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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Forest-smart travel - What the Park Service is doing right and wrong

I spent two days hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park and they are my Eden.

This mountain range has more varieties of plants, Great Smoky MountainsGreat Smoky Mountainsanimals, lichen and fungi than all of Europe. Unfortunately they also have more human visitors than any other national park.

One hundred million people live within an hour's drive and more than 9 million of them visit each year. The park is so busy with cars during the summer months that drivers are asked to queue to make the immigration more orderly.

What's sad is that a whopping 90% arrive in their cars and motor homes, walk a few hundred yards, get back in their car and never see anything as amazing again.

Mike Meldrum, Park Ranger, says you miss the communion of being with nature when you let your windshield frame your view. "You need to get out of the car and become part of the landscape."

Good advice from a thoughtful ranger, but the Smokies have suffered innumerable losses while under the stewardship of the Park Service. In 1957 they dumped drums of poison into Abrams Creek. Within hours they wiped out 31 species of fish - 1 which had never been seen before.

Today the government takes a more polished approach to conservation - the wait-and-see-attitude. It spends less than 3% of its budget on research.

Great Smoky MountainsGreat Smoky MountainsWhile you're reading this, more than 90% of Fraser firs (native to the Appalachian highlands) are sick or dying from acid rain. The Park Service is monitoring the situation closely. Read: we're watching them die.

In all fairness, it's easy to blame the Park Service, but the real enemy is us and the 'Now You See It, Now You Don't' game we're playing. If we don't start taking more green baby steps, we're going to lose the biodiversity that makes the Smokies unique. The government is setting a good example in a few areas:

No admission fees: They miss out on a lot of revenue,Great Smoky MountainsGreat Smoky Mountains but Gatlinburg takes responsibility to raise money and organize volunteers. It's win/win for the park and community.

Imaginative programming: To encourage everyone to get out of their cars, it's all about people-power. Bike-and-Hike, Moonlight Bike, Moonlight Hike and Bike-Only hours on certain roads.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Do you think the Park Service is doing a good job?

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