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Settlers made do from the land - and then industry used it up
The living history farm sits on much lower terrain, wedged between steep hills and a rolling stream. It portrays what life was like for the European settlers who called the Smokies home.
Ranger Free says they were remarkably self-reliant and skilled in practical crafts.
"Making baskets, you know. Pot holders or horse shoes or plows… anything like that. I mean, folks were actually making these things on the farm to use them. They made do, or did without, basically is what it is. And that would have been up to the time of the Civil War."
In the years following the Civil War of 1861 to '65, American industry quickly exhausted the natural resources of the northeastern section of the country. The nation began looking farther south and west for the lumber and coal needed to support continued growth.
What most of today's visitors to Smoky Mountains National Park fail to realize is that the forests they enjoy so much are not virgin timber. Free explains that by the early 1900s, much of what is now national park had been stripped bare.
"Seventy-five percent of this - there were no trees standing - and now you see 521,000 acres [210,000 hectares] of beautiful, very young forest."
Many share credit for park's restoration
He adds that today's visitors owe a great debt to park naturalists who've worked tirelessly over the last 75 years to return the Smokies to their original splendor.
Seventy-five years later, Ranger Free says America is still wrestling with how best to use natural and cultural treasures like the Great Smoky Mountains.
"[I hope] that we can also find that balance between nature and humans." He predicts it will be a challenge for future rangers in this area.
"As population increases, as we go to 20 million people a year coming to this park, as surrounding communities are building closer to the park, there's going to be some challenges ahead of us."
Before they begin looking ahead, however, the Park Service will look back to Smoky Mountains National Park's creation. Nearly 100 events celebrating the 75th anniversary will be held in the park and surrounding communities over the next few weeks.