The Great Smoky Mountains National Park consists of over 520,000 acres of forest straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina boundary along the Appalachian Mountains. The Park was created from land purchases made mostly during the 1930's utilizing much private donation including substantial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. The effort effectively put a halt to timbering in the mountains before all the areas of virgin forest were lost. Still, much of the area was cultivated by the hundreds of families who made their homes and livelihoods along the flanks of the mountains. The real cost of the Park's creation must include the personal debt paid by those who had to adapt their lives and watch the forest reclaim their yards, orchards and fields. Evidence of those homesteads exits today in weathered road cuts, rock walls, and foundations and chimneys. For those of us fortunate enough to know those who lived within the area of the Park, we have had the benefit of learning the wildness available there from those who loved it and struggled with it on a daily basis. It's a unique place of overwhelming richness of human experience and nature's persistence.
The higher elevations of the Park receive close to 85 inches of rain a year, making it one of the wettest locations in the U.S. There's an elevation difference between those highest peaks and the low lands of the Park of over a mile. The bio-diversity within the Park boundaries is extreme and more species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms new to the Park, and also to science, are still being discovered as research continues today. One way of appreciating this diversity is to look at comparisons between the Park and the four times larger Yellowstone National Park in the Rocky Mountains. From a Park Service publication I found these comparitive statistics.Yellowstone's annual rainfall is less than 25 inches per year. Only eleven species of trees exist at Yellowstone while there are 135 in the Great Smokies; and five times as many fern species, nearly three times as many fish, seven times as many reptiles, ten times as many amphibians, and 50% again as many mammals. The Appalachians of the Great Smokies are much older than the Rockies. Plant evolution there has had a much greater time to develop. And, the Appalachians were never glaciated serving instead as a haven for northern plants and animals driven south during the last ice age.
Much detailed information is available about the Park. A good place to start to learn both the human and natural elements of the Park when you're here is at the Sugarland Visitors Center, which is just as you enter the Park from Gatlinburg. There's an excellent film shown regularly there which offers a moving introduction to all the magic of the life of the Park. Reference books, tapes ,and maps available there can broaden your level of experience in whatever direction you might choose . You might want t o visit their web site at GRSMNP to get an idea of the scope of things there..
From the Tennessee side, the Park is accessible from Townsend via US Highway 321, from Gatlinburg via US Highway 441, via Little River Road connecting the Townsend Park boundary with US 441 at Gatlinburg, via Cosby from US Highway 321, and via US Highway 321 connecting Gatlinburg with Cosby to the east. See the maps on the Gatlinburg and Cobbly Nob page.
It's this Tennessee eastern side of the Park that we focus on here with Touchmarks. It's where we have lived, worked, and played for twenty years. It's where we have absorbed the magnificence of the beauty of the area ...where we know it best, and where we feel most qualified to share with you it's treasures.