The most visited largest protected area in the eastern United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or simply Smokies, has more than 4,000 species of plants that cultivate there. There are several plants and animals that can only be found living in the Smokies. Moreover, it has a rich cultural history that is part of the growth of the State of Tennessee.
Before the Smokies was established a National Park, it was home to a diverse culture and people, from the Cherokee Indians who first settled there up to the Scotch-Irish who once thrived there. The proofs of their existence are some structures they built and still remain standing at the Smokies. It was in the 18th and early 19th century that Cherokee Indians started occupying the Smokies. It was a hiding place and a new dwelling for some Indians who were forced to leave their communities in the east of Mississippi River after the signing of the Indian Removal Act.
Soon after, European settlers began migrating in the Smokies and started to introduce a different culture. They pioneered the logging industry and it grew tremendously, and to accommodate the transportation demands of this industry, they constructed a rail line called the Little River Railroad in the 19th century. However, this industry started to destroy the natural beauty of the Smokies. To respond to this dilemma, visitors to the Smokies as well as local residents joined hand and raised money to start preserving and protecting the area.
The United States National Park Service wanted to establish a park in the eastern part of the country but did not have enough finances to fund such a move. Although establishing a park has been approved by the United States Congress, there was no federally owned land around which to locate the park, but thanks to the contributions of some prominent people such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the protected area of the Smokies was acquired. Slowly, mountain dwellers, miners, and loggers were ousted from the land and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was mustered piece by piece. On June 15, 1934, the park was officially established and was officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on September 2, 1940.
Millions of tourists visit the park every year to witness the grandeur of the park and have a personal experience of the more than 10,000 documented species of plants and animals that exist in the five different forest types dominating the park, each having its own characteristics. Records show that there are more than 130 species of trees, 1,400 flowering plants and over 4,000 other plant species that grow in these forests, 200 species of birds, 66 species of mammals, 50 species of fish, 39 species of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians that continue to proliferate there. There are about 90,000 more that still need to be discovered and documented.
Aside from the flora and fauna, the park also boasts attractions such as the two main visitors? centers, one near the Gatlinburg entrance and one near the eastern entrance to the park. These are the Sugarlands Visitors' Center and the Oconaluftee Visitors' Center, respectively. These visitors? centers are also ranger stations and host exhibits on wildlife, geology, and the history of the park. Books, maps, and souvenirs can be bought here as well.
Visitors can also enjoy sightseeing on top of the notable Newfound Gap, an elevation where everyone can have a view of the scenic surrounding. Then, there are a few historical attractions such as the well-preserved Cades Cove where log cabins, barns and churches are best maintained. Hiking is one of the most loved activities in the park and after all these strenuous activities, fishing can be a relaxing stop, that?s why, no doubt, it is the most popular recreation in the park.
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