Great Smoky Mountains National Park marks 88th anniversary

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — It was 88 years ago on June 15, 1934, that President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since then, the park has become the most visited National Park in the United States. In 2021, the park saw 14.1 million visitors. The park spans 522,419 acres and is one of the largest protected wildlife areas in the country.

The Smokies is the most-visited national park, with more than 14 million visits made to the beloved mountain range in 2021 alone. It wouldn’t be possible but for the imagination and determination of East Tennesseans.

The desire to create a national park in the Smoky Mountains dates back to the 1890s. However, the movement did not pick up steam until the 1920s.

Former State Rep. Ann Davis is often credited for suggesting the park to her husband, Willis P. Davis, while returning home to Knoxville from a visit to several Western national parks in 1923. The conversation led the couple to begin recruiting advocates and supporters.

In 1924, Davis was elected the first woman from Knox County to serve in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. The “mother of the park” used her position to further the effort to create it.

Other supporters of the park include Horace Kephart, George Masa, David Chapman, Paul Fink, Ben Morton, Mark Squires, Jim Thompson, and Charles A. Webb. Each of these men worked to show the importance of preserving the Smokies.

In May 1926, a bill was signed by President Calvin Coolidge that provided for the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. By 1928, enough money had been raised to purchase the land for the park.

However, buying the land was difficult as hundreds of families had to be forced out of their homes. According to the National Park Service, some went willingly, and others fought against it, but most families moved immediately. An effort is now underway to document those homesites.

The park was officially established in June 1934. Crews went to work turning the former logging sites into a national park.

A dedication was held in September 1940. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke from the Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

In 2020, about 12 million visitors escaped the pandemic by traveling to the park. There they spent $1 billion in communities like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, according to the National Park Service.

To learn more about the founding and history of the park, click here.

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