I’m sitting here, on my day off, at the Cable Mill area of Cade’s Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park wondering what to write for this post. What do I like? What do I not like? What has been surprising? What’s confirmed my expectations? What’s surpassed or fell short of my expectations?
It has been an amazing two and a half weeks as an SCA/Americorps Interpretation Intern with the National Park Service.
What I like is this moment right now, as I sit on this porch, listening to the very talented Carl Ross transition seamlessly from guitar to banjo to dulcimer, singing old time music traditional of this area in southern Appalachia. I love the old buildings spotting the loop road here in Cade’s Cove. I love the deep connection between history, cultural customs, and nature. It is seen in the buildings, heard in the music, and explained through books, people’s stories, and the park service.
I love the people I work with. Going into the job, I thought it was going to be ‘all business’ and very serious, working with the federal government and all. However, I’ve found most of the people that work in the park, whether NPS employees, volunteers, or interns to be fun-loving and extremely friendly. The jokes never seem to stop. Everyone is great at what they do, but most importantly, they have fun doing it. That goes for everyone: Resource Education, Protection, Maintenance, etc… Because of that, I am having fun.
I’ve seen more bears in two and a half weeks than I have in my entire life prior to this internship. I’ve always heard about the biodiversity of GSMNP, and it is true. The place has an amazing abundance of species. I’ve seen more salamanders than ever, of all different colors. I’ve seen plenty of deer, a few praying mantis, tons of butterflies, frogs, and toads. I’ve seen lots of trees that don’t live up north. I’ve even had the privilege of seeing some small American Chestnuts and elk on the North Carolina side of the park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is DEEP! What I mean by that is, it is, for all intents and purposes, roadless. While hiking, to get to any points of interest, you gotta put in big miles. This place was built for backpacking. There are some great short, day hikes, but those tend to be filled with ‘touristy’ type folks. That’s great, I’m glad they get to enjoy the park, but to hike deep into the backcountry away from the crowds would require either a real big dayhike, or a few nights out. In comparison, I can dayhike Mt. Washington in NH by doing just 10 miles, whereas, to dayhike Clingman’s Dome (without driving to the top), I’d have to hike at least 16 miles (and that’s from Newfound Gap, which is kind of cheating, because it starts at such a high elevation anyway). This is much different that US forest lands, where forest roads provide pretty deep access to the backcountry and high country. Either way, the hiking has been great! So far, I’ve only been out for dayhikes, but hope to squeeze in a few overnights soon. By the way, the AT shelters are the nicest ones I’ve ever seen. And there are waterfalls galore!
What’s bummed me is the budget. I knew the money situation for the NPS was bad, had no idea how bad until I got here. I don’t think I go a day without hearing about how GSMNP has ‘no money.’ I don’t know the major details or numbers, but hopefully some restructuring of government spending in the future can get money flowing back to these amazing parklands lands, like the Great Smoky Mountains.
So far, Tennessee is treating me right. The people are friendly and always willing to share great stories. People love their SEC football…that’s been hard for me, being an ACC man, but they help me keep up with the scores (I work on Saturdays).
I highly recommend a visit to GSMNP. Each day I spend here, I realize even more how special this place really is. Come find me, in Cade’s Cove, Friday-Tuesday, if you find yourself in the area!
More for ya’ll soon…