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Great Smokies National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park has over 4,000 species of plants that grow there. A walk from mountain base to peak compares with traveling 1,250 miles north. Several resident plants and animals live only in the Smokies. It also has a rich cultural history. From the Cherokee Indians, to the Scotch-Irish settlers, this land was home to a variety of cultures and people. Many historic structures remain standing. Subsistence turned to exploitation as logging concerns stripped the region of timber. Recovery is now the dominant theme. There are 9,000,000 visits per year. The National Park Service must balance the needs of the land with the desires of the people both today and for the future.


Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on 15 Jun 1934, and turned its stewardship to the National Park Service. Land acquisition continued and on 02 Sep 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the park. In 1923 when Mrs. Willis P. Davis of Knoxville visited the American West, she fell in love with America’s National Parks. Mrs. Davis felt the Smoky Mountains were worthy of such status. It is with this thought the Park Movement was born. Park support came slowly. Debates raged over who would buy the land and whether the Smokies should become a National Forest or National Park. Many local politicians in both North Carolina and Tennessee supported the Park because they never thought it could happen. Much of the support surrounded the construction of an improved road between Knoxville and Asheville, not the Park itself. After a long and difficult struggle, the concept of a park in the Smoky Mountains became a reality. Colonel David Chapman was the leading figure supporting the future National Park. National politics were as difficult as local resistance. The Smokies beat out more than 60 other proposed sites. The Federal government provided no money for land acquisition. It was not until 1926 that Congress authorized a Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park Commissions then raised the funds needed to buy the 6,600 tracts of land that would compose the new National Park. It was the commission that added the word “Great” to the Smoky Mountains. Through donations ranging from pennies from school children to thousands of dollars from large benefactors, the park movement raised almost $2.5 million in pledges. Another $2.5 million came directly from North Carolina and Tennessee. With the Great Depression, land values soared and pledges became difficult to collect. More money was needed. Desperate, the Park Commission almost appealed to Congress for additional funds. Relief came as the Rockefeller family donated $5 million to complete the Park. The memorial at Newfound Gap stands in honor of this great act. In 1933 the United States Government supplied another $1.55 million to complete land purchases. Land was difficult to buy despite the park movement. Greed, private property rights, and personal glory often clashed with government condemnation and the park movement. After buying about half the land, it was deeded to the Federal Government. Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on June 15, 1934, and turned its stewardship to the National Park Service. Land acquisition continued and on September 2, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the park.


Acreage – as of September 23, 2000
Federal Land – 520,976.63
Non-Federal Land – 644.52
Gross Area Acres – 521,621.15

International Recognition

The Park is an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. These international recognitions represent the Smokies importance to the planet. Neither designation results in a loss of national sovereignty or infringement on private land use, including development. The purpose of this United Nations program is to recognize and encourage preservation of the world’s great cultural and biological areas. The United States’ National Park Service is proud to steward this world renowned site. The International Biosphere Reserve Program is a voluntary approach to help preserve and protect the world’s biological resources. Each reserve has a core and buffer areas. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, shielded from development, provides a core area. Other public lands serve as the buffer. Education is the only tool used to promote stewardship among private land owners. Other International Biosphere Reserves include Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon National Parks. The World Heritage Site designation denotes the Park’s inventory of Appalachian cultural items from the 19th and early 20th century. Combined with the Park’s management to maintain cultural landscapes, such as in Cades Cove and Cataloochee, the Park stewards a unique cultural resource. Like biosphere reserves, it is a voluntary program working to preserve Earth’s resources and history. Other World Heritage Sites include Yellowstone and Mammoth Cave National Parks.


Europeans first settled Cades Cove in 1818. Most migrated from the Watauga Settlement in northeast Tennessee. Before their arrival, Cades Cove was part of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee called the cove Tsiyahi, “place of the river otter.” In addition to river otters, elk and bison lived in the Cove. Hunters extirpated them before settlement. The Cherokee never lived in the Cove, but they used it as a summer hunting ground. Arrowheads are common throughout the Cove. Before the American Revolution, the Cherokee discouraged settlers. After the defeat of their English allies, they sought peace. Most Cherokees accepted this peace and the new United States government. They tried to integrate European technologies and culture with their own. The Cherokee adapted well. They built modern houses, attended school, and by 1820 they created a written language. The 1830 U.S. census showed more than 1,000 slaves working on Cherokee plantations. Despite the Cherokee’s assimilation, many Americans wanted to move all Indians west of the Mississippi River. The discovery of gold on Cherokee lands, and Andrew Jackson’s rise to the Presidency, led to their removal and the tragic “Trail of Tears.” More than 14,000 Cherokees left the Southern Appalachians in 1838. Winter cold, disease, despair, and the United States Army escorted the Cherokees west. Less than 10,000 reached Oklahoma. A few Cherokees refused to move. They hid among the Smoky Mountain wilderness, avoiding the army and local authorities. In 1870s, the U.S. government allowed these renegade Cherokees, now called the Eastern Band, to claim some of their lands in western North Carolina. This is the Qualla boundary. Cherokee removal opened Cades Cove and surrounding areas for settlement without fear of Indian harassment. In 1850 the Cove’s population reached 685. Settlers farmed the fertile limestone-based soils and searched for valuable minerals. While crops grew abundantly, the mineral wealth never materialized. The Civil War shattered Cades Cove. No slave ever worked the Cove, and the mountain people shared few cultural ties with the South. Still young men fought for both sides, 21 for the Union and 12 for the Confederates. Most remaining residents were pro-Union, but surrounded by hostile territory, they paid for their northern sympathies. From 1862-1864, a Confederate regiment, Thomas’ Legion, terrorized the Cove by stealing livestock, harassing children, and taking prisoners. Small children guarded the mountain tops, blowing horns when the Confederates approached. The story of Russell Gregory and his son Charles best portrays East Tennessee’s bitter Civil War divisions. Russell had strong Union sentiments, but was too old to fight. His son Charles supported the Confederates, and joined Thomas’ Legion in 1862. Russell, upset at the continuing raids, organized an ambush. The Cove’s remaining men surprised the Confederates, forcing a retreat. One of the Confederates was Charles Gregory. He recognized his father’s gun when it fired the first shot. Charles retreated with his comrades, informing them that his father led the ambush. The Confederates returned later that night, and Charles pointed out his father’s home. Charles did not realize the revenge his fellows had in mind. After Charles pointed out the house, the soldiers dragged Russell out, and killed him on the spot. Russell became a martyr, giving his life for the Cove’s people. His tombstone epithet reads “Russell Gregory, murdered by North Carolina rebels.” Charles eventually received forgiveness. His grave lies behind his father’s in the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery. The Civil War changed the Cove’s culture. Ravaged by the Confederates, and abandoned by the Union, the people of Cades Cove no longer trusted or welcomed outsiders. The Cove turned inward, developing a fierce independence. Immigrated stopped. Without new blood, the residents intermarried. By 1900, most of the Cove’s 700 residents were relations. Around 1900, logging concerns discovered the Smoky Mountains. During the next 30 years, they clearcut 67% of the future Park. Logging brought employment and hard currency to the mountaineers, but destroyed the environment. In the early 1920s the Park movement began. In Cades Cove, more than half the residents accepted the cash offered for their land. The others fought the Park movement. John W. Oliver, great-grandson of Cades Cove’s first settler, led the effort. His spirited fight against Tennessee’s state government ended in the State’s Supreme Court. A compromise allowed the Cove people to remain in their homes with a life-time lease. One family still remains in the Cove.

Environmental Concerns

Threats to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park come in many forms. Some are obvious and indisputable while others are more subtle and a source of controversy. Man is the root cause for some of the problems, while nature produces and enhances others. Despite the spectrum of political beliefs, the facts remain, and the real problems facing the Smokies require monitoring and management. Insuring the survival of the Smokies’ ecosystem is a major charge given to the National Park Service. Air quality is a major Park concern. Water quality faces threats from man’s civilization, park visitors, and nature. Acidic deposition, combined with the Smokies’ acidic bedrock threatens aquatic ecosystems. Borderline environments may deteriorate to inhospitable conditions. In some places nitrogen levels in the water reach dangerous levels. Still, Park waters remain mostly free of chemical pollutants. However, a disease, giardia, makes the water undrinkable. Dogs, horses, and wild boar help spread this parasite. All water needs filtration, boiling, or other accepted treatment before drinking. Pests and disease also threaten the Smokies’ ecosystem. Currently the most visible and serious threat is the balsam woolly adelgid. The small wax-covered insect attacks the Park’s Fraser fir trees. The fir overreacts to the feeding adelgids, clogging its transport tissues. Trees die within five years of infection. Other pests and diseases affecting park ecosystems include chestnut blight, southern pine beetle, and dogwood anthracnose. The future promises additional problems. Gypsy moths, currently near the Virginia-Tennessee border threaten oak forests with total destruction. The hemlock woolly adelgid could eliminate Park hemlocks, and destroy the entire forest type. Both pests came from Europe. Exotics are species not part of the original ecosystems. Most exotics blend well with native species, but some create problems. Many are small organisms such as the balsam woolly adelgid. The Park works to eliminate problem exotics. Kudzu, mimosa trees, multiflora rose, and the European wild boar are among the Park’s worst exotics.

Forests in the Great Smoky Mountains

Five forest types dominate the Great Smoky Mountains. Together these forests sport more than 130 species of trees, and 4,000 other plant species. They represent all the major forest types along eastern North America. As elevation increases within the park, temperature decreases and precipitation increases. Each 1,000 feet of elevation gained is the equivalent of moving 250 miles north. The additional precipitation classifies small sections of the Park as a rainforest. All five types can be seen at once from Campbell Overlook, two miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road (US 441). The spruce-fir forest caps the Park’s highest elevations. Most areas above 4,500 feet support some elements of this forest. It is best developed above 5,500 feet. In terms of climate the spruce-fir forest relates to areas such as Maine, and Quebec, Canada. The main components of the spruce-fir forest are red spruce and Frasier fir. Other important species include yellow birch, mountain-ash, hobblebush, and blackberries. The balsam woolly adelgid killed 95% of the Frasier firs over the past decade. Accidentally introduced from Europe, this tragedy threatens the fate of the entire forest type. The Park sprays to control the insect, but this is a labor consuming process that needs to saturate each tree. Environmental pressures, including acidic deposition and ozone present further threats. A northern hardwood forest dominates the middle to upper elevations from 3,500- 5,000 feet. It mixes with many species from other forest types, but is characterized by sugar maple, American beech, and yellow birch. These forests resemble those throughout much of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario. The northern hardwood forest, specifically sugar maples, produces the most brilliant fall color. Drier ridges in and around the Park hold a pine-oak forest. Despite plentiful amounts of rain, these excessively drained slopes dry out often, and fire is a regular part of these forest communities. In late 1996, the Park began controlled burning to prevent unintentional fires from threatening lives and property. This also insures natural regeneration of species requiring fire for propagation. Major species include red, scarlet, black and chestnut oaks, along with table mountain, pitch, and white pines. Some areas also have hickories. A hemlock forest often grows along streambanks. Water temperatures remain cold year- round, and this cools and dampens the air. Hemlocks survive better in these conditions than any other species. Hemlocks dominate streamsides throughout the Appalachians. An insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid is moving south and west. It threatens every hemlock in the eastern united States. The cove hardwood forest lines the valleys throughout the Park. It is the Smokies most diverse ecosystem. Important species include, tulip poplar, American basswood, red maple, sweet gum, yellow buckeye, black birch, and dogwood. This lush, diverse forest enjoys warm temperatures, a long growing season, and plentiful rainfall.

Other Trees

Sixty years ago, the most common Park tree was American Chestnut. About 30% of the Park was chestnut forest. Due to a disease, chestnut blight, every adult chestnut in the eastern United States died. Loss of the chestnut heavily impacted animals depending on the nuts for winter fat. Scientists continue to work search for hybrid chestnut species that can resist this disease. Black walnuts are common near homesites. Often planted in yards, walnut wood was valuable, and the nuts made good food. Black cherry is another valuable wood and food source. The cherries are a favorite of bears when they ripen in August. Cherry trees are often damaged by climbing bears. Tennessee’s state tree, tulip poplar, is abundant in the Park. Builders favor it for cabins. It grows long and straight, striving for the sun without pause.

Flora – Butterfly – Wildflowers

Peak wildflower season is April, but the Cades Cove’s open meadows hold blooms from spring to fall. Mountain laurel, rhododendron, and flame azalea attract visitors throughout spring and summer. Mountain laurel blooms in May, followed by rhododendron in late June and early July. In late June people come from around the country to view Gregory Bald’s azaleas. In the open areas, such as Cades Cove, other flowers are more common. Purple phacelia bloom in May often accompanied by blue-eyed grass. May apple and yellow trillium do better in the shade. By June, European red clover comes into bloom, offering a tasty dessert for local deer. Daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, and, later, Black-eyed Susans color the year longest days. Butterfly weed glows bright orange in July. Some other common flowers in Park lowlands (and blooming dates) are: sweet-joe-pye weed (July-September), yellow ragwort (May-June), hawkweed (April-July), yellow fringed orchid (July-September), and trumpet vine (August).


An invasive, exotic grass, fescue, dominates Cades Cove. Other common grasses and sedges are velvet grass and broom sedge. The Park works to increase native grasses percentages. Recent studies show elimination exotic grasses leads to greater plant and animal diversity.


The Smokies are a premier wildlife viewing area. Early in the morning and late in the evening make the viewing. Cades Cove and Cataloochee have large open spaces, providing excellent opportunities for viewing. Still, wildlife sightings are common throughout the Park. Bears are the most sought after, and the reintroduced red wolf make a special sighting also. A total of 65 mammals live in the Park. Some, such as the coyote and bobcat are reclusive while deer are very common and obvious. Besides deer people most often see red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Deer are common throughout the Park. An exotic, the wild European boar, causes widespread damage. Like other intrusive exotic species, the Park seeks means to control the boar population. Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include, bison, elk, gray wolves, and fishers. Reintroduction efforts brought back the red wolf and river otter.
Bobcats and mountain lions are the only felines native to Cades Cove. Bobcats still live in the cove. They usually eat small game, but will kill small deer. Bobcats grow up to three feet in length and weigh up to 20 pounds. They are nocturnal and seldom seen. The Smoky’s native mountain lion is the eastern cougar. Most biologists believe hunters eliminated the cougar from the region in 1920. However, persistent sightings since the 1960’s led to studies. No definitive evidence of their presence resulted. Any cougars currently in the Smokies are transients or released pets.
Family Canidae
Red and gray foxes are native to Cades Cove. The gray fox is more common. Foxes prefer habitats with open and forested areas such as Cades Cove. The gray fox is less aggressive than the red, but its ability to climb trees aids in food collection and defense. Coyotes and red wolves should lower Cove’s fox population. Coyotes also inhabit the Park, favoring the Cades Cove area. Coyotes migrated across the Mississippi River and arrived in the Park in 1985.
Family Mustelidae
The long-tailed weasel, mink, eastern spotted skunk, striped skunk, and river otter live in and around Cades Cove. Man regionally eliminated the fisher in the 19th century. In the mid 1980’s, the Park successfully reintroduced 140 river otters. Favorite otters habitats include Abrams Creek, and the Little River, Otters are nocturnal and rarely spotted by people. Weasels, minks, and spotted skunks are rare. Skunk populations fell due to diseases such as distemper, and should recover. Although one of the Park’s most feared residents, skunks spray only when threatened.
Family Procyonidae
The raccoon is this family’s only local member. Raccoons congregate near streambanks where they feed on crayfish, salamanders, nuts, or berries. They will eat almost anything. Local population densities vary because of disease. Raccoons will steal food from humans. They will even beg.
Family Castoridae
In the 1600’s beaver were common in Cades Cove. By the 20th century, none remained. Reintroduced in North Carolina in the 1960’s, beavers migrated back to the Smokies. Beavers prefer slow waters.
Family Sciuridae
Local members of this family include: the eastern chipmunk, woodchuck, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, red squirrel, southern flying squirrel, and northern flying squirrel. Acorn abundance determines the winter survival for the chipmunk, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, and southern flying squirrel. Red squirrels eat a varied diet, including insects and bird eggs. Woodchucks, also called groundhogs or whistle pigs, are common along roadsides. They live in underground tunnels. When caught outside their tunnels, they climb trees to elude predators. Like all members of this family, they face heavy predation from canines and felines.
Family Leporidae
The two local members of this family are the eastern cottontail and the New England cottontail. Eastern cottontails hide in tall grasses to avoid detection. Sightings are more common in mowed areas. The New England cottontails only live in the higher elevations.
Family Suidae
The wild hog is the only Suidae present. They are not native and damage Park’s ecosystems. Eurpoean Wild Boars came to the southern Appalachians in the early 1900’s as sport for hunters. They overran their fenced enclosure near Hoopers Bald, North Carolina, and quickly spread throughout the region. Females can birth 12 piglets each year. They root through the soil, killing plants, promoting erosion, and polluting streams. In the fall, they compete with native species for acorns. Since the wild hog is a destructive non-native species, the Park works to control their number. Despite 30 years of management, more than 500 hogs remain in the Park. Future efforts may maintain populations at minimal levels, but elimination is unlikely.
Family Cervidae
Deer live throughout the Smokies, but are most commonly seen in Cades Cove. Between 400-800 deer live near the Cove. When visiting at sunrise, it is common to see 200 deer. Deer populations can change quickly. Local overpopulation leads to widespread disease and starvation. Predation by wolves, coyotes, bears, and bobcats help reduce threats associated with overpopulation. Deer living in the southern Appalachians give birth in late June. Newborn fawns have no defense beyond camouflage. Many are lost to predation during their first few days. By their second spring, males begin to grow antlers. They fully develop in August, and in September, the bucks fight for mating rights. Mating occurs in November. The antlers fall off by mid-winter. Deer browse for nutritious foods. The Park’s diversity is excellent habitat. When favored foods disappear, deer switch to more common, less nutritious plants. If nothing else is available, they will eat poison ivy or rhododendron. Acorns and nuts are important fall foods. Acorn availability relates to deer survival rates.
Other Mammals
The opossum is the Park’s only marsupial. Other mammals include shrews, moles, and mice. Several bat species are common in and around the Cove. Bats are nocturnal. Black rat snakes eat bats. One snake, Gladys, devours sleeping bats at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. The snake uses the Visitor Center roof as its home and grocery store.
Black Bears
Most Park visitors enjoy seeing a black bear, Ursus americanus, in the wild. It is smaller and less aggressive than its western cousin, the grizzly bear. The Smokies rugged, temperate environment provides excellent bear habitat. Only black bears live in the Park. About 600 bears roam the Park, and many consider Cades Cove their home. The Park has one of the country’s highest bear densities. Bear life spans average 12 years. A typical male weighs 300 pounds, while females average 230 pounds. Bears, like humans, are omnivores. Their food intake is 85% plant material. They obtain most of their protein from insects, but occasionally eat fish, fawns, or other small animals. Most bears enter a deep sleep starting in late fall. Most Park bears prepare to den by mid-December. Cubs, usually two, are born in late January. They weigh 8 ounces when born. Bear sightings usually begin in early March, but weather conditions can delay this. Newborns and mothers remain denned until May. Cubs remain with their mothers for a year and a half. Bears emerge from their prolonged sleep in March or early April (they do not hibernate). July starts the mating season. Young males often travel more than a 100 miles to find a mate. Fertilized eggs lie dormant until denning. Once awake the search for food begins. Spring foods are scarce, so bears conserve their energy. Berries ripen in July and cherries in August. If the crop is good, these fruits provide ample food. Acorns provide a source of winter fat. Bears eat some high protein foods, including insects, fish, and higher animals. Though bears can run 30 miles per hour, they rarely run down prey. They prefer carrion, or easy prey such as fawns. It is illegal to feed or harass any Park wildlife. Fines range up to $5,000 and 6 months in prison. Besides being illegal, human foods (and packaging) can kill a bear. They die from asphyxiation or digestive track blockages. A human-fed bear has a lifespan of only 8 years. Tamed bears lose their natural fear of people. Violent bears must be destroyed. Please, for their sake and yours, do not feed the bears. Park bear management includes population monitoring efforts, and, when necessary, relocation. The Park moves aggressive bears deep into the backcountry. Hopefully, they revert to natural behaviors. If this does not happen, the Park moves the bear to less populated areas. Most of these relocation sites are open to hunting. Tame bears make easy targets. Although there is no one best place to see bears in the Park, Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are among the best spots to look. Bears are most active early in the morning and late in the evening. On the small chance of encountering an aggressive black bear the best action is make a lot of noise (a whistle works well), and slowly retreat. Only when between a mother and her cubs, or when dealing with a hungry, human-fed bear are they dangerous. Bears are excellent climbers, so climbing a tree is ineffective. Playing dead does not work either, since dead animals are part of the black bears’ diet. However, few dangerous bear situations occur.
Bull Elk
The experimental release of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in February, 2001 with the importation of two dozen elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002 and 2003 the Park Service plans to import another 25-30 animals annually. All elk are radio collared and will be monitored during the five-year experimental phase of the project. If the animals threaten park resources or create significant conflicts with park visitors, the program may be halted. Project partners include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Parks Canada, Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Friends of the Smokies, the U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division, and the University of Tennessee. Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800s. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction. The best times to view elk are usually early morning and late evening. Elk may also be active on cloudy summer days and before or after storms. Enjoy elk at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views. Approaching wildlife too closely causes them to expend crucial energy unnecessarily and can result in real harm. If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes direction of travel, or otherwise alters its behavior, you are too close! Elk are large animals-larger than the park’s black bears-and can be dangerous. Female elk with calves have charged people in defense of their offspring. Males (bulls) may perceive people as challengers to their domain and charge. The best way to avoid these hazards is to keep your distance. Never touch or move elk calves. Though they may appear to be orphaned, chances are their mother is nearby. Cows frequently leave their newborn calves while they go off to feed. A calf’s natural defense is to lie down and remain still. The same is true for white-tailed deer fawns. The use of spotlights, elk bugles, and other wildlife calls are illegal in the national park. It is also illegal to remove elk antlers or other elk parts from the park. Never feed elk or other wildlife or bait them in for closer observation. Feeding park wildlife is strictly forbidden by law and almost always leads to the animal’s demise. It also increases danger to other park visitors.
SPRING: most elk shed their antlers in March. The antlers, which are rich in calcium, are quickly eaten by rodents and other animals. (It is illegal to remove antlers from the national park.) After they have shed their antlers, elk immediately begin growing new ones. In late spring elk shed their winter coats and start growing sleek, copper-colored, one-layer summer coats.
SUMMER: most calves are born in early June. Male elk roll in mud wallows to keep cool and avoid insect pests. By August, elk antlers are full grown and have shed their “velvet.” Calves have lost their spots by summer’s end.
FALL: male elk make their legendary bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows. Their calls may be heard a mile or more away. Large bulls use their antlers to intimidate and spar with other males. Most encounters are ritualistic and involve little physical contact; only occasionally do conflicts result in serious injuries to one or more combatants. During the “rut” in September and early October, dominant bulls gather and breed with harems of up to 20 cows.
WINTER: elk wear a two-layer coat during the colder months. Long guard hairs on the top repel water and a soft, wooly underfur keeps them warm. Elk may move from the high country to valleys to feed. Elk may travel beyond the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in search of new territories. Most non-cropland adjacent to the park is designated as elk buffer zone. If elk move onto these lands but do not come into conflict with private property or the public, no action will be taken. If elk cause significant property damage or other conflict, the National Park Service will remove the animals. Lands outside the buffer zone are designated as no elk zones. Elk that wander into these areas will be removed by personnel from the National Park Service or state wildlife agencies. To report elk outside the national park, call: 865-436-1248 or: 865-436-1230. It is illegal for area landowners or others to kill elk without a special permit from their state’s wildlife management agency.
Red Wolves
Wolves are native to the Smoky Mountains. Hunting and habitat loss eliminated wolves from southern Appalachians in the late 1800’s. While gray wolves survived in Canada and Alaska, the red wolf populations shrank until 1973. Then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the world’s last 14 red wolves. In 1991, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the red wolf to the Great Smoky Mountains. Only 350 red wolves remain in the world, and they roam free in the Great Smokies and the Alligator Wildlife Refuge in coastal North Carolina. Today about 25 animals live in the Park. They are not a threat to humans. Most of the red wolves live between Cades Cove and the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s red wolf program provides three release areas. Alligator National Wildlife Refuge, in coastal North Carolina has more than 70 red wolves. Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains is the second area. It has about 25 red wolves. The third site is in the selection process. The Cades Cove reintroduction program began in 1991. Successes and setbacks mark the program. The wolves reproduced in the wild, and a few pups reached adulthood. A poacher killed one wolf, and another died of anti-freeze poisoning. Tracking studies show the wolves prefer areas outside the Park boundaries. If people in the surrounding communities do not support the effort, problems will follow. It is difficult to see a red wolf. They are shy and nocturnal. Although rarely seen, people often hear them howl. Adult red wolves weigh from 45-80 pounds. Although they do often have reddish cast, they can be gray, yellow, or black. Raccoons and ground hogs are common prey. The red wolves are not pack-oriented like the gray wolf. Red wolves give birth to five to seven pups in April, but a few usually die. Parents raise the family together. As the pups mature, the family may remain together and appear to make a small pack. When hunting, they look for rodents, rabbits, groundhogs or raccoons. Their diets include most anything from persimmons and insects to birds, small mammals, and an occasional deer, taking the weaker animals. The Red Wolf reintroduction project did not work and there are no wolves in the park.
More than 230 species use the Park, and over 110 species breed within Park boundaries. Birds are most active early in the morning, starting about 45 minutes before sunrise. Good birding spots include the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Cades Cove, and Oconaluftee. Some common species include juncos, mourning doves, chimney swifts, eastern phoebes, barn swallows, blue jays, indigo buntings, cardinals, towhees, sparrows, eastern bluebirds, eastern meadowlarks, field sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, crows, chickadees, wild turkeys and warblers. Summer species includes the eastern kingbirds, barn swallows, yellow warblers, and indigo buntings. Golden eagles come through the Park in autumn. The pileated woodpecker, habituates stands of dead and dying pines. The barred owl is the most common night bird.
Copperhead and Timber Rattler – The Park’s only poisonous snakes are the northern copperhead and timber rattler. The copperhead is most common below 3,000 feet while the timber rattler up to 6,000 feet. Neither have a lethal poison, and death from a snake bite in the Smokies is extremely rare. The most common non-poisonous snakes are black rat, garter, and common water snake. The black rat snake is known for its ability to climb trees. They grow to six feet long. Rats and bats are their main prey. The garter snake grows to about four feet. They like to warm on sunny rocks. The common water snake often gets confused with the cottonmouth. They sit in the water, preying on small fish. Other reptiles include the eastern box turtle, common snapping turtle, and southeastern five-lined skink. Amphibians thrive in the Great Smokies. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are all common Park residents. The Smokies 27 species of salamanders make them the salamander capital of the world. Notable species include Jordans Salamander, found only in the Smokies, and the Hellbender. It grows up to five feet long.