100 Most Influential in Park History NamedPosted by | 03.30.2016
Smokies Life Magazine editor Steve Kemp, who also serves as interpretive products and services director for Great Smoky Mountains Association, admits that it was with some trepidation that he and the magazine’s editorial board agreed to accept the challenge of narrowing down the list from thousands who have played important roles in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to just 100.
“It took thousands and thousands of people to get this place protected as a national park in the 1920s and 1930s, and it takes ten times that many to keep them pristine,” he said in his introduction to the list, which appears in the magazine’s latest issue out now.
The idea for what became the 22-page list originated during National Park Service Centennial program planning sessions in 2015. Park officials and partners have scheduled many special programs and commemorations in the Smokies as our country celebrates the 100th anniversary of “America’s best idea.”
“Since we are celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service, this list stops at 100,” Kemp said. “We thought the list of Smokies’ heroes would be a good springboard for discussions about the significance of the park and the people who gave their time, energy, and money to make it happen.”
Published in a special edition of GSMA’s award-winning Smokies Life Magazine, the list of the 100 most influential people (which includes three organizations) reaches back to the first individuals known to propose conservation efforts be undertaken to establish a national park in the eastern U.S., which would forever preserve the Smokies. People like Chase Ambler, an Asheville, N.C., physician who in 1893 encouraged the state legislature to ask the U.S. Congress to consider a national park in Western North Carolina. Just over the state line, Tennessee House of Representatives member Anne Davis of Knoxville is credited with proclaiming the Smokies worthy of protection to her colleagues in the mid-1920s.
Much like parents bringing a new life into the world, the people on this list conceived of an idea, gave it breath, and nurture it daily with dedication, passion and determination. From the original park concept to the rangers manning the visitor centers and patrolling the road and trails, the names and accompanying photographs are presented chronologically, an arrangement that lends itself well to telling the story of this park’s existence to date.
"It was a special challenge to describe these amazing people and their contributions to the park in a succinct way," said article author Courtney Lix. "The article could’ve taken up every page of this issue, and many more! But keeping the vignettes brief while celebrating a broad and diverse group of people offers a really fresh look at the inspired dedication necessary to protect, steward, and share what’s special about the Great Smoky Mountains."
Some individuals listed immediately jump off the page because their contributions are held in such high esteem that their names have become permanent parts of the park’s landscape. For example, “Charlie Conner was born in a big log house near the Oconaluftee River in 1891. Charlie developed a reputation for knowing every river, hollow, and mountaintop, and assisted in the early surveying for the boundaries of the new national park. He accompanied Horace Kephart on many hikes, famously the one in which they discovered part of a mountain denuded by a storm. The rocky protrusion was compared to the guide’s gnarled foot, resulting in the now-famous landmark, Charlies Bunion.”
“Many of the park’s founding fathers and mothers have mountains or scenic vistas named for them,” said Kemp. “People like Kephart, Masa, Webb, Campbell, Albright, and Cammerer. Obviously these people had a huge influence on the Smokies and are deserving of inclusion on the list.”
The man with the money – John D. Rockefeller Jr. – heads up a portion of the list in which those named begin the process of organizing the newly born park. Mark Hannah, for example, helped to ease the transition of those who were displaced from Cataloochee Valley by serving as the area’s first park ranger. “A native of the Cataloochee community, his family was displaced by the creation of the national park, and he brought a sensitivity and friendliness essential to the job in a time of transition.” Likewise, Cataloochee native Hattie Caldwell Davis has been the keeper of the valley’s history through her books and videos.
The list continues with modern-day community leaders who value the park’s presence and publicly recognize its significance in a variety of ways; park rangers who were the “first” to incorporate a significant educational, scientific and cultural element; living history demonstrators who keep cultural traditions of the past alive; and nonprofit leaders whose work to fund such programs and projects result in increased visitors’ knowledge, comfort and safety.
“The work is not done here,” said Kemp. “In many ways it’s just beginning. The Top 100 list includes active park partners and park staff—people like Jim Hart, Don Barger, Kristine Johnson, and Jim Renfro—who work every day to protect the Great Smokies from pollution, forest pests, poachers, invasive plants, an apathetic public, and a litany of other threats.”
Smokies Life Magazine is published bi-annually by Great Smoky Mountains Association and is available in park visitor centers an online at www.SmokiesInformation.org. GSMA members receive a free annual subscription to the magazine, along with several other benefits of membership.
Since its inception more than 60 years ago, GSMA has provided $35 million to support the park’s educational, scientific and historical programs. Proceeds from membership dues and the sale of ranger-approved educational merchandise offered in nine visitor center locations in and around the park enhance the visitor experience, as well as benefit park programs and services.