land from residents of the effected areas in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. The land was also obtained by eminent domain. After this was done, the Park Service began to take necessary measures to restore the land for park use.

            The dedication of the Parks Service to designate Cades Cove as an area for conservation relates to the larger ideas throughout Appalachia of culture versus nature and how people have changed the condition of the landscape. It was chiefly due to a combination of technology used by residents in the area and corporations that tried to introduce industry and capitalism to the region. Since areas in the Smoky Mountains like Cades Cove were not overly modernized by the 1920s, it was easier for the Park Service to restore this area back to a more natural state in order to promote the overall goal of conservation for future generations to enjoy the sense of otherness that this portion of Southern Appalachia provides.