Great Smoky Mountains National Park - The Early Years

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Memories of Developing
The National Park

Excerpts from a new book by Carlos C. Campbell entitled Memories of Old Smoky--a collection of stories and experiences from the early years of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the pre-park years.
(Reprinted with the permission of the author's granddaughter, Rebecca Campbell Arrants)

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Destinations of many popular hikes are some of the numerous waterfalls and cascades of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially those on the Tennessee side of the park. Four of the most heavily visited, and most beautiful of these scenic displays of water are Rainbow Falls, on the north slope of Mount LeConte; Laurel Falls, on the trail between Fightin’ Creek Gap and Cove Mountain; Abrams Falls, most easily reached from the west end of Cades Cove; and Ramsey Cascades, in the Greenbrier wilderness area.

Rainbow Falls, approximately four miles from Cherokee Orchard and halfway to the top of LeConte, is normally just a slender ribbon of water making a plunge of about 70 feet. But after a hard rain or a prolonged general rain, it becomes a spectacular display of turbulent water. Its most unique appearance, however, is in the winter when the temperature has been below freezing for several consecutive days. On January 28, 1940 Guy Frizzell, Dutch Roth, and I left Knoxville in zero weather for a special hike to Rainbow Falls. In Gatlinburg, Chief Park Naturalist Arthur Stupka joined us. The thermometer had been well below freezing for a week or more and we expected and hoped to find two huge ice cones at the Falls—one built up from the bottom and the other an inverted cone hanging from the top. We even hoped that the two cones might have met, or nearly so, thus forming an icy "hour glass."

When we parked the car at Cherokee Orchard we found a few inches of snow covering the ground. We had dressed warmly because of the severe cold at Knoxville. As soon as we entered the forest we were trudging through six inches of snow, except for Stupka who was wearing snowshoes. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and no wind. With the reflected heat from the snow we began to peel off the extra coats and sweaters and were quite comfortable hiking along in our shirtsleeves.

Upon reaching our destination we found that the lower cone had built up to a height of about 30 or 35 feet. The top one, however, was much shorter. We could see that the suspended icicles were more slender and not so long. Remnants of other upper cones were seen around the base of the lower. The direct and reflected heat at the top of the upper cones had caused them to break loose and fall; otherwise the two certainly would have met. Even though there was some ten feet between them, it was a thrilling and unusual sight.

Both of the cones were hollow, with the main body of the stream still flowing through the center. The icicles were formed around the main stream as splashing water froze to the rocks. After a day or so there was a ring of ice all around the stream of water. Then, as small portions of the stream continued to hit the edge of the ice ring the icicle grew into a huge hollow ice cone.

A hike to Rainbow Falls is strongly recommended after a week or more of below-freezing weather.

Without any doubt the waterfall that is most frequently visited by hikers is Laurel Falls which is one and three-tenths miles from the parking area at Fightin’ Creek Gap, on Highway #73. Part of the popularity of this hike is the short distance, but there are other reasons. It is really two falls, one of which drops down to the edge of the Cove Mountain trail, while the other plunges off below the trail. Pictures usually show only the upper fall because it can be made as a close-up, whereas the photographer has to get so far away in order to get both falls in the picture, that it is much less interesting. Another reason so many visitors like this hike is because of the fine views that are provided along the way, especially the views of Blanket Mountain and Miry Ridge.

Many women, having heard about the beauty and interest of Laurel Falls, and realizing it is a relatively short walk, made the trip wearing high-heel shoes. This unwise practice led the Park Service to blacktop this trail. Even with the smooth surface it is not safe to hike that far—two and six-tenths miles round trip—in high heels. It is likely that many women have made that discovery the hard way.

Abrams Falls, two and a half miles from Cades Cove, is not as high as the other popular falls, but the much larger volume of water makes up for the lack of height. This large stream has carved out a very deep pool and has thus created an exceptionally good "swimming hole," one of the very best in the entire park. It is, in fact, so deep that very few swimmers are able to touch bottom even when diving from the top of the falls. Herman Silva Forest—known best to hiking companions as "Foozy," is the only person I have seen reach the bottom of the pool, and he had made several unsuccessful dives before he was able to do it.

The level "benches" of solid rock near the base of the waterfall are favorite picnic sites and are also good places for swimmers and divers to sun themselves while resting.

Large quantities of trailing arbutus (Epigea repens) may be seen along this trail in March and early April. I do not know any other spot or trailside in the whole park that offers so much of this delicately beautiful and early-blooming wildflower. This trail is also lined with fine stands of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). The peak blooming season, a bit earlier here than in higher elevations, is in May and June, with occasional flowers as early as April.

Although Ramsey Cascades has not been as heavily visited as the others have, it is my pick of the well-known waterfalls and cascades of the entire park insofar as sheer beauty and charm is concerned. As the name implies, it is not an actual waterfall, but an extremely steep series of dashing, splashing cascades. I have seen 2,000-foot ribbons of water in the Canadian Rockies, but to me Ramsey Cascades is the most beautiful and picturesque natural display of water it has been my good fortune to see. In fact, I know of no other spot in the Smokies that is quite as beautiful as the one I behold as I stand on or near the footlog just below the cascades. It is beautiful throughout the year. I have seen it when that rocky cliff was a sheer sheet of solid ice, with the stream falling behind the ice.

There is an element of considerable danger, however, for hikers who get too close to the brow of any waterfall, and doubly so at the top of Ramsey Cascades. The solid rock over which the water flows just before starting the downward plunge slopes gently toward the edge of the cliff. Although splashing water keeps the rocks from moist to wet much of the time, the beauty of the view from the top of Ramsey Cascades lures many visitors dangerously close to the edge.

On July 28, 1962, Betty H. Barber, the 15-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David W. Barber and granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. D. West Barber, lost her life in a fall from the top of these cascades. Several years earlier a young man, James E. Wolfkiel, Jr., also fell from the same ledge, but was more fortunate; he didn’t even have any broken bones.

Hikers visiting any of the Great Smokies waterfalls should remember that the top of any waterfall or steep cascade is an extremely dangerous place. Also, they should know that the view from several feet back is almost as good—maybe just as good—as from the dangerous edge.

Still another waterfall—or, rather, a very steep cascade—is on Mill Creek about two or three miles south of the southwest corner of Cades Cove. Although it is much taller than the four famous falls and cascades, it remains virtually unknown to most hikers. There is no trail, not even a beaten path, to this distinctive cascade. Dr. Randolph Shields, head of the Biology Department of Maryville College and a native of Cades Cove, serves as a seasonal naturalist during the summer months. On infrequent occasions he takes a few hardy hikers to see Mill Creek Cascade, but he usually makes the approach by a different route each time so as not to make a beaten path.

Many Park visitors never can see Rainbow Falls, Abrams Falls or Ramsey Cascades, and even Laurel Falls is too difficult for a few of them. Fortunately, however, there are some treats available for them—water displays they may enjoy from their automobile. Motorists driving up through Little River Gorge (Tennessee Highway #73 from Townsend toward Elkmont and Gatlinburg) have the privilege of seeing one beautiful waterfall and a low but interesting cascade. Meigs Falls, on Meigs Creek just before that stream empties into Little River, can be seen without getting out of the car. Parking space for several cars has been provided for the use of those who want to linger or to make pictures.

The cascade, designated as The Sinks, is a mile farther up Little River. As at Abrams Falls, the large volume of water has carved out a deep pool. The swirling water makes it quite hazardous, and at least one death has occurred there. Even so, the pool is a popular swimming and diving spot. The turbulent water at The Sinks and in the stream above the cascade can not be seen very well from an automobile, but parking spaces for several cars have been provided. It is recommended that for the best views, every visitor to this beauty spot should go the bridge, and to the opposite bluffs just below the cascade.

Since the volume of Little River varies greatly throughout the year, Mrs. Campbell and I often select a time when there has been more or less constant rain for two or three days for a trip to The Sinks. On such a day, when it was still raining, I told office associates that we were heading for The Sinks.

"In all this rain?" one of the men asked.

"Because of the rain," I replied.

It was a most rewarding trip. Seldom had we seen so much turbulence in the swollen stream. In places the water came to within a few inches of the road level and, we learned later, a short section of the road was flooded shortly after we were there. It was a majestic sight that we saw at The Sinks. We had on many previous visits seen that cascade with everything from a very small stream on up to a raging torrent—but never before quite so much water. The view from the bluffs was as thrilling as we had expected. The real treat this time was to stand on the bank, or the bridge, and watch the "back side" of water hitting a ledge about half way down the cascade. It then bounded up some six or eight feet before it completed a big arch and fell back into the stream at the bottom of the cascade. The front or down-stream side was a mass of madly whirling and splashing water. That was the most spectacular phase. But, to us, far more interesting was the glassy smoothness of the back, or up-stream side, of the arching water. As we looked into it we could see that the water was heavily charged with small rocks—from the size of a man’s fist on down. We could see that it was but a few inches from one of these rocks to another. Then, realizing that the entire stream was heavily loaded with such rocks, and seeing the swiftness of the stream, it was easy to see how those riverbeds had been carved or dug out through the countless years that such high water had been at work. As a small boy I had often wondered how the rounded stones that we knew as river rocks had been formed. Watching such sights as we witnessed that day it was easy to see how the rough edges of broken bits of boulders would be torn off when carried for considerable distances each time there was such high water.

A friend, having heard about our experience on that day, remarked to his wife that he had often wondered why they never saw the interesting things that the Campbells so often saw. Then it dawned upon him that it may be because the Campbells go to the mountains more often, and that perhaps they had learned the best times to witness such interesting sights.

Great Smokies Beauty Spots

What, in your opinion, is the most beautiful spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Admittedly, most answers to that question would list one or more of the vantage points that provide breathtaking panoramas. Or, perhaps, you might be inclined to prefer a location where one can see acres of purple rhododendron during the peak blooming season; or a place from which the extravaganza of autumn colors may be seen most advantageously.

That, however, is not the type of beauty spots that I have in mind in connection with the question. The reference is to any small area, possibly not more than 100 yards in diameter, where the sheer charm and beauty is the dominant feature. It is at such locations that many visitors might like to linger, in quiet meditation, for an hour or so because of the soul-satisfying experience thus provided.

Through the years I have asked many fellow hikers to tell me their favorite beauty spots of this nature. And, of course, I have made mental notes of my own preferences. With the hope that it might help others to discover the picturesque qualities of such locations, a few of them are listed herewith—not necessarily in the order of preference.

Many visitors are advised to see "the big tree" on the trail between Cades Cove and Gregory Bald. To me, however, the visitor who hikes only the mile-and-a-half to that one six-foot tulip poplar gets cheated. The next half-mile is much more rewarding, in my opinion, and the best of all is what can be seen while standing on the second foot-bridge above the big tree and looking back down the trail. There is no single tree as large as "the big tree," but there are several almost as large—rising from a beautiful undercover of rhododendron. To me, there are few—if any—spots in the whole park with more real natural beauty.

A close second in my list of favorites is the spectacular display of water at Ramsey Cascades and the immediately surrounding forest. This highly pleasing scene may be enjoyed either from the footbridge just below the cascade, or from the ledge at the right.

Another treat, unfortunately missed by most of those who hike to Ramsey Cascades, is the series of deep pools and smaller cascades that may be seen about a half-mile farther upstream. Early hikers knew one of these quiet pools as Drink-water Pool.

A point that is much easier to reach, and which is a favorite for many visitors, is the view looking upstream from the second foot-bridge on the trail to Chimney Tops, the one that crosses the stream known as Road Prong. Many hikers stop here just to drink in some of the picturesque beauty.

Thousands of hikers each year enjoy the views and sunrises from Myrtle Point of Mt. LeConte. Many of them, however, would find an equally pleasing experience at a quiet little spot about 100 yards down the ridge to the north. There the ground is still covered by a lush growth of mountain myrtle, just as was Myrtle Point in pre-park days. This intimate little spot has a beauty all its own, but it is made even more enjoyable by the dramatic quality of the surroundings.

The Spruce-Fir Nature Trail, reached from the Clingmans Dome road is distinctive for several reasons—especially the overall beauty of the Canadian type forest. An added interest is given by the numerous moss covered logs and small boulders along the way, and the abundance of ferns.

The Cherokee Orchard-Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail has many attractions. One of these is the fine virgin forest of hemlock trees. Marker Number 5, which corresponds with a paragraph of the descriptive folder, gives the location. The larger trees here are centuries old, and interested motorists should get out and walk through or around these majestic trees.

Marker Number 15, at the last bridge on the Cherokee Orchard-Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, justifies parking the car and taking a good look at this interesting spot. Stand on the bridge and look upstream, watching the stream flow across the jagged rocks and into the quiet and deep pool just before flowing under the bridge. Then, stand on the other side of the bridge and watch the swirling water as it dashes wildly over or between huge boulders that line the streambed. Look across the stream at the interesting moss covered boulders, especially the one where a sizeable tree rests on the sharp top of one of the large boulders. To many, the greater interest at this stop comes from looking at the sheer cliff, more than 100 feet high, which is at the immediate left of the road. Although I make this trip a few times each year, I still find it virtually impossible to pass Station Number 15 without a stop of several minutes.

Some forty years ago I asked Marshall Wilson to tell me his favorite beauty spot of the Smokies. When he told me that it was Porters Flats I asked why he liked that spot so much. He said that it was because of the number of extra large trees, and the canopy of tree branches overhead. On my first visit I was a bit disappointed. I must have expected to see so many big trees, and growing so close together, that one almost would have to turn sideways to pass between them. But, on later visits I learned to appreciate the natural beauty of Porters Flats that Marshall had described.

"The Cherry Orchard," through which one passes en route to Ramsey Cascades, has a similar charm to that of Porters Flats, but has an extra point of interest. Here, the forest is made up largely of huge specimens of black cherry trees, many of them more than three feet in diameter. The first time I heard about "The Cherry Orchard" I supposed it to be an abandoned fruit orchard, and did not recognize it on my first trip to the area. Admittedly, a three-foot tree is not large, even in comparison with the tulip poplars, hemlocks and other trees of the Smokies. But, it is a very large size for black cherry trees. Lumber sawed from black cherry trees—cut from areas outside the park, of course—is used in the manufacture of fine furniture. It is one of the most expensive woods grown in or near the Smokies. The only other species with a comparable value is the black walnut. Hikers en route to Ramsey Cascades will see a few larger trees, especially three very large tulip poplars at the immediate trailside, and a few large buckeyes and hemlocks. But, for sheer beauty of the open forest of "sizeable" trees, "The Cherry Orchard" is worthy of special note.

It would be easy, of course, to expand this list of beauty spots to more than twice this number.

About the Author

Carlos C. Campbell was born August 6, 1892 in the Sevier County community of Kodak, within site of Mt. LeConte.

After his reluctant first hike to Mt. LeConte in October 1924, Mr. Campbell was hooked. His enthusiasm for the mountains sparked that day was extinguished only by his death in 1978, at age 86.

Largely through his efforts as manager of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce in the 1920’s, the Smokies became known to the nation. He pressed relentlessly for establishing these rugged mountains as a national park. Mr. Campbell promoted the Smokies so much that he eventually lost his Chamber job due to the pressure of some who felt that he should have spent more time bringing industry into the area. One of his last promotions of the park effort before he left the Chamber, was the direction of fund-raising to bring the entire Tennessee General Assembly to see the Great Smokies. A result of this effort was the purchase of the first large tract of land for the park.

He was a charter member of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, which was formed in 1923 to promote the establishment of a National Park and now serves to protect and promote its interest. Mr. Campbell served on the board of directors continually from 1930 and served as Secretary from 1941 until his death in 1978.

He was also a founding member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. The club was a result of the first hike to Mt. LeConte in 1924. He and other members of this club later established and marked the route of the Appalachian Trail through the park.

In the late 1950’s he took several months off work at Provident Mutual Insurance Company to write Birth of a National Park. First published in 1960, the book tells the history of the fight to establish the park. It is now in the fourth printing of the fourth edition.

He was co-author with William F. Hutson and Dr. A. J. Sharp of the very popular book Great Smoky Mountains Wildflowers, first published in 1962. The authors elected to receive no royalties on the book in order to keep the purchase price as low as possible so that more people might be able to enjoy it. It was recently re-released in 1997, after having been expanded and revised for the fifth time.

Mr. Campbell became an avid photographer, making thousands of Great Smokies pictures, and a great many of them were published in newspapers and magazines. He was especially proud of his pictures that the prestigious National Geographic magazine published. He had a huge collection of color slides of the Great Smokies and would give slide presentations about the park to civic clubs, church groups and anyone else who asked, never charging a penny for this service.

Carlos C. Campbell’s work for the park has certainly not gone unnoticed or unrecognized. The American Scenic Historic Preservation Society presented to him in 1966, its annual Horace Marden Albright Scenic Preservation Medal for his outstanding work in conservation. He was the tenth person to receive the award. Other recipients have been Laurance Rockefeller (son of John D. Jr.), Ladybird Johnson, wife of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Stuart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior. In 1973 Mr. Campbell became the twenty-first honorary National Park Ranger. This award is the highest given by the National Park Service to civilians.

Following his death in 1978, the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association established the Carlos C. Campbell Memorial Research Fellowship at the University of Tennessee honoring his considerable efforts toward establishing the National Park.

In October 1981, after a suggestion by the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, the National Park Service dedicated the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook in recognition of his long and diligent service. This overlook is located approximately two miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center, and offers a magnificent view of the valley of the West Prong of Little Pigeon River and the western slopes of Mt. LeConte to Bullhead and Balsam Point. Copyright ©1999, Rebecca Campbell Arrants - Publisher's Graphics, L.L.C, 238 pages

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