Author: Steve Kemp

  1. The Smokies in Your Backyard: Flowering Dogwood

    The Smokies in Your Backyard: Flowering Dogwood By Steve Kemp and Janet Rock Photo by GSMA Although it is illegal to dig up plants in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and transplant them in your yard (all plants, animals, and even rocks are protected in the park), you can purchase native plants at reputable nurseries and propagate a bit of the Smokies around your home. Our new Smokies Read more...
  2. Come one, come all to the Salamander Ball

    Come one, come all to the Salamander Ball By Steve Kemp Longtime park partner Discover Life in America (DLIA) has announced its first-ever Salamander Ball on Wheels! This fun, family-friendly event will take place at the Parkway Drive-in Theater in Maryville, TN, on Thursday, October 15, 2020. Activities will include live music by guitarist Bill Mize, videos highlighting DLIA’s Read more...
  3. 2020: A Great Year for Waterfalls and Mushrooms

    2020: A Great Year for Waterfalls and Mushrooms By Steve Kemp Based on the heavy flow of waterfalls and the plethora of mushrooms on trails, you might guess this has been a rainy year in the Great Smoky Mountains. You are correct! According to Jim Renfro, the park’s air quality specialist and de facto meteorologist, 2020 has been the wettest year on record thus far at Newfound Gap and Read more...
  4. Like a Bridge Over Sparkling Mountain Waters, This Should Ease Your Mind

    Like a Bridge Over Sparkling Mountain Waters, This Should Ease Your Mind By Steve Kemp Since I started researching the role of John D. Rockefeller Jr. in helping create Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one friendship I discovered never ceases to cheer me. When Rockefeller made the $5 million ($74 million in today’s dollars) contribution to match the funds raised in North Carolina and Tennessee to purchase Read more...
  5. The Strange Case of Cades Lake

    Cades Map

    Depending on who you were and what you stood for, the idea of turning most of Cades Cove into a 50-foot-deep lake—three miles long and two miles wide—was either brilliant or terrible.

    Pro-lake constituents included National Park Service Director Arno B. Cammerer (immortalized by the naming of Mt. Cammerer), Tennessee Governor Gordon Browning, the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, park booster Col. David Chapman, and Knoxville City Manager George Dempster.

    Those opposed included acting and former NPS Directors Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, Robert Sterling Yard of the National Parks Association, and stalwart conservationists Harvey Broome Benton MacKaye.

  6. Studies Offer Insights into Behaviors of Park Bears

    Bear searching trash for food

    By Steve Kemp

    Four research projects focused on bears in the Great Smoky Mountains are currently underway or have recently been completed. Of the four, the results of two are troubling, one is encouraging, and on the last, it’s too early to tell.

  7. Linnaea borealis, found—then lost

    Linnaea borealis

    The year 1934 – when Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established – was a dark year for Tennessee botanists. The gloom was due not to the creation of the park, which provided a permanent home for thousands of species of wild plants, but to the fire at the University of Tennessee that destroyed one of the state’s best herbariums. The UT collection, housed at Morrill Hall, contained more than 30,000 specimens, including many unusual plants collected in the Great Smoky Mountains.

    Yet this dark cloud had one silver lining. Dr. A.J. Sharp, a world-renowned botanist and UT professor (as well as former GSMA Board Member Emeritus), rallied his botanist troops and called for the creation of a new, improved UT herbarium. Botanists all across the country responded by collecting new specimens and donating plants from existing collections. One of the latter specimens was a plant collected by Albert Ruth on August 13, 1892, and labelled, somewhat vaguely, Mitchellarepens[partridgeberry] collected in “Sevier County—in mountain woods.”

    When Dr. Sharp looked at this particular specimen, his jaw dropped. Not because partridgeberry is uncommon (it is extremely common along sunny trail sides), but because the plant had obviously been mislabeled. Sharp was looking at Linnaeaborealis(twinflower), one of the most delicate and beautiful flowers of the far north woods.

  8. Grave Words

    What will your last immortal words to the world be, those ‘carved in stone’ on the monument that marks your grave? For inspiration, here are some famous examples:

    Merv Griffith: “I will not be right back after this message.”

    Robert Frost: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

    Winston Churchill: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

    Irish comedian Spike Milligan: “I told you I was ill.”

  9. “When the Gales of November Came Slashin’*”

    The hurricane-force mountain wave winds that annually torment residents living in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and which contributed greatly to the deadly wildfires in late November 2016 are probably as old as the mountains themselves. Yet much about these winds remains a mystery.

    One reason for the mystery is the scarcity of professional-grade wind measuring equipment (anemometers) in the isolated areas where the wave winds occur. Many official weather-monitoring stations are located at airports because the terrain is flat and unobstructed by trees or man-made structures. The foothills of the Smokies are the opposite of that. The equipment and its power source also must be capable of enduring extremely high winds.

  10. The Smokies' Most Dangerous Places?

    Into the Mist

    One of the revelations found in the new book by Great Smoky Mountains Association and David Brill, Into the Mist: Tales of Death and Disaster, Mishaps and Misdeeds, Misfortune and Mayhem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is that some places in the Smokies are much more dangerous than others.

    Not surprisingly, roads are the most dangerous places in the national park. But other sites, such as Abrams Creek and Abrams Falls, renowned for their peaceful, sublime scenery, have also tallied a shockingly high body count.

    Drowning is the leading cause of death at Abrams and is the #3 killer park-wide. In 1997 alone, Abrams Creek claimed three lives—two swimmers and one fisherman. The years 2004, 2006, 2009, 2016, and 2017 were also deadly along this seemingly benign mountain stream.


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