Great Smoky Mountains Is The Nation's Most Popular National Park

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View from Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, circa 1960. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
View from Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, circa 1960. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As the National Park Service turns 100 years old, Here & Now is taking a close look at some of the country's most distinctive parks. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is the nation's most-visited park.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Dana Soehn, a management assistant at the park, who has spent 27 years there.

Interview Highlights: Dana Soehn

On what the park is like:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest natural area East of the Mississippi, it’s a true treasure that was gifted to the American people in 1934. Over 500,000 acres of wilderness setting. So 850 miles of trails. Normally, you'd have to drive halfway across the country to reach a large national park like Yellowstone or Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, so it's a great opportunity for people in the East to experience that. And people have been doing that for over 80 years now. We're the most visited national park.

On the proximity of the park to major metropolitan areas:

That was the thought of the forefathers when they brought the idea of creating Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the country's leadership is that the people in the East needed a place to escape and recreate and take their families camping and explore natural areas, and we're located within a day's drive for more than half of the U.S.'s.

On how the park is handling large numbers of visitors:

We certainly have areas in the park where you can no longer find a parking space unless you get there early in the morning because they've become so popular destination locations. So we try to remind people about thinking about coming for a visit mid-week or coming very early in the morning or in the evening. There's no longer really any shoulder season in the Smokys because we are a four season park there's some where you can explore at all times. But the unique thing about the Smokey's is we have a lot of secondary roads and focal points around the outskirts of the park. So there are still places where you can take a hike in the Smokys and not see a soul for days if that's the experience you choose.

On how she got to Smoky National Park:

I started my journey like most 20-year-olds, I came out to participate in a 12 week internship through the Student Conservation Association. So it was my internship through my university in Missouri, and I came out, fell in love with the park, and couldn't really see myself anywhere else. I found my home. I found my park. And I never went back. I graduated from the University of Tennessee and continued to work at the park seasonally. Unlike most nomadic park rangers across the park service, I spent my entire career at Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I continue to learn something new everyday.

On her favorite hiking place in the park:

The Smokys have such a rich human history that's intertwined with this great national biosphere of reserve. So you have places where we have incredible stone walls or chimneys that remind you of the settlement and the sacrifice that people made to give up their lands so we could have this great national park. So those are my favorite hikes, hikes that tell a story, and in the Smokys you can find so many of those.


Dana Soehn, management assistant at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park tweets @GreatSmokyNPS

This segment aired on July 5, 2016.



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