Great Smoky Mountains National Park Celebrates 100th Anniversary

Staff Photo by Angie Stanley

Staff Photo by Angie Stanley

The 100th anniversary of “America’s Best Idea” took place on Thursday with a founder’s Day luncheon that honored Park Employees.  Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan believed that the event included one of the largest gatherings of Great Smoky Mountains National Park employees ever.

Several dignitaries came out to commemorate the event.  Included were Senator Lemar Alexander, Congressman Phil Roe, former Tennessee Governor Don Sunquist with his wife Martha, and New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross.

Opening remarks by Deputy Superintendent Jordan were addressed to the staff.  “Normally when we go in to a special event hosted by somebody, we go because we want to see, we want to meet, the special invited guests, but today’s different.  Today’s special invited guests came to the Smokies because they want to see and spend time with us.”  He went on the say, “You’re the messengers to future.  Through your commitment, your passion, and your dedication to the job, you’re sending a message.  It’s through the actions that you’re taking everyday that inspires people to explore, to understand, to appreciate, and to care for this special place.  As stewards, we can turn it over to the next generation of stewards. So, this celebration today is all about you.”

Staff Photo by Angie Stanley

Staff Photo by Angie Stanley

Park Superintendent Cassius Cash came to the podium with excitement.  “I’m so fired up, folks. Today is history, and we get to be a part of that.”  After recognizing past park superintendents that were present at the event, he went on to explain how park employees rolled up their sleeves to engage the surrounding communities and nurture the next generation for the future preservation of the parks.  Superintendent Cash is participating in the Hike 100 program, “to see in real life the experience, the transformation, the sense of discovery to youth that have never been to the National Park.”

Senator Lamar Alexander is one person who has many special memories of the park.  Growing up in Maryville, he spent plenty of time in the Great Smoky Mountains. “I realize now I was one of the luckiest guys in the world to have grown up in Maryville, and to grow up in the park. You spend your weekends and your special times there, and all the special memories I have. Tennesseans feel a special pride in our Smokies because of the people of Tennessee and North Carolina, who bought the land and gave it to the United States to create the park.  Back then a ranger wrote a memo identifying the wildlife he had found in this new park.  There were 100 black bears.  Today, there are about 1,500.  Then, there were 315 wild turkeys.  On some days now, I can see a couple of dozen strutting just outside our home in West Millers Cove two miles from the park boundary.  In 1934, there were 12 whitetail deer in Tennessee and six in North Carolina.  Today, they’re everywhere.  Then there were no river otters and no elk in the park, but they are both here today.”

Senator Alexander continued, “It’s easy these days to hear what is wrong with America.  It’s also easy to see what is right, and a great way to do that is to reflect on the beauty, magic, and serenity of the American outdoors, and to celebrate 100 years of the U.S. National Park Service.  It is our responsibility to ensure the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and all other national parks around the country are protected and preserved so future generations can enjoy them, just like we have.”

Congressman Phil Roe also addressed the crowd briefly. “In the past calendar year I have had the honor and the privilege to be in at least five National Parks. I know that these parks cannot be as great as they are, believe me there are no better in the world, without you, the employees. Because with you it’s different.  It’s a mission with you.  It’s not just a job. This park could not be what it is without the volunteers.  I cannot thank you enough as a taxpayer, a citizen, and someone that represents you, and what you do each and every single day.”

In some one-on-one time, both Roe and Alexander went on to share more about the National Park Service.  “America had the first National Park System in the world,” Alexander said with a smile. “We lived in Australia thirty years ago and they copied us. This never could have happened again, just look at the Smokies.  500,000 acres, 10 million visitors a year. If sombody came up with the idea today, it couldn’t have happened.  It is our best idea.  It goes to the heart of the American character.”

Roe finished, “And it creates memories.  I remember a picture of me being five years old, sitting on a giant rabbit in Gatlinburg, and coming here every year.  I get to share that with my grandchildren now.”

“We are so excited to reach our 100th birthday!” said Superintendent Cash. “We have been celebrating all year so it feels good to finally reach the date that has been circled on so many of our calendars. This historic milestone for the park service has been an amazing opportunity to recognize and acknowledge our accomplishments, look to the future of our next century of service, and honor the over 340 employees who dedicate themselves daily to preserving and protecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

Source: Angie Stanley, Jefferson County Post Staff Writer