I started this week hiking in my backyard in California and will end it hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). This is the second time I’ve visited this park, but two visits only scratch the surface of what GSMNP has to offer. GSMNP covers 522,427 acres and is split between Tennessee and North Carolina and with 11.4 million visits for recreational purposes in 2018, it was the most visited national park in the US. GSMNP was established in 1934, designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and added to the World Heritage List in 1983 (NPS, 2019).
Over 70% of the 11.4 million visitors to GSMNP in 2018 were either domestic or international tourists. With such high visitation it is fortunate that this park, like others managed by the US National Park Service, exemplifies the characteristics of sustainability in tourism: it protects natural and cultural resources while opening them up for the public to experience and enjoy; it contributes to the economy and its existence facilitates significant economic activity in the immediate and extended communities of both Tennessee and North Carolina; and it engages a range of stakeholders from both states and beyond.
In the next few ‘dispatches’ I’ll be sharing about my experiences in GSMNP as well as other NPS sites in Kentucky.
The first hike of this trip was Rainbow Falls Trail and oh was it beautiful. Some impressions: green, lush, vibrant, vast, humid, special …
It was special to do a hike that was about 2.7 miles one way and hear the sound of rushing water for almost the entire time.
The hike to the falls was a steady uphill climb, but while challenging, was not strenuous as one guidebook described it. We started the hike around 9 am and for most of the climb it was humid to the point where sweat was beading on my forearms, at times streaming down my face, and soaking through my shirt and pants. Yet paradoxically, it was not hot and uncomfortable. Perhaps the ever present water and extensive tree canopy kept it pleasant.
The air was crisp and fresh. I felt at peace and it was downright spiritual at times.
This hike like the two I did here last year made me think of Ray Charles’ Georgia whenever I saw rays of sunlight streaming through the trees: Georgia, A song of you, Comes as sweet and clear, As moonlight through the pines.
During this hike there was as usual lots of laughter, conversation and strengthening of the bonds of friendship within my group of friends.
I saw and heard birds, saw a few millipedes, various butterflies, beetles, and one deer having lunch. I also saw a few types of mushrooms, various flowering plants, many, many trees and a few outstanding rock formations.
It was a beautiful hike. An awesome reminder that my life is a good one. I appreciate it.