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Escape from the modern world in a National Park

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By Wayne Lazarus on April 7th, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

In honor of National Park Week, entrance to National Parks will be free April 17-25. The week will encompass Earth Day celebrations and Junior Ranger Day in many locations. (Find the National Park closest to you at the National Park Service.

Don’t know where to start? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited and top money-generating park in the country. The Smokies is one of 246 of the nations’ 392 national sites that does not charge admission any time. This picturesque park in the Southern Appalachian Mountains celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009. Adding to the festivities was the announcement that a design of the Smokies will be the 21st to be featured on the America the Beautiful Quarters, which will be issued by the United States Mint in 2014.20060622101236

Much of the park is not accessible by car, and getting on the trails takes you to a world many of us don’t get to often enough — removed from hybrid cars, cell-phone and flat-screen TVs. There are trails for all levels of visitors, from strenuous to physically challenged, many with spectacular vistas or the chance to see plants and blooming flowers that grow no where else in the world.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has some 800 miles of trails, many created by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Park Service today is assisted by Friends of the Smokies, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the area. There are two full-time trail-maintenance crews, and as part of its Trails Forever initiative, the Friends are working to raise money to match a Challenge Grant of $2 million to add a third full-time crew.

You will see sections gray with dead hemlock trees. The Wooly Adelgid has been present here for some time. Park spokesman Bob Miller says they are attacking this little tree-killer with pesticides, a predator beetle that lives off the adelgid, even a soap and oil solution in some cases. It is a labor intensive effort, and the park has only been able to treat 2,500 of the 75,000 acres of hemlocks. He adds that areas that have been treated have responded well.

20081212141122Also successful has been the program to re-introduce elk to the area. The original 52 elk brought in two batches in 2001 and 2002 are now a flourishing herd of 110. You can see the elk in the Cataloochee Valley in the North Eastern section of the park.

Make your motel reservations with in Cherokee or Asheville if you will be coming from the North Carolina side of the park, Sevierville, Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge on the Tennessee side.

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