Smokey Mountain National Park was one my family’s favorite vacation destinations back when we all lived in the same house together. While we have each moved to our own homes, some far away, the park still resonates strongly in memories as a remarkable location. When I heard of the fires, I wondered how the area would survive.
Recently updated sources suggest that fifteen square miles of the park was burned. When taking into account that the Smoky Mountain National Park covers 522,427 acres, that’s actually quite a lot of territory; over ten thousand acres. It is, however, in the neighborhood of three percent of the park. The beloved town of Gatlinburg was spared, as was the Dollywood theme park. According to news reports, both are up and running again.
The reports are a bit mixed, some emphasizing damage while others the parts of the park that were not affected. When considering the size of the park and the small percentage of it that was burned, those who love the park might breath a cautious sigh of relief. If you have ever lived in a community near to a fire of this magnitude, you will understand the shared heartbreak you feel for the residents who lost their homes and even their loved ones.
In 2004, a fire burned a massive swath in the mountains between the California desert and the city of San Diego where I made my home. The damage was so extensive it took an hour to drive across the fire zone. The giant oaks were burned down to their trunks and some experts prematurely suggested they might not come back. The forest proved them wrong, however, and sprang back, slowly at first, but then with ever increasing speed. It upon that first-hand observation that I have high hopes for the Smoky Mountain National Park area. Nature knows fire and it knows how to recover from it. While we might not enjoy seeing places we love endangered, the forest in the Smoky Mountains will recover. In fact, for those who have witnessed such an event, a forest recovering from a fire is actually quite beautiful. The greens seem brighter and perhaps fresher than the older growths that surround them.
If you are considering a trip to the Smoky Mountains, know that the area is already back into the swing of its normal activities. Certain campgrounds and hiking trails have been closed, but again, with over ninety percent of the park undamaged, simply rearranging your plans to use the parts of the park that are still open will do. I, for one, have reinvested in plans to visit the area, now that I have received a reminder of its value.